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Afternoon Delight Dance Series #1: The Great Mr. Beebe

by Jerome Weeks 2 May 2011 1:00 PM

Yes, I’m back in charge of the Afternoon Delight. So this week we’ll celebrate rarities and real achievements in musical theater – like this remarkable tap-dance extravaganza from 1943 that was created to be cut out of the film.


Afternoon Delight is a daily diversion for when you’re just back from lunch, but not quite ready to get back to work. Check back tomorrow at 1 p.m. for another one

Do not adjust your computer. Stephen is out of the office this week, so once again, I’m taking control of the Afternoon Delight and flying it back in time. We’ll be exploring the art of American musical theater, uncovering some remarkable dance numbers and dancers, some rarities, novelties and real achievements.

This incredible sequence appears in the otherwise formulaic film, Carolina Blues, from 1944, which was mostly just a vehicle for popular big bandleader Kay Kyser. It does include the redoubtable Ann Miller in one number that got edited to pieces. The true tap-dance wonder is here: “Mr. Beebe” (and not “Mr. BB” as the YouTube poster has tagged it). It’s a tribute to socialite, prankster and journalist Lucius Beebe, who was known for his sartorial splendor — his “pajamas are as groovy as a Technicolor movie”).

The musical number features African-American tap-dance royalty, notably the high-flying Harold Nicholas (alone, not with his brother Fayard of the famous Nicholas Brothers), the Four Step Brothers and Marie Bryant along with singer June Richmond.

Several of the Afternoon Delights this week will demonstrate how African-Americans performers handled Jim Crow segregation and humiliating characterizations — all the while exulting and excelling in this art form. “Mr. Beebe,” for example, doesn’t seem overtly racist until you realize the sequence was designed to be cut from the print (which is why Kyser’s band slides away before the dancing begins and is never seen again).

That way, Columbia Pictures could distribute the aptly named Carolina Blues throughout the South — with “Mr. Beebe” chopped out completely.