THE FIRST SEX SYM­BOL

Sunday Express - - NEWS - From Peter Sheri­dan

TO MANY, she was a naked op­por­tunist. Oth­ers thought her a lib­er­tine with barefaced cheek. To mil­lions, she was sim­ply naked.

Blonde, beau­ti­ful and wear­ing only a know­ing smile, Sally Rand danced be­hind two fans of os­trich feath­ers, of­fer­ing tan­ta­lis­ing glimpses of silky flesh with ev­ery swirl.

She made the peek-a-boo dance world fa­mous, push­ing the bound­aries of sex­ual free­dom, a trail­blaz­ing pre­cur­sor of sex sym­bols from Lana Turner to Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe.

She reg­u­larly said that since the day she ditched her clothes she hadn’t been out of work.

Sally Rand be­came a house­hold name, an Amer­i­can sex icon who ap­peared in more than 30 movies.

She starred on stage op­po­site Humphrey Bog­art, ro­manced fly­ing ace Charles Lind­bergh and par­tied with Char­lie Chap­lin, Dou­glas Fair­banks and Mary Pick­ford.

Yet she was per­pet­u­ally in debt, ar­rested re­peat­edly for in­de­cency – four times in one ex­haust­ing day – and died broke in ob­scu­rity.

Long for­got­ten, her tragic life is re­vealed in the bi­og­ra­phy, Sally Rand: Amer­i­can Sex Sym­bol.

“She shat­tered cul­tural bar­ri­ers, of­fer­ing sex­ual lib­er­a­tion ahead of her time,” says au­thor Wil­liam Hazel­grove. “Sally Rand em­bod­ied the can-do spirit of the 20th cen­tury, rep­re­sent­ing hope to mil­lions. Sex­u­ally vo­ra­cious, she thought that if some­thing felt good you should do it.

“She em­braced her sex­u­al­ity, blaz­ing the way for pop icons like Madonna and Lady Gaga. She was a rags-to-riches story who tran­scended her time.”

The 5ft bomb­shell ex­ploded into in­ter­na­tional fame with a shame­lessly self-pro­mot­ing stunt em­u­lat­ing Lady Go­diva. Naked on a white horse, wear­ing only a long blonde wig, she gate­crashed a din­ner party where 3,000 of Amer­ica’s finest were toast­ing the open­ing of the 1933 World’s Fair in Chicago.

“The Fair was a cel­e­bra­tion of sci­ence, tech­nol­ogy and art, but Sally Rand cre­ated a sen­sa­tion,” says Hazel­grove. “She was ar­rested, but only af­ter pho­tog­ra­phers’ flash­bulbs popped. Overnight she be­came fa­mous world­wide.”

When thou­sands clam­oured to see Rand, Fair or­gan­is­ers rushed to hire the bur­lesque dancer who was pi­o­neer­ing her fan dance.

At the height of the Great De­pres­sion with mil­lions out of work and starv­ing, Rand, 29, was sud­denly earn­ing $5,000 a week star­ring at Amer­ica’s most pres­ti­gious event.

Oddly, it was her sec­ond bite at fame. Born He­len Beck in Mis­souri’s hill­billy Ozarks in 1904, the daugh­ter of a sol­dier and a teacher, she ran away to the cir­cus and made her way to Hol­ly­wood where, aged 21, she caught the eye of di­rec­tor Ce­cil B Demille.

“She had blonde hair, baby curls, lu­mi­nous blue eyes and a fig­ure that could stop a man cold,” says Hazel­grove. “Demille called her the most beau­ti­ful girl in the world, and saw her as Amer­ica’s next sweet­heart.”

Demille cast her in 20 silent films from 1925 to 1928. While shoot­ing his Bi­b­li­cal block­buster King Of Kings, she had an af­fair with ac­tor HB Warner, play­ing Je­sus. The love­birds ar­rived late on set and Demille fa­mously yelled: “Miss Rand, leave my Je­sus Christ alone! If you must **** some­one, **** Pon­tius Pi­late!”

But the ar­rival of the talkies in 1928 ended that bid for star­dom.

“Sally’s voice was soft and child­like, with an Ozark ac­cent and a lisp,” says Hazel­grove. “Hol­ly­wood dropped her.”

When the stock mar­ket crashed in 1929 ush­er­ing in the De­pres­sion, she re­turned to the vaude­ville cir­cuit, un­til her Lady Go­diva stunt made Rand an in­stant cul­tural icon.

Her bal­letic fan dance be­came a sen­sa­tion, of­fer­ing fleet­ing glimpses of her ath­letic curves. Some­times she wore a sheer body stock­ing, but was of­ten com­pletely naked.

“I rea­soned that if I kept the fans mov­ing fast enough no one would know if I had a cos­tume on or not,” she said.

Sally was viewed not as a strip­per but an artiste, wel­comed at white glove man­sions across Amer­ica, and in­vited to ad­dress Har­vard Univer­sity. Wel­comed back to

‘Sally’s voice was child­like’

Hol­ly­wood wood she shared top billing with Ge­orge Raft and Ca­role Lom­bard in 1934 drama Bolero, lead­ing to sev­eral more movies.

She was im­mor­talised in a 1941 Mer­rie Melodies car­toon, Hol­ly­wood Steps Out, di­rected by Bugs Bunny cre­ator Tex Avery, also car­i­ca­tur­ing Clark Gable, Cary Grant, James Cag­ney, Bing Crosby, and Greta Garbo.

Rand staged re­vues fea­tur­ing dozens of erotic dancers, earn­ing mil­lions as she charmed huge au­di­ences. “Long be­fore Kim Kar­dashian and Zsa Zsa Gabor, Sally Rand be­came fa­mous for be­ing fa­mous,” says Hazel­grove.

But her ap­petite for high liv­ing, and re­peated ar­rests for in­de­cency that shut down her shows, ul­ti­mately lost her a for­tune.

“She was ha­bit­u­ally in debt and would all her life be hounded by debt col­lec­tors, lawyers, judges, tax liens and fore­clo­sure pro­ceed­ings,” says the au­thor.

And moral­ity was chang­ing. The Sec­ond World War, with its Betty Grable pin-ups and lib­er­ated women in fac­to­ries, was fol­lowed by co con­ser­va­tive Amer­i­can value val­ues and grow­ing dis­taste for R Rand’s open sex­u­al­ity. “M “Mid­dle class moral­ity wou would al­ways be a prob­lem, lem,” says Hazel­grove. “She was hounded by chur churches, lawyers and poli politi­cians. She liked to view her show as an exp ex­pres­sion of art, but mid mid­dle Amer­ica still vie viewed her as ob­scene.” S She was ar­rested and ev even jailed for in­dece cency, yet courts were sy sym­pa­thetic. A San Fr Fran­cisco judge saw th the show and ruled: “A “Any­one who could fi find some­thing lewd a about the dance as she p puts it on has to have a p per­verted idea of morals.” Sally Rand was danc­ing naked for decades, fight­ing the tide of time.

“She had face-lifts, used tape, leo­tards, make-up, wigs, light­ing, fans, corsets, any­thing to stay one step ahead of re­al­ity,” he says.

Rand was 60 when in­vited to per­form for gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials and Gemini as­tro­nauts at the 1964 open­ing of Nasa’s Mis­sion Con­trol in Hous­ton, Texas, her os­trich fans un­du­lat­ing like birds in flight.

Tom Wolfe cap­tured it in his best­seller The Right Stuff: “It was quite elec­tri­fy­ing... be­yond sex, showbusine­ss and ei­ther the sins or rig­ors of the flesh.” But life on the road had been tough. Rand sur­vived three failed mar­riages to hus­bands who bled her fi­nan­cially, sur­viv­ing on am­phet­a­mines and chain-smok­ing cig­a­rettes, danc­ing into her 70s.

“What’s wrong with a grand­mother danc­ing naked?” she asked.

“She paid a high price for her fame,” says Hazel­grove. “She lived out of ho­tels and trail­ers for 30 years and was chron­i­cally broke, liv­ing hand-to-mouth, a lonely life.”

Rand suf­fered a heart at­tack and, bat­tling asthma and con­ges­tive heart fail­ure, died in 1979 aged 75, leav­ing a $10,000 un­paid hos­pi­tal bill among her many debts.

“Sammy Davis Jr paid the debt, re­mem­ber­ing a star who had given him a hand when he was a young per­former try­ing to make it,” says Hazel­grove. “It was a tragic end for the woman who changed Amer­ica’s at­ti­tudes about sex and celebrity. She be­lieved a woman’s body was her own to use as she wanted to make a liv­ing.

“Sally may be largely for­got­ten, but the changes she fought for, lib­er­at­ing sex­u­al­ity and art, live on.”

‘She was liv­ing hand to mouth’

SNAPPY UNDRESSER: El­e­gant Sally at 30

CA­REER PEEK: Sally with her famed dance clad only in os­trich feath­ers. Right, aged 22, in silent movie Red Dice

WARM RE­CEP­TION: Sally’s fans loved the bub­ble dance

Sally Rand: Amer­i­can Sex Sym­bol (Lyons Press, £20.95), Kin­dle Novem­ber 1, hard­back Jan­uary 1

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