Thanksgiving at the Hollywood Canteen

During World War II, communities pulled together to help out servicemen, and Hollywood was no exception.

The Hollywood Canteen, located at 1451 Cahuenga Boulevard in Hollywood, CA, was a USO nightclub exclusively for enlisted men (no officers) and admission was only their uniform.

Claude Rains and Edward Arnold carve turkeys

Founded by Bette Davis, John Garfield and Jules Stein, servicemen could dance with Hedy Lamarr, be served doughnuts by Rita Hayworth and Robert Benchley may be washing dishes.

The Hollywood Canteen opened on Oct. 3, 1942, and closed its doors on Nov. 22, 1945, Thanksgiving Day. During that time, they entertained 3 million military personnel.

From the year it opened in 1942 to its closing day on Thanksgiving, servicemen and women away from their families on the holiday were invited to a Thanksgiving meal. Chef Milani, famous Italian chef, was in charge of the food at the club. Chef Milani would make meals specific to different regions of the United States, from Boston baked beans and chowder to Creole shrimp, according to Oct. 23, 1944, brief in the Daily Notes of Canonsburg, PA.

Here are a few new briefs on the Hollywood Canteen’s Thanksgiving celebrations over the years:

Thursday, Nov. 26, 1942:
Eddie Cantor was the master of ceremonies at the first Hollywood Canteen celebration, according to a Nov. 26, 1942, news brief in the Los Angeles Times. Approximately 5,000 servicemen came for a buffet style meal.

Bette Davis helps carve turkeys at the Hollywood Canteen

Thursday, Nov. 25, 1943:
3,500 servicemen were served in a Thanksgiving celebration at the Hollywood Canteen. During the meal, they were entertained by Bob Hope, according to a Dec. 19, 1943, news brief in the Star Press, of Muncie, Indiana.

Chef Milani prepared 76 turkeys for servicemen at the Hollywood Canteen, according to a Nov. 27, 1943, new brief in the Los Angeles Times.

The 76 turkeys were carved by Paul Heinreid, Edward Arnold, Wallace Beery, Claude Rains, Edgar Bergen, John Garfield, Dick Powell and William Bendix, according to the Dec. 19, 1943, brief.

John Wayne also helped carve turkeys. Ward Bond was also going to carve turkeys, but got too inebriated that night before, according to the book Three Bad Men: John Ford, John Wayne, Ward Bond by Scott Allen Nollen.

Servicemen eating Thanksgiving dinner at the Hollywood Canteen

Thursday, Nov. 23, 1944:
Servicemen would enjoy a meal as good as what is served at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City, Bette Davis said in an Oct. 23, 1944, brief in the Daily Notes of Canonsburg, PA.

On Nov. 20, 1944, the Hollywood Canteen announced they would open at 7 p.m. and have movie stars and three different dance bands for entertainment. In addition to the meals, there would be fresh fruit for the soldiers, according to a Nov. 20, 1944, brief in the Los Angeles Times.

Thursday, Nov. 22, 1945:
After serving military personnel for three years, the Hollywood Canteen shut its doors on Nov. 22, 1945. The last day of the club ended after a 10-hour stage shift that ended at midnight. They ended with a Thanksgiving celebration and show that started in the afternoon and went into the evening.

The show included performances and appearances from Bob Hope, Jack Benny, Ingrid Bergman, Joan Leslie, Kay Kyser, Bette Davis, Dinah Shore, James Stewart, Hedy Lamarr, Edward G. Robinson, Henry Fonda, Ronald Colman and Jerry Colonna, according to a Nov. 23, 1945, Associated Press news brief.

Dinah Shore eats with servicemen at the Hollywood Canteen.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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