I spent a little time today watching one of the more bizarre movies to come out of 1940s Hollywood, even by WWII standards: a hotch-potch of cameos and plot called Hollywood Canteen. I was after a light number by Jack Benny and Josef Szigeti (they play Souvenir, sort of, and it's the best part of the film...obviously; it's also fairly similar to the schtick Benny used to do with Heifetz USO tours), but got a dose of Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Peter Lorre, Roy Rogers and Trigger, Eddie Cantor, Sydney Greenstreet, Ida Lupino, Barbara Stanwyck, Jack Carson, and the dreamy Joan Leslie. The film is about a venue called the Hollywood Canteen that was supposedly conceived, created, staffed and hosted by a slew of Hollywood stars and crew to entertain and repay allied soldiers during the war. The movie's got all the airs of a star-studded vanity project, but the strange thing is the Canteen actually existed. Wikipedia does a nice job of summarising the place's history, and so I'll pass along the reins to them:
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. The serviceman's ticket for admission was his uniform and everything at the Canteen was free of charge.
The driving forces behind its creation 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 guild 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.
Glamorous stars volunteered to wait on tables, cook in the kitches and clean up. 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.
A Hall of Honor at the Hollywood Canteen had a wall of photos which honored the film actors who served in the military.
The Canteen had a list of volunteers that would put Mrs. Astor to shame. The Barrymores, Fred Astaire, Cary Grant, Buster Keaton, Gene Kelly, Orson Welles, Mae West, Mary Pickford, Gregory Peck, Rita Hayworth, Frank Sinatra, Tallulah Bankhead, the Marx Brothers... and that's just the tip of the iceburg. Click here if you'd like to see the full roster. Can you imagine something like this existing in any other era than that of World War II?