Shirley Temple And Bojangles: Two Stars, One Lifelong Friendship : NPR
Shirley Temple Black, who died Feb. 10 at age 85, performed in four movies with Bill "Bojangles" Robinson. Shirley Temple and Bill Robinson: Hollywood 's First Interracial Couple. headshot. By Constance Valis Hill. As I expected when posting a. Shirley Temple's looks overshadowed her talent as a dancer. films, with various partners, including Bill Robinson, Buddy Ebsen, George Murphy, and Jack Haley. Apparently, it was truly an uncle-niece sort of relationship.
He suggested to his younger brother Bill that they should exchange names. Eventually, the exchange between the names of both brothers was made. A promoter saw him performing outside the Globe Theater in Richmond and offered him a job as a "pick" in a local minstrel show. At that time, minstrel shows were staged by white performers in blackface. Pickaninnies were cute black children at the edge of the stage singing, dancing, or telling jokes. He received an accidental gunshot wound from a second lieutenant who was cleaning his gun.
The team broke up inand vaudeville performer Rae Samuels, who had performed in shows with Robinson, convinced him to meet with her manager and husbandMarty Forkins. Forkins accomplished this by inventing an alternate history for Robinson, promoting him as already being a solo act. This technique succeeded, making Robinson one of the first performers to break vaudeville's two colored rulewhich forbade solo black acts.
The Keith and Orpheum Circuits underwrote vaudeville acts at reduced fees,  but Robinson volunteered to perform gratis for thousands of troops, in both black and white units of the Expeditionary Forces, receiving a commendation from the War Department in From — he was fully booked on the Orpheum Circuitand was signed full-time by the Keith in and In addition to being booked for 50—52 weeks an avid baseball fan, he took a week off for the World SeriesRobinson did multiple shows per night, frequently on two different stages.
Up on the Toes," Jazz Dancedescribes that Robinson introduced dancing "up on the toes" to tap dance. This was a new advent to King Rastus Brown's popular "flat-footed wizardry. Pete Nugent is said to have remarked, "Robinson was the absolute tops in control. Due to his adroit ability to be both light on his feet and distinct in his percussive taps, Robinson was called the Father of Tapology.
Claims to the origin of the Stair Dance were highly disputed, however Robinson was widely accredited with the dance because his performances brought the dance into popularity. Patent Office in Washington D. C to no avail, however this did not infringe on Robinson's professional command of the Stair Dance.
The entertainment community began to associate the Stair Dance exclusively will Robinson as the routine became a standard part of his performances in Haskins reports that dancer, Fred Stone sent Robinson a check for having performed the routine.
The steps itself were not essential to Robinson's performances, rather Robinson would naturally shift into "a little skating step to stop-time; or a Scoot step, a cross-over tap" or plenty other tap steps involved in his particular movement quality.
Often Robinson would talk to his audience, share anecdotes, and act as if he was surprised by the action of his feet.
His amusing personality was essential to his performances and popularity.
Shirley Temple And Bojangles: Two Stars, One Lifelong Friendship
Robinson is said to have consistently performed in split-soled wooden shoes, handcrafted by a Chicago craftsman. The show was a huge success on Broadway, where it ran for over one year to sell-out performances.
On stage, Adelaide Hall and Robinson danced and sang a duet together, which captivated the audiences. From then on, Robinson's public role was that of a dapper, smiling, plaid-suited ambassador to the white world, maintaining a connection with the black show-business circles through his continuing patronage of the Hoofers Cluban entertainer's haven in Harlem.
So successful was Adelaide Hall's collaboration with Bojangles, they even appeared together on stage at the prestigious Palace Theatre Broadway  before they were teamed up together again by Marty Forkins Robinson's manager  to star in another Broadway musical titled, "Brown Buddies",  that opened in at the Liberty Theatre, where it ran for four months before commencing a road tour of the States.
The show opened at the Broadhurst Theatrewith Robinson cast in the role of the Emperor. His rendition of My Object All Sublime stopped the show and produced eight encores. After Broadway, the show moved to the New York World's Fairand was one of the greatest hits of the fair. August 25,was named Bill Robinson Day at the fair. Despite having Imogene CocaPert Keltonand other stars, the show received poor reviews at out-of-town tryouts in New Haven and Boston.
When the white stars and co-producers, Phil Baker and Leonard Sillmanwithdrew, Robinson became the star, the first time an African-American headlined an otherwise all-white production.
Shall We Dance? Shirley Temple and Bill Robinson : Hollywood 's First Interracial Couple | HuffPost
Although the reviewers were enthusiastic about Robinson, they panned the show, and it failed to attract audiences. All in Fun closed after four performances. Most of them had musical settings, in which he played old-fashioned roles in nostalgic romances.
RKO was formed in part by a merger of the Keith and Orpheum theater circuits, with whom Robinson had performed as a headliner for many years. He was cast as a specialty performer in a standalone scene.
This practice, customary at the time, permitted Southern theaters to remove scenes containing black performers from their showings of the film. Dixiana was followed by Robinson's first starring role, in Harlem Is Heavenwhich is sometimes cited as the first film with an all-black cast, even though all-black silent films preceded it and the cast of Harlem Is Heaven includes a white actor with a speaking part, as well as a few white extras.
The movie was produced in New York and did not perform well financially, leading Robinson to focus on Hollywood-produced movies after that.Shirley Temple & Bill "Bojangles" Robinson - Tap Dancing
Sheehan set his sights on Robinson but, unsure of his ability as an actor, arranged for a contract that was void if Robinson failed the dramatic test. Robinson passed the test and was brought in to both star with Temple and to teach her tap dancing. Robinson walked a step ahead of us, but when he noticed me hurrying to catch up, he shortened his stride to accommodate mine.
I kept reaching up for his hand, but he hadn't looked down and seemed unaware. In Temple appeared in eight films, with no tap dance of note. It was not until The Little Colonel, when she first worked with Robinson, that her tap dancing -- combined with an acting style that comprised such mannerisms as a pursed mouth, wide-open eyes, a flat-footed stance with arms akimbo, a piquant smile, and mocked anger -- established her as the darling of Hollywood.
Robinson was performing on the Paramount Theater stage circuit when he was scouted for a role in The Little Colonel. I was instantly attracted. He stopped short, bent over me, his eyes wide and rows of brilliant teeth in a wide smile. When he took my hand in his, it felt large and cool. I fantasize that with so many nostalgic remembrances of Temple and Robinson -- a black male and white female tap-dancing with pleasure and glee across the silver screen in one of the most fiercely racist and segregated decades of the century -- perhaps we were presented, subliminally, with the ideal possibility that there might someday be an end to racism in our society!
I know, I'm only dreaming The kids who mispronounced the name teased, "Who took Bojangles' hat? Robinson's white agent, Marty Forkin, told a tale in which he was dining at The Jefferson, and after some slight, Robinson spilled soup on him. Somehow out of this, Forkin decided to sign Robinson to a contract. The same weekend he came to perform for the ball, he inaugurated the traffic light where his statue stands today.
Shirley Temple & Bill “Bojangles” Robinson | Old Movie Teams
Robinson gave huge amounts to black charities and became a founding member of the Negro Actors Guild of America. But in changing social times, the "Bojangles" persona became problematic.
Lena Horne, miscast alongside him in Stormy Weather as a love interest despite a near-half-century of age difference, didn't care for him. In Horne's biography, Robinson is described as a purposeful subservient who carried a pistol, was poisonous to other blacks "and truly believed in the wit and wisdom of little Shirley Temple. In his later life, he gambled and died broke, and was then given what, at that time, was Harlem's largest funeral.
Shirley Temple was a woman who came of age during the civil rights struggle. And though she had few of the challenges Robinson faced, there is something quite contemporary and a little odd about her rise.
The American entertainment machine of the Great Depression in the s latched onto Temple's dimples and vivacity to make her the best-known person in the world. She was trained to entertain, but when the lights went out and the cameras didn't roll for her anymore, she didn't crack up, or end up as carrion for tabloid vultures to pick over.
Still, it wasn't easy.
Her first marriage dissolved, and her later films failed to make money, in large part because the studios didn't know how to cast a former little girl who'd grown into a young woman. She did some television, but that didn't work well, either.