MR. BOJANGLES: The Biography of Bill Robinson by Jim & N.R. Mitgang Haskins

MR. BOJANGLES: The Biography of Bill Robinson

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Bill ""Bojangles"" Robinson, who died nearly 40 years ago, was often called the world's greatest tap dancer. His fading image has recently been revived in the video release of his best-known films, those made with seven-year-old dancing partner Shirley Temple: The Little Colonel, The Littlest Rebel, and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (His other outings, in Stormy Weather and In Old Kentucky, are lesser films.) As a young orphan, Robinson began dancing on Southern street corners and in front of theaters, becoming a compulsive gambler early on. He spent several decades in vaudeville, and was the first black solo act allowed on stage. In later years, he helped black entertainers form a union, was always generous with his time and money, danced for servicemen in WW II, and was named unofficial ""Mayor of Harlem"" during the rule of Fiorello LaGuardia. Meanwhile, Bojangles (the Bob Dylan song is not about Robinson) was not just dapper, he was fanatical about his clothes, clean dressing rooms, and even tried to patent his famed step dance. Beloved figure though he was, he had flaws that went hand in glove with gambling (but did not drink or smoke), was forever borrowing (sometimes failing to pay back), had a sharp temper, and was a martinet with fellow workers. He did not marry until into his 40s, and at 62 was divorced by his wife for his infatuation with a very young dancer, whom he then married. Robinson's dressing rooms and home always displayed many photos of Shirley Temple (though Haskins and Mitgang are disappointingly scanty about his work with Shirley). His death, at age 72, was followed by the greatest funeral ever held in Harlem. Haskins, who has limned many black entertainers' lives, and Mitgang see Robinson plain and make clear his sparkle, but--perhaps necessarily--lard their book with large chunks of vaudeville and black theater history.

Pub Date: May 25th, 1988
Publisher: Morrow