A Tribute to Billie Bird
Vaudevillian/burlesque entertainer, comedienne, singer, movie and TV star, Billie Bird is included on the Dapper Dans website because she is responsible for introducing the Deagan Organ Chimes to Bub Thomas, who after using them in his early quartets brought them into the Dapper Dans' act in 1970 at Disneyland (it was her set of chimes that they first used at Disneyland.) She also taught Bub Thomas much about how to be a complete entertainer and therefore, her influence on the Dapper Dans is indirect but sure.
Born on February 28, 1908, Billie Bird (her real name is Bird Berniece Sellen) entered the world of show business at the ripe old age of seven, when she was discovered by a traveling road show that was entertaining children at an orphanage. They arranged for a tutor to travel with her so that her education would not be neglected. She toured with them for several successful seasons, during which time she spent every spare minute of her time learning everything she could about every phase of the business that held such fascination for her.
When Billie was ready to try her wings at bigger and better things, she teamed up with another girl and did a sister act known as "The King Sisters." They worked the Keith-Orpheum Circuit and played all the vaudeville theatres for years, including the goal of every vaudeville artist, The Palace.
When vaudeville began its descent, the act broke up and Billie went on to light opera, where she did such shows as Maytime, Show Boat, Chocolate Soldier, Naughty Marietta, New Moon and others. In musical comedy some of her favorite shows were Girl Crazy, High Button Shoes and Irene.
Farce comedy came next and this is when Billie decided that comedy was what she had been waiting for, appearing in such shows as Other People's Money, Twin Beds, Baby Mine and Getting Gertie's Garter. She performed in many melodramas, most notably in San Francisco in The Drunkard.
Moving to Los Angeles around 1943, she performed at Club Moderne in Long Beach and at The Colony Club in Gardena where she played, wrote and produced Burlesque shows for 8 years from 1947 to 1955. She was known for her classic strip tease and great comedic timing. She also played guitar, clarinet, vibraphone and bagpipes.
One of the most versatile performers in the entertainment field, Billie was one of the top names in the night club field. She was a regular on the Las Vegas circuit for many years. She set an all-time high record in Las Vegas at the Mint Hotel where she was held over for 4 years in the popular Artists and Models revue.
Her motion picture credits are quite numerous as she appeared in over 200 movies, including Somebody Loves Me with Betty Hutton, Dallas with Gary Cooper, The Lemon Drop Kid with Bob Hope, The Mating Season with Gene Tierney, and Anything Can Happen with Jose Ferrer. Her most recent appearances included several Policy Academy movies. Her last movie was Jury Duty with Pauly Shore.
Billie's TV credits included Dragnet, I Love Lucy and numerous character parts on Playhouse 90 and The Loretta Young Show. Her most recent appearances were Max Headroom, Hardcastle and McCormick, regular roles on It Takes Two from 1982 - 1983 (with Richard Crenna and Helen Hunt and Anthony Edwards), Benson (beginning in 1984) and the role of Margie Philbert on Dear John with Judd Hirsch from 1988 to 1992. Her last appearance was a cameo on George & Leo with Bob Newhart in 1997.
The mother of three children - Bill, Dennis and Terry, her husband Eddie (Edwin) Sellen died in 1966. He was a prolific song composer and organist who was noted for playing organ at silent movies. He played and led orchestras and bands at many of Billie's engagements.