Ben Lyon

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Ben Lyon
Ben Lyon in I Cover the Waterfront.jpg
Lyon in I Cover the Waterfront (1933)
Born(1901-02-06)February 6, 1901
DiedMarch 22, 1979(1979-03-22) (aged 78)
Resting place Hollywood Forever Cemetery
Years active19181955
Bebe Daniels
(m. 1930;her death 1971)

Marian Nixon
(m. 1972;his death 1979)
Awards Hollywood Walk of Fame

Ben Lyon (February 6, 1901 – March 22, 1979) was an American film actor and a studio executive at 20th Century Fox, who later acted in British radio, films and TV.

Actor person who acts in a dramatic or comic production and works in film, television, theatre, or radio

An actor is a person who portrays a character in a performance. The actor performs "in the flesh" in the traditional medium of the theatre or in modern media such as film, radio, and television. The analogous Greek term is ὑποκριτής (hupokritḗs), literally "one who answers". The actor's interpretation of their role—the art of acting—pertains to the role played, whether based on a real person or fictional character. Interpretation occurs even when the actor is "playing themselves", as in some forms of experimental performance art.

20th Century Fox American film studio

Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation is an American film studio that is a subsidiary of Walt Disney Studios, a division of The Walt Disney Company. The studio is located on its namesake studio lot in the Century City area of Los Angeles.


Early life and career

Jean Harlow and Ben Lyon in Hell's Angels (1930) Hell's-Angels-Harlow-Lyon.jpg
Jean Harlow and Ben Lyon in Hell's Angels (1930)

Lyon was born in Atlanta, Georgia, [1] the son of Alvine W. (Wiseberg) and Ben Lyon, a travelling salesman. [2] His family was Jewish. [3] Lyon entered films in 1918 after a successful appearance on Broadway opposite Jeanne Eagels. He attracted attention in the highly successful film Flaming Youth (1923), and steadily developed into a leading man. He was most successfully paired with some of the leading actresses of the silent era including Pola Negri, Gloria Swanson, Colleen Moore, Barbara La Marr, Viola Dana, Anna Q. Nilsson, Mary Astor and Blanche Sweet. In 1925, a writer for Photoplay wrote of him, "Girls, Ben Lyon looks harmless but we have reliable information that he’s irresistible, so watch your step. Besides he’s a mighty fine actor and if the ladies must fall in love with him he can’t help it." [4]

Broadway theatre class of professional theater presented in New York City, New York, USA

Broadway theatre, commonly known as Broadway, refers to the theatrical performances presented in the 41 professional theatres, each with 500 or more seats located in the Theater District and Lincoln Center along Broadway, in Midtown Manhattan, New York City. Along with London's West End theatre, Broadway theatre is widely considered to represent the highest level of commercial theatre in the English-speaking world.

Jeanne Eagels actress

Jeanne Eagels was an American stage and film actress. A former Ziegfeld Girl, Eagels went on to greater fame on Broadway and in the emerging medium of sound films. She was posthumously nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress for her 1929 role in The Letter after dying suddenly that year at the age of 39. That nomination was the first posthumous Oscar consideration for any actor, male or female.

<i>Flaming Youth</i> (film) 1923 film by John Francis Dillon

Flaming Youth is a 1923 American silent drama film starring Colleen Moore and Milton Sills. The film was produced and distributed by Associated First National and directed by John Francis Dillon. Flaming Youth is based on the novel Flaming Youth by Samuel Hopkins Adams.

He had success as an actor in the 1930 film Hell's Angels . The film was a major success and brought Jean Harlow to prominence, but Lyon's performance as an heroic World War I aviator was also highly regarded. For the next decade he was constantly in demand, but his popularity began to wane by the early 1940s. By the mid-1940s he was working for 20th Century Fox. On July 17, 1946 he met a young aspiring actress named Norma Jeane Dougherty. [5] After his first meeting with her he stated that she was "Jean Harlow all over again!". [6] He organized a color screen test for the actress, renamed her, and finally signed her as Marilyn Monroe to her first studio contract. [5]

<i>Hells Angels</i> (film) 1930 film

Hell's Angels is a 1930 pre-Code independently made American epic aviation war film, directed and produced by Howard Hughes, that stars Ben Lyon, James Hall, and Jean Harlow. The film, which was written by Harry Behn and Howard Estabrook, was released by United Artists. Though the film was originally shot as a silent, Hughes retooled Hell's Angels over a lengthy gestation period. Most of the film is in black-and-white, but there is one color sequence, the only color footage of Harlow's career.

Jean Harlow American actress

Jean Harlow was an American film actress and sex symbol of the 1930s.

World War I 1914–1918 global war originating in Europe

World War I, also known as the First World War or the Great War, was a global war originating in Europe that lasted from 28 July 1914 to 11 November 1918. Contemporaneously described as "the war to end all wars", it led to the mobilisation of more than 70 million military personnel, including 60 million Europeans, making it one of the largest wars in history. It is also one of the deadliest conflicts in history, with an estimated nine million combatants and seven million civilian deaths as a direct result of the war, while resulting genocides and the 1918 influenza pandemic caused another 50 to 100 million deaths worldwide.

During World War II, when the United States was still neutral, Lyon and his wife, actress Bebe Daniels, settled in London. The couple, along with the comedian Vic Oliver, starred in the radio series Hi, Gang! , which ran from 1940 to 1949. Hi Gang was succeeded in 1950 by Life with the Lyons , which also featured their real life son Richard and daughter Barbara, and had a run on BBC and independent television from 1954 until 1960.

World War II 1939–1945 global war

World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great powers—eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. A state of total war emerged, directly involving more than 100 million people from over 30 countries. The major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 50 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China. It included massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease, and the only use of nuclear weapons in war.

Bebe Daniels American entertainer

Phyllis Virginia "Bebe" Daniels was an American actress, singer, dancer, writer and producer.

Vic Oliver actor and radio comedian

Victor Oliver von Samek, known as Vic Oliver, was an Austrian-born British actor and radio comedian.

He was the subject of This Is Your Life in March 1963 when he was surprised by Eamonn Andrews at the BBC Television Theatre.

<i>This Is Your Life</i> (UK TV series) television series

This is Your Life is a British biographical television documentary, based on the 1952 American show of the same title. It was hosted by Eamonn Andrews from 1955 until 1964, and then from 1969 until his death in 1987 aged 64. Michael Aspel then took up the role of host until the show ended in 2003. It returned in 2007 as a one-off special presented by Trevor McDonald, which to date was its most recent airing.

Eamonn Andrews, was an Irish radio and television presenter, employed primarily in the United Kingdom from the 1950s to the 1980s. From 1960 to 1964 he chaired the Radio Éireann Authority, which oversaw the introduction of a state television service to the Republic of Ireland.

Military service

Lyon served as a pilot in the 322nd Pursuit Squadron in the early 1930s. During World War II he returned to the colours as a Lieutenant Colonel in charge of US Army Air Forces Special Services [7] .

Special Services was the entertainment branch of the American military. The unit was created on 22 July 1940 by the War Department as part of the Army Service Forces. Special Services not only used their own specially trained and talented troops but also would often engage local performers.

Personal life

Lyon married actress Bebe Daniels in June 1930. [8] They had two children: daughter Barbara in 1932 and a son Richard whom they adopted from a London orphanage. In an issue of the contemporary magazine Radio Pictorial, Bebe explained how she saw Richard peering through the railings and instantly thought "A brother for Barbara". Daniels suffered a severe stroke in 1963 and withdrew from public life. She suffered a second stroke in late 1970. She died at the couple's London home in March 1971. [9]

On 1 April 1972, Lyon married the actress Marian Nixon whom he had known since the 1920s. [10] They remained married until his death. [11]


On March 22, 1979, Lyon and his second wife Marian Nixon were vacationing together on the Queen Elizabeth 2 cruise ship near Honolulu, Hawaii, when Lyon suffered a fatal heart attack. He was 78 years old. [6] He is interred in the Chapel Columbarium at Hollywood Forever Cemetery next to his first wife, Bebe Daniels. [12]

For his contribution to the motion picture industry, Ben Lyon has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1724 Vine Street. [13]

A biography Bebe and Ben was written by a personal friend who worked with them at the BBC, Jill Allgood.



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  1. Slide, Anthony (2010). Silent Players: A Biographical and Autobiographical Study of 100 Silent Film Actors and Actresses. University Press of Kentucky. p. 91. ISBN   0-813-13745-4.
  3. William D. Rubinstein, Michael Jolles, Hilary L. Rubinstein, The Palgrave Dictionary of Anglo-Jewish History, Palgrave Macmillan (2011), p. 626
  4. "Ben Lyon". Photoplay . New York: Photoplay Publishing Company. January 1925. Retrieved August 20, 2015.
  5. 1 2 Donnelley, Paul (2003). Fade to Black: A Book of Movie Obituaries. Music Sales Group. p. 487. ISBN   0-711-99512-5.
  6. 1 2 The New York Times Biographical Service, Volume 10. New York Times & Arno Press. 1979. p. 344.
  8. Donnelley 2003 p.191
  9. Golden, Eve (2000). Golden Images: 41 Essays on Silent Film Stars. McFarland. p. 21. ISBN   0-786-48354-7.
  12. D'Agostino, Annette M. (2004). The Harold Lloyd Encyclopedia. McFarland. p. 75. ISBN   0-786-41514-2.
  13. "Hollywood Star Walk". Retrieved May 19, 2014.