Jimmy Clemons: Eccentric Dancer in the Dream Cafe

Thanks to Ben Williams of Elevator Repair Service for making me mindful of this act. Born today was Jimmy Clemons (1883-1950), who made this terrific short Dream Cafe for Vitaphone in 1927. He’s a little tough to track down, as he apparently was uninterested in standardizing the presentation of his professional name: born James K. Clemons, it is is sometimes rendered as James Clemons, Jimmy Clemons and James Clemens. He’s worse than a check forger!

Born in Philadelphia, Clemons was an eccentric dancer in vaudeville. The earliest reference I find to him is an item praising his act in a 1908 issue of The Dramatic Mirror. By 1915 he’s on Broadway in Maid in America, with the likes of Nora Bayes, Blossom Seeley and Harry Fox. Four other shows followed: The Passing Show of 1916, a World War One patriotic show called Doing Our Bit (1917-1918), and the 1920 and 1924 editions of The Greenwich Follies. 

After this he seems to place his chips on the movies. Dream Cafe (1927) was his first effort. Its a solo drunk turn — and in the usual Vitaphone fashion, it’s essentially his vaudeville act. He slurs funny lines to the audience, sings, presents a girl dancer, and then does his own amazing eccentric dance — very long limber legs has he! Watch it here. After this, he continues to be cast in musicals and comedies, almost always doing his specialties as a bit part. Some are shorts, like Undersea Revue (1928) with Lyda Roberti, Hello Baby (1930), and Rhumba Land (1939). You can also see him in The Show of Shows (1929), Red Hot Rhythm (1929), Second Choice (1930, a drama with Dolores Costello and Chester Morris), and A Damsel in Distress (1937) with Fred Astaire and Burns and Allen.

By the 1940s, Clemons had ceased to be credited, but he still gets bit parts and turns in pictures like Meet the Chump (1941) with Hugh Herbert; Syncopation (1942) with Adolphe Menjou, Jackie Cooper, Bonita Granville, Robert Benchley and Walter Catlett; Dixie (1943) with Bing Crosby,Dorothy Lamour and Billy DeWolfe; two Abbott and Costello pictures It Ain’t Hay (1943) and Lost in a Harem (1944); Where Do We Go From Here? (1945) with Fred MacMurray and June Haver; and The Perils of Pauline (1947), with Betty Hutton.

By the latter film, he was 64 and he seems to have called it a day after this. He passed away three years later.

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