Daniels, Bebe (1901–1971)

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Daniels, Bebe (1901–1971)

American actress . Born Phyllis (sometimes cited as Virginia) Daniels in Dallas, Texas, on January 14, 1901; died in 1971; daughter of Melville Daniels (a Scottish-born manager of a touring theater company) and Phyllis (Griffin) Daniels (a Spanish-born actress); educated under private teachers; attended Sacred Heart Convent, Los Angeles, California; married Benjamin Bethel Lyon, Jr. (an actor), on June 14, 1930; children: Barbara Bebe Lyon ; (adopted) Richard Lyon.

Selected films:

Male and Female (1919); Why Change Your Wife? (1920); The Affairs of Anatol (1921); The Speed Girl (1921); Pink Gods (1922); Unguarded Women (1924); Monsieur Beaucaire (1924); Campus Flirt (1926); She's a Sheik (1927); Rio Rita (1929); Alias French Gertie (1930); Love Comes Along (1930); Reaching for the Moon (1931); The Maltese Falcon (1931); Forty-Second Street (1933); Counsellor at Law (1933); The Return of Carol Dean (1935); Hi Gang (GB, 1940); Life with the Lyons (GB, 1953); The Lyons in Paris (GB, 1955).

Bebe Daniels, the dark-eyed movie star, reinvented herself several times in a career that spanned over 50 years. She was on stage at the age of four, played juveniles in the silents, and made over 200 shorts before appearing in a major film. When Paramount, her studio for ten years, refused to put her in the talkies, she signed with RKO and not only talked but sang her way into a second series of successful films. When her career declined in the 1930s, she and her husband, actor Ben Lyon, traveled to London, where they enjoyed success on the music-hall circuit and in a popular radio and television series.

Born in Dallas, Texas, in 1901, Daniels was still a baby when her theatrical parents moved to Los Angeles. Billed as "The World's Youngest Shakespearean Actress," the four-year-old appeared in her father's stock company as one of the princes in Richard III. She went on to juvenile roles in various stock companies and at nine made her screen debut in the Selig Company two-reeler The Common Enemy. At 14, Daniels signed with Hal Roach and began her adult career paired in comedies with Harold Lloyd and Snub Pollard, including many of the "Lonesome Luke" and the "Winckle" series. In 1919, she signed a four-year contract with Paramount, where she worked for Cecil B. DeMille who was then associated with Realart, a subsidiary of Paramount. When her initial contract expired, she signed once more with Paramount, working there until 1928. Her first role with DeMille was a bit-part in Male and Female (1919). Before long, she had star status, trailing only third behind Paramount's Gloria Swanson and Pola Negri .

Daniels was adored by colleagues as well as fans. When she was arrested and jailed for speeding in 1921, she reportedly enjoyed an elaborately appointed cell, catered meals, and visitations by a cadre of Hollywood legends during her incarceration. After her release, she was rushed by her studio into production of a movie based on the experience called The Speed Girl (1921). Her popularity continued through a variety of roles, mainly light comic leads opposite Wallace Reid, Rudolph Valentino, and Ricardo Cortez. She also occasionally tackled more worldly playgirl types such as the hard-drinking flapper in Nice People, the film version of Rachel Crothers ' play.

When Paramount refused to test her for talkies, Daniels bought out the remaining nine months of her contract and moved to RKO, where she was cast in the lavish film version of the Ziegfeld musical Rio Rita (1929). Although many in Hollywood felt her career was finished, Daniels proved that she could not only manage a heavy Spanish accent but was up to the singing the role demanded. The picture became one of the year's box-office hits, and she enjoyed a rekindled career in sound, beginning with Love Comes Along (1930), in which she also sang. Another of her musicals, Reaching for the Moon (1931), co-starred Bing Crosby in his first important role. In 1931, Daniels played the shifty character, a role later to be made famous by Mary Astor , in the original version of The Maltese Falcon. She followed this with Counsellor at Law and the wildly popular 42nd Street (both 1933).

In 1930, Daniels disappointed a battalion of male admirers by marrying actor Ben Lyon, her co-star in Alias French Gertie (1930) and several subsequent films and stage productions. In the mid-1930s, with both of their careers in a slump, the couple journeyed to London for a three-week stint at the London Palladium. Well received, they remained there throughout World War II, headlining in music halls and entertaining the troops. (In 1946, Daniels was awarded the U.S. Medal of Freedom for her work with soldiers.) During this period, they also began the BBC radio show "Hi Gang!," which became immensely popular and led to a film by the same name. They also did a West End revue, Gangway, and Daniels appeared solo in the British version of Cole Porter's Panama Hattie.

Upon returning to America in 1946, Lyon took an executive position with 20th Century-Fox, while Daniels wrote and produced a low-budget comedy for Hal Roach called The Fabulous Joe (1948). The couple missed England, however, and returned in 1949. Failing to resurrect "Hi Gang," they started a new radio series, "Life with the Lyons," in which their daughter Barbara and son Richard also appeared. The show became a popular television series and inspired two films: Life with the Lyons (1955) and The Lyons in Paris (1955). Daniels suffered a series of strokes in the 1960s and died in 1971. Ben Lyon later married actress Marion Nixon .

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts