Daniels, Bebe Virginia (1901–1971)

By: Stacy A. Cordery

Type: Biography

Published: 1976

Updated: August 5, 2020

Bebe Daniels, actress, scriptwriter, and producer, was born by chance in Dallas, Texas, on January 14, 1901, the only child of Danny and Phyllis (Griffin) Daniels. Her emigrant Scottish father had changed his name from Melville Daniel MacMeal to Danny Daniels when he founded his California-based traveling stock company. His wife and leading lady gave birth to Bebe as the troupe toured through Dallas. By age four Bebe was a frequent actor in her parents' company. She attended Sacred Heart Convent School in Los Angeles.

Her movie debut came in 1908 with A Common Enemy for Selig-Polyscope. At fifteen she played the leading lady to Harold Lloyd in Hal Roach's "Lonesome Luke" silent-film series. In four years with Lloyd and Snub Pollard, she made almost 200 comedies, in which she did all her own stunts. Cecil B. De Mille discovered her dancing in a restaurant and took her to his Paramount Studios at ten times her old salary. From 1919 to 1928 she worked for Paramount or its subsidiary, Realart, typically playing light leads for such comedies as The Campus Flirt (1926), Miss Brewster's Millions (1926) Swim, Girl, Swim (1927), and She's A Sheik (1928). The versatile actress also played in westerns such as North of the Rio Grande (1922) and Señorita (1927), melodramas such as Volcano (1926), and steamers like Everywoman (1919) and The Affairs of Anatole (1921), in which she portrayed vamp Satan Synne. Bebe Daniels spent ten days in jail for speeding in 1921 and capitalized on the publicity with the hastily written The Speed Girl (1921). Texas governor Pat M. Neff asked that she use her growing popularity to aid growers who had lost heavily on their 1922 crops by wearing dresses made of Texas cotton.

Daniels was the only woman among twenty men on Paramount's "inner cabinet," where she headed her own unit for five years-controlling stories, casts, and budgets. Yet, with the advent of talkies, Paramount would not renew her contract. She signed instead with William LeBaron's RKO Studios and gained great fame with the lead in the lavish musical Rio Rita (1929), in which she proved that she could not only speak but sing as well. Her third talkie, Alias French Gertie (1930), also starred Ben Lyon, whom she married on June 14, 1930. They had a daughter of their own and adopted a son. After five pictures for RKO, Bebe Daniels signed a six-picture contract with Warner, where she starred in an early version of The Maltese Falcon (1931), Silver Dollar (1932), and 42nd Street (1933).

After a return to the stage in Skeets Gallagher's Hollywood Holiday the Lyons moved to London and opened at the Palladium on June 29, 1936, with a long-running variety act. Despite World War II, in May 1940 they originated the lighthearted "High Gang!," a twelve-year radio and four-year television show. Daniels's war work included interviewing American wounded in Europe for the radio series "Stars and Stripes in Britain" (1941) and "Purple Heart Corner" (1944), which were broadcast in America; performing variety acts for the troops; and relaying battlefield reports fifteen days after D-Day as the first civilian woman back into Normandy. For her patriotism President Harry Truman awarded her the Medal of Freedom.

After the war the Lyons returned to America, where Bebe Daniels produced two films for Hal Roach, Mr. Wilmer (1947) and The Fabulous Joe (1948). She subsequently returned to London, where she wrote and produced the vastly popular Life With the Lyons, starring the whole Lyon family, including children Barbara and Richard. It played for twelve years on radio (1950–62), then inspired a thirty-two-episode television series and two movies, Life with the Lyons (1954) and The Lyons in Paris (1956). The Lyons played seven Royal Command Performances. On March 16, 1971, Bebe Daniels died in London of a cerebral hemorrhage.

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Jill Allgood, Bebe and Ben (London: Robert Hale, 1975). De Witt Bodeen, "Bebe Daniels," Films in Review, August-September 1964.

  • Journalism
  • Radio and Television
  • Women
  • Performing Arts
Time Periods:
  • Progressive Era
  • Great Depression
  • Texas in the 1920s
  • World War II
  • Texas Post World War II
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Dallas
  • North Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Stacy A. Cordery, “Daniels, Bebe Virginia,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 14, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/daniels-bebe-virginia.

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August 5, 2020

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