Thursday, January 1, 2009

Birthday Girl (in her Birthday Suit)

Today, let's celebrate what would have been the 105th anniversary of ecdysiast extraordinaire, the Queen of the Fan Dancers, Miss Sally Rand. She vied, over her long career, with Gypsy Rose Lee for the honor of being America's - if not the world's - best known exotic dancer.
Like Lee (and Ann Corio, Lili St. Cyr, and a handful of others), she performed through several eras, starting out when Burlesque was a staple of more-0r-less mainstream entertainment, Vaudeville's naughty cousin, and taking her final bows at about the same time that her art descended once and for all into stripping, pure and simple.

She had first made a go at being a mainstream starlet, and was even a WAMPAS Baby Star (in 1927). With her trademark feather fans or bubble replaced by sober streetwear, she looked a great deal more like her birthname, Harriet Helen Gould Beck, than a Queen of Burlesque.

She was very much a mainstream star, headlining the 1933 World's Fair in Chicago and joining the pantheon of celebrities immortalized in one of Miguel Covarrubias's marvelous "Impossible Interview" caricatures for Vanity Fair. She does seem an apt nominee to be Martha Graham's polar opposite.

Sally remains an inspiration today to those who are trying to rescue the artier aspects of stripping, not least the glamorous Dita Von Teese, seen here recreating Sally's signature fan dance.

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