Saturday, July 6, 2024

More Than a Good Time

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Most people have heard of the Tony Awards, and some may know the award’s full name is The Antoinette Perry Award for Excellence in Broadway Theatre, but few are aware that the American Theatre Wing (ATW) is the organization behind the award.

The group got its start during World War I when Rachel Crothers, a well-known Broadway playwright and director and six of her colleagues founded the Stage Women’s War Relief. They recruited members from all levels within the industry, front stagehands and makeup artists to producers and directors, then sold almost $7 million in war bonds, collected two million articles of clothing for distribution, and provided entertainment for U.S. troops. After the war, the organization changed its mission to helping veterans and civilians recover from the war, then disbanded within a few years.

In 1939, with war again rumbling in Europe, the U.S. government contacted Crothers and asked her to reactivate the organization. She accepted the responsibility and under the new name of American Theatre Wing, led volunteers to raise money and collect supplies for British citizens who were suffering from bombing raids. After Pearl Harbor was attacked in December, 1941, the organization turned its sights back to the American home front.

By February 1942, actresses Jane Cowl and Selena Royle had taken over leadership and were
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spearheading the establishment of a recreation center, The Stage Door Canteen, for servicemen. The two women secured the use of the basement of the 44th Street Theater, on loan for free by producer and owner Lee Shubert. The trade unions provided labor at no charge.

The canteen had an occupancy limit of five hundred, and a system was devised that allowed servicemen to enter in shifts, thus serving over 2,000 uniformed personnel each night. Admission and food were free and limited to enlisted men and non-commissioned officers. The public supported the organization through regular radio drives, and Irving Berlin contributed all profits from his song “I Left My Heart at the Stage Door Canteen.” Entertainment included performances by well-known and aspiring actors, actresses, singers, comedians, and dancers who also served as hostesses and busboys when not on stage.

The success of the Canteen prompted the formation of other locations including Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Newark, Boston, Cleveland and San Francisco. Toward the end of the war, locations opened in London and Paris.

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Hostesses were prohibited from dating any of the servicemen and were required to “ration” their time with each, not spending too much time with one man. In a time when everything, including the military, was segregated canteens were open to members of the armed forces of all Allied nations from every branch of service, mingling individuals of all nationalities and colors, creating “one of the few democratic institutions in existence anywhere.” (Theatre Arts Magazine, 1943)

The canteens closed at the end of the war, with the Washington, DC location being the last to shut their doors on January 23, 1946.

An estimated eleven million Allied servicemen were fed and entertained during the Canteens’ existence – no small feat.


War’s Unexpected Gift

Love and war don’t mix. Or do they?

Eager to do even more for the war effort, nurse Gwen Milford puts in for a transfer from a convalescent hospital outside of London to an evac hospital headed across Europe. Leap-frogging from one location to the next, nothing goes as expected from stolen supplies to overwhelming numbers of casualties. Then, there’s the handsome doctor who seems to be assigned to her every shift. As another Christmas approaches without the war’s end, can she find room in her heart for love?

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Linda Shenton Matchett writes happily-ever-after historical Christian fiction about second chances and women who overcome life’s challenges to be better versions of themselves.

Whether you choose her books set in the Old West or across the globe during WWII, you will be immersed in the past through rich detail. Follow the journeys of relatable characters whose faith is sorely tested, yet in the end, emerge triumphant. Be encouraged in your own faith-walk through stories of history and hope.   


  1. Thank you for posting today. I've heard about "canteens" but didn't know the scope of how they supported the troops.

    1. Thanks for stopping by. You are such a faithful follower!

  2. I enjoyed learning about how these canteens started and all they did for servicemen.

    1. Me too. I wish we did more things like this nowadays.