A child star during the silent era who blossomed into a mature comedic and dramatic performer, Bebe Daniels made the rare smooth transition into talkies, only to retire from Hollywood in the mid-1930s...
A child star during the silent era who blossomed into a mature comedic and dramatic performer, Bebe Daniels made the rare smooth transition into talkies, only to retire from Hollywood in the mid-1930s while still in her prime. Daniels made her film debut at just four years old and was a star by the time she played Dorothy Gale in "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" (1910), the earliest surviving adaptation of L. Frank Baum's novel. She later worked with star and lover Harold Lloyd on his Lonesome Luke series in the late-teens, before becoming a star at Paramount Pictures during the 1920s. She made a number of popular hits during the decade including "Why Change Your Wife?" (1920), "Affairs of Anatol" (1921), "Daring Youth" (1924) and "Monsieur Beaucaire" (1924), starring Rudolph Valentino. Following hits like "Miss Brewster's Millions" (1926) and "She's a Sheik" (1927), Daniels was dropped by Paramount at the beginning of the sound era. But she made a number of hits after making the transition, starring or co-starring in "Rio Rita" (1929), "Reaching for the Moon" (1931), "The Maltese Falcon" (1931), "Counsellor at Law" (1933) and the classic musical "42nd Street" (1933). She left Hollywood for London in 1935, where she and her husband, actor Ben Lyon, had successful careers on stage and screen, while becoming national heroes for entertaining audiences during The Blitz of World War II. Though not well-remembered by modern audiences, Daniels undoubtedly left an indelible mark during her time in Hollywood.
Born on Jan. 14, 1901 in Dallas, TX, Daniels was raised by her theater manager father and stage actress mother. After the family moved to Los Angeles, she began her acting career at four years old with an appearance in "The Squaw Man" (1906) and had her first starring role in "A Common Enemy" (1908). Daniels next played Dorothy Gale in the silent short "The Wonderful World of Oz" (1910), which was the oldest surviving film adaptation of L. Frank Baum's 1900 novel of the same name. In 1915, she was hired by famed silent comedian Harold Lloyd to star opposite him in his Lonesome Luke series, starting with "Give Them Fits" (1915). Though she was only 14 years old at the time, Daniels embarked on an affair with Lloyd while starring in such two-reel comedies as "Bughouse Bellhops" (1915), "Lonesome Luke Leans to the Literary" (1916), "Luke's Speedy Club Life" (1916) and "We Never Sleep" (1917). Because Lloyd was nicknamed "The Boy," Daniels was naturally called "The Girl," though by 1919 she split with the comedian in order to concentrate on dramatic roles.
Daniels skyrocketed to stardom after signing with Paramount Pictures to star in "Male and Female" (1919), directed by Cecil B. DeMille and co-starring Gloria Swanson. From there, she starred in a number of high-profile, sophisticated films like "Everywoman" (1919), "Why Change Your Wife?" (1920) and "Affairs of Anatol" (1921). Daniels stayed at Paramount through the 1920s and starred in nearly 50 films, many with such classic Jazz Age titles as "The Speed Girl" (1921), which was based on her own brush with the traffic laws, "Singed Wings" (1922), "Daring Youth" (1924) and "Sinners in Heaven" (1924). Daniels also starred as a French princess to Rudolph Valentino's Duke of Chartes in Sidney Olcott's "Monsieur Beaucaire" (1924), and went on to star in a number of popular films like "The Manicure Girl" (1925), "Miss Bluebeard" (1925) and "The Campus Flirt" (1926), where she effectively played a teenage girl despite being in her mid-twenties. Daniels next played a bored society woman who becomes a private detective in "Wild, Wild Susan" (1925) and a New York salesgirl stuck in Paris after a job falls through in the aptly titled "Stranded in Paris" (1926), which was made from a script by Herman J. Mankiewicz.
In a variation of George Barr McCutcheon's oft-adapted novel, Daniels starred in "Miss Brewster's Millions" (1926), where she played a movie extra trying to spend a million dollars in order to inherit five million. She went on to play the Rudolph Valentino role in "She's a Sheik" (1927), playing a Spanish-Arab woman determined to marry a Christian man. After the lost "Senorita" (1927), "Take Me Home" (1928) and "The Fifty-Fifty Girl" (1928), Daniels made her last silent film, "What a Night!" (1928), and was unceremoniously dropped from her contract by Paramount with the advent of sound. But she had the last laugh when Radio Pictures - later to be named RKO - cast her in the musical "Rio Rita" (1929), which proved to be the studios biggest hit up to that point. Unlike many of her silent contemporaries, Daniels made a fairly smooth transition to sound and developed into one of the most charming actresses of the early 1930s, adroitly performing in comedies, dramas and musicals.
Daniels freelanced from studio to studio, appearing in over a dozen talkies between 1929-1935, some of which lived on as classics of early Hollywood. She starred opposite Douglas Fairbanks in "Reaching for the Moon" (1931) and played the Brigid O'Shaughnessy character in the first adaptation of Dashiell Hammett's classic noir, "The Maltese Falcon" (1931). After the real-life inspired "Silver Dollar" (1932), she played secretary and secret admirer to John Barrymore's successful lawyer in "Counsellor at Law" (1933). Daniels returned to musicals to play the star of a stage musical who breaks her ankle in the classic "42nd Street" (1933). From there, she went on to make the last of her Hollywood movies, including "Registered Nurse" (1934), before retiring from Hollywood the following year. Having married film star Ben Lyon in 1930, she moved with him to London, where they became successful radio and vaudeville stars, and were later hailed as national heroes when they stayed in London to entertain during The Blitz of WWII. Daniels was given the Medal of Freedom by Harry S. Truman for her service during the war.
After the war, Daniels and her family returned to the United States, where Lyon became a talent agent for 20th Century-Fox, helping to put Marilyn Monroe under contract, and Daniels worked for a brief time as a producer for Hal Roach. But they returned to London in 1948, where she would live the remainder of her life. While there, she made two films and the hit television show, "Life with the Lyons" (BBC/ITV, 1955-1960), which featured Daniels, Lyon and their two children, Richard and Barbara, in a scripted sitcom based on their real life events. The series was later used as the basis for the feature comedy, "The Lyons in Paris" (1955), where the family goes to Paris on holiday, only to suffer some lighthearted mayhem. After "Life with the Lyons" left the air in 1960, Daniels became a semi-invalid for the last 10 years of her life, having suffered a series of strokes, and later died of a cerebral hemorrhage at 70 years old. She was cremated in London and had her ashes interred at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery back in the States.