Ben Lyon

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Ben Lyon
Lyon in 1936
Born(1901-02-06)February 6, 1901
DiedMarch 22, 1979(1979-03-22) (aged 78)
Resting placeHollywood Forever Cemetery
Years active1918–1955
(m. 1930; died 1971)
(m. 1972)
Children2, including Barbara Lyon
AwardsHollywood 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.

Early life and career[edit]

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 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]

Lyon in I Cover the Waterfront (1933)

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 a 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]

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 spawned a couple of theatrical films as well as a television series on BBC and independent television from 1954 until 1960. Bebe Daniels had top billing in these series, similar to the concurrent American show starring married couple Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.

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

Military service[edit]

Lyon served as a pilot in the 322nd Pursuit Squadron in the early 1930s. During World War II he served as a lieutenant colonel in the US Army Air Forces Special Services.[7]

Personal life[edit]

Lyon married actress Bebe Daniels in June 1930.[8] They had two children, daughter Barbara in 1931 and an adopted son Richard. In an issue of the contemporary magazine Radio Pictorial, Bebe explained how she saw Richard peering through the railings at a London orphanage 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 April 1, 1972, Lyon married the actress Marian Nixon, whom he had known since the 1920s.[10] They remained married until his death.[10] She died five years later, also at age 78.


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] His body was cremated and is interred in the Chapel Columbarium at Hollywood Forever Cemetery next to his first wife, Bebe Daniels.[11]

For his contribution to the motion picture industry, Ben Lyon has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1724 Vine Street.[12]

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

Jill Allgood had lived with Bebe and Ben for many years in their large apartment at Dolphin Square, London. Jill Allgood had a niece Suzanne Allgood and both Bebe and Ben Lyons were her God-parents.

Selected filmography[edit]

Year Film Role Director Notes
1921 The Heart of Maryland Bob Telfair Tom Terriss
1923 The Custard Cup Dick Chase Herbert Brenon
1923 Potash and Perlmutter Boris Andrieff Clarence G. Badger
1923 Flaming Youth Monty Standish John Francis Dillon
1924 Painted People Don Lane Clarence G. Badger
1924 The White Moth Douglas Morley Maurice Tourneur
1924 Wine of Youth Lynn Talbot King Vidor
1924 Lily of the Dust Lt. Prell Dimitri Buchowetzki
1924 Wages of Virtue Marvin Allan Dwan
1924 So Big Dirk DeJong Charles Brabin
1925 One Way Street Bobby Austin John Francis Dillon
1925 The Necessary Evil Frank Jerome George Archainbaud
1925 Winds of Chance Pierce Phillips Frank Lloyd
1925 The Pace That Thrills Danny Wade Webster Campbell
1925 The New Commandment Billy Morrow Howard Higgin
1925 Bluebeard's Seven Wives John Hart / Don Juan Hartez Alfred Santell
1926 The Reckless Lady Ralph Hilliwe Howard Higgin
1926 The Savage Danny Terry Fred C. Newmeyer
1926 The Great Deception Cyril Mansfield Howard Higgin
1926 Prince of Tempters Francis Lothar Mendes
1927 The Perfect Sap Herbert Alden Howard Higgin
1927 High Hat Jerry James Ashmore Creelman
1927 The Tender Hour Wally McKenzie George Fitzmaurice
1927 Dance Magic Leach Norcutt Victor Halperin
1927 For the Love of Mike Mike Frank Capra
1927 Dancing Vienna Jonny Conzaga Frederic Zelnik
1929 The Air Legion Dave
1929 All Faces West Mathew Raymond K. Johnson
1929 The Quitter Neal Abbott Joseph Henabery
1929 The Flying Marine Steve Moran Albert S. Rogell
1930 Lummox Rollo Farley Ray Lissner (assistant)
1930 Alias French Gertie Jimmy Hartigan George Archainbaud<
1930 Hell's Angels Monte Rutledge Howard Hughes
James Whale (dialogue)
1930 What Men Want Kendall James Ernst Laemmle
1930 A Soldier's Plaything Georgie Michael Curtiz
1931 The Hot Heiress 'Hap' Harrigan Clarence G. Badger
1931 Misbehaving Ladies Phil Hunter William Beaudine
1931 Indiscreet Tony Blake Leo McCarey
1931 Aloha Jimmy Bradford Albert S. Rogell
1931 My Past Robert 'Bob' Byrne Roy Del Ruth
1931 Night Nurse Mortie William A. Wellman
1931 Bought! Nick Amory Archie Mayo
1931 Her Majesty, Love Fred von Wellingen William Dieterle
1931 Compromised Sidney Brock Ben Silvey
1932 Lady with a Past Guy Bryson E. J. Babille (assistant)
1932 The Big Timer Cooky Bradford Edward Buzzell
1932 Week Ends Only Jack Williams Alan Crosland
1932 By Whose Hand? Jimmy
1932 The Crooked Circle Brand Osborne H. Bruce Humberstone
1932 Hat Check Girl Buster Collins Sidney Lanfield
1933 Girl Missing Henry Gibson Robert Florey
1933 I Cover the Waterfront H. Joseph 'Joe' Miller James Cruze
1933 The Women in His Life Roger McKane George B. Seitz
1934 I Spy Wally Sawyer
1934 Crimson Romance Bob Wilson David Howard
1934 Lightning Strikes Twice Steven 'Steve' Brewster Ben Holmes
1935 Together We Live Max Willard Mack
1935 Navy Wife Dr. Peter Milford Allan Dwan
1936 Dancing Feet Peyton Wells Joseph Santley
1936 Down to the Sea Steve Londos Lewis D. Collins
1936 Treachery on the High Seas Johnny Hammond
1938 Stardust Royal Harley Melville W. Brown
1939 I Killed the Count Bernard Froy Frederic Zelnik
1939 Confidential Lady Jim Brent Arthur B. Woods
1941 Hi Gang! Her Other Half Marcel Varnel
1942 This Was Paris Butch, Sydney Chronicle Reporter John Harlow
1943 The Dark Tower Phil Danton John Harlow
1954 Life with the Lyons Himself Val Guest
1955 The Lyons in Paris Ben Val Guest final film role


  • Allgood, Jill (1975). Bebe and Ben. Robert Hale & Co. ISBN 0-709-14942-5.
  • Daniels, Bebe; Lyons, Ben (1953). Life with the Lyons, the Autobiography of Bebe Daniels and Ben Lyon. Odhams Press. ASIN B0000CIGNZ.


  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 978-0-813-13745-2.
  2. ^ "FamilySearch: Sign In". FamilySearch.
  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. ^ a b Donnelley, Paul (2003). Fade to Black: A Book of Movie Obituaries. Music Sales Group. p. 487. ISBN 0-711-99512-5.
  6. ^ a b The New York Times Biographical Service, Volume 10. New York Times & Arno Press. 1979. p. 344.
  7. ^ "Welcome to the Website of the Davis-Monthan Airfield Register".
  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.
  10. ^ a b "Marian Nixon". Los Angeles Times.
  11. ^ D'Agostino, Annette M. (2004). The Harold Lloyd Encyclopedia. McFarland. p. 75. ISBN 0-786-41514-2.
  12. ^ "Hollywood Star Walk". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved May 19, 2014.

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