The Hollywood Canteen
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The Hollywood Canteen

"Through these portals pass the most beautiful uniforms in the world."

The Hollywood Canteen
The Hollywood Photograph Collection

What do Bette Davis and John Garfield have in common?

They were both actors during the Golden Age of Hollywood.


Together, they — along with the president of the Music Corporation of America, Jules Stein — created and maintained The Hollywood Canteen: a club dedicated to U.S./allied countries servicemen and servicewomen. It was a place where food, dancing and various entertainment flowed constantly and free of charge to those in uniform.

The Hollywood Canteen officially opened for operation on October 3, 1942. It was housed at 1451 Cahuenga Boulevard in Hollywood, CA. A huge number of people, many of them Hollywood celebrities, volunteered tirelessly at the Canteen. Among other tasks, they cooked, served food, and cleaned up each night.

Everyone who volunteered at the Hollywood Canteen received an identification card like this one:

A number of celebrities who volunteered also took the stage to provide entertainment for servicemen and servicewomen, while many beloved female celebrities danced the night away with eager and lovestruck servicemen. Marlene Dietrich, among others, was always a popular dance partner.

Soldiers could see any number of famous faces in one night, such as Orson Welles, Rita Hayworth, Hedy Lamarr, Eddie Cantor, Jeanette MacDonald, Betty Hutton, Jack Benny, Cary Grant, Betty Grable, etc.

Holidays played no exception at the Canteen: Turkey dinners were served to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas was abound with decorations, feasts, and - even at a time of such unrest - joy. Since those in uniform were often displaced during holidays, this meant that the Hollywood performers who volunteered at various times would often volunteer to give each man and woman in uniform an amazing day or night to celebrate.

Quite obviously, the world was much different in the 1940s. Twitter was about 60 years away from being invented and Instagram would not be invented for about 65 years after the Canteen's lifetime. In order to get a glimpse of the Hollywood Canteen festivities, moviegoers were treated with news reels, which were shown before movie screenings in theaters.

This Movietone news reel from 1942 shows what a Christmas Eve typically looked like inside the Canteen:

This discussion just scratches the surface of one of Hollywood's most interesting subjects. Many people today don't know about this golden piece of history in Hollywood. While guilty pleasure stuff like following the latest celebrity gossip can be fun, it can sometimes get in the way of remembering important history like this.

Although Hollywood seems to push new (and often questionable) agendas in the modern age, remember the greatness it achieved in serving and honoring roughly three million courageous servicemen and servicewomen from 1942 until 1945, when its doors closed on Thanksgiving.

I highly recommend learning even more about The Hollywood Canteen. I know there is at least one book in print about the subject and it's a fantastic read. You can find it here.

In honor of those who served in World War II and volunteered at the Hollywood Canteen, I dedicate this post.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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