(1944) During World War II the Hollywood Canteen was a club open only to servicemen and women where they could get a free meal, entertainment and perhaps dance with a real Hollywood star. The impetus to create the Canteen came from a lunchtime conversation between Bette Davis and John Garfield. Ms. Davis acted as the President. Mr. Garfield’s impetus was that because of a heart condition he could not himself enlist, so he “worked” at the Canteen, went on bond tours, and entertained the troops overseas.
A huge long list of celebrities along with men and women who worked behind the scenes donated their time and sang, danced, cooked, waited on tables and cleaned up.
Both Davis and Garfield are featured in this movie about The Hollywood Canteen. So are a long long list of other Hollywood stars who are seen either in a cameo appearance or in a musical number. The Tommy Dorsey band, Eddie Cantor, the Andrews sisters, too many to name. When the Sons of the Pioneers began to sang, I wondered, “Where’s Roy Rogers?” Next thing I knew he rode in on golden palamino Trigger (but no Dale Evans. At the time she was married to someone else. She didn’t marry up with Roy until 1947.)
My favorite act was a dueling violins number between Hungarian violinist Joseph Szigeti and Jack Benny. Oh to have been in the audience.
There was a bit of a story mixed in with all the musical numbers. Actress Joan Leslie falls in love with the one millionth guest to walk through the door of the Hollywood Canteen. Well, he fell in love with her, and we’re lead to believe that maybe …
According to the TCM article, Bette Davis later said, “There are few accomplishments in my life that I am sincerely proud of. The Hollywood Canteen is one of them.”
In 1944 John Garfield was barely thirty years old and one of Hollywood’s most popular stars. Five years later he had become a target of the House Committee on Un-American Activities but refused to name names. In 1952 he died of a heart attack. Garfield was 39 years old.