The Hollywood Canteen operated at 1451 Cahuenga Boulevard in the Los Angeles, California, neighborhood of Hollywood 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 US 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 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 three thousand 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, Sergeant 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, many of whom had volunteered at the real canteen, 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.
Davis is also credited with insisting that the Hollywood Canteen be fully integrated by race and sex, at a time when most other military canteens and USO venues practiced strict segregation. When this policy was initially rejected, she used her clout by threatening to quit unless it was implemented. In practice, most visitors still socialized by race, and servicewomen were typically relegated to the upstairs balcony area.
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 provided meals and bunk beds for servicemen until the end of the Second World War. When the home was razed in 1948, news 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.
- Aaker, Everett (2013). George Raft: The Films. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company. p. 106. ISBN 978-0-7864-6646-7.
- Marlene Dietrich: Her Own Song
- "Curtains for the Hollywood Canteen".
- "Book reveals more complicated picture of nostalgic WWII Hollywood Canteen nightclub". September 29, 2014.
- "Famous Hollywood Landmark Razed". St. Petersburg Times. Vol. 65, no. 93. Associated Press. October 26, 1948. p. 2. Retrieved June 29, 2015.