Ann Pennington in an ad for Lux soap, listed on EBay as Buy It Now for $9.99.
Note: We are pleased to introduce a feature by author Eve Golden, whom longtime readers will recall from her previous feature “Queen of the Dead.”
Ann Pennington (1893-1971) was a tiny bundle of delight who shone on Broadway in the 1910s and ’20s. From a Quaker family, she dashed off to Broadway, where she was soon dancing in the Ziegfeld Follies (seven editions between 1913 and 1924–she also danced for Ziegfeld’s arch-enemy George White, in five of his Scandals, proving that she was both an invaluable performer and a delight to have around).
The never-married Ann didn’t originate the shimmy, the Charleston or the Black Bottom, but she helped popularize them, with her loose-limbed, double-jointed dancing. Generous, funny (she put a Men’s Room sign on her dressing-room door), Ann also appeared in a handful of silent films, including Pretty Ladies (1925), which featured a neophyte Joan Crawford.
With the advent of talkies, Ann was rushed into five 1929 films, sometimes just seen in a shoehorned-in musical number. Her career pretty much ended with the Jazz Age, and her decline was swift and sad. She danced at the 1939 World’s Fair and appeared in the 1943 Broadway show “The Student Prince”” and a handful of early 1940s bit parts in films. Her money evaporated–spent, given away, gambled.
When pianist and historian Stuart Oderman encountered her in 1970, Ann was living in a run-down hotel off Times Square, flat broke and existing day-to-day on handouts, charity and welfare. She remained tough and cheerful, refusing to feel sorry for herself or publicize her plight. She died at 77, and was buried in Kensico Cemetery in Westchester, by the Actors Benevolent Guild.
I offer for your delight Ann doing the Snake-Hips in the 1929 film “Happy Days,” apparently in front of a backdrop depicting giant ovaries. That’s the wonderful Sharon Lynn singing before Ann’s entrance, and I leave you marveling how Ann did that with her legs: