Recommended Reading

"Bebe Daniels: Hollywood's Good Little Bad Girl"

by Charles L. Epting (McFarland, 2016 - - 800-253-2187)

"Bebe Daniels: Hollywood's Good Little Bad Girl" is a refreshing breeze among a storm-tossed sea of scandal-laden bios. And what a novel idea - a book about a star we can respect and admire! Not that Daniels' life didn't have some questionable episodes, it did. But Epting gives them the credence and coverage they deserve and no more. Instead, Daniels' life - told in a straightforward fashion - is sufficient to grab and hold our interest from cover to cover. You'll get a glimpse into her home life which doesn't cover a lot of years because she was working for Hal Roach and co-starring with Harold Lloyd by the time she was 16. The relationship between these two and the respect they carried for each other throughout their lives is lovingly recounted in these pages. We even get a little misty as Epting tells us the details of Daniels' departure from Roach so she could to go work for Cecil B. DeMille (and what very easily would have prevented her from leaving). Her years with DeMille put her in the limelight of feature films and served her well, yet she found her fans preferred her in the many comedy features in which she starred during the 1920's. Epting gives us an interesting historical perspective on each, quoting reviews, box office receipts and personal accounts to enlighten us on the star's successes and near-succeses. With the opening of the sound era, "Rio Rita" (1929) was a smash hit that set the foundation for the many musicals that would be produced in the decade and proved Daniels could sing beautifully. Although Bebe Daniels' popularity during the 1930's wasn't equal to the stardom she enjoyed during the silent era, however, Epting's accounting if her life in the 1930's is no less interesting. "Rio Rita" was her first big success, but it seems that "42nd Street" (1933), where she played a secondary role, is her best remembered sound film appearance. Unfortunately, none of her other films have had lasting appeal. However, that's not because she didn't make some enjoyable films during that time. Epting's gives us a rundown on each (without boring, lengthy synopses of the story lines) and peppers each with appropriate snippets of vintage reviews so we get a good feel for the public's and critics' reception at the time. We are intrigued by Daniel's and Lyon's desire for and enjoyment of live performances as they made tours with a short vaudeville comedy sketch, as well as a not too successful three month run of a play written especially for them. In 1933, the Lyons went to England where he was invited to make a picture and she made two. The enjoyable experience made a lasting impression on them and foreshadowed a later life-changing decision for them. Epting's tells us how, after a few more pictures back in the states and another tour, the kidnapping scare in Los Angeles, which began with the Lindbergh kidnapping a few years earlier, became too great for them. When the one particular incident brought the threat too close to the safety of their four-year old daughter, they bought a house in England and moved there. The Lyons made a few forgettable pictures in England during the next few years, but it was their stage and radio performances that endeared them to the English public and laid the foundation for making England their home. Their decision to remain in England during the war years rather than the safety of the U.S. is well documented, too. Their radio show was the number one program on the BBC, and they also spent enormous amounts of time doing charity work, entertaining the troops and interviewing those in service on a second radio program they hosted. The reader may be surprised to learn that Daniels was the first entertainer on the beaches at Normandy following the invasion, sometimes as close as 600 yards to the front lines! Epting intrigues us with Daniels' business ventures such as her clothing lines and stores during the early 1930's and movie and record production after the war, none of which proved very successful. Upon returning to the states after the war, she and Lyon were both decorated by President Harry Truman for their tireless efforts in support of the troops. During the years immediately following the war, they resumed life in the U.S. with Daniels entertaining in their home and Lyon serving as casting director at 20th Century-Fox (did you know he discovered Marilyn Monroe and gave her her name?). In 1948, Lyon was promoted to a position with the studio in England which led to a new radio program, "Life With the Lyons," a couple of movies to cash in on the radio program's popularity, and a TV show of the same name - all of this carrying them from 1950-1961. The final pages are an all too sad accounting of Daniels' last days, beginning with a stroke in 1963 and coming to a close with her death in 1971. It's a top notch book filled with humor, drama, sadness, and joy, all a part of the admirable life of one of the silent screen's most endearing personalities. No, it doesn't take scandal and tragedy to make for good reading. A nostalgic trip looking back along Daniels' fascinating life is well worth taking, and Epting makes it a very enjoyable journey.

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