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April 30, 2013

Benny and Betty Fox: Famous Sky Dancers in the 1930s and 1940s

Before the Illinois State Journal and the State Register merged into one newspaper, there was a spirited battle for newspaper subscribers. The State Journal was the most prolific at staging spectacular stunts in the community in hopes of boosting its circulation numbers.

Enter Benny and Betty Fox, the famous death defying ‘sky dancers.’ They were billed as a brother and sister act but actually were not related. And Betty was not always the same person nor was she actually named Betty. Benny chose the name for his partner because he liked the sound of it.

Whoever she was, she was willing to put her life in Benny’s hands while they danced on an 18-inch wide disc, atop a poll 100 feet in the air. The Journal sponsored their visit to the city on at least two occasions in 1937 and again in 1946.

On October 6, 1937, they did six performances throughout the day from the roof of the Journal building at 313 S. Sixth St. The last performance at 8 p.m. was lit by four powerful floodlights.

Every inch of space available on the street in front of the Journal building was taken by people watching the stunt that evening, the paper reported. “Streets, windows, roofs and fire escapes all through the downtown area were jammed for the night show.” The Journal enthusiastically (and unbelievably) estimated the crowd at 100,000.

Betty and Benny Fox warm up on the roof of the Illinois State Journal building, November 26, 1946. They lived on the edge and thrilled crowds with their death defying aerial stunts throughout the 1930s and '40s. They made at least two appearances to Springfield. file/The State Journal-Register

A little closer to earth, Benny and Benny Fox pose for a photo, October 6, 1937. file/The State Journal-Register

Betty and Benny performed atop a 100-foot pole, and the pole was atop the 3-story Journal building during their two visits to Springfield. This photo is from October 6, 1937. file/The State Journal-Register

A crowd gathers to watch the performance on November 26, 1946. According to the Journal, doctors, nurses and an ambulance were on the scene in case there was a mishap and "Death fails to take his expected holiday." file/The State Journal-Register

A crowd gathers across from the old Journal building at 313 S. Sixth St. for the November 26, 1946 appearance of Benny and Betty. file/The State Journal-Register

Betty and Benny Fox warm up the crowd gathered on the street before their performance on the Illinois State Journal building at 313 S. Sixth Street, September 25, 1937. file/The State Journal-Register


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