It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.
In honor of Veteran’s Day, Comet Over Hollywood is sharing two films that spotlight two canteens: the Stage Door Canteen with Broadway stars on the east coast in New York and the Hollywood Canteen on the west coast in Hollywood.
Both have similar themes but are rather different at the same time.
Stage Door Canteen (1943)
Stage Door Canteen (1943) –Musical #138
Lon McCallister, Marjorie Riordan, Cheryl Walker, William Terry, Sunset Carson, Margaret Early
Judith Anderson, Kenny Baker, Tallulah Bankhead, Ralph Bellamy, Jack Benny, Edgar Bergen, Ray Bolger, Helen Broderick, Ina Claire, Katharine Cornell, Lloyd Corrigan, Jane Darwell, William Demarest, Gracie Fields, Arlene Francis, Virginia Grey, Helen Hayes, Katharine Hepburn, Hugh Herbert, Jean Hersholt, Sam Jaffe, Allen Jenkins, George Jessel,Otto Kruger, Gertrude Lawrence, Gypsy Rose Lee, Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, Aline MacMahon, Ralph Morgan, Harpo Marx, Elsa Maxwell, Helen Menken, Ethel Merman, Peggy Moran, Alan Mowbray, Paul Muni, Merle Oberon, Franklin Pangborn, George Raft, Selena Royle, Martha Scott, Cornelia Otis Skinner, Ned Sparks, Ethel Waters, Johnny Weissmuller, Dame May Whitty, Ed Wynn, Count Basie, Xavier Cugat, Lina Romay, Benny Goodman, Peggy Lee, Kay Kyser, Guy Lombardo
Gypse Rose Lee performs for the soldiers at the Stage Door Canteen
The film follows young women (Riordan, Walker, Early) who volunteer at the Stage Door Canteen in New York. Volunteering involves dancing with soldiers, talking to them and serving food. However, the canteen has strict rules-no dating servicemen. Eileen (Walker) admits to only volunteering, because she is hoping to be discovered as an actress by one of the celebrities. But her selfish ways are shaken when she meets soldier Dakota (Terry). Innocent soldier, California (McCallister) doesn’t have a girl back home, writes letters to his father and has never been kissed. He meets Jean (Riordan) at the canteen and tells her she has given him his happiest moments since he has joined the service.
The majority of the film is made up of cameos by famous Broadway and Hollywood stars including Gypsy Rose Lee, George Raft, Johnny Weismuller and Katharine Cornell. The romances are a backdrop for the performances, stringing the film together.
Eileen (Walker) and Dakota (Terry) realize they are in love at the Stage Door Canteen
-The real Stage Door Canteen was on 44th Street in New York, but the movie was filmed in Hollywood.
-Stage actress Katharine Cornell’s only film appearance.
-The story line was inspired by the Irving Berlin song “I Left My Heart at the Stage Door Canteen.”
-A portion of the money that the film made was donated to the Stage Door Canteen. “Stage Door Canteen” was the top grossing film of the year, making $4,339,500, according to George Raft: The Films by Everett Aaker
-Katharine Hepburn’s only musical film, though she is never in a musical number.
-Peggy Lee’s second film appearance
-Ruth Roman’s first film appearance.
Jean (Riordan) gives California (McCallister) his first kiss
-Katharine Cornell plays a scene from Romeo and Juliet with Lon McCallister.
-Cornell gives a young British soldier cake and an orange. He is overcome with joy because of the orange and says “I haven’t seen one of these in two years. It’s like Christmas!” Tear worthy.
-Katharine Hepburn gives Eileen (Walker) a talking to of why she needs to continue serving in the canteen even though her fiance is fighting overseas. Probably the most dramatic scene of the film.
-Ventriloquist Edgar Bergan with his puppets Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd.
-”The Girl I Love to Leave Behind” sung by Roy Bolger
-”She’s a Bombshell from Brooklyn” performed by Xavier Cugat and Lina Romay
-”We Mustn’t Say Goodnight” sung by Lanny Ross
-”Sleep, Baby, Sleep in Your Jeep” performed by the Guy Lombardo Orchestra
-”Quick Sands” performed by Count Bassie and Ethel Waters
-”Goodnight Sweetheart” performed by Benny Goodman, Guy Lombardo and sung by Kenny Baker
-”Ave Maria” performed by violinist Yehudi Menuhin
I love this movie. Before seeing this movie for the first time several years ago, I wasn’t familiar with stage stars such as Helen Menken or Katharine Cornell. But the film opened shows the other side of entertainment, showing the past celebrities of the east coast. Though the main story line is brief and thin, I still enjoy it. A boy and girl becoming attached after dancing and talking all night and the boy not knowing if he will return from the war? I think that’s believable.
The movie also has several scenes that are very touching and make me tear up: the British boy having an orange for the first time in two years, Lon McCallister getting his first kiss. Yep, the waterworks are running.
If you are looking for a film with a strong plot line and character development, “Stage Door Canteen” probably isn’t for you. But if you are hoping to get a glimpse into the past-to see how soldiers may have spent their leave and what songs and stars were popular-this movie is 2 hours and 10 minutes of your day well spent.
Hollywood Canteen (1944)
“Hollywood Canteen” –Musical #139
Joan Leslie, Robert Hutton, Dane Clark
Bette Davis, John Garfield ,The Andrews Sisters, Jack Benny, Joe E. Brown, Eddie Cantor, Kitty Carlisle, Jack Carson, Joan Crawford, Helmut Dantine, Faye Emerson, Sydney Greenstreet, Alan Hale, Sr., Paul Henreid, Joan Leslie, Peter Lorre, Ida Lupino, Dorothy Malone, Dennis Morgan, Janis Paige, Eleanor Parker, Roy Rogers (with Trigger), S.Z. Sakall, Zachary Scott, Alexis Smith, Barbara Stanwyck, Jane Wyman, Jimmy Dorsey, Donald Woods, Andrea King, Joyce Reynolds and The Golden Gate Quartet.
Slim Green (Hutton) is fighting in the Pacific and dreaming of actress Joan Leslie. When he is injured and sent home-he and his buddy Sgt. Nowland (Clark) drop by the Hollywood Canteen. Slim asks film stars Jack Carson and Jane Wyman if Leslie will be at the Canteen that night. Real life creaters of the canteen Bette Davis and John Garfield arrange for Leslie to come to the club that night and arrange for the two to meet.
Slim and Leslie later win a date together and a romance between the two develops-including Slim meeting her family.
The film is peppered with musical numbers and cameos, similar to “Stage Door Canteen,” but may have more of a plot.
Slim (Hutton) receives a kiss from his actress crush Joan Leslie at the Hollywood Canteen.
-The soldiers watch a film in the Pacific starring Joan Leslie. The film is “The Hard Way” (1943) also starring Ida Lupino, Jack Carson and Dennis Morgan.
-Ann Sheridan was originally supposed to play the role of the actress. However, Sheridan turned down the role because she said it wasn’t realistic for an actress to fall in love with a soldier.
-During the filming of “Hollywood Canteen,” Bette Davis was filming a dramatic film and had a hard time playing herself, said Joan Leslie. “She was having trouble concentrating…At one point she said, ‘Oh cut! This is terrible. I can’t play myself. I don’t know how…But if you give me a drink, cigarette and a gun, I’ll play anything you want me to!,” Leslie said in the book “Movies Were Always Magical” by Leo Verswijver.
-In real life, Joan Leslie and other Warner Brothers stars volunteered at the canteen on Tuesday, according to “Movies Were Always Magical.”
-The movie was supposed to originally be a multi-studio film including stars from Twentieth Century Fox, MGM and Paramount, since these celebrities appeared at the club. When studio heads balked, Jack Warner kept just his own studio players in the films.
-Betty Brodel, who is Joan Leslie’s sister in the film, is Leslie’s real life sister.
-The real Hollywood Canteen was located at Cahuenga Blvd. near Sunset Blvd.
-Joan Crawford’s first film after leaving her contract with MGM.
-Profits of the film were donated to the War Effort.
-Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Song “Sweet Dreams, Sweetheart.” Also nominated for Scoring of a Musical Picture and Best Sound Recording.
-Robert Hutton sees Barbara Stanwyck and he says, “You’re Barbara Stanwyck.” Stanwyck says “How can you tell?” Their scene together is adorable.
Robert Hutton speaks with Barbara Stanwyck during her cameo.
-All the soldiers want to pinch S.Z. Sakall’s chubby cheeks.
-Roy Rogers doing tricks with his horse Trigger
-John Garfield giving the history of how the Hollywood Canteen was formed.
-Carmen Cavallero performing on the piano. It’s special to me because my grandmother loved Cavallero.
-”Don’t Fence Me In” sung by Roy Rogers
-”Sweet, Dreams Sweetheart” sung by Joan Leslie
-”Tumblin’ Tumbleweeds” sung by Sons of the Pioneers
-”(I’m Gettin’ Corns for My County at) The Hollywood Canteen” sung by the Andrew Sisters
“Hollywood Canteen” is such a sweet film that you wish Joan Leslie really did have a romance and marry a soldier. Leslie was the perfect actress to play the role because she is kind and believable. Though I like Ann Sheridan, I’m not sure how she would have fit in the film. She’s not exactly warm and cuddly.
Similar to “Stage Door Canteen,” the plot is on a backdrop of star studded cameos and musical performances. It’s fun to see Warner Brothers stars in the cameos.
It’s poignant and Joan Leslie’s performance seems sincere.
If you have a spare two hours, I suggest you see it. If you aren’t into the sentiment, watch it to learn more about Hollywood Canteen.
Comparing the Canteen films:
I love both of these films but for different reasons. When I saw them both for the first time roughly 10 years ago, I liked “Stage Door Canteen” better. I liked the plot more and found several scenes more moving. However, now I liked them equally. But they are rather different.
“Stage Door” doesn’t have the Hollywood glitter and glamour that “Hollywood Canteen” has, making it feel….grittier (for lack of a better word). “Stage Door Canteen” is more of a revue of Broadway star while “Hollywood Canteen” has all the earmarks of a Hollywood film.
“Hollywood Canteen” also has less celebrity cameos and musical numbers and more plot while “Stage Door Canteen” is the opposite.
Regardless, I love both films and the glimpse they allow contemporary audiences into our past.
Happy Veteran’s Day!
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