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Miss "B" The Incredible Dancing Bird~A History

By the turn of the 20th Century, the Pianistas had fallen on hard times. Their land had been taken away, the population was dwindling, and much of the cultural heritage had been lost. Members of the tribe were forced to sell off ceremonial masks and other traditional objects just to survive. These were picked up by collectors, artists and other con men for a pittance. These then made their way to pawn shops and various antique stores, and the occasional roadhouse stand. It was at one of these road-side general stores in New Jersey that Cyrus Braintree acquired Miss "B", the Incredible Dancing Bird.

Much has been written about both Braintree and Miss "B", but the facts have never been quite clear. What is clear is that between the years 1921 and 1929, Braintree took an innocent children's toy (once belonging to members of the Pianista tribe living in Brooklyn) and created one of the most popular Vaudeville shows of its time. With the help of friend who was a bicycle repairman, he made a coin operated juke box outfitted with a mechanism that would cause the small bird figurine to dance to the music. It was an immediate hit; the combination of exotic Indian tales and Jazz Age dance styles had people lining up for blocks. He began showing the machine at a local arcade, but soon it became clear that a great deal of money could be made, and so he took it on the nickelodeon circuit.

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Click to play newsreel film, circa 1928

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Miss "B" reached the height of popularity in 1927, when a New York jazz band called "The Bird-dog Five", recorded a novelty hit called "Ain't Miss"B" Heaven"; for Okay Records, which sold thousands of copies. In that year alone, at least six short films were made of her dance routines, including rare footage of her attempt at ballet, which some believe was the nail in the coffin of an already faltering career.

Tragically, Miss "B" was destroyed in a hotel fire on East 42nd Street in Manhattan in November of 1929, where Braintree, down on his luck, was trying to stage a comeback tour. Braintree survived the fire, but never recovered from the loss. He made several attempts to create new versions of the bird figure (of which "Dancing Bird Figure" is an example), but with no success. In his suicide note two years later, he claimed that the Pianista tribe had put a curse on him.

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Click to enlarge