- Dance Floor Democracy: The Social Geography of Memory at the Hollywood Canteen by Sherrie Tucker
Sherrie Tucker’s second monograph is an entertaining read with intellectual depth and thought-provoking ideas. This book is about the Hollywood Canteen, [End Page 189] a nightclub that operated from 1942 to 1945. Tucker displays many different versions of Hollywood Canteen memories through the voices of her informants, to whom she said, “I am interested in what is remembered today, not in what happened back then” (17). At the Canteen, Hollywood movie stars served war-wearied servicemen food and danced with them to the big band swing music of Duke Ellington and Jimmy Dorsey. While, as a rule, the Canteen was open to both servicemen and servicewomen of any race, and they were allowed to dance with anyone they liked, the publicity photos as well as the 1944 Hollywood feature film about the Canteen predominantly show white actresses dancing with white servicemen. Tucker asks, “What is the connection between the integrated dance floor as a symbol of democracy and the white dancing couples that provide so much of the readymade stock footage of culture—in its incarnation as the national memory of the ‘Greatest Generation’ in the ‘Good War’?” (xv).
This book is divided into four parts. Part 1 (chapters 1–3) illustrates the Hollywood of the 1940s in the multiple ways experienced and remembered by different people to show how their “race, nationality, ethnicity, politics, economics, gender, and sexuality differentiated the experience” (18). This provides a backdrop for the chapters that follow and demonstrates Hollywood’s exceptionality. In part 2 (chapters 4–6), Tucker engages the memories and narratives of servicemen and young women who volunteered at the Canteen. Part 3 (chapters 7–9) focuses on the stories of men and women who often are not included in the national memory of the Canteen: military women and draft-age civilian men. In chapter 10 of part 4, the author looks at the Canteen through the eyes of an fbi special agent who reported the possible presence of Communists at the Canteen. The last chapter analyzes the film Hollywood Canteen by carefully examining early scripts and treatments, company memos, and other archival holdings.
As the outline of the book suggests, this book is not a comprehensive, chronological account of the venue. In fact, The Hollywood Canteen: Where the Greatest Generation Danced with the Most Beautiful Girls in the World (2012) would serve this goal better. With a foreword by Joan Leslie, who volunteered at the Canteen and starred in the 1944 film, coauthors Lisa Mitchell and Bruce Torrence describe the venue’s history from its opening to its closing, providing a number of photos. Though both books share some sources and stories, Tucker draws on significantly more sources than Mitchell and Torrence and adds critical analyses. For example, the story of a personal injury lawsuit filed by a junior hostess, Florida Edwards, against the Canteen appears in both books but with very different treatments. The Hollywood Canteen mentions that Edwards got injured while she was dancing with a Marine in October 1942 and sued the Canteen in 1943. Based on the Los Angeles Times articles, the book reports that Edwards finally received $7,000 in 1946. On the other hand, Tucker, drawing on the same newspaper articles, closely follows the transcript of the trial and points out that the focus of the argument in court was on the [End Page 190] jitterbug, not on the Marine. Tucker writes, “The injured party, many witnesses, and two judges would persist in ignoring the white Marine who hurt her, and blaming the jitterbug in racist language” (153). Further, she questions whether the outcome of the lawsuit would have been the same if a nonwhite hostess was injured or the Marine was not white. Tucker’s analysis of the jitterbug trial foregrounds how gender and race intersect, considering what kind of body is valued more than other kinds of bodies.
Although Dance Floor Democracy is not a direct continuation of...