Showtime premieres this drama 2/4/01 at 8:00 pm (ET/PT). Based on the book Mr. Bojangles – Biography of Bill Robinson, Showtime presents a penetrating look at the life of one of the greatest tap dancers of his day. Bill “Bojangles” Robinson (Gregory Hines) headlined vaudeville and Broadway for almost 30 years as the first black solo dancer in an era in which black entertainers were not allowed to perform alone on stage. He originated the stair tap routine, depicted here by Hines, and shown over the final credits in split screen, with the real Bojangles on film and Hines closely following him, step for step.
Bill Robinson also performed for presidents and kings and was a fixture on radio, television and in film. When he died at age 71 in 1949, his was the largest funeral New York City had ever seen. His pallbearers included Duke Ellington, Joe Louis, Bob Hope, Jackie Robinson, Joe DiMaggio and Irving Berlin. But Robinson was a complex man. Yes, he was the man who danced alongside Shirley Temple in six of her movies, and yes, he single-handedly broke racial barriers and earned more money than any black performer of his time. But he was also a philanderer and an insatiable gambler who died penniless. “Bojangles” chronicles Robinson’s life from his early days as a young charismatic performer, to his later years in which he was eclipsed by younger dancers.
We seldom see Gregory Hines in movies. That’s a loss to us all, as he is gifted both as a tap dancer and a spirited actor. Here he gives a forthright examination of a generous, talented, courageous and complex performer. While the made-for-TV film shows Bojangles overcoming bigotry, and doing countless benefits to help others, it also portrays him as self-centered and often insensitive. That’s a characteristic we all share, to some degree. But it’s not mankind’s finest portrait. And after viewing him in so many films as a gentle soul, I was a bit let down by seeing other, more converse sides of his character.
Unfortunately, the production is riddled with profane and obscene language and several sexual situations. If you want to enjoy his talent without observing this more personal side of the man, check out his work in films such as “The Little Colonel” and “The Littlest Rebel,” both starring Shirley Temple. He has a lead role in 1943’s “Stormy Weather.” While this film has a silly storyline, it does feature many legendary black artists, including Lena Horne, Fats Waller, the Nicholas Brothers, and Cab Callaway, doing what they do best.