Hollywood Canteen


Shortly after the outbreak of World War II, Bette Davis approached John Garfield about starting a canteen in Hollywood, similar to the Stage Door Canteen in New York. After John agreed, Betty approached Dr. Jules Stein, Chairman of MCA to assist in handling the financing of the canteen. He agreed on the condition that he be able to stay in the background and not be in the limelight. The three approached all the entertainment unions and guilds who agreed to throw all their support behind project.  They contacted all the motion picture studios, radio stations, entertainment unions, guilds and crafts to solicit their assistance in operating the Canteen. To order to gain awareness and funds for the canteen, a fundraiser was held in conjunction with the premiere of Talk Of The Town, starring Cary Grant and Jean Arthur. After the premiere, a supper dance was held at Ciro's nightclub. The fundraiser was a success at every level, as $6,500 was collected, which would go to renting and renovating the building that would soon become the home of the Hollywood Canteen. After weeks of searching for a usable building, Bette Davis and John Garfield a dilapidated place that once had been a barn in the heart of Hollywood. Located at 1451 N. Cahuenga Avenue, just south of Sunset Blvd., the structure had been a series of ill-fated nightclubs. The last was a cabaret-type theater called the Red Barn where drinks and dinner were served, followed by floor shows and stock melodramas. The Red Barn closed its doors in 1937 and remained vacant until August 25, 1942 when Bette and John leased it for $100 a month for the duration of the war. Under the supervision of Al Ybarra, all of Hollywoods motion picture craftsmen unanimously volunteered their services. From plumbers, electricians, painters, carpenters, laborers, prop men, set decorators, etc all pitched in to transform the old nightclub into a place where servicemen could visit when came to Hollywood. Bette and John called a meeting of several people who were committed to getting the Canteen off and running. After the Board of Directors and officers were appointed, certain rules and regulations were adopted. It was unanimously agreed that the Hollywood Canteen would be for the exclusive use of enlisted servicemen no officers were allowed in. The servicemen's uniform was his ticket to admission. It was also decided that the only persons allowed to volunteer were those who work in some facet of the entertainment business (radio, stage or motion picture industry). It was figured that approximately three hundred volunteers would be needed nightly. These would include junior and senior hostesses, busboys, kitchen help, stage staff, band members, and celebrities who would hand out sandwiches, coffee as well provide entertainment. As the word spread about the Canteen, thousands of people signed up as volunteers celebrities, studio secretaries and receptionists, make-up artists, cartoonists, set decorators, part-time actors, and other employees of the motion picture studios. Hundreds of Hollywood Canteen Photos can be seen on this web site. The Canteen's operation was divided into three primary functions dancing with the servicemen, providing food and drinks (no alcoholic beverages allowed) and entertainment. The hostesses, who consisted of celebrities and other female volunteers, were responsible for dancing and chatting with the servicemen. One of the strictest rules was that hostesses were prohibited from leaving with or meeting servicemen after the Canteen closed for the night. Any breach of this rule meant immediate dismissal as a volunteer. Bette Davis solicited Chef Joseph Milani's help in securing all the food that would be needed to supply the Hollywood Canteen for the duration of the war. The preparation of the food and beverages was left to the Kitchen and Snack crew which was supervised by Mary Ford, wife of film director, John Ford. One of the most tireless volunteers was Jules Stein's wife, Doris who was responsible for making sure there was a sufficient number of hostesses each night to dance and chat with servicemen. By the time the Canteen opened its doors, almost every celebrity in Hollywood signed up as a volunteer. After many weeks of remodeling, registering volunteers, soliciting contributions from food suppliers, and general organizing, the Canteen finally had it's grand opening on October 3rd, 1942. With Eddie Cantor as MC, the Canteen's forecourt was filled with thousands of servicemen, dignitaries and civic leaders. After a few welcoming speeches, the front doors were thrown open and hundreds of guests entered the Hollywood Canteen for the first time. It wasn't long before word spread and every soldier who came to Hollywood, eventually ended up at the Canteen. All the food, beverages and cigarettes were free to the servicemen. Each night, two bands played while the dance floor was filled with hostesses and servicemen doing the jitterbug or the Lindy Hop. The visiting servicemen and volunteers were entertained every night by celebrities such as Red Skelton, Spencer Tracy, Rosemary Clooney, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and thousands of others. Dancing with hostesses, which included movie stars and non-celebrities was a major attraction at the Canteen. Some of the stars included Rita Hayworth, Marlene Dietrich, Paulette Goddard, Joan Crawford, Fay McKenzie, Bunny Walters and Joan Leslie. Because of the popularity of the Canteen, servicemen could only stay for a couple of hours and then had to leave to make room for the hundreds of fellow servicemen who had been waiting in line to get in.  Many of Hollywood's nightclubs sent over entertainers to perform for the visiting servicemen. Ken Murray would leave his Blackouts and entertain the servicemen. Take a look at the the hundreds of Hollywood Canteen photographs on this site. Holidays, such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years and Easter were especially popular because the traditional meals were served and it was a place where servicemen could go and be in a "homey" atmosphere. With the war over, in mid 1945, fewer and fewer servicemen visited the Canteen. When it was announced that the Hollywood Canteen would close on Thanksgiving night, in 1945, hundreds and hundreds of volunteers and servicemen showed up for the last time. Over the course of its three year existence, the Hollywood Canteen had over 3 million servicemen come through its doors. It was truly Hollywood's finest home-front contribution to the war. All the Hollywood Canteen pictures can be purchased. In 2012, Bruce Torrence and Lisa Mitchell wrote at book titled, "The Hollywood Canteen", which chronicles the story of the world famous Hollywood Canteen. With hundreds of pages of text and more than 175 historical photos, the book examines all the activites that took place at the Canteen.  The only people that were allowed onto the first floor of the Canteen were enlisted servicemen and volunteers from the entertainment industry.  Visiting officer were relegated to a room on the second floor where they, and their guests, could watch the activities on the first floor from a large window.  Dancing with volunteers (many of whom were beautiful actresses) was one of the highlights for the visiting servicemen.  Twice each night, entertainers got up on stage to perform for the audience.  Food was free and servicemen were invited to eat all they wanted. 

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Certificate of Appreciation from Bette Davis to Nancy Marlow for volunteer service at the Hollywood Camteen
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THE HOLLYWOOD CANTEEN book for sale
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The Hollywood Canteen Book
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Autograph book from the Hollywood Canteen
Hollywood CanteenCertificate of Appreciation from Bette Davis to Nancy Marlow for volunteer service at the Hollywood Camteen
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1945
Hollywood CanteenTHE HOLLYWOOD CANTEEN book for sale
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Hollywood CanteenThe Hollywood Canteen Book
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2012
Hollywood CanteenAutograph book from the Hollywood Canteen
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1942-1945
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Hollywood Canteen volunteer's arm band and ID card
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This is a napkin from the Hollywood Canteen. It was given to me by my friend, Bob Scholtz, who is a WWII veteran. He visited the Hollywood Canteen in 1943, after enlisting in the US Navy.
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GRAND OPENING OF HOLLYWOOD CANTEEN
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ABBOTT & COSTELLO AT THE GRAND OPENING OF THE HOLLYWOOD CANTEEN
Hollywood CanteenHollywood Canteen volunteer's arm band and ID card
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1/23/43
Hollywood CanteenThis is a napkin from the Hollywood Canteen. It was given to me by my friend, Bob Scholtz, who is a WWII veteran. He visited the Hollywood Canteen in 1943, after enlisting in the US Navy.
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1943
Hollywood CanteenGRAND OPENING OF HOLLYWOOD CANTEEN
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1942
Hollywood CanteenABBOTT & COSTELLO AT THE GRAND OPENING OF THE HOLLYWOOD CANTEEN
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1942
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PAULETTE GODDARD AT HOLLYWOOD CANTEEN
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ANN SHERIDAN & HEDDA HOPPER AT HOLLYWOOD CANTEEN
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DANNY KAYE AT HOLLYWOOD CANTEEN
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MICKEY ROONEY AT HOLLYWOOD CANTEEN
Hollywood CanteenPAULETTE GODDARD AT HOLLYWOOD CANTEEN
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1943
Hollywood CanteenANN SHERIDAN & HEDDA HOPPER AT HOLLYWOOD CANTEEN
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1943
Hollywood CanteenDANNY KAYE AT HOLLYWOOD CANTEEN
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1943
Hollywood CanteenMICKEY ROONEY AT HOLLYWOOD CANTEEN
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1943