Felix In Hollywood

A Blog for the Smart Set

Thursday, January 14, 2010

A Girl Of Firsts

Phyllis Virgina Daniels was born 109 years ago today in Dallas Texas. Soon after the family moved to Los Angeles. Little Bebe, as she was nicknamed, was recruited into the family business of Show and at age four was touring in a production of Shakespeare's Richard III. That same year, she also appeared in a stage touring production of  "The Squaw Man". In 1910, she originated the character of  Dorothy Gale for film audiences, in the first version of "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz", a mere dozen years before the birth of Judy Garland!

In addition to entries as a Singer, Writer and Producer, she has 240 Acting entries on IMDB. Well over 150 of those occur before 1920! This number was possible because of being tapped by Hal Roach (with whom she shares a birthday) at 14 years old to be teamed with Harold Lloyd who was then doing his Lonesome Luke series. The Luke character was little more than a take off of Chaplin's character, only in tight clothes instead of baggy ones. It is said that, while in a movie theater, Lloyd overheard a boy say, "Oh here's that fellow who makes like Chaplin", and that this caused the creation of his legendary 'Glasses Character". Bebe was with him for the transition, benefitting from more involved characterizations herself. She and Lloyd also became romantic, a natural progression given their constant work schedule and genuine fondness for one another. In their social life they won many trophies for dancing as was the rage amongst the Hollywood set at the time. During their years starring together, Daniels not only did all her own stunts, she learned all phases of 'on the fly' film making. Their onscreen personas were The Boy and The Girl.

When her contract came due in 1919, DeMille scooped her up and brought her to Paramount where she would become a star. In 1921 at 20 years old, our quintisential Flapper was famous, beautiful and rich. She enjoyed all the trappings afforded her including a brand new racy Marmon automobile that she loved to drive.....really fast.

This was no problem as she had an uncle 'with connections' who was able to fix her weekly stack of speeding tickets with LA County. However it was on a hellbent drive to San Diego with her mother and Boxing Champ Jack Dempsey in the car (whom she was dating) that she was stopped in sleepy Tustin for going (get ready) 56 mph!

Daniels cried, "Uncle!" but dear Uncle had no pull in Orange County. Thus commenced a happy little scandal that made the Paramount publicity men wet their pants with glee. Believing that her stardom would win her local public favor (yeah, that always works) her lawyers demanded a jury trial. Didn't work.  Judge John Cox, a bit of a publicity whore himself, dramatically announced, "10 days in jail!" Bebe was now the first starlett to be in the pokey.  Bebe's comment to the papers:  “I bet 56 miles per hour sounds awfully fast if you’ve never driven anything faster than a plow.”

It was hardly what you would call 'hard time'. A local furniture store backed a truck up the the Santa Ana jailhouse and her cell was kitted out with a persian carpet and a bedroom suite complete with bed linens to match the curtains mounted over those crass bars. Both florists in town made daily deliveries, and the local eateries entered into something of a contest to provide the most delectible meals to the star, her mother (who was allowed to stay with her) and the rafts of Hollywood luminaries who came each day to visit. Abe Lyman and his Cocoanut Grove Orchestra came to serenade our poor inmate.

And when the vacation sentence was over, the brilliant business minds at Paramount rushed her back to the lot to begin work on her next picture, "The Speed Girl".

Daniels was the only woman among twenty men on Paramount's "inner cabinet," where she headed her own production unit for five years-controlling stories, casts, and budgets.

Once, while in Chicago, Bebe was the victim of a jewel robbery. Al Capone, who was a fan, put out the word that whoever had taken the jewels would be doing themselves a "healthy favor" by returning them in 24 hours. They were returned.

Our 'girl of firsts' was also in the first "The Maltese Falcon" and, bucking Hollywood completely, her first marriage was her last! She and fellow actor Ben Lyon were married in 1930 and stayed that way for the rest of her life.

In the mid thirties, with their film careers winding down they developed a stage act. While touring in England in the late thirties, they felt they had found home, and moved there. In London they raised their two children and had continued success performing, ultimately producing their own radio, and later TV show, "Life With The Lyons".

A few months before her death, Harold Lloyd (they died 9 days apart) paid the Lyons a visit in London. While reminiscing, an observer noted that he was still wearing a ring she had given him during those carefree days together so long ago, and she still had all the trophies they had won in their dance contests.


MJ said...

Love the jailhouse orchestra shot.

We'd do the same for you, of course.

Stephen said...

Have I let you know how much I love your blog(s)?
Our sites are similar & together we cover alot of gay ground. I like to think of our blogs as kissin' cousins, which is different that an old porn that I saw: CORN HOLE'N COUSINS!

FelixInHollywood said...

I only ask that the boys play a tango.

You beat me to the mutual admiration! I was going to say much the same to you.

normadesmond said...

nice to hear about bebe again....thanks!