Bee Jackson and ‘Hey! Hey! Charleston’

The blond and vivacious Bee Jackson was described as the Charleston Queen and was certainly one of the more prominent advocates of the dance in America and Europe but did not ‘invent’ the dance itself. In the midst of a brilliant, international career she died tragically in her mid twenties.

Bee Jackson dancing the Charleston at the Piccadilly Hotel cabaret, London (1925)
Bee Jackson dancing the Charleston at the Piccadilly Hotel cabaret, London (1925)

Bee (Beatrice) Jackson was born in Flushing, New York and grew up in Bound Brook, New Jersey. She danced through her early years with her favourite toy, a phonograph. ‘I danced because I loved it’ she said and simply worked out steps to her favourite tunes even though she had no conception of routine; that intricate pattern that is weaved into a dance to symbolise or express a thought or a feeling.

At the age of fifteen, when her dancing madness was well known, she was asked to play the ingenue in an amateur production of The Earl and the Girl. On vacation in New York with her mother she got an audition for her first show and appeared in the Shubert Brother’s cabaret show The Midnight Rounders in the Century Roof (1921). This was followed by appearances in further Shubert shows including The Whirl of New York (1921) and the Al Jolson musical Bombo (1921-22).

She finally got an audiion with Ned Wyburn who for many years was Florenz Ziegfeld’s dance master, and she clearly had flair because she was snapped up and placed in the chorus of the Ziegfeld Follies of 1922. One of the principals was Gilda Gray and Bee was part of her chorus in her South Sea Isle dance. She was so good at doing the Hawaiian dance that she became her understudy.

When the show closed in the summer of 1923 and went on the road, Bee stayed in New York and went into Ziegfeld’s Summer show. At the same time, Gilda Gray remembered her and gave her a job doing a Hawaiian and jazz dance at her nightclub called the Rendezvous. She did not stay long and moved onto the Question Mark run by Dan McKetrick which was a mecca of celebrities in the literary, sporting and dramatic worlds. Here she met the senator (later mayor) Jimmie Walker, Jack Dempsey, Jack Kearns, Johnny Dundee and his manager Jimmie Johnson and Damon Runyon.

When her engagement in Ziegfeld’s Follies and her appearances at the Question Mark ended she became one of the models in chorus of the Shubert Brothers revue Artists and Models launched 20th August 1923 at Shubert theatre with Frank Fay as compere.

Bee claimed that she needed a new dance sensation to bring her to the attention of other stage managers. Upon seeing the show Running Wild in late 1923, she saw the Charleston as her winning ticket and was taught the dance. She gave an audition to the booking agent Harry Bestry and he put her into a new show at the Silver Slipper night club in early 1924. When the Sliver Slipper was padlocked in June 1924, W.T. Granlund, announcer for WHN Radio took her to the El Fey Club and introduced her to Texas Guinan and danced there through the autumn of 1924. Then on 28th December 1924 she began a run at Club Richman (opened that autumn by the entertainer Harry Richman) which landed her contracts to dance in Florida, Havana, London and Paris.

Of course there is another story. Ned Wayburn claims that he ‘invented’ the dance and got Bee Jackson to dance it in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1922. Whatever the story, Bee never claimed to have invented the dance merely to be one of the first to bring it to public attention.

Via Harry Richman, Bee appeared in vaudeville starting with a week at Keith’s Palace Theatre and then an extensive tour of the USA in early 1925. At some point she was cast to appear in Ivan Abramson’s film Lying Wives (released 13th June 1925) that starred Clara Kimball Young. The film was panned and regarded as being rather dull. By the summer of 1925 she was appearing at Lew Leslie’s fashionable Rue de la Paix nightspot at West 54th Street. When this closed she accepted an offer to appear in London at the Piccadilly Hotel Cabaret.

The Piccadilly Revels autumn show (28/9/25 – 29/11/25) featured the sensational American singers Sissle and Blake, the dancing duo Carl Hyson and Peggy Harris and the singer Jane Green. Bee was billed as ‘the champion shimmy shaker and Charleston dancer from America’ and much was made of her law court action against a dancing teacher on the grounds that thanks to him she could not help shimmying whenever jazz was played. Her featured number was Charleston Baby of Mine where she was introduced by the dancing of Muriel Montrose and the chorus. Throughout her stay in London she also doubled at the Kit Kat Club in the Haymarket owned by the same management as the Piccadilly.

Bee Jackson doing the Charleston
Bee Jackson doing the Charleston

Oddly, in the midst of her success in London her betrothal to Carl Foreman, professional swimmer and former lifeguard was announced, once he was free of the current Mrs Foreman – Isabel Bennett. However back in America and unmarried, Bee spent the winter in Palm Beach at the Lido-Venice Hotel described as Florida’s smartest restaurant with fellow artist ‘Baby Peggy’ Litman and Nat Bruce’s Orchestra. From Florida she may have gone onto to Havana before going to Los Angeles to join Will Morrissey’s Music Hall Revue. With a cast of 75 and 36 beauties in the chorus, Bee was one of the key principals joining Dolores Ellen, the dancing of Midgie Miller and Bing Crosby and Al Rinker. The show opened 30th April at the Orange Grove Theatre and toured California through Los Angeles, San Diego, San Fransisco and Santa Barbara until early September.

Returning to New York Bee danced the rest of the summer at the Castillian Royal before joining the regional tour of Florenz Ziegfeld’s Palm Beach Nights revue renamed No Foolin. Then, she was back in Florida for the winter again, this time in the Spanish Dance Gardens, part of the Coral Gables Golf and Country Club. Here she performed the Charleston, Tap and Black Bottom in a show that also featured Nesta Glynn and Garber’s Orchestra.

After spending the summer of 1927 back at the Castillian Gardens, New York she made another trip to Europe and amongst her engagements appeared at the Florida Club in Paris in November. She arrived in New York aboard Majestic just before Christmas and in early 1928 embarked upon another vaudeville tour with the Francis Knight Orchestra and others. By the end of the year was starring in Roy Mack’s cabaret show Mirador Mimics at the smart New York rendezvous of the Club Mirador.

Thereafter, her engagements become a little sketchy and difficult to confirm. She appeared in the short lived stage show Carnival in the spring of 1929 and then made another visit to Europe appearing in the Italian production of Wonder Bar in 1931. Bee returned to the Piccadilly Hotel cabaret in the summer of 1931 in a show that featured Rex Evans and was dancing the Rhumba, which she claimed to have introduced to New York in 1927.

By mid 1932 she was performing in Vienna and London and again making the most of her rendition of the Rhumba. In Vienna she was hounded by the good looking King Zog of Albania, a noted womaniser, who proposed that she try out the Albanian climate with him. Her answer was a good old fashioned American sock in the nose. Bee followed up these engagements with further appearances in Constantinople and Berlin where she allegedly was cast in a German talkie and was then back in New York by late 1932. Here she appeared in vaudeville at the Palace Theatre with Noble Sissle and his orchestra.

Bee Jackson 2367 Bee Jackson 2365

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bee was in rehearsals for a new show at the Paramount Club in Chicago in the summer of 1933 when she was taken sick with appendicitis, underwent an operation and died 18th July aged 24 or 26.

All images and text © copyright Gary Chapman / Jazz Age Club and must not be re-used without prior consent

Sources:

Collier’s Weekly, Variety, New York Times, Dancing Times, Kentucky News, The Stage, The Tatler

Jazz in Print (1856-1929) by Karl Koenig
The Wicked Waltz & other Scandalous Dances by Mark Knowles

USC Newsreel of Bee Jackson is held as part of the Fox Movietone newsreels at Univeristy of South Carolina.

‘Miss Flying Feet’ Eve’s film review/British Pathe

Chronology

1921 The Midnight Rounders of 1921 (7/2/21-2/4/21)
1921 The Whirl of New York (13/6/21-17/9/21)
1922 Ziegfeld Follies (5/6/22 – 23/6/23)
1923 Ziegfeld Follies of 1923/Summer Edition (25/6/23-15/9/23)
1923 Club Rendezvous, then The Question Mark (Summer)
1923 Artist and Models (from 20/8)
1924 Silver Slipper Night Club (Spring)
1924 El Fay Club (Summer / Autumn)
1924 Club Richman (from 28/12)
1925 Vaudeville tour of USA
1925 Film – Lying Wives (released 13/6/25)
1925 Lew Leslie’s Rue de la Paix (Summer)
1925 Piccadilly Revels at the Piccadilly hotel, London (28/9/25 – 29/11/25) and the Kit Kat Club
1926 Lido Venice Hotel, Palm Beach, Florida & Havana (Feb-Mar)
1926 Will Morrissey’s Music Hall Revue (West coast tour, April- Sep)
1926 Castillian Royal, NYC (September)
1926 Ziegfeld’s No Foolin regional tour (Autumn)
1927 Coral Gables Golf and Country Club, Florida (Feb-Mar)
1927 Castillian Royal, NYC (Summer)
1927 Florida Club, Paris (Nov)
1928 Vaudeville tour
1928 Club Mirador, NYC (Autumn)
1929 Carnival, NYC (24/4/-May 1929)
1931 Italian Production of Wonder Bar (?)
1931 Piccadilly Hotel cabaret, London (June)
1932 Appearances in London, Vienna, Constantinople, Berlin
1932 Palace Theatre vaudeville, NYC (Nov)
1933 Show at Paramount Club, Chicago (summer)
1933 Died 18/7/33

 

5 Responses to “Bee Jackson and the Charleston”

  1. Mike McDonald says:

    I’m so glad to have found your website. I was always wondering about the picture of the unknown flapper dancing the Charleston until you explained the who and where of her, Ms. Bee Jackson. (Piccaddily Hotel cabaret 1925) I say this because I own a copy of the “Livng Era” CD of the Roaring 20s, called, “The Charleston Era” and there is Bee, in color looking like a perfect cupie doll flapper, doing a Charleston step.

    She really lived life in the fast lane, for sure. The only other two women dancers more famous would have to be either Marilyn Miller and Ann Pennington. How I wish I could have been there for all that wonderful music, dance, fashion and culture before laptops and cell phones and Ipods. It seems that Bee and Rudoph Valentino died the same way and both wdE too young. But they were like comets blazing arcoss the sky, brilliant and beautiful for a short while. At least they both went out in style and are still remembered, all these decades later.

    Mike McDonald
    NYC
    Roaring 20s Freak!

    One more thing: I met Elizabeth Welch, of “Charleston introducing” fame, back in 1983. She was hand picked from a choir up in Harlem because of her pwerful voice.
    It was a revue called, “Black Broadwy” and I was on “Cloud 13 !!!” What a thill to have kissed both cheeks of the lady who intruduced the “Charleston” to the world on 10/30/23 at the New Colonial Thearter at 1887 Brodway in the revue called, “Runnin’ Wild” by James P. Johnson and Cecil Mack, producec by George White. The irony was that she told me candidly that she “Hated the damned thing”, meaning the Charleson. She could not dance it, but could belt it out to the audience and four chourous girls came out and demonstrated it and the rest is history. Bee was at that show, I read. Fascinating.

  2. Mikle McDonald says:

    Nobody loves the Twenties more than Yours Truly. I have been collecting 1920s music and artifacts since I was a kid. For me, this ear was the first truly modern and most one-of-a-kind in history. Without all the technology of today, we went from horse and bugy to super highways and Trans-Atlantic flights. From black and white siletnts to rudamentary color and sound. The music was the happies and most optomistic ever, as well.
    I love what you wrote about Bee Jackson. I suppose that she is the one the slogan, “The Bee’s Knees” is about. It stands to reason.
    I am at this time, trying to get the people at Lincoln Center and the David Ribenstein Atrium here in NYC to acknowledge with a plaque, the introduction of “Runnin’ Wild” and the “Charleston” at this site, which was once the New Colonnial Theatre, where on 10/29/23, Elizabeth Welch introduced the lyrics to James P. Johnson and Cecil Mack’s masterpiece, the “Charleston” to the world!

    Do yo agree??

    Mike McDonald
    NYC, USA

  3. Clementine says:

    I have always wondered who she was whenever I saw her photograph. She is stunning. I am in absolute love with the Roaring Twenties, and there never comes a day when I don’t wish I was alive then. This was a very insightful article, and I thank you for publishing it. When I found out her name I was thinking just what Mike McDonald was, that the term “The Bee’s Knees” was coined because of her. She is now one of my many idols from the 1920s!

  4. Rachel says:

    Wow this was helpful!! I am going on a 1920’s and 1940’s themed field trip and for the 20’s part we have to write a report on a person in the 20’s and act like them at our speakeasy! Some of my friends and I are even going to preform a charleston inspired dance (learned in our dance class) to the song fidgety feet! On the 1940’s night we are going to swing dance!
    It is so sad that she died so young i must say. She seemed like a vivacious, fun woman! Glad I get to be her!

  5. Mike McDonald says:

    “Running Wild”, the all-black Broadway musical, opened on Oct. 29, 1923 and closed on June 28, 1924. The ‘Charleston” dance galvanized the Roaring 20s and will forever be linked to the Twenties. By 1925, it had crossed over to Europe and soon after, the whole world was doing the “Charleston” dance!
    The music is credited to James Price Johnson and lyrics by Cecil Mack. No pictures have been found to survive of the cast and crew. What an irony that this obscure musical of its day has had such an impact not only on music, but on fashion and pop culture for all times hence. I have searched high and low, far and wide but cannot find a single photograph of “Running Wild”. If such a thing exists, I wish whoever has it would release it for the world to see and enjoy.
    The space is where this took place at the Colonial Theater, aka New Colonial Theater, then Harkness, long since demolished, is now the David Rubenstein Atrium at 62nd Street ad Broadway, making no reference to what took place here and how it influenced pop culture forever.

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