During the war, serviceman flooded the Hollywood area. John Garfield and Bette Davis saw a need for free entertainment and refreshments for the soldiers.
With the help of the newly formed financial committee, work got started to find a location. A former horse stable and cabaret nightclub called The Red Barn was chosen, located just off Sunset Boulevard.
The Hollywood Canteen opened its doors October 3,1942. The sign over the door read “Through these portals pass the most beautiful uniforms in the world.”
And beautiful they were. They were also well fed, free food was provided and even served up by Bette herself.
Jules Steins wife Doris, organized hostesses and dancing partners for the servicemen.
Decorations and materials were provided by the local guilds and unions. Neighboring artists and cartoonist painted murals on the walls of the club.
Local artist paints mural inside the Canteen
It was truly a Hollywood collaboration for the War effort. Over 3,000 from the entertainment industry volunteered.
Imagine the thrill and smiles on the servicemen and women's faces upon entering. A once in a lifetime chance to dance with that favorite movie star, or perhaps be waited on by someone famous.
Bombshells like Paulette Goddard, Veronica Lake, Hedy LaMarr, Jane Russell or Gene Tierney volunteered, just to name a few.
All patrons were provided with a postcard of the Hollywood Canteen at the reception desk. Postage was free and many sent word home of their experiences in the club.
Musical entertainment was superb at the Canteen. With co founder Jules Stein being president of the Music Corporation of America, it was a breeze to book talented artists to join the war effort and play their tunes for the soldiers. Frank Sinatra, Tommy Dorsey, Count Basie, Lena Horne, Bob Hope, The Andrews Sisters and many more got the music flowing, feet dancing and the soldiers minds off the war.
Frank Sinatra singing with the Harry James band
The Andrews Sisters
It was such a huge success that in less than a year the club celebrated its millionth guest. Sgt. Carl Bell walked through the door one September evening in 1943 and was given the surprise of his life. As the millionth customer, he was smooched by none other than Marlene Dietrich and escorted by Betty Grable.
Marlene Dietrich lays one on the 1,000,000th guest
Betty Grable with 1,000,000th guest Sgt. Carl Bell
Moments like this were inspiration for the movie "Hollywood Canteen" made in 1944. It starred Joan Leslie, Robert Hutton and Dane Clark, with many cameo appearances by the volunteer actors and actresses themselves.
Warner Brother donated forty percent of ticket sales back to the Canteen. The movie was the fourth highest grossing film for 1944.
By the time the war ended the club had been host to almost three million serviceman.
The financial committee had over a half million dollars left in funds when they closed their doors on Thanksgiving 1945.
They created a foundation that still exists today and proceeds go towards continuing helping our servicemen and women.
Unfortunately, it was demolished in 1966 and the original site of the infamous Hollywood Canteen is now a parking garage for the CNN building on Sunset.
John Garfield, Bette Davis
Founders of the Hollywood Canteen John Garfield, Bette Davis and Jules Stein
Celebrities who donated their time at the Hollywood Canteen were:
Bud Abbott and Lou Costello
Eddie 'Rochester' Anderson
The Andrews Sisters
Joe E. Brown
George Burns & Gracie Allen
Yvonne De Carlo
Dolores Del Rio
Olivia de Havilland
Cecil B. DeMille
Edward Everett Horton
Marcia Mae Jones
The Marx Brothers
Louis B. Mayer
The Nicholas Brothers
Bill "Bojangles" Robinson
Edward G. Robinson
Olga San Juan
Anna May Wong
Darryl F. Zanuck
Sources: Wikipedia, Martin Turnbull, The Hollywood Canteen Chat and the New York Public Library Digital Archives.