Spotlight on Bette Davis in Hollywood Canteen and Thank Your Lucky Stars
There are some classic stars that I enjoy seeing when they pop up in a film. Then there are classic stars that I absolutely love and strive to catch every film they were in whether good or bad. Bette Davis is one of those stars. I can’t remember how I was first introduced to her work but I was instantly smitten and started watching film after film. Whether it’s lighter fare like The Man Who Came to Dinner or heavier subject matter like The Little Foxes she consistently delivers, even when she’s playing herself. And that’s just what she does in the two films I chose for the Bette Davis Blogathon – Thank Your Lucky Stars and Hollywood Canteen.
During the war years several studios produced star studded ensemble pics with razor thin plots that served as an excuse to showcase various celebrity cameos. At MGM it was Thousands Cheer. At Paramount it was Star Spangled Rhythm. And at Warner Bros. it was Thank Your Lucky Stars and Hollywood Canteen.
Thank Your Lucky Stars slight plot revolves around the escapades of a bus driver who bears a striking resemblance to Eddie Cantor, a singer desperately seeking a chance to sing on the air and a songwriter trying to peddle her latest piece. It’s goofy as all get out and really just an excuse to present a star studded show featuring some of Warner Bros. top performers. There’s a hilarious rendition of “Blues in the Night” from John Garfield, a fun song and dance featuring Olivia de Havilland and Ida Lupino and an amusing comedic scene with Humphrey Bogart. Bette Davis also joins in on the fun with her own number – “They’re Either Too Young or Too Old.”
Now, Bette Davis was know for many things but her musical ability wasn’t one of them. Despite not having the most beautiful voice she really delivers in this fun number. Thank Your Lucky Stars was released in 1943 and the piece is a lament on the lack of available men during the war years. Written by the songwriting team of Arthur Schwartz and Frank Loesser “They’re Either Too Young or Too Old” allows Davis to sing such fun lines as “I’m either their first breath of spring or else I’m their last little fling.” As in everything she does Davis gives the number her all and it ended up being nominated for a Best Original Song Oscar.
The following year brought yet another star studded Warner Bros. film – Hollywood Canteen. While Davis has another small role in this film it actually never could have been made without her.
The film Hollywood Canteen was inspired by the real life Canteen located in the heart of Hollywood. Inspired by Broadway’s Stage Door Canteen the Hollywood Canteen opened in October 1942 and offered free meals and entertainment to servicemen passing through Los Angeles. Founded by Bette Davis and John Garfield it offered the armed forces a fun night away from their war duties. During it’s three year operation several stars volunteered their time at the Canteen serving over 1 million guests.
Naturally, Warner Bros. was inspired to make a film based on this special place and in 1944 Hollywood Canteen was released. This time the slight plot revolves around a serviceman who is smitten with the actress Joan Leslie (who coincidentally starred in Thank Your Luck Stars). Surrounding his love story are several cameos from several leading stars including Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Crawford, Jack Benny and the real life founders, Bette Davis and John Garfield.
Just as in Thank Your Lucky Stars the plot isn’t the point of the film and it’s really just an excuse to catch glimpses of your favorite performers. While Davis doesn’t have a fun song and dance number here like in the other film she does get to showcase her real life work with the canteen and it’s a visual account of the charitable work she did for our armed forces.
Though Thank Your Lucky Stars and Hollywood Canteen only offer brief glimpses of Ms. Davis they do give insight into some lesser known aspects of her career. Not only do we discover she could hold her own in a musical number we’re also able to learn of her generous nature. For these reasons I can’t help but recommend viewing both films.