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The Hollywood Canteen History & Photos

Grand Opening

The Hollywood Canteen open October 3, 1942, with Eddie Cantor as master of ceremonies. The grand opening was tailored like a premier at Grauman's Chinese theater. For bands entertained including Rudy Vallee and his Coast Guard Band, Kay Kyser's band, and Duke Ellington and his band. Bud Abbott and Lou Costello and other celebrities were on hand to entertain the thousands of celebrities, civic leaders, and visiting serviceman.

Eventually, 6000 stars, players, writers, directors, and studio secretaries were registered to work as hosts, hostesses, bus persons, kitchen crew, and general helpers. It took 300 volunteers each night to operate the Canteen in two shifts between 7 PM at midnight.

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Photographers

During the course of the Hollywood Canteen's three year existance, many photographers were allowed to enter the Canteen and take photographs of the various activities -- which included dancing, signing autographs, eating, and being entertained. Photographers from newspapers and magazines were granted access to all areas of the Canteen. The photographer who was there the most and took the greatest number of photos was Joseph Jasgur.  Many of his Hollywood Canteen photos are on the large hollywoodphotographs.com website.

The uniform of any branch of service in the United allied forces sufficed for admission. Those in civilian clothes were helpers and entertainers, who were required to be fingerprinted and photographed for their ID card.  Fire regulations limited the capacity to 500 at a time; however, 2000 men a night was the average attendance.

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Volunteers

Among the volunteers were many of the most beautiful female stars, including Betty Grable, Joan Leslie, Olivia deHavilland, Deanna Durbin, Carole Landis and Greer Garson. Although they dressed simply to land informality to their roles as hostesses, their presence still overwhelmed the star-struck, youthful military men. Some 3500 junior hostesses were registered, and a long waiting list was ever present. While they all danced with the service personnel, they were not allowed to reveal their phone numbers, addresses, or last names. Officially, they were forbidden to date the GIs.

The effervescent and ever popular Marlene Dietrich worked at everything from cutting cake, washing dishes, and serving at the snack bar, to performing. Chef Giuseppe Milani supervised the food program. Through his cunning, he was able to have most of the food, refreshments, and cigarettes donated.

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With no limit of consumption, everything inside was free: milk, cigarettes, coffee, sandwiches and cake. To name bands perform nightly, coordinated by the musicians mutual protective Association. An estimated 100,000 young men visited the canteen monthly. In one month, they consumed 4000 loaves of bread, 400 pounds of butter, 1500 pounds of coffee, 50,000 half pints of milk, 1000 pounds of cheese, and all the sandwich meat they could get. In addition, there were 40,000 gallons of fruit punch, 75,000 packages of cigarettes and 150,000 pieces of cake.

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The Hollywood Canteen was also open Sunday afternoons, and usually offered concerts with John Charles Thomas, Nelson Eddy, and other top singers. These concerts began at two in the afternoon and lasted for about four hours.

Eddie Cantor and George Jessel were regular attractions and served as master of ceremonies on numerous occasions. Among the many celebrities who volunteered at the Hollywood canteen, Joan Leslie was probably the most frequent volunteer. Her father would pick her up at the studio and take her to the Hollywood canteen, almost every Thursday, so she could dance and sign autographs for the visiting serviceman. In 1944, she starred in the movie, Hollywood Canteen, along with Robert Hutton and Bette Davis. This movie was directed by Delmer Daves, who also wrote the screenplay for the film. Today it is considered to be one of the quintessential films made during WWII.

With few exceptions, every major radio and said green entertainer in Hollywood volunteered at the Hollywood Canteen. Studio secretaries were on hand to take dictation and help soldiers write letters to their family.

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Closing

The Hollywood Canteen was mustered out on November 22, 1945, shortly after the end of World War II. It is estimated that more than 3 million servicemen walked through the Hollywood Canteen's doors during its three-year existence. There is no question, that the Hollywood canteen was Hollywood's greatest contribution to the war effort and truly exemplified that the servicemen who visited the Canteen were truly "the greatest generation.” More than 300 Hollywood Canteen photos can be seen at hollywoodphotographs.com.

 

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