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Sally Rand (1904-1979)

rare 1939 cover of menu from the Music Box, Sally Rand's nightclub at 859 O'Farrell St.Rare menu from The Music Box, Sally Rand’s nightclub, then located at 859 O’Farrell Street, in the Polk Gulch district of San Francisco. The building, opened as Blanco's after the Great Earthquake, currently houses the Great American Music Hall, and the interior remains much as it did when Rand performed her famed fan dances there. The venue was sold in 2000 to Palo Alto-based, a dot-com startup, that planned live Internet broadcasts of new music from the former Music Box., unfortunately, ceased operations Dec. 8, 2000. Its website said, “we cannot continue to service these fine [music] communities in the current economic marketplace.” The Great American Music Hall was put up for sale by the company.

Sally Rand came to prominence during the 1933-1934 Chicago Century of Progress world’s fair that was to celebrate the progress of civilization during Chicago’s first century of existence.

The Chicago fair opened May 27, 1933, and drew 39,000,000 visitors. Like the Treasure Island fair, it was repeated a year later. The Century of Progress is, incidentally, one of the few world’s fairs that did not lose money.

This was the fair that made Sally Rand famous. She had been a nightclub cigarette girl and dancer, and joined a chorus line at the fair. She was arrested for an “obscene” performance, and was catapulted to fame. It is said her act, in Chicago, grossed $6,000 per week during the depths of the Depression. After the Chicago fair closed she performed in vaudeville, motion pictures, expositions in Texas and San Diego, then came to San Francisco in anticipation of the 1939 Treasure Island World’s Fair.

In the Treasure Island amusement zone, known as the “Gayway,” was the Sally Rand Nude Ranch, one of the highlights of the fair. It featured women wearing cowboy hats, gunbelts and boots, and little else. The fair’s Official Guide Book delicately described it as “Sally Rand Nude Ranch: A dude ranch a la 1939.”

photograph of World's Fair Gayway and Sally Rand Nude RanchThe Nude Ranch was just one of several “flesh” shows at the Treasure Island Fair. Others included Candid Camera, which featured live, nude, models, and Greenwich Village, described by the Official Guide Book as “Model artists’ colony and revue theatre.”

The Gayway also featured the Mark Twain House, a replica of a newspaper office where the famed author worked, and Incubator Babies, Inc., with live infants in a modern hospital— on display at the fair.

Unabashed stag shows at Treasure Island did cause some controversy. However, one San Francisco neighborhood newspaper, the Polk Progress, wrote:
“One might gather from the snickering and naughty attitude toward the ‘flesh’ shows at the Exposition, that the success of the $50,000,000 enterprise hangs or fails upon the relative number of inches of epidermis displayed. Bringing stag shows out into the open in order that women may attend and feel devilish will pay good dividends, but the marvelous exhibitions of paintings and other displays will also attract a few.”
Sally Rand, who said she was born in 1904, may have been an “overnight sensation” in Chicago, but had appeared in motion pictures and vaudeville from the 1920s. Her screen credits include 1924s “The Dressmaker from Paris,” two Rod La Rocque 1926 films “Bachelor Brides,” and “Gigolo,”; “Getting Gertie’s Garter” in 1927, as well as Cecil B. De Mille’s “King of Kings.” She was in the 1928 film “The Fighting Eagle,” and the 1934 musical “Bolero,” with George Raft. She also appeared in two “Soundies” features filmed in 1942 - “The Fan Dancer” and “The Artist Model.”
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