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The Hollywood Canteen Photos & History - Part 7

The Hollywood Canteen Photos and History – Part 7

What Stars Will Be Here Tonight?

Once the servicemen who walked through the canteen doors, they hit the snack bar as fast as they could, where they were served by some of Hollywood's most recognizable and generous stars

Actresses such as Irene Dunne and Linda Darnell not only offered food and coffee, signed endless autographs and posed for countless pictures as the boys passed their cameras around, they also repeatedly answered questions about their own lives.


While the senior hostesses were running the snack bar, their male counterparts were acting as host, busboys, and the kitchen staff. Top stars, leading man, grand actors, all pitched in. Servicemen reached for sandwiches from enormous trays wielded by Spencer Tracy and Robert Benchley. They returned the smiles of stately Basil Rathbone or elegant Herbert Marshall coming out of the kitchen in their big white aprons, and laugh at comedians Buster Keaton and red Skelton bussing tables.

One night in 1944, the servicemen were delighted with the surprise visit from United States vice president Henry Wallace, who joined other volunteers helping out in the kitchen. The informal, friendly atmosphere of the canteen made it easy for the boys to kibbitz with anyone, even someone high in the White House.

Almost always, the first question that a wide eyed soldier would ask the minute he entered the canteen was, what stars will be here tonight?.

Whether the ones he encountered on a particular night had the biggest names or were some personal favorites who just appealed to him, and excited servicemen was very rarely disappointed. The most regularly spotted famous face was that of Bette Davis. Not only was the dynamic star of many films consistently on the scene, often performing in skits with other entertainers, but as the canteens cofounder and responsible president, she was all over the place, keeping things humming and putting out fires.


Certainly one of the most beautiful faces the enlisted men found at the canteen was Hedy Lamarr. She claimed, many times, that she signed so many autographs that she thought her arm would fall off, but I couldn't resist those boys -- I remember one night a slim boy with glasses, no more than 19, said I leave for overseas next week and now I've got something to live for. Wait till I get home and show the neighbors your autograph.”


The hundreds of celebrity volunteers couldn't resist volunteering at the canteen. For Joan Crawford, the dividends went deeper. Though grateful servicemen, had they even thought about it, wouldn't have cared. Crawfords involvement with the canteen coincided with a fallow. In her career.

Adopted daughter Christina Crawford, reflected on her mother's canteen experience, says, I know she enjoyed it. But I think part of it was that they took a lot of pictures and there were a lot of people appreciating the stars. And at the time, she wasn't working very much, and so I think it filled a void for her that work didn't,”

It should be pointed out that hundreds of stars volunteered their services at the canteen. Celebrities such as, Spencer Tracy, Marlene Dietrich, Rita Hayworth, Cary Grant, Irene Manning, Mickey Rooney, Linda Darnell, Claire James, John Garfield, Merle Oberon, Hedda Hopper, Mary Gordon, Dinah shore, Jess Parker, Red Skelton, Cary Grant, Paulette Goddard, Joan Leslie were but a few who tirelessly volunteered their time at the Hollywood canteen.

One of the canteens most faithful, and certainly one of the most beautiful celebrities, was Bunny Waters. Married to Johnny Green, in 1943, funny was 6 foot tall and very statuesque. The Hollywood website has several photos of her dancing with 5’3’’ Henry Pilla on the canteens dance floor. Bonnie was in the opinion of Bruce Torrence, one of the most beautiful women he had never met.


Dancing at the Hollywood Canteen

Without question, dancing was the most popular activity at the Hollywood Canteen. In the middle of the main room was a large dance floor, which was next to the elevated bandstand and stage. Without the photographs and newsreels, it would be hard to believe that so many servicemen could crowd onto the canteens dance floor. But cover the floor they did, as that was where all the pretty hostesses were ready, willing and able to become their partners.

Every night, two bands played their music for hundreds of couples jammed together as they managed to move around. Of all the types of dances that were popular at the time, the jitterbug was the most requested dance. The guys were so crazy about it, as one hostess remarked, “They just jitterbug you to jelly.”

One night, on a cleared dance floor, Jane Withers put on a jitterbug exhibition with five eager young men -- who were all totally exhausted by the time they had finished. Later, when bandleader Kay Kyser called on Jane to repeat the entire routine up on stage, she hopped right to it with the same crackling Withers gusto.


A highly popular feature at the canteen was the ”Tag Dance”, which allowed a young man to cut in on a fellow servicemen and start dancing with his partner. To regulate these exchanges, there was an electric sign on the wall to the left of the stage that read, TAG DANCE.” Whenever the sign was turned on -- which was about four or five times a night-- the place went wild. One of the most popular photographs, of dancing at the Hollywood canteen, shows actress/dancer, Fay McKenzie jitterbugging with servicemen. The largest collection of Hollywood canteen photos is on the Hollywood website. Many of the photos, in the collection, show famous celebrities dancing with young servicemen. Some of these movie stars include, Linda Darnell, Marlene Dietrich, Deanna Durbin, Claire Trevor, Rita Hayworth, Bunny Waters, Bette Davis, and Joan Leslie.

All of the photographs on the website are available for purc

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