Historic photo_ benny meroff at camp lee '41.jpg

“Benny Meroff, shown above, leads the gay troupe of Broadway stars who come to Camp Lee Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday to present the USO-sponsored Funzafire.” read the caption of this photo in the Nov. 21, 1941, edition of the Lee Traveller. (U.S. Amry Quartermaster Museum)

This installment of the Historic Photo of the Month looks back to November 1941 and the visit by a well-known Broadway star and his troupe of entertainers to Camp Lee.

“‘Funzafire,’ the slap-happy show that set Broadway on its heels, will raise a barrage of howls here when star professional entertainers of U.S.O-Camp Shows, Inc., make their first appearance at Camp Lee.”

This is the first paragraph of a front page article in the Nov. 21 edition of the weekly newspaper Lee Traveller. It appeared under the headline “Funzafire Coming.” The subhead was “Madcap Show of USO Arrives Monday.”

“The daffy traveling troupe of Benny Meroff, his orchestra, dancers, singers, skaters, and not least of all – girls – will take the stage at Theater No. 1 at 6:45 Monday evening for the first of six performances.

“For 22 cents, every Camp Lee Soldier can see the entertainment USO has sent on from Broadway. Spearhead of the mad-cap attack on funnybones is Meroff, supported by a cast including 45 other headline musicians, comedians, singers, dancers and acrobats – all of whom have established names for themselves in the field of comedy.

“First intimation of the Broadway invasion will come Sunday evening when the glamour girls of Meroff’s troupe make appearances at Theaters 1, 2 and 3. Monday, the girls will take a tour of the camp with a military police escort.

“Camp headquarters said today that civilian employees of the War Department may attend the shows, as well as wives of officers and men.

“Funzafire’s appearance at Camp Lee marks the first time the show has appeared at an Army Camp.

“When men at Camp Lee get through watching the antics of Meroff, they’ll never believe that he once turned down a job as a radio announcer because of stage fright.

“Yet this famous orchestra leader while he was directing the orchestra on one at Eddie Cantor’s radio programs refused the announcement job.

“It wasn’t that I was afraid of an audience, it was just that I got stage fright when I got in the middle of an announcement,” said Meroff. “I’d always get the name of next number coming up twisted. Then I’d get embarrassed and the audience would laugh at me, making it difficult for the real entertainers.

“Meroff doesn’t have to worry about getting things twisted in ‘Funzafire.’ The whole show’s mixed up. Anything, so long as it’s funny.

“The men in uniform will be safe,” he said. “We make audiences laugh.”

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