Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Stage Door Canteen

By Marilyn Turk

In my next book, Shadow of the Curse, one of my characters plays in a band at The Stage Door Canteen. I thought you might like to know a little bit about the place ahead of time.

The first Stage Door Canteen opened on March 2, 1942, in the basement of the 44th Street Theatre in the heart of New York‘s theater district. Started and directed by the American Theatre Wing, War Service, Inc., the canteen offered servicemen entertainment, refreshments, and dancing. The canteen provided civilians in the entertainment industry with a way to “do their part” for the war effort and repay servicemen for the sacrifice they were making.

Capacity for the Canteen was 500, but tickets were issued to servicemen for one hour each, so in one night, as many as 2000 servicemen might pass through the doors. On opening night, entertainers included a comedian, ballet dancers and several popular actors of the era. The canteen was so popular, servicemen, many who had left home for the first time, stood in long lines outside the building waiting for their turn to enter.

Bette Davis serving at the Stage Door Canteen

The G.I.’s were allotted one sandwich, one dessert, and one drink (tea, coffee or milk). No alcoholic beverages were allowed. The main draw was the entertainment, not only on the stage, but the servers were often stars from the theatre or movies. Only at the Canteen could a serviceman see someone like Red Skelton, Marlene Dietrich or Bette Davis in person for free.

Another attraction of the canteen was the young hostesses. These young women were selected to socialize and dance with the servicemen. They were identified by the red, white and blue aprons worn over their sensible dresses. 

Hostesses were not allowed to date any of the servicemen and were supposed to ration their time with each, not spending too much time with one man. They were also expected to be friendly and dance with any serviceman who asked, regardless of age, rank, or race, showing equal treatment to all.

The Stage Door Canteen received favorable publicity in newspapers and magazines across the United States as the place where stars of stage and screen did their humble best to support servicemen.

Stage Door Canteen, U.K.

Other Stage Door Canteens opened in Hollywood, Boston, Washington D.C., Philadelphia, Cleveland, San Francisco and Newark. Before the war ended, Canteens also opened in London and Paris.

Stage Door Canteen Radio Showwith Shirley Temple

The Canteen was also the subject of a popular radio variety show, and a successful musical film in 1943, “Stage Door Canteen.”

The Canteens closed at the end of war, but the National WWII Museum in New Orleans has revived their tradition with a replica Stage Door Canteen, with food and entertainment of the era.

Have you ever heard of the Stage Door Canteen? Did you have any relatives who either went to them or worked at them? I'd love to hear your story.

Marilyn Turk loves to study history, especially that of lighthouses and the coast of the United States. She is the author of Rebel Light, a Civil War love story set on the coast of Florida, The Gilded Curse, a historical suspense novel set on Jekyll Island, Georgia, in 1942, and Lighthouse Devotions - 52 Inspiring Lighthouse Stories, based on her popular lighthouse blog. (@ http://pathwayheart.com) Shadow of the Curse, the sequel to The Gilded Curse, will be published in 2018.


  1. I'm a docent at the Wright Museum of WWII in our town, and they have a small display about the Stage Door Canteen. The founders mother was a volunteer there. Part of the exhibit includes a certificate awarded to her for her service. Your book sounds very interesting!

  2. I've never heard of them. Interesting story, seems like a nice way to support the troops!

    1. Yes, Connie. We treated our soldiers were treated very well in World War II.

  3. Stage Door Canteen is history I was not aware of. Glad this was available for all the servicemen to enjoy some relaxatin while serving our country. No family members who worked or went to a Stage Door Canteen. I'm looking forward to reading your upcoming book, since I've enjoyed your other books during this era. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Hi Marilyn! Thanks for your endorsement! Yes, I'd like to see that movie, especially since it was made at the same time the canteens were in operation.

  4. I have never heard of the Stage Door Canteen. I do enjoy watching movies from that time and also, reading stories from that time. Thank you for the information. Looking forward to reading your book.

  5. Hi Melissa. Thanks for your comment. I wonder if Turner Classic Movies has ever shown the "Stage Door Canteen" movie? I'd sure like to see it myself.

  6. My father visited the Stage Door Canteen in NY City during WWII.
    I have a portrait of him, in his Navy uniform, that Francis Farmer did there one night.
    It is signed, "To Charles from Francis The Stage Door Canteen".
    What a time to have lived, both scary and wonderful.

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  8. I am a direct product of a Stage Door Canteen romance. My father was recruited by the Coast Guard to serve, after being drafted, in the Merchant Marines. My mother was a volunteer at the New York facility. Dating was strictly prohibited. My dad was an officer as he already had a college degree. Family history is that my parents secretly exchanged contact info as my mom lived with her widowed mom in Manhattan.On their very first date, my dad had a professional photographer take their portrait. I cannot tell you exactly what month they met, but I can tell you that after the invasion of Normandy and a three week engagement, they got married on 10/28/1944. I am the youngest of three children, born in 1952.

  9. mother (now deceased) worked at the Stage Door Canteen in Manhattan. She was a secretary, and she took notes (in shorthand) of everything that was said at the Canteen during the day. She saw many of the entertainers who came to the Canteen. She remembers Frank Sinatra being there, slumped in a chair, with his feet up on the chair in front of him.
    Donna Lee Snyder