Legion Theater project 'an amazing feeling of accomplishment'
Hollywood Post 43 member Carol Ann Van Natten talks with visitors at the Turner Classic Movies Film Festival. (Photo by Schelly Stone)

Legion Theater project 'an amazing feeling of accomplishment'

It took Carol Ann Van Natten some time to get over being medically discharged from the U.S. Navy in 2000. What she’d hoped to make a career – “I was a lifer,” she said – lasted just four years.

In fact, Van Natten said it wasn’t until the past few years that she’d come to terms with having to leave the military prematurely. Finding Hollywood Post 43 was a big step in reaching that point.

“It has meant everything to me,” said Van Natten of Post 43’s Legion Family. “(Being medically discharged) was a big blow. Over the last couple of years I was able to make a separation between what I lost and what is out here for me to do with my future. And I think making that switch over from lamenting the active-duty loss and changing over to what I can do for my fellow veterans has really made all the difference.

“It’s really changed my whole perspective. It’s no longer a loss to me in my heart. It’s more like I gained this whole family. Our post is unbelievable.”

Van Natten was front and center in the lobby of Post 43 during Day 2 of Turner Classic Movies’ Film Festival. She was manning the post’s “Take a Seat” table, which allows post members and others to “purchase” a seat in The Legion Theater as part of a fundraising effort.

Being a member of Post 43 during the renovation of the theater is “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be a part of, for one thing,” Van Natten said. “But it’s amazing to be a part of the history in our own building, which is 90 years old, and to be a part a part of the future. And these seats … they’re going to be there the next 90 years.”

Having the renovation taking place and being able to be a part of it when Van Natten joined Post 43 was perfect timing. “Having gone through that loss of my Navy career, there’s a lot of feelings of inadequacy,” she said. “To have so much to do and for such a good reason has given me an amazing feeling of accomplishment. I think that’s why I volunteer here so much. It makes me feel like I’m important again.”

While not holding any specific office within Post 43, Van Natten is a self-described “gopher,” within the post doing “little things here and there that they might need additional support for. I’ve put in 100s of hours in that theater. I do the cleaning. I make sure all the little bits of popcorn are picked up. I take care of the stains in our brand-new carpet. There’s all kinds of stuff I do.”

Seeing the theater go from an unused multipurpose to a host for the film festival has been a memorable journey for Van Natten.

“The only thing I ever wanted to do besides be in the military was to be an actress,” said Van Natten, who has more than a dozen acting credits in movies and television since 2003. “So to be a part of this (theater) while also being a part of my veteran community, it’s really unbelievable.”