Yesterday we told of the glories of the 1943 film “Stage Door Canteen — A Soldier’s Story,” and how it’s not to be missed by anyone who wants to know what REAL talent looked like on Broadway in the 1930s and 40s.
In late 1942, the Hollywood Canteen opened its doors. Any serviceman (or woman) lucky enough to be funneled through Los Angeles, and who could get in were treated to a glimpse, or even a chat or a dance with a movie star.
Almost every major film star volunteered at the Canteen.
If they could perform, sing or dance or play an instrument, they did. If the women couldn’t dance with the servicemen they worked in the kitchen or on other details, as did the top male stars of the time.
There was a wall of fame, with pictures of stars who were actively serving in the Armed Forces themselves. Over 3000 of the industry’s actors, technicians and others worked as volunteers serving millions servicemen of the Allied Forces in the 3 years the Canteen operated.
In fact, the lucky One Millionth man who entered the Canteen on September 15, 1943 (less than a year after the operation began) was awarded a kiss by Betty Grable, the servicemen’s favorite pin up.
The Canteen was the pet project of Bette Davis (pouring the coffee above) and John Garfield, who enlisted the help of Jules Stein, the founder of MCA, one of the leading talent agencies of the day. Its great success, and the release of the1943 film “Stage Door Canteen,” Sol Lessor’s film released by United Artists, convinced Warner Brothers that they too could mine that field.
They had already released a Canteen-like film, “Thank Your Lucky Stars,” in 1943, featuring the studio’s list of stars doing off beat production numbers (Bette Davis singing “They’re Either Too Old or Too Young”). Now another film seemed in order, one highlighting the contribution of Hollywood in the National Canteen effort.