I’d be willing to bet that most of us don’t remember actress/singer Bebe Daniels, even though she was a pretty big star for a while and made a lot of movies. (Her IMDB filmography has 230 entries.) Part of the reason for that lack of recognition might be that she was at her peak way back in the 1930s — a long time ago. But others from that era are still familiar names to us, so in her case it might also be because she left Hollywood and moved to London with her husband during the pre-war years, and pretty much stayed there for the rest of her life.
Born in Dallas as Phyllis Virginia Daniels, she was immersed in show business from an early age. Her mother was an actress and her father a theater company manager, so it probably wouldn’t surprise you to hear that little ‘Bebe’ was showing up on stage while still a toddler. By the age of seven she was filling lead roles, and within a couple more years began to appear in pre-World War I silent movies.
The precocious Bebe was unique in many ways, continuing to attend convent school into her early teens while at the same time building a movie career as a leading lady. When she was 14 she was signed to appear opposite comic star Harold Lloyd in a series of comedy shorts, a collaboration that would continue for a couple of years but eventually dissolve because she wasn’t interested in his romantic overtures. But she was on her way to real stardom by then, and during the 1920s she was one of the biggest around, co-starring with icons like Rudolph Valentino and making dozens of films.
When sound came to the movies later in the decade it proved disastrous to many stars, but Bebe handled the transition flawlessly. Her speaking voice was pleasant and she was also a fine singer, which allowed her to blossom even more in movie musicals. She had one of her best roles in 1933’s 42nd Street, but a couple of years later her appearance as a fading actress in Music Is Magic might have been more significant. By then in her thirties and the wife of actor Ben Lyon, Bebe relocated with him to London and was pretty much finished with movies, although she continued to entertain fans in Great Britain. In fact, Bebe and Ben were beloved radio stars there for many years before eventually retiring. She was 70 when she died in 1971.