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Friday, March 9, 2012

Sally Rand

  Sally Rand was considered the greatest fan dancer ever with her ostrich feather fans. She was also noted for her balloon bubble dance. But Sally Rand was not only a burlesque queen she was an actress appearing in 29 films from 1925 to 1938 and at times performing under the name Billie Beck.

  Sally Rand was born in in Elkton, Hickory County, Missouri on April 3, 1904 as Helen Harriet Beck or Helen Gould Beck.  When she was a child she was inspired by the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova.Sally became interested in dance and at a young age she ran away to join a carnival. At 13 she found herself in  Kansas City and became a cigarette girl in a nightclub. She held many similar jobs, including as a circus performer in Ringling, until she began acting on stage and in silent films in the 1920's. It was American film director, Cecil B. DeMille who gave Helen the name Sally Rand, which was inspired by a Rand McNally atlas. In 1927 Sally Rand was chosen to be a WAMPAS Baby Stars. * And even though she had appeared in numerous average quality movies, her career in movies ended with advent of talkies because she suffered from a lisp.  It was at this time that the 5'1" 35-22-35 shapely  Sally Rand decided to work on incorporating her talent for dancing back into her career. Using the right mixture of enticement, imagination and intricate feather placement. It was at the Paramount Club, where she had a long standing job, that in 1932, Sally came up with the fan dance.

  Sally Rand came to prominence in the 1933-1934 Chicago World's Fair entitled Century of Progress, that was meant to celebrate the progress of civilization during Chicago's first century of existence. It is here, earning $125 a week, where she performed with her ostrich feather fans to the music of Chopin and Debussy. She was subsequently arrested 4 times in a single day because of perceived nudity while riding a white horse down the streets of Chicago, apparently nude. This became known as "Lady Godiva" stunt. Sally Rand was charged with lewd conduct but the charges were later dropped because as Superior Court Judge Joseph B. David stated, "Some people would want to put pants on a horse...if a woman wants to wiggle about with a fan, it is not the business of this court." The publicity from this incident made her a burlesque sensation and raised her weekly wages to $3,000 in a single summer. Because she never was actually showing everything, by using white theatrical cream or a body stocking, she was fond of saying "the Rand is quicker than the eye".

  Things got so bad that after her arrest the World' Fair was being threatened with not being allowed to open if  Sally Rand performed again, to which they agreed to but the World's Fair lost money because Sally Rand was not performing and was threatened with strikes, so they had no choice but to bring her back. This time Sally Rand came back with a new act, the bubble dance " I wanted balloon sixty inches in diameter, which is my height, made of a translucent or transparent material". The problem with that was that balloons were only made up to 30" in diameter and were red because they were used as target balloons by the War Department. So Sally, herself, fronted the money needed to have the translucent balloon made. It took many test but the super-sized balloon was eventually made and Sally Rand made her bubble dance debut in 1934, with 24 dancers and 16 showgirls.

Sally Rand being arrested in Chicago in 1933

  When the Chicago expedition finally closed, Sally went out on the road and sometimes it got more than a bit rough. For when she was at the California Pacific Exhibition, in San Diego in 1935-1936, Sally got bruises under her left eye and thigh after pebbles were thrown at her as she danced on stage. She left the stage bleeding  but soon reappeared with her fans and completed her dance routine. After the incident the management promised to have security in future crowds when she performed.

  When Sally wasn't dancing she would go to church, go sightseeing around San Diego and give interviews. She even baked a cake for her part in the home show of the Palace of Better Housing. blew a balloon in a contest at he Zone and gave a lecture to teachers and women groups on the art of dancing.

  In 1936 Sally purchased The Music Box burlesque hall in San Francisco, which would later become The Great American Music Hall.

  After San Diego Sally Rand went to San Francisco in anticipation for the 1939 Treasure Island's World's Fair, where she starred in "Sally Rand's Nude Ranch" , which was one of the highlights of the fair. It featured women wearing gun belts, cowboy hats, boots and little else. The fairs official guide delicately described it as " Sally Rand Nude Ranch : a dude ranch a la 1939".

  In 1946 Sally Rand found herself  arrested twice in a row while performing in San Francisco at Club Savoy  on corrupting the morals of an audience, indecent exposure and conducting an obscene show.  The first arrest came when she was performing for an audience, filled with six cops in it, seemingly nude and with a large white fan. She then hired renowned defense attorney Jake Ehrlich, who kept American jazz and big band  drummer Gene Krupa and blues legend Billie Holiday out of jail on drug charges. Ehlrich made the argument that nudity was respected in the art of great masters and suggested that the court view the dance in question, as an artistic expression. The judge agreed to this proposition and released Sally Rand and let her continue her performance, unaltered, until the trial was over. But that very same night she was arrested again when she began dancing by the San Francisco Police Department. But the joke was on them, for when the lights came up Sally Rand was hiding a pair of long johns behind her fans. Plus, in place of her customary triangleof costume, was a note marked "CENSORED. SFPD!" The next morning she performed her usual routine in front of judge and jury and was immediately acquitted on the grounds that, "Anyone who could find something lewd about the dance as she puts it on has to have a perverted idea of moral",as Judge Shoemaker pronounced it.

  Sally Rand was not only an artist but a lady who was not afraid to speak her mind. An ad-lib remark she made on a radio appearance for NBC, about Al Wagner resulted in him filing a lawsuit against NBC for "defamatory remarks". In 1952, the court ruled that NBC was not liable for unexpected remarks made by guest performer.

  Naturally Sally attracted more than her fair share of marriage proposals. She married for the third time on August 12, 1954, in Las Vegas to 35year old contractor, Fred Lalla. Sally Rand was past 50.

  As an intellect, Sally Rand once took time time off from dancing to appear on stage with former boxer and World  Heavyweight Champion from 1926-1928, Gene Tunney to discuss Shakespeare. Another time, she went before 1,300 Harvard freshmen to lecture on the evils of communism. Also, while appearing at the Silver Slipper in Las Vegas in 1954, she conducted a weekly television program. Of all things, Sally was an advisor of universal problems. She would also do celebrity interviews and have discussions on music, books and the home. Sally Rand had said " Beauty comes from within; a greedy, avaricious woman cannot be beautiful". 

 Having reached the age of 50 in 1953, Sally played the Dallas fair and claimed to have made  $14,000 in one day. For the rest of the week she was there Sally averaged $6,000 a day. From May of 1954 - January of 1955 she appeared at the Last Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas, " I had the longest run that anyone has ever had there." Sally milked the same basic act for the rest of her career, continuing her fan dance routine into the 1970's. Sally even replaced fellow burlesque performer, Ann Corio in the stage show This was Burlesque, appeared at the Mitchell Brothers club in San Francisco in the early '70's and toured as one of the big stars in the 1972 nostalgia revue, "Big Show of 1928" which played at big revues, including Madison Square Garden. For that matter, Sally was wearing miniskirts and turning heads in 1974. When pressed about continuing her act into her 7th decade, Sally replied " What in heaven's name is strange about a grandmother dancing nude? I'll bet lots of grandmothers do it." 

  Sally Rand died in Glendora, California from undisclosed causes on August 31,1979 at the age of 75. Because she had insurmountable debt, at the time of her death, entertainer Sammy Davis,Jr. stepped in with a $10,000 check to help cover expenses, according to Sally Rand's adopted son.


Sally Rand with friend, one time Ziegfeld dancer, Dorothy Rubel
Sally Rand White Peacock Dance- 1939

1 comment:

  1. Hello Misha
    I enjoyed your blog on Sally Rand.I'm writing an article on Fans used in Dances for my Fan Collectors association journal and would like to include the photo of sally rand where she is on pointe and looking backwards with her fan above her head. Is it still under copyright and may I have permission to use it? Thank you.

    Robin Goettel