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Hollywood Guild and Canteen

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Hollywood Guild and Canteen

On week-ends, during WWII, the soldiers outnumbered civilians ten to one on the streets of Hollywood. At first they had to sleep in parks or in the aisles and lobbies of theaters.  But once aware of the uncomfortable overcrowding, Hollywood unfurled its hospitality.  Dormitories and auditoriums in schools and churches were made available to them, and private home owners offered bedrooms.  California’s theater owners collected $190.000 from audiences in the “Bed For Buddies” campaign to match what the state of California contributed. 

For soldiers on Hollywood furlough, “Mom” Lehr’s Hollywood Guild and Canteen, at 1284 N. Crescent Heights Boulevard, was considered home. To thousands from all the allied nations, who needed a place to stay, “Mom’s” was the nearest berth to heaven. On an average, 800 stayed there each night, with as many as 1,200 on the week-ends.

Lehr’s canteen offered clean comfortable beds, three square meals a day, and the privilege of coming and going as one pleased.  There was no time limit either.  And if hunger struck at early hours of the morning, the icebox and kitchen facility were always available.

Anne Lehr was in charge of a small charity organization when she decided to help servicemen.  She had cared for Hollywood’s broken-down-stuntmen, the unemployed and the underfed extras of the entertainment industry.  But when Hawaii was attacked, she shifted focus.  Many of her guest took jobs in war plants, leaving her nearly alone in the former mansion of silent screen star, Dustin Farnum, who played in "The Squaw Man".

The outgoing humanitarian noticed servicemen walking Hollywood streets at night, sleeping on benches, in doorways or in parked cars. Neither the USO nor any of the canteens that offered a good time were designed to serve as temporary hostelries for the often indigent soldiers. Lehr decided to turn her sanctuary into a free hotel for the fighters of fascism. She and a small group of helpers foraged for thirty five beds, and on May 15, 1942, The Hollywood Guild and Canteen opened to an “empty” house.

“Mom” had been so preoccupied arranging a home for her future adoptees that she had neglected to publicize her offer.  Several of her assistants, in despair at the emptiness of eh guild, drove down Hollywood Blvd.. collecting servicemen.   At first, some soldiers were skeptical, “What’s the catch, lady,” some asked.  Some took a chance and consented to come along.  About fifty ended up at the guild the first night and devoured a turkey dinner. After a sound night’s sleep and a hardy breakfast, they left happy. The word spread quickly and soon soldiers began appearing at the front door voluntarily.  The Hollywood Guild and Canteen  became known as “Mom’s,” and acquired a reputation everwhere in the world the soldiers traveled.

Besides the main house, new structures were built and nearby buildings were used. Soon, there were hundreds of beds, with more located in an abandoned market a block away.  A private house in the next block was home to another 100 servicemen.  The Hollywood Guild and Canteen was governed by a board consisting of Hollywood stars: Mary Pickford, Janet Gaynor, and Myrna Loy.  But direction came from Anne Lehr.  She arrived to work at 6 PM and stayed until early the next morning.  Lehr eventually had 1000 women helpers; they cleaned, washed dishes, made the beds, waited tables and danced with the servicemen.

Such an operation was expensive and could not last without financial aid. The Hollywood Reporter”, carried an editorial by its owner, W.R. Wilkerson, praising “Mom’s” as the best effort Hollywood had contributed to the war.  In it, he appealed to the movie studios to save the Guild.  Hedda Hopper, Louella Parsons, and their established Hollywood celebrities echoed his plea. Nils Thor Granland took nightly collections at his Florentine Gardens nightclub, amounting to about $1,000 weekly. Beryl Wallace did the same at the Earl Carroll Nightclub.  The famous Hollywood Canteen contributed $52,000 annually.  The major studios added another $40,000 and the smaller ones contributed $50,000.

“Mom” Lehr didn’t stop helping servicemen after the war.  She worked with rehabilitation programs, and many ex-servicemen still called the Hollywood Guild and Canteen home while attending school under the GI Bill of Rights.

Please visit hollywoodphotographs.com to see photos of the Hollywood Guild and Canteen.

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