Grave Spotlight

In a way, cemeteries are like libraries. They contain the final resting places of thousands of people, each with their own separate and unique story. Some of these people are famous, and their stories are well known. Most are not, but that doesn't make their life any less interesting or their stories any less worthy of being told and remembered.

Periodically, we'll spotlight a different Los Angeles-area grave. Every person has a story, and we will use this space to tell their story, through their final resting place.

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Sally Rand

April 3, 1904 - Aug. 31, 1979

Oct. 19, 2011 -- She was born Helen Harriet Beck in a small town in Missouri, the daughter of a post office clerk and a schoolteacher, but she became one of the most famous -- and infamous -- entertainers in the country.

As Sally Rand, she first found success as an actress in silent films in Hollywood, but her greatest fame was on the stage, where her shocking fan dances at the Chicago World's Fair in 1933 made her a national sensation, and a star for the rest of her life.

Rand was born on April 3, 1904, the first child of William and Mary Annette "Nettie" Beck. Her father was a graduate of West Point and a veteran of the Spanish-American War. A second child, Harold, was born four years later, on April 16, 1908.

Rand left home when she was a teenager and joined a traveling carnival, where she worked in a wide variety of support jobs. She later joined a theater company and studied acting and dance, took modeling classes at the Art Institute of Chicago, and appeared in stage productions, including co-starring with then-unknown Humphrey Bogart in a production of "Rain."

Rand came to Hollywood in the early 1920s, and appeared primarily in supporting or uncredited roles in films beginning in 1925, as well as comedy shorts produced by Mack Sennett and Hal Roach. When she began working for the Cecil B. DeMille stock company of actors, DeMille changed her name to Sally Rand, reportedly inspired by a Rand McNally road atlas. Though unconfirmed but likely, Rand reportedly appeared as an extra in DeMille's silent versions of "Ben-Hur" (1925) and "The King of Kings" (1927).

Rand was gradually appearing in larger film roles and was becoming a fan favorite, and appearing on film magazine covers. In 1927, she was named one of 13 "WAMPAS Baby Stars" -- a promotional campaign sponsored by the Western Association of Motion Picture Advertisers from 1922 to 1934 to identify actresses the group believed were on the threshold of movie stardom. Although the WAMPAS class of 1927 doesn't contain any other notable names, previous and future WAMPAS Baby Stars included Mary Philbin, Clara Bow, Mary Astor, Dolores Costello, Janet Gaynor, Joan Crawford, Fay Wray, Lupe Velez, Jean Arthur, Loretta Young, Joan Blondell, Ginger Rogers and Gloria Stuart.

Rand, however, had a pronounced lisp and a distinct Ozark twang, and the advent of sound effectively ended her Hollywood career after about 20 film appearances. So she returned to dance and stage performances, While working at the Paramount Club in Chicago, she came up with the idea of her famous "fan dance," which featured her dancing while twirling two enormous pink fans made of ostrich feathers, and giving the idea that she was nude behind the feathers.

At the time, despite what the audience wanted to see, hoped to see or though they saw, Rand's nudity was an illusion. She typically wore a flesh-colored body stocking or a thick layer of body paint behind the fans, and her dance typically included her appearing in silhouette behind an illuminated screen. Her fan work was so adept that even the most sharp-eyed and attentive customer couldn't be completely sure what she was or wasn't wearing. And they probably didn't care. Rand was selling the illusion, and she was extremely good at it. As she often said, "the Rand is quicker than the eye."

Rand's fan dance was a hit in burlesque houses in Chicago, but she really grabbed the national attention when she performed at the World's Fair in Chicago in 1933, which she promoted with a Lady Godiva ride on a white horse through the streets of Chicago. Not surprisingly, she was arrested several times during the course of the fair for indecency, including four arrests in one day, although the charges were usually dismissed by the judge, since no one could prove that she was actually nude. And, also not surprisingly, the arrests and resulting publicity only served to make her more popular and increase the size of the crowds -- and her paycheck. During her performances in Chicago, her weekly salary increased from $125 to $3,000.

When the World's Fair reopened in Chicago in 1934, Rand had a new act ready -- the bubble dance. Basically the same as the fan dance, it featured Rand dancing while holding a large translucent plastic bubble between herself and the audience.

With her fame and income from the World's Fair performances, Rand purchased The Music Box burlesque theater in San Francisco in 1936, where she continued to perform in front of sell-out crowds. In 1939, the Golden Gate Exposition in San Francisco featured "Sally Rand's Nude Ranch," with a collection of women dressed in cowboy hats, boots, gun belts and little else.

Once Rand became famous, Hollywood was more than happy to welcome her back, and she appeared in two notable films in the 1930s. Rand appeared in "Bolero" (1934), starring George Raft and Carole Lombard, and did her fan dance to Debussy's "Clair de Lune," the same music she used in her stage act.

In 1938, Rand starred in "Sunset Murder Case", the story of a small-time showgirl who poses as a stripper to get a job in a nightclub to investigate her father's murder. Although the film seems to have been written for Rand, it was actually adapted from a story in Liberty magazine called, "The Sunset Strip Case" -- which was actually the original title of the film until exhibitors and censor boards objected. Rand performs both her fan dance and bubble dance in the film.

In 1941, Rand's national recognition was such that she reached the pinnacle of popular culture -- a character based on her appeared in a Looney Tunes cartoon. In "Hollywood Steps Out," directed by Tex Avery for Warner Bros., a character named "Sally Strand" -- Rand refused to give permission to use her name -- does a bubble dance at a nightclub in front of dozens of Hollywood stars -- until her bubble is burst by a slingshot-wielding Harpo Marx.

Rand continued to make appearances around the country, still doing her fan dance and her bubble dance. She was 50 years old when she performed for eight straight months at the Last Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas, and she was still performing around the country well into her 60s and early 70s. As Rand famously said, "I haven't been out of work since the day I took my pants off."

When Rand was 52, she resumed her education and received her college degree, and worked for a while as a speech therapist.

Rand's career covered more than 50 years, and remained strong and popular through various periods, first in silent films, then as a shocking stage sensation, then as a national celebrity, and finally as a quaint nostalgia act. Through it all, she said when she was in her 70s, "I have never retired. I have averaged 40 working weeks a year since 1933." When she was 70, Rand was playing to packed houses at a theater in Seattle.

In her later years, Rand's national appearances usually included talks to local civic groups on the importance of senior citizens. Rand danced publicly for the last time in November 1978, in Chicago, at the age of 74.

By the time Rand was dancing in Chicago in the 1930s, her mother had moved to Southern California and married Ernest G. Kisling, who worked in the citrus fields in Azusa Township. Her brother, Harold "Hal" Beck, who performed professionally as Hal Rand, also moved to Southern California and appeared in about two dozen films from the late 1930s to the late 1950s, usually as a background dancer or in small, uncredited parts.

Rand was married four times. She died on Aug. 31, 1979, at the age of 75, of congestive heart failure at Foothill Presbyterian Hospital in Glendora, Calif. She is buried at Oakdale Memorial Park in Glendora, next to her mother, her step-father and her brother. Rand's grave marker identifies her as both Helen Gould Beck, and her more famous stage name.

"I have been successful, and I am grateful for my success," Rand said near the end of her life. "I have had some experiences that I wish I never had had, but that would be true in any business. I cannot say sincerely that I would have chosen just this road to fortune. Perhaps I might have wished for another way. But I took the opportunity that came to me."

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