The above photo features world champion drum majorette Betty Louise Atkinson surrounded by a group of police officers during a parade in Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Police Department sponsored the event, which took place on July 9, 1937, and drew 40,000 spectators.
Photo License: Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Source: University of California, Los Angeles.
Atkinson was a champion drum majorette, baton twirler, tap dancer and ice skater. She appeared in a few films as a majorette including the film short, A Night in a Music Hall in 1939. She twirls baton while tap dancing in a backless costume, high heels, and a fur cape. This is a great clip, and the ending is magnificent!
A Night in a Music Hall (1939)
Betty Atkinson and Colorado Sunset (1939)
Colorado Sunset is an American Western film starring the late Gene Autry, Smiley Burnette, and June Storey. It’s about a singing cowboy and his friends who discover that the ranch they bought is really a dairy farm. Betty Louise Atkinson appears in the film as a majorette. Below is poster featuring three majorettes including Betty who was sometimes referred to as a baton spinner, a common term in the early 1900s through the late 1930s.
Fast forward to 2:05 to see the majorettes march to Autry’s Your Man, also known as the Autry campaign song.
The other two films were Mad Youth (1940) and strangely enough, Youth On Parade (1942). The name of the largest baton twirling competition in the United States is America’s Youth On Parade. Do you think that is a coincidence or do you think the film inspired the name of the competition?
Unfortunately, we have not been able to locate clips of either film, although Youth On Parade is available for purchase from Oldies.com. They describe the film as “a rare big-budget Republic Pictures campus musical made just as World War II was heating up featuring show-stopping patriotic singing-and-dancing numbers.”
In 1943, American Weekly published a feature story on Atkinson’s and how she stayed in shape. Here is an excerpt too good not to share:
“Fifteen minutes a day of ‘hanging yourself’ will help put an end to paunchy tummies, too-generous hips and piano legs.”Library of Congress
Apparently, piano legs are too skinny while organ pipe legs are too big. Amazing the things one doesn’t know.
Twirling on Ice
The image of Atkinson alone shows her twirling in a lavish ice show, The Dancing Years, at Empire Pool, Wembley, London. She performed in the role of drum majorette alongside her dance-partner husband, Charles Hain. One Alamy source dates the photo as December 1959, while another dates in January 1960.
Atkinson was no stranger to twirling on ice, appearing in the sensational 1947 Holiday on Ice show, which drew a crowd of more than 17,000 in Mexico City. The other ice-skating picture of her was from that show, which had a Persian-Gypsy theme. (Source: Holiday on Ice Fandom) Pictures of her were with her baton and ice skates are featured in the show’s souvenir program. Here are two pages from the program that feature the baton.
We hope you enjoyed learning about Betty Louise Atkinson! We will continue to research her life after 1959 and share what we discover as it relates to baton twirling.