Army Entertainment

History of Army Entertainment

 

“Entertainment for the Soldier, by the Soldier” has been a part of the U.S. Army’s heritage since 1774. Building on the tradition of Civil War camp shows, and more known shows “Yip Yip Yaphank” during World War I and “This is the Army” during World War II written and directed by then Sgt. Irvin Berlin, Army Entertainment was formalized to inspire, support and coordinate theatrical and musical programs at Army Installations worldwide.

            Today’s U.S. Army Entertainment began as Special Services. The unit was created on July 22, 1940 by the War Department as part of the Army Service Forces. Special Services would not only use their own specially trained and talented troops but would often engage local performers. 

            Special Services were one of the few U.S. Army units to be integrated during World War II. Special Services opened their first Recreational Officer School at Fort Meade, Maryland on April 1, 1942.

Margaret E. (Skippy) Lynn (April 28, 1924 – June 11, 2002) is considered the founder of the modern Entertainment program. In 1945, she was chosen by Peggy Wood and Paul Green to be among the first civilian "actress technicians" employed by the U.S. government to work with troops overseas following World War II. 

In 1962, she helped found and then for two decades directed the Army Music and Theater Program, which The Washington Post in 1976 called "the largest producing organization of music and theater in the world." She eventually developed the U.S. Army Entertainment program, inspiring, supporting and coordinating theatrical and music programs at Army bases worldwide.

At that time, it staged more than 25,000 performances annually with a global audience of more than 2.5 million people. 

Among the well-known performers who participated in the program include Burt Lancaster, Carl Reiner, Leonard Nimoy, Clint Eastwood, Dick Van Dyke, Jack Paar, Sterling Holloway, Sammy Davis Jr and Frank Gorshin. More recently, 2012 Tony Award for Best Lead Actress, Nina Arianda, was a participant in the program in Heidelberg, Germany.

Today, Army Entertainment is located in the Army’s second – oldest movie theatre, the historic Fort Sam Houston Theatre, built in the 1930’s and is home base for Army Entertainment operations.