Thursday, 3 April 2014

Remembering Sally Rand

Sally Rand and myself at the
Summit Hotel, Calgary in 1975
Today would have been Sally Rand's 110th birthday. The original "fan dancer", she had performed at the 1933 Chicago World's Fair. Her performance there, and her "Lady Godiva" ride through the streets of Chicago had got her arrested four times in a single day. But any nudity was just an illusion -- she wore either a body stocking or full body makeup. In the photo to the right, she is her timeless self -- contrasting that, I appear to be a survivor from "That Seventies Show".

I went with some friends to see her dance at the Sheraton Summit Hotel in 1975. The hotel, once a Calgary landmark, is no more. The top floor was a circular restaurant which featured many notable acts. After her reprisal of her act at the Chicago World's Fair, she joined us at our table and entertained us greatly with stories from her fascinating career. It was the (later) casino boss Sam Switzer who booked Sally Rand at the Summit. He brought quite a number of earlier stars to Calgary to perform at the Summit in those days.

An American legend, she was a really no-nonsense sort of person and very real. One of her quotes about "exotic dancing" expresses her character delightfully:
"The dictionary defines `exotic` as that which is strange and foreign. I am not strange; I like boys. I am not foreign; I was born and raised in Hickory County, Missouri."
What I remember most about that evening was hearing about how Al Capone had taken a shine to Sally Rand and how she thought that the best response to that would be to leave Chicago for a while. The story stuck with me as, just over ten years earlier, I had been walking in the West End of London with my father when we saw a man who seemed to be covered in tattoos. This was not a common sight back then. My father knew the man's identity and told me that he had been a driver for Al Capone.

Sally Rand passed away four years later, in 1979. I cannot imagine that anyone who had ever met her could forget her.


  1. I never forget her. I was close to her until she died and she was more beautiful inside than out.

  2. Thanks Scottford, yes, she was a truly genuine person.