one day at a time…
Thursday, 29 July 2004

She Danced Nude To The Very End
CREDIT: © Library of Congress/Bob Hope & American Variety
WHERE: USA. WHAT: vaudeville and burlesque era.
Thumbnail pops-up larger image from source.

Sally Rand © Library of CongressThe Library of Congress presentation American Variety Stage covers the period from 1850-1920. To give some perspective to the popularity of this medium, the authors calculate that in 1909 the twenty million visitors to Coney Island, adjusted for population changes, was greater than the combined number of visitors to Disneyland and Disney World in 1989. The collection focuses on Bob Hope and American Variety, but the Variety medium also encompassed burlesque shows, and with our louche tastes we soon homed in on one of its classiest artistes, Sally Rand, a famous fan dancer who later developed an innovative act as a bubble dancer.

Sally Rand (1904-1979) was no ecdysiast, however, because as she carefully explained, she started out naked. We thought we might have to slog through acres of Google pages to bring you her story, but James R. Lowe's Dumboozle.com (The Popular Culture Excavation Site) came to our rescue with an entertaining summary. We particularly savored the mental image of Sally as a sprightly seventy year old in a miniskirt doing $1,500 per week gigs in 1974, having worked a forty week year since 1933. Salome would have benefitted from this gal's career dedication.

Lowe's piece is satisfyingly comprehensive with excellent links, but this paragraph stood implacably unexplained: 'Sally Rand' was born as Harriet Helen Gould Beck in the Ozark Mountain town of Elkton, Missouri on Easter Sunday, the 3rd of April, 1904. She was the daughter of Nettie Grove, a Pennsylvania Dutch Quaker, and Corporal William Beck, a veteran of the Spanish-American War. Teddy Roosevelt was President of the United States and there would come a time when little Helen would fall asleep in the great man's lap. When Sally met Teddy? As we write teams of researchers are scurrying around the Internet to locate information.

In a recent column, Michael Dale claimed that Sally had attracted "…more total ticket buyers than any other live performer of the 20th Century…" and went on to detail the return of burlesque to the New York entertainment scene. As a family web site we can go no further, but it is good to see that vulgar entertainment is thriving.

In 1933 Sally's act at the Chicago World's Fair Century of Progress Exposition was found to be "lewd, lascivious, and degrading to public morals". On appeal, justice was for once clear sighted and the decision was overturned by the higher court. We leave you with the (un)common wisdom of her legal champion:

"When I go to the fair, I go to see the exhibits and perhaps to enjoy a little beer. As far as I'm concerned, all these charges are just a lot of old stuff to me. Case dismissed for want of equity." Superior Judge Joseph B. David - July 19, 1933

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Jules Laforgue (1860-1887)
"Ah! que la vie est quotidienne."
Oh, what a day-to-day business life is.
'Complainte sur certains ennuis' (1885)