Rand, Sally (1904–1979)

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Rand, Sally (1904–1979)

American dancer and burlesque star. Born Helen Gould Beck on January 2, 1904, in Elkton, Hickory County, Missouri; died on August 31, 1979, in Glendora, California; married and divorced several times; children: one son.

Selected filmography:

The Texas Bearcat (1925); The Road to Yesterday (1925); Bachelor Brides (1926); Gigolo (1926); Man Bait (1926); The Night of Love (1927); Getting Gertie's Garter (1927); The King of Kings (1927); His Dog (1927); Galloping Fury (1927); Heroes in Blue (1927); Crashing Through (1928); A Girl in Every Port (1928); Black Feather (1928); Gold Widows (1928); Bolero (1934).

The story is told that famous exotic dancer Sally Rand came up with her notorious fan dance during the Depression, when she had so little money to purchase costumes that she improvised a routine using only a couple of ostrich-feather fans. The shapely blonde performer later professed that the difference between mediocrity and stardom was simply "merchandising."

Born in 1904 in Hickory County, Missouri, the daughter of a postal worker, Sally Rand left home at age 13 and took a job in a nightclub in Kansas City. During her early years, she performed in clubs, with carnivals, and even with the Ringling Brothers Circus, before making her way to Hollywood. Changing her name from Helen Gould Beck to Sally Rand, she appeared in a number of silent movies during the 1920s, notably Cecil B. De Mille's classic King of Kings (1927), but she was forced out with the advent of sound. After initially performing her fan dance in a speakeasy in Chicago, Rand made her way to the Chicago World's Fair (Century of Progress, 1933–34), riding a white horse from downtown to the fairgrounds à la Lady Godiva. The publicity stunt earned her a concession on the main midway, and although she was arrested on several occasions during her visit, she was later credited with making the fair a financial success.

After Chicago, Rand organized a dance troupe and toured the United States. She appeared at the San Diego World's Fair in 1936 and at the San Francisco Exposition in 1939, then found steady employment as the headliner at various burlesque houses and clubs across the country. Over the years, her act remained pretty much the same. To the strains of Debussy's Clair de Lune, she danced her way across the stage, clad only in two fans, which she cleverly manipulated in such a way that the audiences only caught brief glimpses of her anatomy. "No one knew if she was really naked," writes John J. DuPont in an article on the dancer for American Heritage (April 1992), "and her appeal lay largely in the eternal hope that by chance or design she would drop one of her fans." DuPont also points out that Rand's questionable profession made her the subject of numerous off-color stories and jokes. "She became something of a byword for the 1930s definition of naughty," he writes.

Rand continued to perform for 40 years, and in 1965 replaced Ann Corio as the emcee for the Broadway revue This Was Burlesque. Her personal life included several marriages and one son. By the 1960s, the dancer had made several million dollars, which she wisely invested in real estate, including a ranch on which she lived with her mother and son. At the time, she said that although

she no longer needed the money, she still looked forward to work because of the travel and the people she met. Rand died in 1979.


DuPont, John J. "Bottle Blonde," in American Heritage. April 1992, pp. 26–27.

Lamparski, Richard. Whatever Became of …? NY: Crown, 1967.

McHenry, Robert, ed. Famous American Women. NY: Dover, 1983.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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