Jeni LeGon: Living in a Great Big Way | Chicago Reader

Jeni LeGon: Living in a Great Big Way

Grant Greschuk's straightforward 1999 documentary profiles gentle, vibrant Jeni LeGon, who succeeded as a dancer, singer, and actor when the world of show business offered few opportunities for women of color. Born in Chicago in 1916, she was too poor to take dance classes, but she'd watch the floor shows at the Oriental and practice the steps at home. At 13 she auditioned for Count Basie (she describes her “little boy's figure,” bra cups hanging) and told the astonished bandleader that she usually danced in pants. After Basie made her the soubrette in a revue, she went on to sing and dance—usually tap—onstage and in the movies (Easter Parade, Broadway Melody of 1936), and in the early 50s she appeared on the Amos 'n' Andy TV series. She “played maids in just about every culture there was,” she recalls, and she speaks glowingly of the all-black films in which she “got a chance to be the heroine and get kissed.” Tap dancer Fayard Nicholas calls her a “cute” performer, and there is something endearingly childlike about this elderly woman as she describes a hard life that yielded many rewards. 48 min.

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