HIGH POINT CONFIDENTIAL: High Pointers mobbed visiting movie stars in 1934

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Mar. 7—HIGH POINT — Not many High Pointers got to visit Hollywood in the 1930s, but you should've seen the crowd that showed up when Hollywood came to High Point.

On the evening of May 19, 1934, some 5,000 residents swarmed the city depot to see if they could catch a glimpse of husband-and-wife movie stars Ben Lyon Jr. and Bebe Daniels — a crowd so large and enthusiastic that police had to be called in to protect the young couple from the teeming masses.

A crowd so gaga, in fact, that Daniels nearly suffocated from their clamoring attempts to lay eyeballs on the couple, according to a High Point Enterprise article.

More on that in a minute.

Now, you may not recognize the names of Lyon and Daniels, but in 1934 everybody — and we mean everybody — knew who they were. These two were Hollywood royalty, a pair of silent film stars so beloved that even their fellow movie stars swooned in their presence.

To give you an idea of their magnitude, Daniels had starred opposite Rudolph Valentino during the silent film era. Lyon had shared the screen with the likes of Jean "The Blonde Bombshell" Harlow and Gloria Swanson, two huge film stars in their own right.

And get this: About a decade later, working as talent director for 20th Century-Fox, Lyon would discover and sign a vivacious young actress named Norma Jean Baker. You might know her better as Marilyn Monroe — a stage name, by the way, which Lyon helped the popular sex symbol come up with.

Furthermore, when Lyon and Daniels tied the knot in 1930, about 200 celebrities attended the wedding, including the likes of Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, Irving Berlin, Clara Bow and Lionel Barrymore.

That's how big Lyon and Daniels were.

So what was a couple of that magnitude doing in little ol' High Point? Well, it turns out Lyon's parents, Ben Lyon Sr. and Alvine Lyon, lived in High Point for more than a decade — from at least the early 1920s until the mid-1930s — brought here by Ben's job in the bedding industry. The younger Lyon visited as often as his Hollywood schedule allowed. The dashing young star wasn't born in High Point, but his ties here were strong enough that The Enterprise poignantly described him as "High Point's contribution to the cinema" and "High Point's adopted son."

And, of course, when Lyon and Daniels became an item and eventually got married, the young starlet came to High Point, too.

That was the case on that crazy Saturday evening in 1934, when a crowd of 5,000 — mostly women — showed up at the depot.

Actually, though, the craziness began on Friday. The city had caught wind that the Hollywood power couple was in town visiting Lyon's parents, so that afternoon and evening a constant stream of rubberneckers drove by the Lyons' home on Johnson Street, trying to catch a fleeting glimpse of the stars. Eventually, a crowd of about 2,000 people gathered at the house, just standing there in the front yard, until finally the idols came to the front porch and greeted the cheering throng.

The Enterprise not only reported that incident, but also tipped off readers as to when "Ben and Bebe," as their loving fans called them, would be boarding a train to leave town. That's why there was such a huge crowd at the depot the next night.

Unfortunately for the Lyons, their train was 20 minutes behind schedule, which gave the crowd even more time to close in on them.

"As they appeared upon the platform, the crowd moved forward, milling around them, crowding and pushing in an effort to secure a glimpse," The Enterprise reported. "A policeman fought his way to their side but was helpless."

Daniels, who was pregnant, apparently nearly fainted from the crush and heat of the crowd — The Enterprise headline said she "almost suffocated" — so she and her husband retreated to the lobby of the Biltmore Hotel opposite the depot. Police reserves were called to the scene, and they escorted the couple through the mob when the train arrived. The somewhat unnerved couple waved farewell from the platform, "appreciative perhaps of the sendoff, but undoubtedly sorry that the train was late," The Enterprise wrote.

The reporter even recorded a few comments from the starstruck crowd.

"I actually touched his coat," one swooning young girl gushed.

"It must be terrible to be so famous," an elderly woman lamented. "I imagine it is the same everywhere they go."

Oh no, not everywhere. Remember, this frenzied farewell happened in High Point, their "adopted" home away from home.

jtomlin@hpenews.com — 336-888-3579

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