Sunday, January 14, 2018

Born Today January 14: Bebe Daniels


Born Phyllis Virginia Daniels in Dallas, Texas; her childhood nickname was "Bebe."  She was born into a theatrical family, with her mother being a stage actress and her father a theater manager.  Sometime around the age of 3 or 4 years of age, the family moved to Los Angeles with the express mission of launching her acting career in the new motion picture industry that was emerging there at the time.  She debuted on the stage there at the age of 4 in a version of The Squaw Man.  That same year she embarked on her first stage tour in a version of Shakespeare's Richard III.  She went on to have roles two more major stage productions the following year.  She seems to have made her film debut in 1910 the short The Courtship of Miles Standish, a film based on a Wadsworth poem, at the age of 10.  She starred, that same year, as Dorothy in the earliest surviving film adaptation of the Frank Baum Wizard of Oz novel--published in 1910. It's entitled after the original novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz  (it is available for public viewing on Internet Move Archive).  At the earliest part of her film career, she was directed exclusively by director Otis Turner (he directed Oz and was also responsible for the holiday short A Counterfeit Santa Claus also from 1910). She went on to be one of the earliest child stars in cinema history (it is worth noting that along the way she was directed by James Young Deer in The Savage in 1913, one of the only Native Americans to direct in the silent era).  By age 15, she starred in the Hal Roach comedy opposite Harold Loyld, Giving Them Fits (1915).  Reportedly there was a romance between her and Lloyd and they later became an early Hollywood brand, she as "The Girl" and he as "The Boy"--despite his being 8 years her senior (these days that's not something Hollywood would could get away with publicly...especially in light of the last year's important #MeToo movement).  This led to the pair starring in the series "Lonesome Luke" with "Snub" Pollard (Lloyd's character in Fits is a version of this character as "Luke de Fluke").  The Luke movie series would carry the pair all the way through 1917. By 1919 they were still playing at "The Girl," "The Boy" shtick in films, but these formulaic shorts were getting old by this time (there is only so much that anyone can do with such a simple concept, only so many situations that can be contrived to place them in). So, it's hardly surprising that she wished to move on to more substantial work.  She got her chance to work on a major production for the first time in her career, when Cecile B. DeMille gave her a small supporting role in his nearly two hour long adventure film Male and Female in 1919: Gloria Swanson was the lead. This was instrumental in getting her a contract at Paramount.  She next appears Everywoman (1919), a George Melford allegorical melodrama, with a large well known cast--it was Paramount all the way: production and distribution.  After this, her appearances in one and two-reelers were a thing of the past. By the time that she was cast again in a DeMille production-- the dramedy Why Change Your Wife?--she took the supporting role to the female lead, again played by Swanson (Swanson was, in fact, only 3 years Daniels' senior).  [She would appear in another DeMille film starring Swanson in 1921: The Affairs of Anatol; she also later starred in brother William's The Splendid Crime in 1925.]  She next appears in the female lead herself in a couple of Sam Wood romance comedies with Wallace Reid in the male lead--both in 1920.  Her days of taking leading roles in comedic features had arrived.  She appeared opposite a number of leading men in the early 1920's; they ranged from the not well known to famous, they included: Harrison Ford (the original one...), Lewis Stone, Robert Warwick, Conrad Nagel, Frank Kingsley, Jack Holt, and the above mentioned Wallace Reid.  In 1924 she starred in Monsieur Beaucaire as "Princess Henriette" opposite Rudolph Valentino in the lavish Sidney Olcott "historical" romance production shot at Paramount's New York location.  After this, she went back to the workaday light romances that had become her hallmark in the 20's.  Her first sound film was yet another large production, under the umbrella of Radio Pictures (RKO); Rio Rita, in which she plays a Mexican senorita, was well over two hours long, had portions shot in the 2-color process Technicolor and featured a number of songs actually sung by stars in the cast, including Daniels.  It is a quintessential example of what a "talkie" was meant to be at the time: that is impressively overwhelming.  Radio's tagline for the film was no less understated:  Radio's Picture of the Century.  Audiences could be hard to please when they heard the voice of a silent star for the first time, so it was a big gamble that such an investment would pay off, but then again, Radio was well aware that Daniels could indeed sing and that is what won over viewers from the start (so, investment paid off).  Daniels continued on the RKO in the 1930's (Paramount dropped her with the coming of talking films...their lose).  They put her in everything from hard boiled crime flicks to more musicals (including one penned by Irving Berlin: Reaching For The Moon [1930]).  One film that stands out from this part of her career is her appearance in the short charity film The Stolen Jools; it is essentially a Laurel and Hardy film that collides with a Buster Keaton film, with the Our Gang members, and features a number of stars from silent era--even gossip queen Hedda Hopper; for Daniels, it hints at the world of slapstick comedy shorts that she starred herself in the teens, of course her part here is fleeting, but worth the mention.  In 1931, she starred in the Roy Del Ruth version of The Maltese Falcon; and her appearance in 42nd Street ranks up there as a favorite with fan of pre-code cinema.  She emerged with a whole new stable of leading men that she was cast opposite that included: Edward G. Robinson, Randolph Scott, John Barrymore and Douglas Fairbanks; she also appeared in one talking film with Lewis Stone (My Past [1931], whom her husband is in as well).  Daniels retired from Hollywood acting in 1935, she had married actor Ben Lyon in 1930 (she appears with him in the little film mentioned above as "Mrs. Ben Lyon").  Her last film in Hollywood was Music is Magic in 1935.  The couple moved to London after this.  While there she appeared in an additional 4 films, 3 of them with her husband.  Three of these films were pre-war or wartime productions.  The last of them The Lyons Abroad, is a comedy from 1955 with the two actors playing themselves as their 25th weeding anniversary is about to take place.  All the while, both of them had been busy acting on BBC radio, their comedy show based on their family is what inspired the film in the mid 1950's.  The show eventually migrated to British television; Bebe wrote a goodly number of the episodes.  She had also worked ever so briefly in the late 1940's back in Hollywood as a producer for Hal Roach Studios.  Starting in the 1940's, Daniels also appeared on the stage in London.  After two serious strokes, one in 1963 and one in 1970, a massive cerebral hemorrhage which claimed her life at age 70 on the 16th of March, 1971.  She was cremated at the well known Golders Green in England and her ashes were interred at Hollywood Forever in Los Angeles.  

Golders Green
Hollywood Forever

No comments:

Post a Comment