When she wasn’t bamboozling beaus in The Lady Eve, enlightening scholars in Ball of Fire, or murdering husbands in Double Indemnity, Barbara Stanwyck paid her civic duty by volunteering at the Hollywood Canteen. The Canteen was a real-life establishment in the early 1940s as a club offering food and entertainment for service men & women; many stars, notably Bette Davis, volunteered their efforts in this admirable cause.
Ms. Stanwyck was among these volunteers, and her charity is immortalized in film within the same era as many of her most classic roles. Here is her brief, yet memorable, scene within Hollywood Canteen, a 1944 film inspired by the real-life Canteen:
The soldier is Slim Green, who during his leave in Los Angeles, wins a date with actress Joan Leslie. When he visits the Canteen, he is starstruck by everyone around him (and, to be fair, who wouldn’t be!). Jane Wyman (!) introduces him to Barbara, who is managing the food counter. She instantly has him wrapped around her finger:
“You’re Barbara Stanwyck!”
“How can you tell?”
“Because you look like you look, only more so than I thought.”
She plays up her charm and puts him on the defensive:
“Well, I’m sorry I’m such a disappointment.”
“Disappointment?! My gosh, I was more crazy about you than just about anybody until…”
“What came between us?”
After this light teasing, she shows her genuine warmth and tenderness. He asks:
“How did you know my name was Slim?”
“We got word from the South Pacific that Slim was coming and to treat him right.”
In her comic roles, Ms. Stanwyck typically plays a similar function: initial assertions of power, ignited by sharp humor, before moving into softer affection and care. Her scene in Hollywood Canteen may be brief, but is a perfect snapshot as Ms. Stanwyck’s power as a comedienne, entertainer, and citizen.