Friday, February 4, 2011

Windows to the Past: Leslie Brooks at the Hollywood Canteen

Columbia Studios starlet and pin-up girl Leslie Brooks gets help from a serviceman outside the soon-to-open Hollywood Canteen in this photograph from fall of 1942.  The gentleman is Yeoman Seymour Rice of the Coast Guard.

The Hollywood Canteen was located on Cahuenga Boulevard in Hollywood.  It operated during the war years from 1942 to 1945 and featured free food and entertainment for servicemen and servicewomen.  The Canteen was the brainchild of stars Bette Davis and John Garfield, and they enlisted the entire entertainment industry to donate labor, materials and services to construct and operate the venue.  By the time it closed on Thanksgiving Day 1945, it had served nearly three million military personnel.  In 1944, Warner Brothers released the film Hollywood Canteen which drew inspiration from the actual nightclub.

Brooks was twenty years old when she signed with Columbia Pictures in 1942.  Her career in Hollywood lasted less than a decade.  She played secondary roles for Columbia before being leaving the studio in 1948.  Her personal life at the time was marred by a troubled marriage to ex-marine and struggling actor Donald Anthony Shay that ended in a divorce and a bitter custody fight over their daughter Leslie Victoria.  She would go on to marry land developer Russ Vincent in 1950 and effectively retire from show business.