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Hollywood Canteen's Beginning and Photos

The Hollywood Canteen’s Beginning and Photos

This blog deals with the founding of the Hollywood Canteen and the many photographs that were taken in those early days. There are more that 300 vintage photos of the Hollywood Canteen on the hollywoodphotographs.com website.

It was the first full year of America at war, in 1942 found the country singing to Chattanooga Choo Choo, listing to a new radio ministry called “Suspense” and watching Walt Disney's Bambi and Donald Gets Drafted in movie theaters. It brought shortages of metal and leather, and rationing of coffee sugar and gasoline.

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But there was no shortage of fervor among Americans for supporting the war in any way that they could. From schoolchildren to their grandparents, through Victory Gardens and scrap metal drives, war aid flourished everywhere. One remarkable expression of solidarity that became famous all over the world began over lunch one day by two citizens of Hollywood.

Bette Davis

Two-time Academy award winner, Bette Davis, was a respected artist, recognized as the American screen’s most accomplished actress. She was also the quintessential movie star. Among the many classic films in which she lit up the screen “Now Voyager” is particularly memorable. It's such a Bette picture, full of dramatic physical and emotional transformations. Certainly it has one of the most romantic final scenes in all of movies. Shall we just have a cigarette on it? Paul Hendred says to Bette Davis, agreeing to try to maintain their special territory of love. He puts to cigarettes in his mouth, likes them both, hands one to Davis. When he expresses his hope for their happiness she doesn't reply.

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One of Betty Davis’ greatest personal achievements was the founding of the Hollywood canteen. For it was while making Voyager at Warner Bros. in May, 1942, that Davis had lunch with John Garfield in the green room of the studio commissary.

Hollywood Canteen Founded

John Garfield, who was from the New York stage, had been nominated for an Oscar as a supporting actor in his first picture. Though by 1942, Garfield was on track professionally with over a dozen films to his credit, a major goal eluded him: to serve his country at war. A childhood bout with rheumatic fever had left him with a weak heart, rendering him 4-F -- unfit for military duty. Fortunately, he channeled his frustration into a constructive action that would benefit millions. Impressed by the work of the Stage Door Canteen in New York City, Garfield saw the need for a similar -- yet unique to Hollywood -- enterprise on the West Coast.

The Stage Door Canteen opened on March 4, 1942, three months after the United States entered the war against the axis of Japan, Germany and Italy. Started by the American Theatre Wing, it was located just off Broadway in the basement of the 44th St. Theater, whose owner, Lee Shubert, donated its use.

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Up to 1700 volunteers from New York's theatrical industry offered their time as performers and service staff to keep this nightclub open -- even during blackouts and curfews. As many as 3000 servicemen came to the Stage Door Canteen each night to sing, dance, eat, and be entertained.

When John Garfield sat down for that commissary lunch with Bette Davis, he told her about what he had seen in New York -- and of his strong belief that Hollywood must have its own Canteen as soon as possible. There they were in the entertainment capital of the world in a time of war. They had all the best ingredients right at their fingertips to give the boys something they'd never forget. As Garfield outlined his concept of the canteen to be run solely by members of Hollywood's considerable show business community, Davis caught his excitement. When he asked her to become the canteens chairman, she accepted with the vibrant determination for which she was known.

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Planning the Hollywood Canteen

Davis and Garfield flung themselves into the rigorous process of turning their dream into a reality. They spend weekends and 18 hour workdays, as well as Sundays -- there one day off from the studio -- attacking the mountain of details involved in opening the Canteen.

In addition to the planning for the Hollywood Canteen, Davis and Garfield realized they needed someone with sharp business acumen. Betty approached Dr. Jules Stein, who was founder and head of the Music Corporation of America. When she asked him to become involved with the canteen, he declined. However, after being told that he did not have to make public appearances and could stay in the background, he accepted her invitation.

Hollywood Canteen Photos

To view hundreds of vintage Hollywood Canteen photos, visit the hollywoodphotographs,com website.

 

 

 

 

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