Painful Patriotism

Movie poster for Hollywood Canteen

Movie poster for Hollywood Canteen

Many of the songs in 1945 had to do with various aspects of World War Two. Among other things, those songs spoke of the pain of separation, of the desire to be home again, and of the anxious waiting to see a loved one return, exemplified in such songs as I Dream Of You (More Than You Dream I Do), I’ll Wait For You Dear, A Little On The Lonely Side, Saturday Night (Is The Loneliest Night In The Week), Sentimental Journey, He’s Home For A Little While, At Mail Call Today, Put Another Chair At The Table, Stars And Stripes On Iwo Jima, Homesick – That’s All, and Waitin’ For The Train To Come In.

But there was one song that was a little different in its approach than all the rest. It was not a song filled with the pain of loneliness or homesickness or anxiety. No, this song was about a different kind of pain. The song is entitled (I’m Getting) Corns For My Country and is about a young miss who volunteers at the Hollywood Canteen. Because she was so active as a “patriotic jitterbug,” she is not only losing weight, but also getting corns on her toes!

Here is how she explains her plight:
I’m gettin’ corns for my country
At the Hollywood Canteen
The hardest workin’ junior hostess
You’ve ever seen
I’m doin’ my bit down here for Uncle Sam
I’m a patriotic jitterbug
Yeah, yeah, that’s what I am

I’m getting’ corns for my country, you should see the pounds fly
I’m getting’ down the waistline and I don’t even try
I don’t need a DuBarry or a Westmore course
‘Cos my weight’s been taken over by the Army Air Force

We’re not petite as sweet Joan Leslie, but then we never mind
When those GI’s knock the South, we’re glad that we’re the healthy kind
The way those cowboys from the prairie expect us to sashay
I think I’d rather two-step with their horses any day

We’re gettin’ corns for our country, though the goin is tough
When we think we can’t go on, we find we can’t get enough
So if you hear of a soldier, sailor or marine
Tell him to look us up at the Hollywood Canteen

I used to be aesthetic, they say, oh yes I was, really I was
I served the drama, arts and the ballet
But the theatre guild came over and said, “Forget about Pavlova “
Learn to cut a rug, so now we’re jitterbugs

I’m getting’ corns for my country, so I’m really all in
In a week from now we’ll be here with our usual vim
So if you hail from the Bronx, Des Moines or Aberdeen
Come down and ask for us at the Hollywood Canteen

The song was composed by the writing team of Leah Worth, Jean Barry, and Dick Charles, and was introduced in the 1944 film Hollywood Canteen by the Andrews Sisters.

The Andrews Sisters

The Andrews Sisters

There are three references in the song would have been understood when the song was released in 1945, but might need some clarification for us today.

Reference 1: “I don’t need a DuBarry or a Westmore course. . .”
The reference here is to the famous DuBarry Success Courses instituted in 1940 that set the standards for beauty and well-being for women during that era. Women by the thousands either attended the courses at the Richard Hudnut Salon on Fifth Avenue or took the correspondence Success Course at home. From the Success Course, women learned how to become beautiful, successful women no matter what their financial or social status.

The other reference in this line is to Westmore, a name that has been associated with the make-up department in the Hollywood film industry since 1917. Percival (“Perc”) Harry Westmore was a prominent member of the Westmore family of Hollywood make-up artists. He rose to the position of Head of the Warner Brothers make-up department, and with his brothers (Bud, and Wally) founded the studio, The House of Westmore on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. He worked with well-known Hollywood actresses of the period, including Lauren Bacall, Bette Davis and Kay Francis. “Perc” was involved in The House of Westmore beauty product range, and one promotion run by the company gave away copies of Perc Westmore’s Make-up Guide. One such advertisement described Westmore’s achievements as “responsible for the coiffure and make-up of such great stars as Bette Davis, Ann Sheridan, Merle Oberon, Olivia de Havilland, Brenda Marshall… and at one time or another has worked with practically every great star of Hollywood.”

Bud Westmore is credited on over 450 movies and television shows, including To Kill a Mockingbird, Man of a Thousand Faces, The Andromeda Strain and Creature from the Black Lagoon. For his involvement in Creature from the Black Lagoon , he assisted the designer of the Gill-man, Disney animator Millicent Patrick, though her role was deliberately downplayed and for half a century, Westmore would receive sole credit for the creature’s conception. He was sometimes credited as George Hamilton Westmore. The largest building on the Universal Studios Backlot is named in his honor.

Walter “Wally” James Westmore’s career began with the highly successful Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931) in which the transition of Fredric March from Jekyll to Hyde was considered groundbreaking in the field of film make-up. He eventually went on to work on more than 300 films, mostly for Paramount

Perc, Wally and Bud Westmore

Perc, Wally and Bud Westmore

Reference 2: “We’re not petite as sweet Joan Leslie, but then we never mind. . .”
Joan Leslie was born Joan Agnes Theresa Sadie Brodel in Detroit, Michigan. She began performing as a singer at the age of nine as part of a vaudeville act with her two sisters; Betty and Mae Brodel. She later began her Hollywood acting career while still a child, performing under her real name in several movies, beginning with her debut in the MGM movie Camille (1936) with Greta Garbo and Robert Taylor.

The young actress soon signed a contract with Warner Bros. In 1941, Leslie got her first major role in the thriller High Sierra with Humphrey Bogart, playing a crippled girl under her new billing as “Joan Leslie.” She also starred in Sergeant York and The Wagons Roll at Night in that same year. Later in 1942 she appeared as James Cagney’s wife in Yankee Doodle Dandy, and at the age of 18 in 1943, she starred in The Sky’s the Limit with Fred Astaire. In 1946, exhibitors voted her the most promising “star of tomorrow.”

During World War Two, she was a regular volunteer at the Hollywood Canteen, where she danced with servicemen and granted hundreds of autographs. In 1944, she starred with Robert Hutton in the Warner Bros. film Hollywood Canteen. Like most of the Hollywood stars in the film, she played herself, but the fictionalized plot had her falling in love with a soldier (played by Hutton frequenting the canteen.)

Andrea King, Joan Leslie, Robert Hutton, Lynne Baggett and Angela Greene in a scene from Hollywood Canteen

Andrea King, Joan Leslie, Robert Hutton, Lynne Baggett and Angela Greene in a scene from Hollywood Canteen

Reference 3: “I’m gettin’ corns for my country/At the Hollywood Canteen. . .”
The Hollywood Canteen, a former livery stable and nightclub, the Old Barn, was located at 1451 Cahuenga Boulevard, off Sunset Boulevard. From 3 October 1942 to 22 November 1945, the Hollywood Canteen served as a club offering food, dancing and entertainment for servicemen and women, usually on their way overseas. Even though the majority of visitors were United States servicemen, the Canteen was open to servicemen of allied countries as well as women in all branches of service. A serviceman’s ticket for admission was his uniform and everything at the Canteen was free of charge.

The driving forces behind the creation of the Hollywood Canteen were actors, Bette Davis and John Garfield, along with Jules Stein, President of Music Corporation of America, who headed up the finance committee. Bette Davis devoted an enormous amount of time and energy to the project and served as its president. The various guilds and unions of the entertainment industry donated the labor and money for the building renovations. The Canteen was operated and staffed completely by volunteers from the entertainment industry. By the time the Canteen opened its doors, over 3,000 stars, players, directors, producers, grips, dancers, musicians, singers, writers, technicians, wardrobe attendants, hair stylists, agents, stand-ins, publicists, secretaries, and allied craftsmen of radio and screen had registered as volunteers.

Jack Carson, Jane Wyman, John Garfield, and Bette Davis in a scene from Hollywood Canteen

Jack Carson, Jane Wyman, John Garfield, and Bette Davis in a scene from Hollywood Canteen

Stars volunteered to wait on tables, cook in the kitchen and clean up. One of the highlights for a serviceman was to dance with one of the many female celebrities volunteering at the Canteen. The other highlight was the entertainment provided by some of Hollywood’s most popular stars, ranging from radio stars to big bands to novelty acts. At the time the Canteen closed its doors in 1945, it had been host to almost three million military servicemen and women. Today, the site of the original Hollywood Canteen is occupied by a parking garage for an office building on Sunset Boulevard. The East Coast counterpart of the Hollywood Canteen was the Stage Door Canteen.

Bette Davis serves a serviceman at the Hollywood Canteen

Bette Davis serves a serviceman at the Hollywood Canteen

By 1944, the Canteen had become so popular that Warner Brothers made a movie entitled Hollywood Canteen. Starring Joan Leslie and Robert Hutton, the film had scores of stars playing themselves. It was directed by Delmer Daves, who also wrote the screenplay. In the film, two soldiers on leave spend three nights at the Hollywood Canteen before returning to active duty in the South Pacific. Slim Green (Robert Hutton) is the one millionth G.I. to enjoy the Canteen, and consequently wins a date with Joan Leslie. The other G.I., Sergeant Nolan (Dane Clark) has the chance to dance with Joan Crawford. Canteen founders Bette Davis and John Garfield give talks on the history of the Canteen. The soldiers enjoy a variety of musical numbers performed by a host of Hollywood stars, and comedians. Many of those doing cameos in the film had previously volunteered to work at the Hollywood Canteen or provide entertainment. They include: The Andrews Sisters, Jack Benny, Joe E. Brown, Eddie Cantor, Kitty Carlisle, Jack Carson, Joan Crawford, Faye Emerson, Sydney Greenstreet, Alan Hale, Sr., Paul Henreid, Joan Leslie, Peter Lorre, Ida Lupino, Dorothy Malone, Dennis Morgan, Janis Paige, Eleanor Parker, Roy Rogers (with Trigger), S.Z. Sakall, Zachary Scott, Alexis Smith, Barbara Stanwyck, Jane Wyman, Jimmy Dorsey and The Golden Gate Quartet.

Only one recording of Corns For My Country reached the Billboard charts. That recording was made by the Andrews Sisters, which debuted on 13 January 1945 and peaked at #21. Singer/comedian Cass Daley also recorded the song, but it did not make the charts.

To listen to a version of the song, click on the song title. To download a song, click on the song title, and then right click on Save target as
The Andrews Sisters, Vic Schoen and his Orchestra (I’m Getting) Corns For My Country
Cass Daley, Al Slack and his Orchestra (I’m Getting) Corns for My Country


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