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The Hollywood Canteen Photos & History - Part 6

The Hollywood Canteen Photos & History – Part 6

Without a doubt, some of the brightest jewels in the Hollywood Canteen crown with a faithful hostesses. Between 150 to 200 of them were needed nightly to keep the canteen running; it also took an exceptional person to run the hostesses.


Volunteer Supervisors

That woman was Doris Stein, “the leader of the pack.” She was the wife of Dr. Jules Stein, the MCA founder who had been so helpful to Bette Davis with the canteen start up. As the spouse of such a powerful Hollywood figure, Doris herself became an important presence in the company town. Before the opening of the canteen, it was Doris, as head of the hostess committee, who sounded the call for volunteers throughout the industry, which was met with great enthusiasm.

Once the canteen was on its feet, Doris assisted by Florence C. Cadrez, had to be certain that there were enough hostesses on hand every single night. This meant making numerous phone calls on a continuing basis to various studios, guilds and unions to recruit everyone. Doris also had to set a nightly schedule whereby two different gentlemen – one for each shift -- would be available as Officers of the Day. These were usually studio executives who agreed to calm to the canteen to greet the servicemen and generally oversee the night’s activities.

The hostesses, grouped into Junior and Senior categories, included actresses, studio secretaries, wardrobe ladies and other female film industry employees. Junior hostesses were typically in their late teens and early 20s, with vivacious, friendly personalities. It was their job to dance and chat with the servicemen, show them where to get their food and drinks, and keep the welcoming, upbeat rhythm of the canteen perking along.


Junior Hostesses

The junior hostesses themselves were split into two groups, each with a captain. Some of the captains included such young film actresses as both Bonita Granville, Evelyn Keyes, Marsha Hunt, and Martha O'Driscoll.

While all of the volunteers were carefully selected, particular attention was paid to choosing the dancing hostesses, as they would have the closest contact with the servicemen. As mentioned before, all volunteers had to be photographed and fingerprinted which would be placed on their ID cards, which had to be carried every time they were at the canteen.

Canteen Rules

Canteen general rules apply to all volunteers, but hostesses had to follow additional specific guidelines. The young women were strictly prohibited from leaving the canteen premises with servicemen at any time. Nor were they allowed to give out their telephone numbers. But there was one acceptable way that a contract actors could respond to a service man's request to reach her. Actress Jean Porter, who had been a junior hostess while under contract to MGM, remembers carrying a preprinted slip of paper in her pocket that had the studio's address on them. She and MGM pal, Donna Reed, handed the papers to happy soldiers, soldiers and Marines who left the canteen with hope, knowing they could have some kind of future contact with these in chanted creatures -- especially getting there autographed pictures.

No hostess was ever to meet a service man beyond the canteen. The rule against leaving the building with a young man in uniform was easy to enforce; the one about meeting him someplace after hours was harder, so the canteen relied on the honor system, which, for the most part, worked very well.

Once in a while, there was a hostess who felt that a particular service man was so special that she couldn't resist seeing more of him. One such woman named Meg Nisbet did just that on a winter night in 1942 when she met Woody Cole, “a tall blonde air cadet” as Glenn Miller's music filled the room.

Meg, who was working in the messenger department at RKO Studios, had already crossed the line when she had a second dance with Woody, as she knew that dancing more than once with the same partner was discouraged by the canteen.


Later that evening, after the canteen had closed, Meg broke Betty Davis’ cardinal rule about dating. Meg met that fresh young cadet at the corner of sunset and fine which changed her life forever. On Easter Sunday in April 1943, Meg and Woody were married, but had precious little time together before Woody was sent overseas. On January 12, 1944, after performing heroic action, Woody Cole was killed. Later, in a ceremony for war widows at March field, the former canteen junior hostess was handed a number of her husband's medals, including the Purple Heart.

Upon acceptance, and after being fingerprinted and photographed, each volunteer was issued a list of rules:


  1. No hostess is to leave, it at any time, under any circumstances with a service man.
  2. If you, personally, do not appear for three consecutive times on the shift specifically signed to you, you must, unless you get a special suspension or send an alternative to take your place, relinquish your right as a permanent member of the canteen and return your identification card to the chairman.
  3. All committee chairman and captains must make sure that the individual rules pertaining to the particular department are understood and enforced. Arrangements must also be made to replace any last-minute emergency dropout.
  4. All volunteer workers, hostesses, host, entertainers, musicians, named people, etc., must enter through the Cole Street doors.
  5. All workers must register in and out. A registry book will be at the Cole Street entrance. This is most important. Report to your captain or committee chairman after registering.
  6. The officer of the day is the only person in the canteen who has the authority to deal with any questions, emergencies, criticisms. Report all such to him.
  7. Do not high pressure anyone for anything.
  8. Try to be on time at all times.


Hollywood Canteen Capacity

t should be pointed out that the official fire regulations limited the canteens maximum capacity to 500 people, but the number was always exceeded. In fact, there were probably about 6 to 700 servicemen, +150 volunteers occupying the building at any one time. To prevent extreme congestion and to accommodate as many soldiers as possible, a system was devised by puts the boys would enter and leave in shifts of about 500. Instead, the master of ceremonies for the evening's entertainment would tell the crowd, “fellows, we hate to do this, but 1000 of your buddies are outside waiting to see the show. Were going to ask all of you who have been here an hour or so to leave now, so they can come in.”

There never seemed to be any grumbling among the men, no matter how hot the band, or how cute the junior hostesses. They would pick up their caps at the check room, say thanks to a senior hostess and the officer of the day, and head up Cahuenga Avenue, comparing autographs or the vocal stylings of Martha Tilton or Ginny Simms. The line of waiting servicemen outside would enter the forecourt, divide into two's, sixes and dozens, until four or 500 newcomers joining the action inside. They, too, enjoyed all the benefits of the canteen, till, after about an hour, they headed for the exits so that others could take their places.

Hollywood Photos

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