ASK PLAYBILL.COM: A Question About Broadway's Historic Stage Door Canteen

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22 Jun 2012

This tablet on 44th Street commemorates the Stage Door Canteen.
This tablet on 44th Street commemorates the Stage Door Canteen.

Maybe you've heard the song "I Left My Heart at the Stage Door Canteen"? A reader has a question about the venue's location, and we expand on it.


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Question: What is the address of the Stage Door Canteen on West 44th Street? —Michael Manning, New York, NY

The Stage Door Canteen — the famous World War II-era Times Square haven for soldiers temporarily stationed in New York City — opened March 2, 1942, at 216 W. 44th Street. The location was a space underneath the Fourth-Fourth Street Theatre formerly occupied by the Little Club. The Little Club was opened in 1917 as a members-only after-theatre hangout and dance club. It was the scene of many raids and arrests during Prohibition, not all of them having to do with liquor violations.

In 1940 the New York Times bought the theatre, and leased it to producer and theatre owner Lee Shubert. When Shubert was approached by the American Theatre Wing with the idea of running a soldiers' canteen out of the basement space, he waived the rent and donated the property free of charge. Heather A. Hitchens, executive director of the Wing, told that "some people are surprised" that the American Theatre Wing was founded as the Stage Women's War Relief Fund. "We were founded at the advent of the First World War and the canteens were formed during World War II," she said. "It was a way to give back."

Actresses Selena Royle and Jane Cowl were co-chairs of the Canteen Committee. The idea was simple, but ingenious. The acting community would do everything. Certainly, they would perform; that would be the primary attraction of the Canteen — not just songs and comedy bits, but compressed versions of the plays and musicals then playing on Broadway. Actresses also did duty as hostesses and dancing partners. Actors worked as waiters, busboys, dishwashers and dancing partners. At the initial recruiting event for canteen volunteers, 700 actors and actresses showed up.


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