The American Legion is a non-profit organisation of U.S. war veterans, founded in 1919, and with branches nationwide. Post 43, its Hollywood clubhouse on North Highland Avenue, recently opened its doors for Memorial Day after a year in lockdown, LAist reports.
“More than 100 people were expected to attend the Memorial Day ceremony at the ‘Post of the Stars’ clubhouse that sits just a few blocks below the Hollywood Bowl. It’s the first time since COVID-19 hit that many members of the war veteran’s group have been able to go inside the building, which many describe as their home away from home.
It’s a pretty beautiful place to have that drink. Founded by Hollywood industry types in 1919, it has pictures of everyone from Marilyn Monroe to Howard Hughes lining the walls. And the arts are strong in the spirit of the place today … ‘When you walk in there now, you’ll see how it still looks like you’re in a nearly 100-year-old building, but it’s also premier sound design and picture,’ said Mike Hjelmstad, a Marine veteran and former post commander.
Assistant Sergeant at Arms Simone Lara said this is also a place where a lot of military families have found community. It’s been very difficult with Post 43 closed over the past year … Lara and Hjelmstad are excited to soon invite non-members into their home, too. They’ve been combing through hundreds of military artifacts from the post’s archives so that the building can soon open back up as a museum.”
On April 15, 1947, Marilyn attended the annual ceremony and presentation of Honorary Colonels at the Hollywood American Legion theatre (see here.) That evening, Dorothy Malone, Arlene Dahl, Wanda Hendrix and Gloria Henry were among the other young hopefuls who would go on to find fame. In 2016, Mike Hjelmstad wrote about Post 43’s historic links to the entertainment industry on the American Legion website.
“American Legion Hollywood Post 43 has a historic relationship with show business, especially since its called ‘Post to the Stars.’ Since 1932, a colorful and glamorous affair known as Honorary Colonels Night has held special significance for the Hollywood post and members of the motion picture industry. What began as a way for the entertainment industry to introduce budding stars has become Post 43’s way of recognizing those who go out of their way to show support for military servicemembers and the veteran’s community. This is the night when the Legion and the movies get together to stage the annual event that has become a part of Hollywood tradition.
Honorary Colonels Night has held special significance since 1931 when [opera singer] Madame Ernestine Schumann-Heink introduced 12 emerging starlets … In the early 1920s, when Post 43 was a small but ambitious post, the foremost actors and actresses of the day, under the leadership of Theodore Roberts, a film and stage actor known for his roles in the productions of Cecil B. Demille, staged an all-star show. It enabled the post to not only acquire its first clubhouse, but also to build the world famous boxing stadium. Hollywood Post 43 has never forgotten this, and Honorary Colonels Night is a small token of its gratitude.
Today, Honorary Colonels are recognized at Post 43’s annual Commanders Ball, which recognizes celebrities who do great things for veterans. The tradition goes back to an evening when each of the major film studios were represented by upcoming stars that were then commissioned in an impressive ceremony. Prominent guests, usually a motion picture star, were the honored guests of the evening and the post presented them with the silver wings of their honorary rank in concert with the aims and ideals of The American Legion.
More than 200 actors have been inducted as Honorary Colonels of Hollywood Post 43 over the years, mostly in the years before 1952. Many famous stars made their debut in the Hollywood post, including Rita Hayworth, Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield, Ginger Rogers, Lana Turner, Dawn Wells and Shirley Temple, to name a few …
Marilyn Monroe is among the most famous Honorary Colonels. Before she changed her legal name and hair color, she was contributing to the war effort in a military factory as Norma Jeane Dougherty; her main job was spraying down planes with fire retardant. Her devotion to the troops never waivered when Gentlemen Prefer Blondes made her a star and she traveled to Korea and entertained 13,000 Marines stationed there. She referred to that trip as the best thing that ever happened to her and said she never felt more like a star in her heart.”