What is your favorite Golden Age of Hollywood movie, and why?
My favorite Golden Age of Hollywood is a movie from 1943 called the Stage Door Canteen. It tells the story of Dakota, California, Tex and Jersey, four servicemen granted 24-hours liberty (free time) in New York City before their troop transport takes them to the warfront. Dakota is the lone wolf type. He has no family, no sweetheart, no one to write to or have anyone write to him. California is sweet & innocent; he’s never kissed a girl before. Tex is more of a blank slate, and Jersey has a girl back home. They wind up at the Stage Door Canteen, a nightclub of sorts for Allied soldiers on leave.
The women volunteering at the Stage Door Canteen must abide by a strict set of rules, which include absolutely no “fraternizing” with the soldiers after hours. The movie begins with one lovely and kind girl being scolded and forbidden to return to the canteen after she went dancing with a soldier. (Cue the first tears, as she pleads to be able to stay to help “the boys”, begs for clemency because he was such a nice boy, he didn’t know a soul, he was so lonesome. “It was just that he was so homesick”, she says as she leaves crying.)
Eileen is a hard-hearted actress, who’s at the canteen solely to try to get an introduction with important directors. She winds up chatting with Dakota, and at first they don’t get along…but then sparks fly, and their romance builds into a sweeping epic love.
All these are very convenient plot-points, but somehow, watching it, I just don’t care. There are cameos from so many stage and screen stars, you just can’t name them fast enough, and each of them as some little scene, or little story line that tugs at your heart. Katharine Cornell has just a few lines with a young British soldier who can’t believe she’s handed him a real orange. Due to the war, he hasn’t seen one in two years and he’s heartbreakingly overwhelmed by having one on his tray. In another scene, Dakota helps Jersey write a letter to his sweetheart back home — “This may be my last letter from American soil, but wherever we’re going, I’ll take the memory of your kisses, and your arms around me.”
It’s tremendously funny as well. Ray Bolger’s improvisations with a borrowed uniform coat and a rifle make me laugh out loud. And the music…Oh, the music! Benny Goodman, Guy Lombardo, Peggy Lee, Count Basie, Ethel Merman. It’s a who’s who of wartime music.
It’s propaganda, to be honest. The entire premise behind the movie is to show the folks left at home that their soldiers are being cared for when they cannot, to show them stories of lasting love and faithfulness. It gives the soldiers an idea of what they might see at these canteens to give them a little bit of hope and reminds them of what might be waiting for them at home. It’s relentlessly positive, and earnest. It’s corny and heartfelt and wonderful. I never can watch it without getting that remarkable feeling of smiling through tears.
It’s exactly the same ideas, emotions and themes that I tried to capture in my book, Right Here Waiting. In it, you’ll find sweeping romance, earnest and steadfast love, heartfelt emotions, hope, and maybe a few tears. I hope you’ll check it out!
In 1942, Ben Williams had it all – a fulfilling job, adoring friends and the love of his life, Pete Montgomery.
But World War II looms over them. When Pete follows his conscience and joins the Army Air Force as a bomber pilot, Ben must find the strength to stay behind without the love of his life, the dedication to stay true and the courage he never knew he’d need to discover his own place in the war effort. Good friends help keep him afloat, until a chance meeting on the home front brings him an unexpected ally—one who will accompany him from the stages of New York City to the hell of the European warfront in search of his love.
Written in the style of a 1940s film, Right Here Waiting pays homage to classic wartime romances from the Golden Age of Hollywood.
“And now, coming to you from a secret location, pre-recorded earlier today, in cooperation with the Armed Forces Radio Network, we are proud to present one of our brave young men, United States Army Air Forces Captain Peter Montgomery, performing a special song from all our troops here to all of you folks back home.”
Ben gasped and rushed to the radio to turn up the volume. He closed his eyes and pictured Pete standing in front of the microphone in his freshly pressed uniform—khaki, the color of his eyes when he laughs—standing surefooted and strong. Crowds never made Pete nervous; singing for millions of people over the radio wouldn’t be a problem for him. When they’d sung duets during Ben’s shows at the Black Cat supper club, Pete was always so smooth and sure, never a tremor or nerves. And now, Ben could just picture him: Pete’s eyes would be closed; he’d have a slight smile; his hands would be either gently folded behind his back or holding the microphone stand.
The honey sound of Pete’s voice singing “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”—a voice Ben hadn’t heard in two years—poured from the radio, simple and unaccompanied. He sank to his knees in front of the set and turned the volume even louder. He reached out with one finger to caress the wood, stained golden-red because Pete swore it was the same color as Ben’s hair in the summer. The set reverberated under his fingers. Ben put his entire hand on the set, feeling the vibrations of Pete’s voice through the wood in almost the same way as he’d felt Pete’s voice through his chest when Pete would sing him to sleep, Pete’s naked chest under Ben’s palm, their legs tangled and bodies satiated.
Ben didn’t feel the tears streaming down his face and ignored the pain in his knee as he knelt there—he only felt Pete. Pete’s happiness and joy in the world, Pete’s kindness and generosity, Pete’s caring and love—Ben was enveloped in thoughts of Pete. For this short song, a song of longing and dreams of home, which he knew Pete had picked as a secret code of their own, he and Pete were together, just as they’d be together again, someday soon.
After the song ended, Ben heard Pete whisper, “Merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas,” Ben whispered back. “Be safe, darling. Come home soon.”
Right Here Waiting will be released by Interlude Press on February 10, 2015.
AUTHOR Bio and Links:
K. E. Belledonne is a writer, editor and translator based in the French Alps. A native New-Englander, Kat spends her spare time listening to Glenn Miller records, reading history books and cheering on her beloved Red Sox.
Ms. Belledonne describes her story as “like an old friend—the book you curl up with when you’re not feeling well. You know how it goes. You know how it will end, but it just makes you feel better reading it.”
Right Here Waiting is her first novel.
Connect with the author at http://www.kebelledonne.com, on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/KEBelledonne, on Goodreads at http://www.Goodreads.com/kebelledonne and on Twitter at @kebelledonne.