On a sweltering 90-degree day in July of 1933, Superior Judge Joseph P. David sat behind the bench in a Chicago courtroom listening as attorney Jay J. McCarthy argued his case for his client.
Mr. McCarthy was charging that performer Sally Rand, at that time the sudden and controversial star attraction at the Chicago “Century of Progress” World’s Fair, was performing an act that was “lewd and lascivious” and was a threat to public morality.
Miss Rand had been performing her risqué “fan dance” to huge crowds in the “Streets of Paris” section of the fair. The eight-minute act involved Miss Rand appearing to be nude (although she wore a body stocking) while dancing to Debussy’s Clair de Lune behind seven-foot ostrich feather fans that were strategically waved so as to offer a teasing glimpse of her body to the viewer.
At the time it was considered quite a racy display, and she knew very well the art of promotion, claiming that “The Rand is quicker than the eye.”
After hearing the charge Judge David responded:
“There is no harm and certainly no injury to public morals when the human body is exposed. Some people probably would want to put pants on a horse. When I go to the fair, I go to see the exhibits and perhaps to enjoy a little beer. As far as I’m concerned, all these charges are just a lot of old stuff to me. Case dismissed for want of equity.”
Although Sally Rand would be dragged into court many more times during that year, she was never convicted of a crime. And with over 2 million visitors to the “Streets of Paris” exhibit alone in 1933-34, and her widespread press coverage, Miss Rand had cemented her status as an international celebrity.
During the 1930s Sally Rand was on par with movie star Mae West as a woman who dared to openly challenge the sexual conventions of the time.
There are warm summer nights where the past seems to hang heavy in the hazy air. On one of those days, if you can stand on the sidewalk across the street of the McDonald’s on Ogden Avenue in Lyons, and squint, your eyes you can see Mangam’s Chateau bathed in the colors of a neon marquee, giant sedans pulling up to the valet and glamorously dressed couples entering the glass entrance, hand in hand, with the faint sounds of live music escaping from the cool lobby.
For it’s there, some 30 years after her appearance at the World’s Fair, that Sally Rand first performed at “The Chateau.”
Mangam’s Chateau (1937-1979) was one of the top restaurant/nightclubs in the Chicago area for many years and featured big names in comedy, singers, and even had their own chorus line.
The first night that Sally Rand appeared at Mangam’s Chateau in the mid-1960s the accounts mention that the stage went dark, an announcer introduced “the legendary Miss Sally Rand” and then the stage was bathed in a dark blue light.
Stepping out from behind the curtain, Sally Rand, then 61 but said to have looked much younger, performed her legendary fan dance to Clair de Lune playing on a phonograph.
She performed her signature dance with all of the precision and seduction that she had at the World’s Fair. Her shows there were a huge success, prompting her to return many times as she toured nightclubs throughout the country.
Recently, on a muggy afternoon in August, I stopped to take a photo of an unsung structure set back from Ogden Avenue next to Cermak Woods, in Lyons. The small, unassuming apartment building at 7733 Ogden Ave. was where Sally Rand lived when she was performing at Mangam’s Chateau. It is also the place, the same apartment, some 50 years ago, where my parents had their first home with their new baby, me.
“We moved in right after Sally Rand had lived there.” said my mother, Susan Johnson. “The telephone handset was caked with make-up and there were ostrich feathers in the closet.”
“We were on the second floor and had a balcony. I always thought it was a nice little apartment,” she added. “The rent was $140 a month, furnished!”
As a photographer, I am intrigued by the history found in the fabric of our cities and towns. Not only does “every picture tell a story” but, within that fabric, I believe that every building tells a story. And every building, whether in its history, design, materials, or a combination of them all, contains a music that flows through the walls.
I try to capture and interpret these buildings with photos and with words and unlock the music for others to hear. If you look around, on any given corner, there might be a building that still stands, famous or ordinary, that contains an interesting history to you whether it be public, personal or both.
And the music that lives in a building, pulsing through the drywall or whispering in your ear when you stand near, continues to play decades, even centuries, later. Some quiet nights, if you listen very hard, you can hear the faint melancholy notes of Clair de Lune gently misting from Sally Rand’s apartment amongst the rustling trees in Cermak Woods.
Jeffery C. Johnson, a resident of Berwyn, is currently working on a photography book titled Frozen Music: Chicago. See his work at jefferycjohnson.smugmug.com