Book Review: “Bebe Daniels: Hollywood’s Good Little Bad Girl”

Image result for bebe daniels hollywood's good little bad girl

Classic film fans who are curious enough about early Hollywood history to look beyond familiar stars like Clara Bow or Louise Brooks and seek more obscure personalities might be amazed by how many there were. Dozens of actors and actresses are forgotten today, but were once familiar sights in theaters across the nation. They were beloved by fans and left their own unique marks on pop culture–sometimes in careers that spanned decades. Take Bebe Daniels, for instance.

Once mentioned in the same breath as Gloria Swanson and Colleen Moore, the charming, vivacious Bebe is now known only by the most devoted silent film fans. Historian Charles Epting is working hard to rectify that with his tightly researched, highly professional new biography Bebe Daniels: Hollywood’s Good Little Bad Girl. 



A down-to-earth woman who had an endearing air of innocence about her, Bebe’s life was virtually scandal-free. Unlike some stars who left scads of hearts and careers in their wake while they fought their way to the top, Bebe’s star rose gracefully. On the stage from an early age, she was a hardworking gal and appeared in dozens of shorts before becoming a bona fide headliner. While she’s perhaps best remembered for her roles in DeMille’s glitzy society dramas and for supporting Harold Lloyd in his early comedy shorts, 1920s audiences also knew her as the “Good Little Bad Girl”–a good-hearted but impetuous young women getting into whirlwind adventures. Her films had titles like She Couldn’t Help It and The Speed Girl. 

The Campus Flirt (1926) Bebe Daniels:

Living up to these films’ titles, one of the most amusing stories about Bebe involves her ten-day jail sentence for speeding. It turned into the best publicity stunt a studio could ask for, with Bebe being serenaded by local orchestras while she peered out from the bars of her jail cell (attractively decorated with Persian rugs and fine furniture by a local proprietor) and being allowed to receive up to 50 visitors a day. The public regarded it as a lark, just the sort of scrape their Good Little Bad Girl would get into. (After nine comfortable days, Bebe was released early “for good behavior.”)

Bebe Daniels, 1919:

Her romance and enduring friendship with Harold Lloyd is covered in a classy, clear-eyed manner by the author. She had several rumored engagements with Hollywood professionals like Michael Arlen, Charley Paddock, and Jack Pickford, but she would go on to have a long and happy marriage with Ben Lyon.

Image result for bebe daniels ben lyon

She would make a smooth transition to radio and television–giving her one of the longest and most varied careers in show business–and find a second home in England. She was especially noted for her courageous work during WWII. In their radio program called Stars and Stripes in Britain, Bebe and Ben worked long hours interviewing nurses, surgeons, and the armed forces, capturing their stories and helping to build morale. And amazingly, Bebe was the first female civilian to visit the beaches of Normandy after D-Day, interviewing wounded Americans on the front lines.

Image result for bebe daniels 1940s WWII


Epting, the editor-in-chief of the new Silent Film Quarterly magazine, is in his early 20s but you’d never guess it from reading Bebe Daniels: Hollywood’s Good Little Bad Girl–it sounds like “the latest” from an historian with many years of experience under his belt. His research is meticulous, and he tirelessly peels away layers of rumor and family lore to find the true details of Bebe’s life. (One notable rumor he tackles is the idea that Bebe was in the 1910 film version of The Wizard of Oz.) His affection for this fine forgotten actress is clear, as is his care to present her legacy with as much thoroughness as possible. If this is what Epting can accomplish fresh out of college, I eagerly look forward to what future decades bring.

The excellent Bebe Daniels: Hollywood’s Good Little Bad Girl is available from McFarland. Their order line is 800-253-2187.

Harold Lloyd and Bebe Daniels Pay Your Dues:


19 thoughts on “Book Review: “Bebe Daniels: Hollywood’s Good Little Bad Girl”

  1. I love Bebe Daniels!!! I’m psyched to see there is a book about her, I will seek it out! I just watched her and Lloyd in one of the funniest shorts I’ve ever seen: “Young Mr. Jazz”. And she’s in “42nd Street”! I love that she made the transition and that’s wild about her on D-Day! Also, that the author is in his early 20s!

  2. I must confess that I had a small crush on Bebe from watching the old Harold Lloyd shorts, but then I found out she was only 15 at the time, which makes it a bit awkward… :/

  3. I’ve heard a few episodes of “Life with the Lyons,” the radio sitcom Bebe did with Ben and their kids Barbara and Richard – it was like the BBC’s answer to Ozzie & Harriet. (Bebe co-wrote several episodes.)

      • Great! Swanson and Meighan are so good in that one, as well. Thomas Meighan is high on my list of all-time favorite actors. Did you watch the Image dvd? The music is wonderful—in the scene in the lingerie shop, there is a particularly entrancing exotic theme (~11:15). It kept going through my head so much after I first saw it that I messaged Rodney Sauer to ask him what it was. He told me, but unfortunately I can’t recall his answer. 🙂 But I do remember he said it was one of their favorite themes to use.

        And then on the other side of that Image disk—what may be my favorite silent of all time (or at least in the top 2 or 3): Miss Lulu Bett. Lois Wilson’s performance in that is astonishing—and Milton Sills is great. Well, I’m getting off topic. But anyway, I’m glad “Why Change Your Wife?” came to mind for you, too. (What’s that line about great minds thinking alike? 😉

        • Indeed! 😀 Yes, the Image version is the one I’ve seen. They always do such a fantastic job.

          Miss Lulu Bett is one of those silents I keep hearing about but haven’t watched. Now I’ll have to!

  4. Oh my god, I love “Why Change Your Wife”…..its got the best makeover scene in all of film!!!! lol

    I too haven’t seen Miss Lulu Brett yet! Will do asap!!!!

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  7. Just finished reading Bebe’s biography and found it to be somewhat disappointing. Actually, found it more than somewhat as a biography is not the appropriate vehicle to present this enchanting actress to today’s audience who are just now discovering silent films. None of Bebe’s contemporaries were alive in 2016 to interview. And Epting tosses a stinger in the Epilogue at the “apathy” of her family who didn’t save any memorabilia. Hey! The only living family member is a grandson who was born 3 months after Bebe died. Bebe and Ben’s scrapbooks (and presumably other papers re their careers) were given to a British archive that was closed for construction while Epting was working on the biography and so did not have access to what most likely was a treasure trove of documents.

    Epting states that 5 of her her 1920s films are readily available to the public, but annoyingly, he doesn’t identify these 5. (3 of them were the DeMille films and the other 2 are ???) And then, more annoyingly still, is to learn from Epting that the Library of Congress has 5 more 1920s films in their archives. How to get these 5 out of the archives and into public circulation?

    And after all these years, how to drum up interest in Bebe – an actress as popular in the 1920s as Clara Bow. Do it the same way the studios did to promote their stars. Use photos. Between 1915 and 1935 a zillion photos of Bebe were published. Suggested book format: 1. “Glamour” photos of Bebe over the years 2. Magazine covers in color 3. Candids of Bebe off the set – at home, playing tennis, at her beach house, parties, nightclubs, travel 4. The films – stills plus a very brief plot synopsis and reviews 5. Interviews from fan magazines and newspapers 6. Gossip items from the fan mags 7. Comments about Bebe in books and memoirs from her friends and coworkers. That kind of stuff.

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