Jeni LeGon

Also known as:  Jennie May Ligon, Jennie Le Gon, Jenny Le Gon, Jeni Le Gon, Jeni LegonJeni LeGon 2

DOB:  August 14, 1916
DOD:  December 7, 2012

Ms. LeGon was a rare female tapper who distinguished herself as a solo performer in the first half of the 20th century. She wore pants rather than skirts when she performed, and as a result, she developed an athletic, acrobatic style, employing mule kicks and flying splits, more like the male dancers of the time.

Jeni LeGonIn 1935 Ms. LeGon appeared in Hooray for Love, a musical starring Ann Sothern in which she was featured with Bill Robinson and Waller in an effervescent song-and-dance number, “I’m Livin’ in a Great Big Way.”  For a time she performed in London, and went on to dance, sing and act in some 20 movies, including Ali Baba Goes to Town (1937), with Eddie Cantor;  Stormy Weather (1943), with Lena Horne and Bill Robinson; and Hi-De-Ho (1947), in which she died in Calloway’s arms.

Jeni LeGon 4LeGon also danced on Broadway in “Early to Bed,” a 1943 musical comedy concerning a brothel masquerading as a girls’ school on the island of Martinique, that was raised to distinction by Waller’s score and the choreography of Robert Alton.

On television in the early 1950s, Ms. LeGon appeared several times on Amos ’n’ Andy, but her career was stymied by the racial bias that governed Hollywood for much of its history.  She remained angry for decades at Fred Astaire, with whom she shared rehearsal space in 1935 but who she said refused to acknowledge her on the set of Easter Parade (1948), one of many films in which she played a maid.

“I played every kind of maid, that’s all I ever did,” she said in an interview with the Web site tapheritage.org. “I was an East Indian, West Indian, African, Arabic, Caribbean and black American. Eventually there weren’t that many roles. They were too few and far between.”

Jennie Ligon was born in Chicago on August 14, 1916 (her name was later altered forever when Louella Parsons misspelled it in her Hollywood gossip column.)

Jeni LeGon5As a girl Ms. LeGon sang and danced with neighborhood bands, and at 13 she got her first job as a chorus-line dancer for a performance by the Count Basie Orchestra.  She was so slender, however, that there were no costumes to fit her, so she wore pants and was assigned to mug flirtatiously in front of the chorus.

Later she toured with the vaudeville dance troupe the Whitman Sisters, a job that took her to Los Angeles and the movies. She also toured as a dancer, performing on military bases and in clubs. In the 1950s and ’60s she taught dance in Los Angeles and founded a touring troupe, Jazz Caribe.  Ms. LeGon continued teaching after she moved to Vancouver in 1969.Jeni LeGon 3

Her brief early marriage to the composer and arranger Phil Moore ended in divorce.  Jeni LeGon met her longtime companion Frank Clavin, a jazz drummer, in 1977 and it was Mr. Clavin who confirmed her death on December 7, 2012 in Vancouver, British Columbia.  Ms. LeGon was 96.

Jeni LeGon Filmography

Bright Road (1953)
Somebody Loves Me (1952)
Shot Jesse James (1949)
Easter Parade (1948)
Hi-De-Ho (1947)
Stormy Weather (1943)
I Walked with a Zombie (1943)
My Son, the Hero (1943)
Arabian Nights (1942)
Take My Life (1942)
This Was Paris (1942)
Bahama Passage (1941)
Birth of the Blues (1941)
Sundown (1941)
Glamour for Sale (1940)
While Thousands Cheer (1940)
I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, Baby (1940)
Double Deal (1939)
Fools for Scandal (1938)
Ali Baba Goes to Town (1937)
Café Metropole (1937)
Dishonour Bright (1936)

Source(s):  Obituary, The New York Times; IMDB.

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