Th ere Is No Color Line at Th is Coast Canteen
—CHICAGO DEFENDER (JANUARY 30, 1943)
What does it mean to have a body that provides an institution with
diversity?
—SARA AHMED, ON BEING INCLUDED (2012)
Democracy! Th at’s what it means, Slim! Everybody equal. Like to night!
All them big shots, listening to little shots like me, and being friendly!
—A SERGEANT BROOKLYN NOLAN, HOLLYWOOD CANTEEN (1944)
Th is is a long book about a small place, a military recreation spot operated
for three years by motion picture industry workers in Hollywood (October 3,
1942– November 22, 1945).1 Th ere are larger rooms with longer (earthly) life
spans. But this one’s fame extends beyond walls and years. Even so, this long
book does not deliver a comprehensive history of the Hollywood Canteen—
there are far more detailed accounts of the nuts and bolts of its operation. A
reader seeking such a resource would do well to consult Lisa Mitchell and
Bruce Torrence’s book Th e Hollywood Canteen: Where the Greatest Genera-
tion Danced with the Most Beautiful Girls in the World (2012).
At the same time, this is a small book about a large topic. I began by inter-
viewing people about their memories of dancing in this par tic u lar patriotic
swing station, and I wound up rethinking my position on enduring linkages
between democracy, war, and swing. I push off from the Hollywood Canteen
to ask broader questions about relationships between big band music, jit-
terbug, and U.S. nostalgia for World War II. You might say I write less about
the dance fl oor than on it, approaching it from many routes. I wrestle with it,
Prologue
Dance Floor Democracy?
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