Silent Star of September 1996

Bebe Daniels

Little remembered today, Bebe Daniels was one of the few silent actresses to maintain a lively, varied career through silent films, talkies, radio, and TV.

Beautiful Bebe got her start in films with the Selig Company, and moving to Hal Roach's studios in 1915. While there, she starred in over 200 shorts with Snub Pollard and Harold Lloyd. Bebe was Lloyd's leading lady in many of his "Lonesome Luke" comedies. One night, while at a theatre, Lloyd overheard a small boy saying "Oh, here's that fellow who tries to do like Chaplin." Lloyd made the change to his now-famous bespectacled character in Over the Fence in 1917, again starring Bebe.

One night, while dining with Lloyd, Bebe was spotted by director Cecil B. DeMille, who asked her to work with him. It wasn't until two years later, in 1919, that Bebe made the move to Paramount contract player and worked with DeMille in Male and Female, also starring Gloria Swanson. While at Paramount, Bebe also made some quickie movies at the studio's downtown lot, Realart Studio. There she worked with other up-and-comers Mary Miles Minter and May McAvoy, was directed by Marshall Neilan and Eddie Sutherland, and learned the fine art of editing from Dorothy Arzner. Some of Bebe's other films while at Paramount include The Affairs of Anatol, again with Swanson and also Wallace Reid, North of the Rio Grande, and with the screen's great lover Rudolph Valentino in the great costume epic Monsieur Beaucaire.

By all accounts, Bebe was a popular actress, not only with her fans but with her co-workers, as well. One famous story regarding Bebe recounts how, in 1921, the young actress was arrested for speeding. Sentenced to spending 10 days in jail, Bebe made the most of her time behind bars, bringing with her such comforts as a Persian rug, catered meals from a Hollywood restaurant, and a constant stream of famous visitors! Without missing a beat, upon her release Paramount made a film of her experience, The Speed Girl.

With the dawning of talkies, Paramount was unconvinced that Bebe would be able to make the transition. Undaunted, she bought out her contract, went to RKO Studios, and proceeding to talk and sing in the successful Rio Rita. Her successful career continued unabated, starring with Bing Crosby in Reaching for the Moon, 42nd Street, and Counsellor at Law, starring John Barrymore and directed by William Wyler.

In 1930 Bebe married fellow actor Ben Lyon. The couple spent the bulk of the '30s touring in several plays, making their way to London in 1936 for a three-week Palladium engagement. They were so successful that they continued to tour throughout the British Isles through 1939, and remained in London as private citizens. Their radio show Hi, Gang, ran for 12 years, moving to TV for another 4. Bebe suffered a stroke in 1963, and died in 1971.

Glen Pringle /
Kally Mavromatis /
Copyright © 1996 by Glen Pringle and Kally Mavromatis
ISSN 1329-4431