Sally Rand, who shocked the nation with her ostrich-plume fan dance at the Chicago World's Fair in 1933, died of congrestive heart failure yesterday in Glendora, Calif. She was 75.
Miss Rand capitalized on the scandal she had created and went on teasing her audiences for another 45 years Today's grandfathers delighted in talking about the days when they saw her perform. Their grandsons in later years went to her performances to see what their grandfathers were talking about.
Miss Rand and her costume raised the same question that has persistently followed the Scotsman and his kilts -- did she or did she not wear anything underneath?
Miss Rand sometimes indicated she didn't. Other times, when asked, she countered only with "come see the show" or "the Rand is quicker than the eye."
Whatever the status of her dishabille, Miss Rand was frequently hauled into court on charges of indecent exposure as she appeared around the country at nightclubs, fairs and carnivals and on the burlesque stage. She was never convicted.
She sneered at stripteasers. She was an "artiste," she said, and her act was really a performance of ballet.
In later years, authorities let her alone, for her performance no longer shocked. Her 5-foot figure remained trim, her legs were still shapely and she sparkled from a face that had been lifted several times.
But the years had taken their toll. She found herself no longer in the big time. She appeared at occasional benefits, but mostly at shoddy clubs.
"People ask me, 'What the hell are you doing it for?" she told an Associated Press interviewer last month. "Well, it's a lot better than doing needlepoint on the patio."
Sally Rand was born Helen Gould Beck in Hickory County, Mo. She started dancing at the age of 14, intending to make a career in ballet.
Eventually, she made her way from the Ozarks to Hollywood, where she appeared in several movies, including Cecil B. De Mille's "The King of Kings." But she never made it big in films.
Along came the depression and a small company, "Sally and Her Boys," in which she appeared as a dancer were stranded in Chicago. She spotted some fans in a costume shop and decided they would beef up her act.
"Any time any female puts a fan in her hand, she instantly becomes a femme fatale. A coquette," she once wrote.
For her first appearance with fans, she added, she planned to wear a chiffon nightgown. But it did not get to her dressing room in time and she had to make an instant decision.
"All right, who's gonna know what's behind those fans anyway?" she rationalized. They did not, she noted, and she proved her talent that night.
"No one was vaguely interested," she added. It was not until her appearance a short while later at the World's Fair that she burst into fame.
Miss Rand was a show business legend. She appeared before millions and she earned a fortune in her time. She always dressed to the hilt when she was not performing.
She established a large home in Glendora, not far from Los Angeles, and always returned there from performances that kept her on the road for the better part of each year.
Miss Rand was married three times. Two of the marriages ended in divorce. The third was annulled.
She is survived by an adopted son, Sean, and two grandchildren.