Sally Rand: World’s Most Famous Fan Dancer

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Sally Rand was the world’s most famous fan dancer. Her much-imitated act consisted of Rand playfully covering and uncovering parts of her body with two ostrich feathers to the tune of “Clair de Lune”– but never revealing the naughty bits. This was her act in burlesque, however. Her work in vaudeville was a little tamer.

Born Helen Gould Beck in 1904, she took her stage name from an atlas. Her career brought her all over the show business map…from carnivals, where she was an acrobat…to stock companies, where he acted as a teenager…to the Gus Edwards troup…to silent films for Hal Roach and Cecil B. DeMille. In 1927 she was voted one of the WAMPAS Baby Stars. 

She even headlined at the Palace in 1928 with a 22 minute act called “Sally’s Boy Friends.” When the Depression hit, work grew scarce, and she had to scramble. She discovered the fan dance in a Chicago night club in 1932. She brought her version of it to the Paris Pavilion of the Chicago World’s Fair the following year. At the Golden Gate International Exposition (1939-1940) her exhibitionistic exhibit was Sally Rand’s Nude Ranch.

Soon she was one of the most sought after burlesque and night club acts in the country (although she occasionally got busted). And she performed well into the 1970s! She passed away in 1979. April 3 is her birthday.

To learn about the roots of variety entertainment including vaudeville and burlesqueconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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