Mammoth author’s latest focuses on Hollywood hotspot during WWII/
Bruce Torrence, a 14-year Mammoth resident, last published a book in 1979.
So how does he explain the 33-year hiatus between 1979s “Hollywood: The First 100 Years” and his latest, “The Hollywood Canteen: Where The Greatest Generation Danced With the Most Beautiful Girls in the World”?
“I was busy,” said Torrence.
A USC alumnus (class of ‘62), Torrence was by turns a banker and then an owner of a pool and spa business in Orange County for the next 37 years.
Yet he has also simultaneously run a company for the past forty years selling Hollywood photographic memorabilia. The company is currently parked online at www.hollywoodphotographs.com and Torrence sells approximately 2,000 digital images a year for prices ranging between $50 and $75.
His interest in Hollywood photographs was piqued by his grandfather, a Hollywood real estate developer who built Grauman’s Chinese Theater as well as the Egyptian Theater, both Hollywood landmarks.
Initially, his grandfather had a collection of about 30 old photographs which Bruce thought were pretty cool. He then began adding to the collection and ultimately became somewhat fanatical in his pursuit.
When asked why he transitioned from such a macro-type book on Hollywood to a micro-type period book, Torrence said “Nobody has told the story yet [of the Hollywood Canteen]. And we [he and co-author Lisa Mitchell] had the wherewithal and the photographs.”
The Hollywood Canteen was founded by actors Bette Davis and John Garfield and operated for three years during the Second World War. It was a place for servicemen, and only for servicemen, to go when they happened to visit Hollywood. You literally had to be wearing a uniform to get in. “Your ticket was your uniform,” confirmed Torrence. And who waited on the servicemen? Volunteers from the entertainment industry interested in supporting the troops. As Torrence said, “You could dance with Rita Hayworth. You could get served by Spencer Tracy. You could be entertained by Bob Hope.”
In its three years of operation, three million servicemen visited the Canteen.
A well-known actress of the era, Joan Leslie, penned the foreword to the book and several WWII vets provided Torrence firsthand accounts of their experiences.
The charm of the book is that it captures a very unique time in history before celebrity became so pervasive and engulfing that celebrities became “different” than regular folks.
The book, which took Torrence about five years to put together, includes 170 photographs. The toughest part about publishing the book for Torrence was having to leave just as many photographs out.
In a bit of irony, Torrence’s co-author Mitchell was the L.A. Times book crtiic who reviewed his first book back in ‘79.
Sheet: Will we have to wait 33 years for the next book?
Torrence: Nope. It [a draft] is already finished. It’s a history of the motion picture studios.
Bruce Torrence will be signing copies of the Hollywood Canteen Sunday, Aug. 19 at the Booky Joint between 1 and 3 p.m.