Dancing With The Stars: WWII Edition

Anne Helen Petersen reminisces about the Hollywood Canteen, the troops' own personal nightclub staffed by celebrities:

Every night of the week (save Sunday), 2000 GIs would pour into the Canteen. These troops were days, if not hours, away from embarking to the Pacific. They would get all the free food and "refreshments" they desired. And by "refreshments" I mean coffee, tea, water, and soda—no alcohol allowed. And they spent the night…dancing. With the stars. Some of the stars were B-List, "starlettes" as they were often called, on contract to studios, with just a few credits to their names. Pretty faces, questionable talent. Today’s analog = reality stars.

But there were always big stars as well—Bette Davis cutting cake, archrival Joan Crawford washing coffee cups, Betty Grable setting the record for jitterbugging, amassing three hundred cut-ins in a single hour. Bing Crosby brought his two young sons along to sing Christmas Carols on Christmas Eve; Dorothy Lamour dressed up as Santa Claus. Years later, Johnny Carson would later recall his night at the Canteen as a naval air cadet, dancing with Marlene Dietrich.

The Canteen was democratic in the most essential sense of the word. The stars did the dishes while the soldiers, for one, fleeting night, lived the life of the movie star, surrounded by beautiful, bountiful women.

Why Karl Rove could never rally Hollywood in the same way:

In 2001, Karl Rove met with Hollywood executives to go about arranging a latter-day Hollywood unit, hoping to arrange public service spots, documentaries, and other forms of "war on terror" collaboration—even, potentially, a revival of the Hollywood Canteen. But Rove’s efforts never came to pass. It wasn’t because today’s stars are too selfish, or studio heads were too concerned with the bottom line. There were few troops on the ground, fewer still "shipping out" in the traditional way, and there was little to no access to the independent information about the war. It was, as many have pointed out, a wholly different war, with dramatically different discourses of nationhood, sacrifice, and citizen collaboration.

(Video from Hollywood Canteen, featuring Joan Crawford, who called the film "a very pleasant pile of shit for wartime audiences.")