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 “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.




Year of Release: 1939
Genre: Crime/Drama
Rating: N/A
Runtime: 60 mins.
Black & White
Studio: Dixon R. Harwin Productions/Argus Pictures
Producer: Dixon R. Harwin/George Randol
Director: Arthur Dreifuss

Monte Hawley (Jim McCoy)
Jeni Le Gon (Nita Walker)
Eddie Thompson (Dude Markey)
Florence O’Brien (Sally)
Freddie Jackson (Tommy McCoy)
Maceo Sheffield (Murray Howard)
Buck Woods (Sharpie)
Vernon McCalla (Inspector)
Charles Gordon (Lanny)
F. E. Miller (Slim)
Shelton Brooks (Himself)
Charles Hawkins (Snively)


Murray Howard owns a nightclub where entertainer Nita Walker performs.  Although admired by Dude Markey, she is in love with Jim McCoy. 

Dude is interested in Nita

Sally is not interested in SnivelySnively, the club manager, in turn loves Sally, a cigarette girl, aspiring performer and Nita’s roommate. Sally, however, likes the penniless, Slim.

Dude brings Tommy in on the job

Dude and Howard offer Jim’s little brother, Tommy, a job on the condition that he ask no questions. Tommy had earlier rejected his brother’s offer of a Pullman job, despite it being a respectable position.  Tommy discovers that Dude is a criminal when he accompanies him on a safecracking job at a jewelry store that results in the murder of a night watchman. Dude brings the stolen jewels to Howard, who puts them in his safe as Dude secretly notes the combination. In the nightclub, Dude asks Snively to fix him up with Nita, who then directs her singing of “Gettin’ in Right with You” toward Jim. Nita sings to Jim 2

Dude becomes jealous, goes to Nita’s dressing room and when Jim enters, a fight ensues between the two men. The fracas is broken up by Lanny, a policeman. When Jim escorts Sally and Nita to their rooms, he finds Tommy waiting for him. An inspector arrives and tells them of the recent robbery and murder. Tommy gets nervous and Jim tells him not to look so worried as he was not involved.

the guys play pokerLater, Jim joins Dude and some others in a poker game. Dude excuses himself from the game, goes to Howard’s office and removes the jewels from the safe. Later Dude accuses Jim in front of Howard of robbing the safe, having previously dropped a slip of paper with the combination into Jim’s pocket. Jim escapes and goes to Nita’s. He notices the number 271 on the back of the piece of paper that holds the safe’s combination and asks Slim to find out if it is someone’s “lucky” number. Nita gives Jim the gun she found in her dressing room

Meanwhile, Nita has found Dude’s gun in her dressing room with three cartridges missing and Jim asks Nita to lead Dude on until he can prove that Dude was the one who actually stole the jewels from Howard’s safe. Howard is unhappy that Jim got away, and Dude suggests they bring in Tommy instead. Later Dude tries to convince Nita to elope with him and she tells him to come by her place later and she will give him her answer then. Slim has found out that Dude was playing the number 271, and Nita tells Howard.

Howard is shotDude overhears and shoots Howard through the window and Tommy is blamed. That night, Jim catches Dude picking up the diamonds where he’d previously hidden them.

Dude goes to Nita’s and pulls a gun on her and Sally because he knows it was Nita who told Howard that Dude robbed the safe. Jim arrives and he and Dude fight. Lanny barges in and Dude is shot.Jim and Dude fight at Nita's

With the reward money for the recovery of the jewels, Jim becomes the new owner of the nightclub, which clears the way for his marriage to Nita.  Slim becomes the new club manager, while Sally becomes the new entertainer.Jim owns the club and Sally gets her big breakNotes

The file for the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library contains a letter dated October 19, 1939, in which the PCA warned producer D. R. Harwin to avoid filming the “bump and kootch movements” in the dance sequence, and to remove any sexual suggestiveness in the dialogue between “Dude” and “Sharpie.” In addition, the PCA urged the producer to “minimize the showing of the slot machines… details of the jewelry store break-in … and the killing of policemen by criminals.”

Soundtrack Titles
Hole in the Wall (written and Performed by Shelton Brooks)
Jitterbugs Cuttin’ Rugs (written by Shelton Brooks)
Gettin’ in Right with You (written by Peter Tinturin and Harry Tobias; performed by Jeni Le Gon)