Saturday, December 22, 2007

Ann Pennington

Born Anna Pennington (December 23, 1893–November 4, 1971) Ann was nicknamed both "Penny" and "Tiny". She was a 4"10" actress, dancer, and singer who starred on Broadway in the 1910's and 1920's, notably in the Ziegfeld Follies, where she debuted in 1913. She became famous as what was, at the time, called a “Shake and Quiver Dancer,” and was noted for her variation of the “Black Bottom”. She was also noted as an accomplished tap dancer; her shoe size was 1 1/2!

During her years in the Ziegfeld Follies she appeared alongside the likes of Bert Williams, Eddie Cantor, Will Rogers, Fanny Brice (who became her closest friend), Marilyn Miller, and W.C. Fields. Ann was romantically linked to several men during her lifetime, and at one time was engaged to boxer Jack Dempsey. However, she never married.

Ann's official film debut was in Susie Snowflake. The New York Times review was as follows:

"Many of those who went to the Broadway yesterday for the first showing of Susie Snowflake will be inclined to endorse this particular nomination. Miss Pennington is obviously put forth as a diminutive star of the Marguerite Clark variety, a style enormously in vogue at the moment. She is little and cunning on Mr. Ziegfeld’s stage and little and cunning on the screen. She has youth, a Mary Pickford like harum-scarum way with her and, except in the trying close-ups when her expression is somewhat adenoidal, she is pretty.

Of course she dances. As her frisky little dance is her sole claim to fame at the moment, it could no more be omitted from her first scenario than the “pump and washing tubs” in Mr. Crummles’s theater. So as a child of the music halls adapted into a staid, old New England community, Susie Snowflake disrupts a church sociable by doing her Follies dance there in her terse Follies costume."

While continuing to be primarily a stage performer, Ann went on to appear in 19 films between 1916 and 1941, most of them lost or impossible to find. There is however a clip on YouTube of Ann dancing. She appears about 1 min. 30 sec. into the number.

The following first set of images with accompanying copy comes from the January 1927 issue of Photoplay, where Ann instructs Felix the Cat on how to do the "Black Bottom". Dancing With the Stars - Look Out!

Felix decides that the Charleston is passé and goes to Ann Pennington for a lesson in the Black Bottom. In the first step, Ann points her left foot to the side, raising the left heel from the floor, bending both knees and slanting her body backwards.

Second step. "Now, Felix," says Ann, "straighten the body, lower the left heel and point your toe up from the floor. And, Felix sing that song, 'The Black Bottom of the Swanee River, sometimes likes to shake and shiver.' A little more pep, please!"

"Come on, cat! All set for the third step. Face forward, Felix, and bend that left knee slightly, pointing the left paw toward the floor. This is the way we make 'em sit up and take notice when we dance the 'Black Bottom' in Mr. White's 'Scandals' ".

"Snap into the fourth step, funny feline. Stamp that left mouse-catcher on the floor and bend that left knee.Stamp it good and hard. And sing that song - 'They call it Black Bottom, a new twister They sure got 'em, oh sister!' ".

"Now Mr. Cream and Catnip Man, after stamping forward, drag the left paw back across the floor. This is one of the most important principles of the dance. Then for step five, raise both of your hands from the floor and slap your hip. Like this!"

"Kick your right paw sidewards, old back-fence baritone, and keep slapping your hip. Now run along and practice your steps in someone's backyard. Little Ann must hurry and keep a dinner-date. See you at the 'Scandals' ".

Ann with Jacqueline Logan and Billie Dove

While at the Ziegfeld Follies, she was photographed by Alfred Cheney Johnston. This image was taken from the recently published book "Jazz Age Beauties - the lost collection of Ziegfeld Photographer Alfred Cheney Johnston".

Ann Pennington - What do you think? Allure


Jack R said...

Enoch Bolles did a nice Ann Pennington cover for Film Fun magazine back in 1929. I've got a copy and will have to get a scan of it.

Operator_99 said...


Would love to see the cover. I have a number of Film Fun magazines and images of covers, but don't believe I've ever seen that one.

Jack R said...

I'll scan it and put it on my flick site. It's a nice cover.

Anonymous said...

Ann Pennington is adorable as are
most of the actresses on this
"alluring" site. I found that
"Snake Hips" number by accident on
youtube and I was suprised at how
lovely "Penny" was. Considering she
was in her mid thirties in 1929
- she looked like a kid and her
dancing was .