Review: Feuding Fan Dancers: Faith Bacon, Sally Rand, and the Golden Age of the Showgirl by Leslie Zemeckis

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☆☆➹⁀☆ 5 stars ☆➹⁀☆☆

What It’s About:

Leslie Zemeckis continues to discover the forgotten feminist histories of the golden age of entertainment, turning her sights on the lost stories of Sally Rand and Faith Bacon―icons who each claimed to be the inventor of the notorious fan dance.

Some women capture our attention like no others. Faith Bacon and Sally Rand were beautiful blondes from humble backgrounds who shot to fame behind a pair of oversize ostrich fans, but with very different outcomes.

Sally Rand would go on to perform for the millions who attended the 1933 World’s Fair in Chicago, becoming America’s sweetheart. Faith Bacon, the Marilyn Monroe of her time––once anointed the “world’s most beautiful woman”––would experience the dark side of fame and slip into drug use.

It was the golden age of American entertainment, and Bacon and Rand fought their way through the competitive showgirl scene of New York with grit and perseverance. They played peek-a-boo with their lives, allowing their audiences to see only slivers of themselves. A hint of a breast? A forbidden love affair? They were both towering figures, goddesses, icons. Until the world started to change. Little is known about who they really were, until now.

Feuding Fan Dancers tells the story of two remarkable women during a tumultuous time in entertainment history. Leslie Zemeckis has pieced together their story and―nearly one hundred years later― both women come alive again.

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Guest Reviewer Frannie’s Thoughts:

Feuding Fan Dancersis thought-provoking, fascinating, and a must-read for all women (men too). It is about two women who are independent in a time when women are to be seen and not heard. Faith Bacon and Sally Rand really changed the face and flavor of entertainment during the Great Depression. They started their journey in 1928, but their careers really peak when the country is devastated by the Depression in 1930, and they are looking for an escape. Their quest for freedom of speech and expression goes long into the 1950s, and as the reader you follow them as these two teenage girls grow up.

The two young showgirls started out in the chorus line, emerging into starlets that dazzled and delighted a distraught country. Both were hungry for publicity and the limelight, and they were not ashamed to be arrested and highlighted in the press. Unbelievably beautiful, both women were detached and unencumbered by relationships. They used their sensuality to allure both men and women into loving them and revering them as outspoken celebrities.

The story raised questions about the shows they provided to the public. Did the nude shows that they created for the public trivialize women, or did they allow women a sense of freedom and allow them to have control over their bodies and their lives? Far before the women’s movement in the 1960s, these two women expressed themselves in the only way they knew how. They took nudity and presented it as a work of art and not something to be viewed as distasteful or obscene. With very little education and without depending on a man, they attacked and succeeded in the entertainment world as no other women had done before.

Although the book does not delve into sex per se, it addresses many other very controversial issues such as nudity, stage moms, drug addiction, depression, homelessness, abandonment, deceit, denial, homosexuality, suicide, religion and more. The lure of vaudeville with all its glamor for the showgirls was intoxicating. They would be wined and dined—and given the most expensive clothing, furs, and jewelry—but these perks were the downfall of most showgirls.  Faith and Sally, however, took the art of dancing to another level and developed a show that was more than just nudity or a peek show; it was a performance. Celebrities from across the country wanted to be close to them, and show producers wanted to employ them.  They were constantly on the road, making a normal relationship impossible, and certainly not something an insecure man would be able to handle, no matter how successful they were.  However, Faith and Sally prevailed because they were outspoken, fearless and daring. These were traits that society at the time did not acknowledge or respect in women. I think this is a must read for all women of all ages.    

 

About the Author: Leslie Zemeckis is a best-selling author, writer and award-winning documentarian. She is the author of Behind the Burly Q Goddess of Love Incarnate, and numerous films.  She specializes in women in American pop culture from the early part of the 20thcentury. She is a frequent contributor to numerous national publications.  She is a woman’s advocate and continues to highlight formerly stigmatized and marginalized female entertainers. She is married to Robert Zemeckis, has two children and lives in Santa Barbara.

 

 

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