In 1942 patrons had to wear a military uniform to enter the canteen, which was staffed by Broadway legends including Lauren Bacall, Bette Davis (delivering desserts), Helen Hayes (serving sandwiches), and Alfred Lunt and Sam Jaffe (who cleared plates!). The American Theatre Wing ran the canteen, a much-needed respite for America's men and women in uniform who came to mingle with stars, dance, drink and grab a bite.
In 2009, "civilians" will be able to visit the canteen, which will offer a revue entitled Let Freedom Swing!, capturing songs and material from the era. Dinner and cocktails will also be available.
The original site of the first Stage Door Canteen was in the basement of the 44th Street Theatre, which was razed in 1945 to make way for the New York Times building. Appropriately, the last musical to play the 44th Street Theatre was On the Town, the valentine to New York that follows three sailors on their whirlwind trip around the city.