Twenty-four-year-old Phyllis Jeanne Creore came to the big city in 1937 from Rochester, New York, hoping to sell her own songs, which were her poems set to music. Ambitious and talented, she found good work in radio, at night spots like the Biltmore Hotel’s Bowman Room and as RCA’s “Miss Television” at the 1939 World’s Fair. She roomed at the Rehearsal Club, 45-47 W. 53rd St., where young, single actresses could find comfortable, safe, affordable lodging and the company of fellow aspiring performers (http://www.rehearsalclubnyc.com).
Phyllis saw an announcement on the Rehearsal Club bulletin board seeking volunteers for the New York City Stage Door Canteen—the club set up to entertain the troops then passing through New York City by the hundreds of thousands. Established by the American Theatre Wing in the basement of the 44th Street Theater (between 7th and 8th Avenues), the Canteen was staffed by volunteers from the theater community. Phyllis served as a Junior Hostess and conceived of the idea of hosting a “Canteen on the Air.”
She recalls, “While I was working at the Stage Door Canteen, I decided that it would be fun to have a Canteen on the air, where I could sing popular songs to servicemen and their sweethearts, their mothers, sisters, and families, and maybe help them to feel a little closer together.”
Phyllis successfully pitched her idea to NBC’s Red Network and, as of August 1942, the fifteen-minute Canteen Girl show went on the radio every Friday night at 6:30 PM. Her composition “This is My Wish” became the show’s theme song, exemplifying the encouraging sentiments she hoped to share with servicemen: “I wish you luck in everything you do, that all your cares will disappear from view / Sweet dreams until tomorrow’s reveille / This is my wish.”
Canteen Girl’s quick popularity meant that Phyllis received fan mail and requests from servicemen and their loved ones for special songs. “I was able to talk to individual boys and sing their requests.”
Each Friday’s show closed with these words, delivered in Phyllis’ sweet, upbeat voice: “Be sure to drop in at the Canteen next Friday at the same time, won’t you? Just set your dial right where it is now, and wait for the announcer to say, (enter a deep male voice) ‘Here is your Canteen Girl Phyllis Jeanne. Canteen Girl comes to you from New York.’ ”
Today, Phyllis Jeanne Creore Westermann lives in New York, where she paints, sculpts, and helps draw attention to the cultural significance of the Rehearsal Club (it closed in 1979). She is featured in two short films playing in the WWII & NYC exhibit at the New-York Historical Society. You can also hear an interview with Phyllis Jeanne on National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition.”