The Hollywood Canteen operated at 1451 Cahuenga Boulevard in Hollywood, California, between October 3, 1942, and November 22, 1945 (Thanksgiving Day), as a club offering food, dancing and entertainment for servicemen, usually on their way overseas. Even though the majority of visitors were U.S servicemen, the canteen was open to servicemen of allied countries as well as women in all branches of service. A serviceman’s ticket for admission was his uniform, and everything at the canteen was free of charge.
The East Coast counterpart was the NY based Stage Door Canteen, which featured Broadway stars and was also celebrated in a film, Stage Door Canteen.
The driving forces behind the creation of the Hollywood Canteen were Bette Davis and John Garfield, along with Jules Stein, President of Music Corporation of America, who headed up the finance committee. Bette Davis devoted an enormous amount of time and energy to the project and served as its president. The various guilds and unions of the entertainment industry donated the labor and money for the building renovations. The Canteen was operated and staffed completely by volunteers from the entertainment industry. By the time the Canteen opened its doors, over 3000 stars, players, directors, producers, grips, dancers, musicians, singers, writers, technicians, wardrobe attendants, hair stylists, agents, stand-ins, publicists, secretaries, and allied craftsmen of radio and screen had registered as volunteers.
Stars volunteered to wait on tables, cook in the kitchen and clean up. One of the highlights for a serviceman was to dance with one of the many female celebrities volunteering at the Canteen. The other highlight was the entertainment provided by some of Hollywood’s most popular stars, ranging from radio stars to big bands to novelty acts. On September 15, 1943, the one millionth guest walked through the door of the Hollywood Canteen. The lucky soldier, Sgt. Carl Bell, received a kiss from Betty Grable and was escorted in by Marlene Dietrich. Another lucky soldier, Herman Harney, got a chance to dance with Rosemary Lane of the singing Lane sisters.
A Hall of Honor at the Hollywood Canteen had a wall of photos which honored the film actors who served in the military.
By 1944, the Canteen had become so popular that Warner Bros. made a movie titled Hollywood Canteen. Starring Joan Leslie and Robert Hutton, the film had scores of stars playing themselves. It was directed by Delmer Daves, who also wrote the screenplay. At the time the Canteen closed its doors, it had been host to almost three million servicemen.
Maria Riva, Dietrich’s daughter, recalled an anecdote where Marlene Dietrich decided to wash dishes and was joined by Hedy Lamarr. Bette Davis quipped „get those two krauts out of the kitchen!“
References to The Hollywood Canteen often erroneously give it the address of The Hollywood Guild and Canteen, which was located at 1284 North Crescent Heights Boulevard in a home owned by the estate of actor Dustin Farnum. It was here that Anne „Mom“ Lehr who provided meals and bunk beds for servicemen until the end of the war. When the home was razed in 1948, articles failed to distinguish between the two „Hollywood Canteens,“ leading to a lasting confusion.
Noted celebrities who donated their services at the Hollywood Canteen are listed.