that Sally Rand would come to Texas for the Forth Worth Frontier Centennial
in 1936 was met with outrage by some and curiosity by many. Her reputation,
gained at the 1933 World Fair in Chicago in 1933, preceded her.
Sally Rand was a burlesque dancer who hated the term stripper when
it was applied to her. In Chicago, she had been arrested four times
in a single day because of a Lady Godiva act that she pulled on the
streets of that city to bring attention to the Sally Rand Nude Ranch
at the fair. The charges were dropped because authorities could not
actually prove that she was nude, and she insisted she was not. Perhaps
coincidentally and perhaps not, the Chicago World’s Fair was one of
the few that actually showed a profit.
Photo Courtesy Amber Di Giovanni
|Though she had
no way of knowing it, Rand became part of the not-always friendly
rivalry between Fort Worth
and its neighbor, Dallas,
which was staging its own centennial, an edifying affair. Amon
Carter, the Forth Worth publisher and booster, decided to go another
route with his city’s celebration. “Go Elsewhere For Education, Come
to Fort Worth For Entertainment” read the billboards, thousands of
them, spread over several states. Aside from the slogan, the billboards
showed scantily clad young women cavorting about in a Western setting.
Among the people so intrigued by the billboards to change a road trip
itinerary was Ernest Hemingway, who decided to go to Memphis
from Idaho via Fort Worth
after seeing the billboards.
The centerpiece of the Fort Worth Exposition was the revue Casa
Mañana, (House of Tomorrow) which was directed by Broadway’s Billy
Rose at a time when he was most famous for being married to Ziegfeld
comedy and music star Fanny Brice.
The idea of bringing Sally Rand to Fort
Worth began with Billy Rose denouncing her during an impromptu
press conference announcing his involvement in Casa Mañana.
Rose promised that his show would have “neither nudity or smut” and
added, “we don’t need any fans or bubble dances at the Texas Frontier
Later, Carter asked Rose what he was talking about and Rose told him
about Sally Rand’s fan dance and bubble dance, which she had performed
at the World’s Fair. Carter asked if the show drew a lot of people
and Rose assured him that it did. That’s when Amon Carter decided
that Texas needed Sally Rand to help
celebrate its heritage.
Harriet Helen Gould Beck in Missouri in 1904, the girl who
grew up to be Sally Rand was one of those kids who dreams of running
away to join the circus and actually did so. For a time she went under
the name Billie Beck but Cecil B. DeMille, inspired by a Rand
McNally atlas, had her change it to Sally Rand.
In the book Amon: The Texan Who Played Cowboy For America,
author Jerry Flemmons describes the scene at Sally Rand’s Nude Ranch
this way: “Each girl wore boots and hat, a green bandana, skirtlet,
tights, and the brand ‘SR’ rubber-stamped on each fleshy thigh. The
‘show’ consisted of girls lounging on swings and beach chairs. Some
played with a beach ball. Others shot bows and arrows. One or two
sat on horses.”
Sally performed a “Ballet Divertissement” in Casa Mañana, alternating
between balloons and fans for a certain amount of discretion. She
always said, “The Rand is quicker than the eye” in explaining how
she managed to keep audiences from seeing anything she didn’t want
Casa Mañana in the national press sometimes bordered on the
ecstatic. Damon Runyon wrote, “Broadway and the Wild West are jointly
producing what probably is the biggest and most original show ever
seen in the United States. If you took the Polo Grounds and converted
it into a café and then added the best Ziegfeld scenic effects,
you might get something approximating Casa Mañana.”
Nearly all of the press coverage mentioned or featured Sally Rand.
Flemmons reported that of the 17,000 stories written for newspapers
around the country, half featured Sally Rand. In one 90-day period,
her picture appeared in Texas newspapers 947 times.
The local publicity turned positive as Rand threw out ceremonial
first pitches, spoke to service clubs and PTA meetings, bought memberships
for the civic music season, traveled on behalf of Fort
Worth’s centennial celebration and even gave a pep talk to the
TCU football team.
The city of Fort Worth
declared November 6, 1936 as “Sally Rand Day” where she was lauded
for her “graciousness and consummate artistry” and officially thanked
for bringing “culture and progress to the city.”
The city could afford to be nice to everybody associated with the
celebration because it was wildly popular. “For what it was and
where it was, Fort Worth’s
Frontier Centennial, especially Casa Mañana, perhaps was
the most successful exposition of its type in history,” Flemmons
Three years later, Runyon still seemed to be pining for the Fort
Worth extravaganza. He summed up the 1939 New York World’s Fair
with, “No runs, no hits, no Carters.”
No Sally Rands either.
© Clay Coppedge
May 1, 2010 Column
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