Bebe Daniels: Got in on the Ground Floor


Today is the birthday of Phyllis Virginia “Bebe” Daniels (1901-1971). The child of a Dallas-based theatre couple, she got her first role in 1914 in Cecil B. Demille’s The Squaw Man. Her career got a major boost when she was cast in the plum role of Dorothy in the original Selig Polyscope version of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in 1910.

Daniels as Dorothy

Five years later, Hal Roach hired her to be Harold Lloyd’s leading lady in Lonesome Luke comedies; she was all of fourteen years old. Daniels’ three and a half years with Lloyd was to be her transitional period, both in her life and her career. The public dubbed her “The Girl” and Harold “The Boy.”

In 1919, she signed with DeMille and became a contract player for what was to become Paramount Pictures, starring in dramatic features throughout the 20s. She’s also in a number of memorable talkies: Rio Rita and Dixiana, (1929 and 1930 both with Wheeler and Woolsey), Reaching for the Moon with Douglas Fairbanks (1931), the original version of  The Maltese Falcon (1931) and the still popular musical 42nd Street (1933). She married the actor Ben Lyon in 1930.

Daniels semi-retired in 1935, thereafter concentrating on radio and doing the occasional film (even dabbling in producing) and stage show and living out the balance of her life mostly in London.

For more on silent and slapstick history don’t miss my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube


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