When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, Hollywood mobilized to become a full-time war industry. Studio trucks transported troops instead of movie sets. Stars like Clark Gable, Jimmy Stewart and Victor Mature quickly enlisted. And patriotic fare dominated the silver screens.
The War also had a more subtle effect on moviemaking and creative choices. Out of physical necessity (rationing, travel limitations, etc.) spare psychodramas and the age of Film Noir replaced the costly extravaganzas of years past.
As the War progressed, Hollywood drew together as a close-knit community. Returning soldiers swelled the local population (outnumbering civilians 10 to 1 downtown) and Hollywood pulled together to feed, shelter and entertain them.
At first, sheer overcrowding meant that many soldiers had no choice but to sleep in parks and theater lobbies. But it wasn’t long before ‘Mom’ Lehr’s Hollywood Guild and Canteen began offering them beds and ‘three squares’ a day. On average, 800 servicemen stayed with ‘Mom’ on weekdays and 1200 servicemen on weekends.
The similar-sounding Hollywood Canteen catered to 2,000 servicemen a night, offering free food and drinks as well as the era’s top big bands and an endless parade of Hollywood’s biggest stars.
It’s estimated that 6,000 radio and screen entertainers volunteered to serve and entertain the troops at the Canteen during the War.
By the early 40’s, the Hollywoodland real estate development went bust – a casualty of the Depression. The Sign, which hadn’t been maintained in years, quietly became property of the city in 1944.
The Sign had made an unheralded transition from billboard to de facto civic landmark, but salvation would have to wait until after the War.