Originally created 07/07/05

World-famous Sally Rand brought 'naked truth' to Augusta

Long before there was nudity on TV or DVDs, Sally Rand gained world fame for her seemingly naked dances in which she strategically concealed her anatomy with large ostrich feathers and a huge transparent bubble (actually a balloon).

Theatrical historians say she usually was dressed in a white body stocking or covered in white theatrical grease paint.

Either way, her performances were scandalous for those times. She began attracting attention with her dances at the 1933 Chicago World's Fair at the "Streets of Paris" concession.

Her role in Augusta's history came to light when a reader, who did not leave his name, left me a voice-mail message in response to my June 23 column about radio station WRDW-AM's 75th anniversary.

"I delivered the newspaper in 1937, and WRDW was on my route," he said. "I went by one day, and they were excited because Sally Rand, the star of the 1933 World's Fair, had been by the station."

With the help of AugustaArchives.com, I learned that Ms. Rand had been here in 1936, not 1937, performing four shows a day on March 12-14 in the Imperial Theatre.

Because this was just three years after her blockbuster appearances at the World's Fair, her visit was followed in detail by the media, including her March 12 visit to Augusta Mayor Richard Allen's office and her talk to the Augusta Exchange Club.

Reporter John Barnes, later a city editor and popular columnist with the Augusta Herald, told readers Ms. Rand had addressed the 50 club members with "wit, wisdom and eloquence."

"I believe in the naked truth," Rand remarked as club members roared with laughter.

Rand was born Harriet Helen Gould Beck on her grandfather's farm near Elkton, Mo., in 1904 and had become a bit player in early Hollywood movies making as much as $750 a week with her dancing and acting. Her directors included silent movie legends Mack Sennett and Hal Roach, but it was Cecil B. DeMille whom she credited with coming up with her stage name.

In spite of her film earnings, she lost her dance jobs and all of her savings when the banks collapsed with the 1929 stock market crash.

"Well, the theater felt it first," she said of the hard times in America. "There were no jobs and many of us went hungry. Finally I decided to take stock.

"I found that I had certain wares - my ability to dance - and I decided to use advertising and exploitation to attract attention of buyers."

After one of her shows in the Imperial, she told The Chronicle reporter Dudley Brewer that she wouldn't hesitate to recommend show business to any young girl with talent and promise.

But she warned it would take a minimum of five years of dance training and chorus experience before they would be noticed.

"Of course I like my career," she said. "I don't know anything else. I have grown so used to a certain type of living that I wouldn't fit in easily at anything else.

Ms. Rand went on to three marriages and many adventures, including lecturing to 1,300 Harvard University freshmen on the evils of Communism and appearing on the TV quiz show What's My Line?

When she died at 75 on Aug. 31, 1979, in Glendora, Calif., of congestive heart failure, The Chronicle reported she had been waving her ostrich feathers 40 weeks a year up until the year before she died.

The Associated Press reported, "People ask me, 'What the hell are you doing it for?' Well, it's a lot better than doing needlepoint in the patio."

Don Rhodes has written about country music for 34 years. He can be reached at (706) 823-3214 or at don.rhodes@morris.com.


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