Real Shoeshine Man Leroy Daniels Danced With Fred Astaire In “The Band Wagon”

Shoeshine man Leroy Daniels dancing with Fred Astaire
Shoeshine man Leroy Daniels dancing with Fred Astaire | Source

In the classic 1953 musical film, The Band Wagon, star Fred Astaire gets to do a lot of dancing. One of his partners, Cyd Charisse, was an accomplished dancer in her own right. And even his more rhythmically challenged co-stars, Jack Buchanan, Nanette Fabray, and Oscar Levant, proved very effective in comedic dance sequences with Astaire.

But the cast member who always catches my attention every time I watch the film is Astaire’s partner for a dance number set in a former 42nd Street theater turned amusement arcade.

The scene opens with Astaire stumbling across the outstretched legs of a man tending his shoeshine stand. What ensues is a joyous dance number called “A Shine On Your Shoes” in which the shoeshine man proves a worthy partner for Astaire. In fact, whenever I saw this scene, I always thought that the shoe polisher’s dancing was so good, he must be an accomplished show business professional. But since I couldn’t recall seeing him before, I decided to do some research to find out who he was. What I found is a story that, to my mind, is worthy of a Hollywood movie in its own right.

A real life shoeshine man

What makes that dance number so unique is the fact that the man who portrayed the shoeshine man and danced on equal terms with Fred Astaire was, in real life, a shoeshine man! Just days before, he had actually been shining shoes at his stand at Sixth and Main Streets in downtown Los Angeles.That man who polished shoes for a living, but who could dance like a professional hoofer, was 23-year-old Oklahoma native, Leroy Daniels.

Take a look for yourself:

VIDEO: Real shoeshine man Leroy Daniels dances with Fred Astaire

Finding a way to beat the competition

Although he had never performed professionally, Leroy Daniels had honed his dancing skills in front of some pretty tough audiences. The shoe shining business in downtown Los Angeles was extremely competitive. Jet magazine took note of the environment in its October 23, 1952 story about Daniels getting his big break:

Up and down the street were burlesque houses and risqué theaters, shooting galleries, penny arcades with myriad attractions, bars with sexily-dressed “B” girls, pawn shops, and numberless bold shoeshine boys who literally reached out and grabbed customers for their rag-popping ‘shine-’em-up’ routines.

The BeBop Bootblack

Leroy Daniels knew he needed something to set himself apart. So, he became, as Jet called him, the “BeBop Bootblack.” He acquired an old jukebox, which he stocked with jazz records, and with that music playing, he put on a show as he shined customers’ shoes. He created complex rhythms with his brushes, and would pop his polishing rag in time to the music. And, of course, he danced.

Leroy’s performances were so powerful, he become the inspiration for a song that in 1950 became a #1 hit for Country music singer Red Foley, “Chattanooga Shoeshine Boy” (Foley used “Chattanoogie” in his title in place of “Chattanooga”).

Leroy Daniels is “discovered” by Hollywood

The script of The Band Wagon included a shoeshine number that was to be danced to a song called “A Shine On Your Shoes,” and Fred Astaire was struggling with how to choreograph it. He asked Alex Romero, the film’s Assistant Dance Director, to help generate some ideas. According to Mark Knowles in his book, The Man Who Made the Jailhouse Rock: Alex Romero, Hollywood Choreographer, Romero immediately thought of the man who had shined his shoes that morning.

Alex Romeo had been thoroughly impressed with the show Leroy Daniels put on as he polished his customers’ shoes. In fact, he had deliberately stopped to get a shoeshine that morning because he was so intrigued with Daniels’ performance. So, when Astaire needed ideas, Romero told him about Daniels. As Mark Knowles relates the story, Astaire didn’t hesitate. “Get him,” he said.

Fred went out of his mind.

— Alex Romero recalling Fred Astaire's reaction when he first saw Leroy Daniels perform.
Fred Astaire
Fred Astaire | Source

So, the next day, Leroy Daniels found himself on the lot at MGM, meeting perhaps the greatest dancer the cinema had ever produced. And he didn’t seem to be intimidated at all. Romero suggested that Astaire have Leroy shine his shoes, and Leroy Daniels went into his customary performance. Romero later recalled that “Fred went out of his mind.”

Even though Daniels admitted that he had never had any training as a dancer, his natural ability was so great that, as the Jet magazine article put it, from the first rehearsal he didn’t miss a step.

There are different versions of how Leroy Daniels was discovered. Movie critic Roger Ebert was under the impression that the movie’s director, Vincente Minnelli, saw Leroy singing and dancing as he shined shoes at Penn Station in New York City, and brought him out to Hollywood to appear in the film. However, both the Jet Magazine article, which is a contemporary account, and the Mark Knowles book, which relates in detail how Alex Romero found Leroy, affirm that Daniels was discovered at his shoeshine stand in Los Angeles.

Leroy gives a powerful performance in the film

The “Shine on Your Shoes” dance has become a classic. And Daniels definitely holds his own with Fred Astaire. Famed movie critic Roger Ebert certainly was impressed. He named the number as his favorite musical piece in the film, and said of Daniels:

He's a gifted performer, his timing as precise as Astaire's, and perhaps because he's the real thing, we sense a freshness and joy.

In fact, Daniels’ performance was almost too good. As Mark Knowles records in his book:

Alex said that Daniels’ full routine with the brushes and rags was so wonderful that Astaire eventually decided to cut Daniels’ part in the number down because he was afraid it would steal too much focus.

Leroy Daniels gives up his shoeshine stand and goes into show business

After you’ve danced with Fred Astaire in a major motion picture, how can you go back to polishing shoes on the streets of LA? Leroy Daniels certainly couldn’t. He closed his shoeshine stand, and started a nightclub act, which was very successful. When Alex Romero went to see the act, Daniels introduced him to the audience as “the man that’s responsible for me working with Fred Astaire.”

Leroy "Sloppy" Daniels as a comedian
Leroy "Sloppy" Daniels as a comedian | Source

Leroy & Skillet

Daniels, who acquired the nickname “Sloppy,” eventually teamed up with Ernest Mayhand to form a comedy team called Leroy & Skillet. They released numerous comedy albums during the 1960s, and established friendships with some of the greatest African American performers of the era. That paid off for the duo when their friend Red Foxx got his own television show, Sanford and Son, in the early 1970s. Leroy & Skillet appeared on the show a number of times during its second and third seasons.

Leroy Daniels also performed in several movies, including Handle With Care (1964), Petey Wheatstraw (1978), Disco Godfather (1979), Rude (1982), and Avenging Angel (1985).

Did MGM treat Leroy Daniels fairly?

From a 21st century perspective, there are definite issues with the way Leroy Daniels was treated by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the studio that produced The Band Wagon.

First, Daniels’ dance with Astaire remains one of the most memorable parts of the film. After more than 60 years, it is still talked about and still appreciated. Yet Daniels was paid very little, and was not given any recognition by the studio.

Daniels worked on The Band Wagon set for a week, and in the final cut of the film is on screen with Astaire for more than three and a half minutes. He was paid $350 for his efforts. The arcade machine that Astaire kicks during his dance, causing it to erupt with music and flags, is on screen for about 20 seconds. It cost the studio $8,800.

Despite the undeniable impact he had on the film, Daniels was given no screen credit (he is not listed in the credits that roll at the end of the film). That may have been because he was not then a member of the Screen Actors Guild, which had rules about who could be listed in a film’s credits. But when a non-union production designer on the film was denied screen credit for the same reason, producer Arthur Freed made a special effort to get union membership for him so he could be acknowledged in the credits.

Was Leroy Daniels was treated fairly by MGM?

  • Yes - Just being in a movie with Fred Astaire was reward enough
  • No - He should have been paid more, and given screen credit
See results without voting

Racial symbolism

The aspect of Daniels' appearance in the movie that has received the most scholarly attention in the ensuing years is its racial symbolism. Daniels is the only black face in the arcade, and his role there is clearly subservient. At several points during the dance routine Astaire towers over him, sometimes with Daniels on his knees. Then, as one critic noted, Astaire’s character goes off to translate those same dance steps into fame and fortune on Broadway. The shoeshine man stays in the arcade.

Does it matter?

These are all valid issues. But, in my opinion, they should in no way detract from our appreciation of the film, or of Leroy Daniels’ role in it. Here’s the bottom line, as I see it.

It was 1953.

Given the realities of the time, the treatment accorded Daniels by MGM raised no eyebrows. As far as I’ve been able to discover, Daniels himself never voiced any complaints. Rather, he was glad for the opportunity, which forever altered the course of his life. The contemporary article in Jet, a magazine with a mostly African American readership, did not raise any issues of maltreatment, but celebrated the fact that the “BeBop Bootblack” had become a celebrity among his peers.

The Band Wagon gave Leroy Daniels his big break in life, and launched him on a successful show business career. I think that’s a story that ought to be celebrated every time the movie is seen.

Leroy Daniels and Fred Astaire in the finale of their dance number.
Leroy Daniels and Fred Astaire in the finale of their dance number. | Source

Leroy Daniels (birth name, Wilbert Leroy Daniel), was born on November 15, 1928 in Idabel, Oklahoma and died on December 11, 1993 in Los Angeles.

NOTE: The screenshots used in this article are taken from a copyrighted film. The copyright is thought to be owned by the studio that produced the film. It is believed that use of these web-resolution screenshots for critical commentary and discussion of the film qualifies as Fair Use under United States copyright law.

© 2015 Ronald E. Franklin

More by this Author


pstraubie48 profile image

pstraubie48 19 months ago from sunny Florida

You know when I viewed those shows I did not analyze the role of anyone no matter what their race. Perhaps it was because I was so young.

And my Momma taught me that we are all equal so I guess perhaps that may have been another reason.

I get what you are saying...for some it may have suggested that the Black actor was subservient but just know that there are those of us who did not view them that way.

Also please know that I believe your voice is important. YOU share much that many of us do not know and I think in order for us to understand each other we do need to know what those of other races and cultures are feeling and thinking.

Voted up++++ shared

Angels are on the way to you this evening ps

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 19 months ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Thank you, pstraubie48. I'm looking forward to the day when the race of performers simply isn't noticed. I do think it important to share the hidden stories of people who have made significant contributions or accomplishments. That's the kind of story that can inspire us all.

HSchneider 19 months ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

Wonderful story, Ron. Leroy is definitely exploited and underpaid according to our times but what a tremendous opportunity that he took advantage of. Great for him.

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 19 months ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Hi, HSchneider. I think that's the way Leroy looked at it, as a great opportunity. And he took that opportunity and made a career for himself on his own. I think that's a big part of the story. Thanks for sharing.

Ericdierker profile image

Ericdierker 19 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

Most excellent and interesting article. For sure it gave me pause to consider our history and treatment of each other.

annart profile image

annart 19 months ago from SW England

A fascinating story well told; you've done some great research on this and you make the tale come alive.

The joy shows in his face. It's a shame he wasn't paid more but, as you say, it changed his life.

I love Fred Astaire's flair and style of dancing and I enjoyed reading this on a grey Monday morning in England!


NateB11 profile image

NateB11 19 months ago from California, United States of America

Very fascinating and amazing story, Ron. I am going to have to watch for Leroy Daniels next time I watch Sanford and Son.

I have to think this whole experience of being chosen to be in a Hollywood production must have been exciting for him. Seems like it led to more opportunities for him, too.

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 19 months ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Thanks, Ericdierker. I think it's a remarkable story that deserves to be know.

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 19 months ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Ann, thanks so much. I think it's the joy that really makes the difference. I'm glad reading this lightened up your morning!

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 19 months ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Thank you, NateB11. If I ever saw Leroy on Sanford and Son, I didn't know who he was and took no special note. Like you, I'll now be looking for him.

favored profile image

favored 19 months ago from USA

Perhaps because he didn't have a speaking part may be the reason he wasn't listed in the credits. That doesn't seem fair though being he was part of a dance scene. The rate of pay seemed to be fair for that time period, even though the props were more costly. Never saw this movie, but enjoyed watching the video.

MsDora profile image

MsDora 19 months ago from The Caribbean

Wow! A young black man maximizing his talent thereby creating his own break? Yes he deserves ample recognition and remuneration, but I like your suggestion to dwell on the progress he made in life rather than the prejudice of ignorant others. Good story and storyteller!

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 19 months ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Hi, favored. Musical performers without speaking parts often got screen credit in movies at the time. I think the fact that Daniels didn't have a Guild card is the most likely reason for that omission. The unions were very protective of such privileges for their members. Thanks for sharing.

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 19 months ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Thanks so much, MsDora. I think you pinpoint the real moral of the story. Daniels set himself up for a break by being excellent at what he did, even if it was shining shoes. He then had the initiative and courage to take a chance (giving up his shoeshine business) and go all out to take advantage of the break he was given. That's a timeless story that should still be an inspiration to young people today.

Robin profile image

Robin 19 months ago from San Francisco

I always love reading your articles, Ron. The video made me smile mostly because of the amazing energy and smile on Leroy's face. I'm glad that he was able to parlay the experience into more; he definitely deserved it. Thanks for sharing his story.

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 19 months ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Thanks, Robin, I really appreciate that. I've now seen that video countless times, and I still smile when I watch it. After 60+ years, Leroy's "energy and smile" are still infectious.

Sharlee01 profile image

Sharlee01 19 months ago from Shelby Township Michigan

What a well written blog. I think Leroy Daniels story would make a wonderful movie.

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 19 months ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Thanks much, Sharlee01. Maybe one day we'll get that movie!

phoenix2327 profile image

phoenix2327 19 months ago from United Kingdom

I think this scene is memorable not just for the dancing but for the sheer joy that emanates from Leroy Daniels. In fact, for me, it's what makes the scene so memorable. Great hub, Ron.

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 19 months ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Hi, phoenix2327. I think you're exactly right - the very evident joy is what grabs most people. And part of Leroy Daniels being able to display that unselfconscious joy was that he wasn't intimidated - he wasn't dancing scared! Thanks for sharing.

Kristina Daniels 18 months ago

My grandpa I love him & miss him dearly. Great article!

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 18 months ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Kristina, I'm so glad you like the article. I'm very thankful to your family for their help in putting it together.

Besarien profile image

Besarien 17 months ago

I remember Leroy Daniels from Sanford and Son. I didn't know about his humble roots and how varied his career was. How many people can hold their own dancing with Astaire AND doing comedy with Redd Foxx? Great hub!

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 17 months ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Besarien, I don't remember seeing Leroy on Sanford and Son (I rarely watched it), but you make a great point. Enough of a dancer to be featured with Astaire, and enough of a comedian to be featured with Red Foxx - the man was obviously talented. It makes you wonder how many others who had talent never got beyond performing on the streets because they never got the break Leroy got. But the interesting thing is that dancing with Astaire didn't open doors for him. Rather it gave him the confidence and motivation to go out and start opening doors for himself. That's a great lesson! Thanks for reading and commenting.

Kristen Howe profile image

Kristen Howe 16 months ago from Northeast Ohio

Ron, this was another great hub from you. This was real interesting to know about Leroy Daniels' film career as an actor and dancer. Voted up!

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 16 months ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Thanks so much, Kristen. It's certainly a unique story, isn't it.

Kristen Howe profile image

Kristen Howe 16 months ago from Northeast Ohio

You're welcome Ron. Yes it is.

PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 12 months ago from Dallas, Texas

I like your presentation of this story and your questioning the fair treatment of an actor who contributed such a great deal to the film, yet, was not financially rewarded. I'm glad that the exposure opened doors for a new opportunity for him to share his tremendous talent afterward. He really should have earned more money for his efforts.

I remember many shoeshine men of the past who set up shop everyday in the same location. I worked with one guy, he was already a senior at the time, in a barber shop where he not only gave a great shine, but a mini-performance of song and dance to keep his customers coming back for the entertainment. What a tiring and back-breaking job that is.

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 12 months ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Thank you, Peg. Interestingly, I've never personally met a performing shoeshine man - probably because I've never had my shoes professionally shined! Your experience with that older man makes me wonder how many performed as they polished only because they felt they had to, not because they enjoyed it. That indeed would be sad.

PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 12 months ago from Dallas, Texas

I sometimes wonder what happened to this man who was beginning to have health issues even those many years ago in the eighties. He was fun to talk to between customers and had a storehouse of jokes and stories. Everyday, he picked up a few groceries for his lady from the nearby store and took them home on the bus with him after work. He was quite a character.

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 12 months ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Sounds like he may have had the kind of personality that made him a "performer" just by being himself. I hope that was the case.

Eric Zarbock 2 months ago

My thanks to article author Ronald E Franklin and Google. I was just watching the movie on TCM and Leroy Daniels certainly caught my attention as well. I wanted to know his name and couldn't find it in any credits. Happy to learn this appearance launched a fine career for him, and I do remember him on Sanford and Son now.

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 2 months ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

That's great, Eric. I'm glad you found Leroy's story after watching the movie. IMO he definitely should have been given screen credit!

Carol Bergman 2 months ago

Thank you, Mr. Franklin, for this well written and well researched article.

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 2 months ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Thanks, Carol.

Veronica 2 months ago

Veronica from Pittsburgh. . . I have watched the movie and in particular this scene, over and over again! All I can say is I am so happy that someone took the time to recognize this multi-talented man. It is so unfortunate that the world, no the people in the world, can't accept true raw talent coming from a person of integrity and not look at the color of their skin! $350.00 for that, wow! MGM should still be compensating his family for the rest of their lives! Kudos Mr.Frank

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 2 months ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Veronica, thanks for sharing. Your comment made me think of something I hadn't thought about before. Yes, MGM does owe an unpaid debt to Leroy Daniels. The film is regularly featured on television these days, and the least MGM could do is to add a screen credit for Leroy to the prints they distribute.

Veronica 2 months ago

Ron, please check into Shirley Temple's fund for these kinds of wrong doings!

I am not sure what it is or if it's true, but it's worth looking into.


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