Now, this is the kind of variety act that you don’t see every day!
Johnny Boyle was a puppeteer, and he is not to be confused with the jazz dancer/choreographer/dance director of the same name. Our Johnny Boyle was a “finger puppeteer” who was active on the Los Angeles entertainment scene from the mid-1930s, perhaps earlier, through the early 1940s, perhaps later. Since his routine would not work on a theater or nightclub stage, it remains in question where Boyle actually performed. It is possible that he was a semi-professional brought in to share his rather unique act.
Finger puppetry is a sub-genre of the well-known performance art, taking a back seat to marionettes and hand puppets. But it works well here in a three-minute presentation. Boyle presents four performers who were well-known to the Soundies audience: ice skater Sonja Heine, ballroom dancers Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, and famed hoofer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson. (Bill Robinson’s puppet plays heavily on a black stereotype, something that will not surprise Soundies viewers.)
The soundtrack session, recorded April 11, 1942, included some well-known names including Buddy Clark, Connie Haines, Georgia Carroll and Ann Pennington. Dancing Dolls certainly helped balance the budget. Hal Borne’s studio band plays a “score” composed of two melodies provided by Boyle, and two public domain pieces. Hence, three-minutes of entertainment at a relatively low cost.