Sally Rand is an American icon, best
known for her famous "fan dance." But, as with so many other celebrities, Miss Rand had a multifaceted career and personality that deserves (*ahem*) further exposure.
"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.
Sally was interested in dance from an early age and,
literally, ran away with a carnival as a teenager. She
later pursued such career opportunities as night club cigarette
girl, artist's model, and cafe dancer.
Experience with the carnival led to employment with the Adoplh
Bohm Chicago Ballet Company and the Ringling Brothers Circus. Thereafter, the path led to an association with the company
of Gus Edwards, which also included Eddie Cantor, Walter
Winchell, and George Jessel.
After leaving Gus Edwards, young Helen joined Will Seabury's
Repertory Theatre Company. Sensing that a serious stage
career was her destiny, she studied Chekov and Ibsen, among other
playwrights. Believe it or not, our girl actually played
Sadie Thompson in a production of "Rain" opposite, the then
unknown, Humphrey Bogart, a fact to which this rare photo will
The Seabury Company headed West in the early 1920's, and broke
up shortly after its arrival in Los Angeles. Sally found
herself unemployed, but in the film capital of the world.
Actually, "Sally" didn't find herself anywhere, because the
aspiring performer was calling herself "Billy Beck" at that time. "Billy" made the rounds of the studios. Her carnival
and circus background was such that she was able to land spots in
comedy shorts produced by Mack Sennett and Hal Roach. One
of her first stunts was to dive from a tall ladder into a small
Finally, the trail led to feature roles. Cecil B.
deMille was forming a stock company and found a place for Billie
Beck. She credits deMille with giving her the new
name--"Sally Rand." Thereafter, Miss Rand was cast in both
leading and supporting roles in numerous silent films.
Sally was a WAMPAS Baby Star in
1927. When silent films gave way to "talkies," another
career change became inevitable. Although Sally appeared in
a few talking films, her prominent lisp foreclosed any chance of
her being accepted as a major star of the silver screen.
Sometime in her late 20's, the ever resourceful Sally, having
dropped out of Columbia University, when the depression
set in, got the idea that she could increase her fame (and
not incidentally her bank account) by combining a talent for
artistic dance with the always present demand on the part of
hormone driven members of the male sex for a glimpse of feminine
pulchritude. Or, to offer a more blunt assessment, lots of
people enjoy seeing a pretty girl in the buff. The picture
at left (an active image) shows the young Miss Rand as she looked
in the very early days of her "hide and peek" career.
Of course Miss Rand was not the first to hit on the idea of
stimulating the male libido. Susie Johnson had displayed
her charms in 1895, securing a place in history as the central
figure of the infamous "Pie Girl Dinner."
Initially coming to Chicago in a show called "Sweethearts on Parade," in 1932, Sally soon accepted a position at the Paramount
Club, in response to an advertisement for "exotic acts and dancers." It was at the Paramount Club that she first
performed the "fan dance," using two large ostrich feather fans
purchased at a second-hand shop.
Following a "Lady Godiva" inspired stunt at the gates of the
1933 "Century of Progress" World's Fair, Sally became a featured performer in
the "Streets of Paris" concession and catapulted into stardom on
May 30, 1933, with her first performance of the now legendary
"Fan Dance." A full account of the circumstances may be
found in the book "Sally Rand - From Film to Fans," more fully
Nearly every account of Sally Rand's career
includes the declaration that she "danced nude at the 1933 World's Fair." Well, ... maybe. As often as not Sally Rand's "nudity" was actually a body stocking or, perhaps, a coat
of white theatrical cream.
Whatever the reality, the
illusion was sensational. As Sally manipulated two pink
seven-foot ostrich fans to conceal and reveal much, but not all,
only the eagle-eyed could successfully claim to have seen
As you might imagine, the act was an unqualified sensation. The diminutive (5' 1") damsel with the knockout figure
(35-22-35) began packing them in by the thousands. And it
wasn't long before the shouts hit the fans. Pillars of the
community were outraged, public officials were consulted, and
officers of the law were dispatched. Miss Rand found
herself in court, answering to charges that certain performances
at the Century of Progress Exposition were "lewd, lascivious, and degrading to public morals." To his credit, the judge was a
man of sober perspective:
"There is no harm and certainly no injury to public morals when the human body is exposed, some people probably would want to put pants on a horse.
. . .
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
"They planned this fair to bring business to Chicago, into the Loop. But you could have fired a cannon down state street and hit nobody, because everybody was out at the fair."
"I doubt the mayor is a reliable weather vane when it comes to art and morality."
-- Manager of the Oriental Village
after mayor Kelly turned "bashful pink" at seeing women dancers
scantily clad in "purely hypothetical costumes."
Some 22 million visitors celebrated the Century of
Progress in Chicago, ensuring that the name "Sally Rand" would be
known throughout the land. Thereafter, she exploited the
popularity of the fan dance and similar routines at every
In response to all the hub-bub, Miss Rand waxed philosophic
about her career:
I have been successful, and I am grateful for my
success. I have had some experiences that I wish I never
had had, but that would be true in any business. I cannot
say sincerely that I would have chosen just this road to fortune. Perhaps I might have wished for another way. But I
took the opportunity that came to me. Certainly I am an
opportunist. I admit it.
At any rate, I haven't been out of work since the day I took my
When the Chicago fair reopened in 1934, Sally perceived the
need for something new: "I had to find a new twist."
She decided on a bubble dance: "I wanted a balloon sixty inches in diameter, which is my height, made of a translucent or transparent material." The only trouble was that the biggest balloons available were a mere 30" in diameter. They were heavy red target balloons used by the War Department. Since no one knew how to make the required equipment, Sally fronted the funds for necessary experimentation herself. After numerous tests, the super-dooper,
see-through bubble was born. Once again, Sally was a smash
now heading a big show of 24 dancers and 16 showgirls.
After the Chicago exposition finally closed, Sally hit the
road--and sometimes the road hit back. At the California
Pacific Exposition, held in San Diego in 1935-1936, Sally
suffered bruises under her left eye and on her left thigh from
pebbles flung at her as she danced on stage. Bleeding at the cheek, she reappeared after a brief
exit, with fans replacing her bubbles, and completed her
act. The management announced it would have guards in
future crowds about the dancer's stage.
When she was not dancing, Sally gave interviews, attended
church services, and looked at the sights of San Diego. T.
Claude Ryan of the Ryan Aeronautical Company took her on a
flight over San Diego in his S-T plane. She baked a cake as
part of a home show in the Palace of Better Housing, blew a
balloon in a contest at the Zone, and lectured women's groups and
teachers on the art of the dance.
The San Diego Expo featured a wide range of entertainment,
including nudist Rosita Royce, who trained white doves to perch
on her body. [Gosh, maybe I should do a web site devoted to
her!] A lengthy and very entertaining essay by Richard
Amero on the
California Pacific Exposition, is well worth reading.
On the road again, Sally opened a "nude show" at the 1936
Frontier Exposition in Fort Worth. An article by Brad
Redford on the Internet entitled "Sally Rand--The Woman Who Brought Nudity to Dallas" offers these delightful observations:
Sally revealed very little by today's standards. Sally's fan dance is tame, hell you could show it on
broadcast TV! But, back then in the early thirties
open skin was contained in the burlesque houses. She
transcended burlesque with dance so heavenly, public opinion
overrode the moral objectors, and the law. "How dare you arrest Sally Rand, America's Treasure!" She brought public nudity to Dallas by making it acceptable for the first time. She stepped out of an airplane at Love Field wearing only a bubble held in front of her, and a small toga style wrap. She was barefoot and on her toes, a vision of angelic
loveliness, a real goddess. The flashbulbs wailed, the
press followed her. She wore a size 4-1/2 shoe, she was a
natural blond, and a small, uniform, b-cup adagio dancer. She moved with such grace and was so clever at using
minimal cover that, she would not reveal the illegal
The entire article by Mr. Redford is
well worth reading.
In 1939, our girl hosted Sally Rand's Nude Ranch at the Golden
Gate Exposition in San Francisco. It was housed at a night
spot called The Music Box and featured women wearing cowboy hats,
gun belts and boots, and little else. Sally's show was only
one of several "flesh" shows in the Treasure Island Amusement
Zone, also known as the "Gayway." [Something tells me that
name won't be used again anytime soon.]
Incidentally, a postcard featuring the very "Nude Ranch" image
that you see here was sold at auction in the Fall of 1997 for
According to the history of "The Great
American Music Hall" in San Francisco's notorious
Between the World Wars an enterprising danseuse named Sally Rand
took hold of the club, now called The Music Box where a bevy of
skimpily dressed girls danced for a delirious audience. Miss Rand herself became famous for her finale, a
fan-twirling dance, which she rendered in the buff. But,
when challenged in court by upright citizens, she claimed that
her audience never saw a thing because "the Rand is faster than the eye."
The image at left shows us a rare menu from The Music Box,
where Sally's "star studded review" appeared at three shows
nightly. A much larger version of this image may be seen on
a page maintained by the Museum of the City of
San Francisco. You will also find a couple of other
Sally Rand related images on that page.
One amusing incident is recalled by theatre historian Ed
Kelsey. During a performance at Sid Grauman's Metropolitan
Theatre in Los Angeles (now the Paramount at Sixth and Hill
streets), Sally got caught up in the stage wires during a show
and was left swearing and hanging half naked in front of the
Miss Rand became famous for her performance at the World's
Fair, but she commonly made appearances at state and
other local fairs. In the image shown at right we
see Sally amidst the trappings of an unidentified fairground.
Sally also continued to work as a photographer's model,
appearing in "girlie" magazines of the time. The picture shown at left is from
the Spring 1944 issue of "Tid Bits of Beauty." Notice that
in the pin-up magazines of that day semi-skilled artists were
called upon to draw fake clothing on top of the photographs
before they were deemed to be suitable for publication. I
wonder who had the task of writing descriptions like this one
that accompanied the pictorial feature in "Tid Bits":
Sally Rand is a most attractive Terpsichorean
Temptress, of whom no one can sing, "I Wonder What's Become of Sally," for she is an outstanding feature of all the best clubs
on New York City's famous Broadway, and on other Broadways
throughout the country from coast to coast, as well as in
Miss Rand is in demand, not only because of her technical ability
and agility, but also because of her undeniable charm and
attractivity. Her beautiful body, weaving through the
intricacies of the dance, coupled with her beauteous smile, never
fails to evoke the most ardent admiration and voluminous
Sally Rand was a flamboyant artist, as well a lady with no
reluctance to speak her mind. An ad-lib remark made during
a radio appearance in 1950 prompted Al Wagner to file suit
against NBC for "defamatory remarks." In 1952, a court
ruled that the network was not liable for the unexpected comments
of a guest performer.
Not surprisingly, Sally attracted more than her share of
marriage proposals. She succumbed more than a couple of
times. On August 12, 1954, in Las Vegas, having passed age
50, Miss Rand married for the third time, to contractor Fred
Lalla, age 35.
An intellect, she once took time off from her dancing to
appear on a stage with Gene Tunney. They discussed
Shakespeare. Another time she appeared before 1,300 Harvard
freshmen to lecture on the evils of communism. In 1954,
while appearing at the Silver Slipper in Las Vegas, she conducted
a weekly television program. Sally was, of all things, an
advisor on universal problems. She also interviewed
celebrities and discussed books, music and the home. A
sample quote: "Beauty comes from within; a greedy, avaricious,
gossipy woman cannot be beautiful."
In 1953, having reached the area of age 50, Sally played the
Dallas Fair and, she claimed, took in $14,000 in one day. For the rest of the two-week run she averaged $6,000 a day. From May, 1954 to January, 1955, she appeared at the Last
Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas, "I had the longest run that anyone has ever had there." The publicity photo, above right, is
from this "fiftyish" period.
Sally milked the same basic act for the remainder of her
career. She was still strutting her stuff in 1967 at
the age of 63. This
picture of the sensuous senior accompanied an article by
Miami Herald staff writer Don Ediger, published in the
August 20, 1967, Sunday edition of that paper. The full text, including
a reproduction of the newspaper ad for "Her Sexellency" appearing
in "Anatomy of Burlesque," is available for your examination.
Strutting her stuff at 63? For that matter, Sally was
still wearing miniskirts and turning heads in 1974. Pressed
on the subject of continuing her act into a 7th decade, the
petite Miss Rand declared: "What in heaven's name is strange about a grandmother dancing nude? I'll bet lots of grandmothers do it."
In addition to the rare photos, postcard, and menu shown on
this page, there is quite a selection of Sally Rand figurines and
other collectibles available for your
perusal on a separate page. Great stuff! Don't leave
without taking a look!
I am often asked "Where can I buy an autographed picture of Miss Rand?" or some other rare collectible. The answer is
-- the eBay auctions! Click the eBay icon and become a
registered member today. Yes, it's free to use and there
are always several Sally Rand items up for bid.
According to John DeBartolo, Sally Rand appeared in
approximately 21 feature films during her silent screen career. Among them were Cecil B. DeMille's "The King of Kings," in
which Sally played the slave to Mary Magdalene. Titles and
minimal details of most of them, together with some great photos,
may be found on a separate page.
Following the advent of "talking" pictures, Miss Rand appeared
in only a couple of other feature films:
Sunny Side Up (1929)
Cast: Janet Gaynor, Charles Farrell, Jackie Cooper, Zazu Pitts,
Joe Brown, Sally Rand.
in Leonard Maltin's Movie and Video Guide, this is a
"charming antique, quite impressive for early-talkie musical." Said to be available on laser disc.
Hotel Variety (1933)
[I have no information about this film.]
Cast: George Raft, Carole Lombard, Sally Rand, William Frawley
and Ray Milland
The pictures at right are publicity stills from this 83-minute
film. That's George Raft with our Sally. According to
Leonard Maltin, "Bolero" is a:
Silly, protracted story of cocky dancer's rise to
fame ... made fun by good stars and production values; dance
sequences are first-rate ... Rand, in a rare film appearance,
performs her famous fan dance.
Silent and other feature films aside, your best chance to
actually see Sally Rand on film is in one of these shorts,
available on video:
- Sally Rand's Bubble
Dance -- Tru-Vue #1312
- Sally Rand's Dude (Nude)
Ranch -- Tru-Vue #1313
- Sally Rand's Fan Dance
-- Tru-Vue #1314
The Tru-Vue numbers refer to the fact that these "movies" were
available as filmstrips that could be seen in stereoscopic
3-D through the use of a special "Tru-Vue" viewer. Several hundred such filmstrips were produced over a period
of many years. They are now sought after by collectors. A fascinating overview of the Tru-Vue phenomena may be
found at a web site
devoted to that subject.
[You can see Sally Rand in 3-D yourself! Just
print out this page, place the edge of a stiff card that is about
six inches wide between the two pictures. Rest your nose on
the other edge of the card and focus! You could try this on
the screen, itself, but please don't send me your optometrist's
At least one other version of the bubble dance exists on film. A release from Official Films, entitled simply "Bubble Dance starring Sally Rand," which runs less than 3 minutes, shows
Miss Rand dancing to classical music, twirling, kicking, and
otherwise maneuvering a large bubble around a stage. The
film concludes with a removal of her costume as the dimming
lights reveal her "nude" body ... which is actually covered by a
body stocking. The four little images seen here are from
As to availability on video, a search of those dealers that
handle vintage material will probably turn up opportunities to
buy these films. For example, the "Fan Dance" is one of
the shorts included in "Exploitation Mini-Classics Vol. 1"
offered by Sinister
Cinema for $16.95.
The Sally Rand Photo Gallery
OK, I've teased you long enough. You want to get a
better look at the picture that appears in the background, not to
mention the scrumptious Miss Rand in general. Always one to oblige when possible, here for your
viewing pleasure is Miss Sally Rand, mistress of the fan dance,
in a gallery of black and white and processed color images. You may click on the image of your choice for a larger