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1933 Fifty Years Ago

March 2023
1min read

No mere flick of a switch would do to open Chicago’s Century of Progress Exposition on May 27: The Genius of Science and the Industry of Man were to be celebrated. A wondering public learned that the miles of neon tubing were set aglow by rays from the star Arcturus focused on photoelectric cells, transformed into electricity, and transmitted to Chicago. These rays, they were told, had left Arcturus at the moment the Columbian Exposition had opened forty years earlier.

But it was not all Science and Learning. The New York Times remarked that ”… to some extent the hiatus between what science knows and what the public knows will be bridged. At the same time the average sensual man will have his needs ministered to and will not be asked to strain his intellect.”

And where would this average sensual man turn for relief? To the midway, where, at the “Streets of Paris” review, an unknown entertainer called Sally Rand (nee Helen Gould Beck) danced slowly to the strains of Claire de Lune clad only in a coating of white powder and clutching two ostrich fans.

The battle thus joined between Sensation and Thought seems to have been won by Miss Rand: a local reporter noted that “the Adler Planetarium is playing to poor business; 40 men could toss a medicine ball around in the Hall of Science and never bother the customers.… But Sally Rand dancing nude on the Streets of Paris has been jamming the place nightly. ” Her salary at the start of the Exposition was $125 a week: by the end of the summer this was raised to $3,000. Progress indeed.

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