Book Trailer The Noble Train

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

First Chapter of Sally Rand American Sex Symbol



                                                                      Chicago 1933 

Sally Rand stepped into the speedboat bumping the dock outside the World’s Fair of 1933 in Chicago. The Century of Progress had ended for the year. The five-foot, 125-pound blond had single-handedly made the fair profitable and now she had to get up to the North side of Chicago, and the fastest way to do it was by boat. Lake Michigan was calm, but it was dark, and fall was in the air. She stepped down into the back of the boat, and it roared into the September night. The country was in the fourth year of the Great Depression, and some said it was the worst yet. A third of the banks in Chicago had failed. People were starving and living in tents outside the city. The city was broke. Al Capone had been hustled off to jail in 1931, but his soup kitchens had fed many all over Chicago when the city didn’t have a dime to help people. 

But there had been the fair, and it had been a shining light in a coal mine of darkness. It was the second fair after the Columbian Exposition of 1893 and could not have been more different. As I wrote in Al Capone and the 1933 World’s Fair, “Forty years after the Columbian Exposition and Dr. H. H. Holmes’s macabre, psychopathic murders of many young women in 1893, Chicago decided it was time to have another world’s fair. The times and the reasons differed, though. Orville and Wilber Wright had left the earth for twelve seconds in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, in 1903. The Titanic had met black ice in the Atlantic and already been resting on  the bottom of the ocean for two decades. The beau arts tradition of 1893 had been left in the dust for a modernist vision of the world promoted by industry, architecture, and advertising.”

Sally Rand sat in the boat with the wind smoothing back her hair. She looked toward the city glittering in the third decade of the American Century and felt her pulse rise. The boat veered suddenly, and Sally was catapulted out of the back into the depths of Lake Michigan. She bobbed up and saw the boat still barreling toward the North Shore. And now. Now the famous starlet of Cecil B. DeMille films, the trapeze artist, the David Sennett stunt woman, the nationally famous fan dancer of the Chicago World’s Fair found herself alone in the dark lake that was still warm from a hot summer. She stared at Chicago glittering along the lakefront. She could hear the bell from the lighthouse station but that was all. She was simply alone now, and for a girl who had come from nothing, a hillbilly from the Ozarks who had conquered the world and become famous, this was nothing short of amazing. And what a perfect metaphor. Tossed out of a speeding boat after her triumphant run at the Chicago World’s Fair, she could stare at the city that she had triumphed over.

 One cannot consider the life of Sally Rand without considering that other character of equal importance in her life, the Chicago World’s Fair of 1933. It is the perfect storm of Sally Rand’s intersection with this singular event that produced the synthesis of time, circumstance, place, and personality that created the iconic symbol of hope handed down to us as Sally Rand. It is the combustion of her interaction with the phenomenon that was the Chicago World’s Fair of 1933 that made her a star and set the course of her life. The World’s Fair years gave her a platform that would run for forty years, and one could make a case that the glimmer of the fair, the fairy dust sprinkled upon her began to slowly erode after she left Chicago, until eventually, it was all gone. The Chicago Daily News on August 16, 1933, would later cover her rescue from the lake with an explanation of why she was leaving the fair. “Her descent into the waves came dramatically a few moments after Sally had left A Century of Progress Exposition following a farewell performance, having, it was reported, demanded a considerable raise in monetary emoluments for the dance. . . . having definitely concluded her appearances in the Streets of Paris, Sally dressed and boarded a speedboat for a hurried run to a north side night club.”

The accompanying photo would show a waterlogged Sally wrapped in a blanket, looking like a wet teenager though she was touching thirty. The Columbian Exposition of 1893 had really set her up. As Cheryl Ganz wrote in The 1933 Chicago World’s Fair, “The 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition had served as one of Chicago’s springboards for this transformation of public entertainment. Novelty ruled the day and the public loved it. Throngs packed the fair’s beer gardens, thrilled to the Ferris Wheel, and gaped at the belly dancer Fahreda Mahzar—also known as Little Egypt, who gyrated in ways never witnessed by middle-class Americans.”3 And so, the cooch dance was added to burlesque shows, and promoters learned from the 1893 fair that a good burlesque added to the coffers of any fair. Farm towns were deserted as old and young all over the Midwest went to see the “hoochie coohie,” which often involved the dancer going topless. “The dancers appeared as part of the freak show attractions and in burlesque, providing an exhibition of direct, wordless, female eroticism and exoticism.”4 But really, we have to go back further. 

To the evolving urban, commercial-driven consumer culture that would make a section of the fair known as the Midway phenomenally successful. Charles Dawes, who would finance the fair, reminded his brother Rufus, who was the president of the World’s Fair Association, “What is going to draw your crowds is not museums or scientific charts or similar museum exhibits . . . people come to see a show, the great surviving memory of the Chicago World’s Fair being the Midway.” People came to see the oddities, breathe the caramel popcorn–scented air, and duck into darkened tents to watch nude women dance or to watch a young blond dance behind two seven-foot ostrich feathers. America was in transition. “The commercialization of popular amusements earlier in the century had signaled the rise of a new expressive urban culture . . . A Century of Progress opened during the peak of the Great Depression, and though expendable resources were few to none, many fairgoers still sought ways to satisfy their new taste for thrills.”

The World’s Fair of 1933 was a creature born in the worst times with many different purposes. It was to be a fair of science, of the future, a fair to jump-start the economy. “Not unlike Roosevelt’s New Deal programs, a fair would, the planners predicted, counter the Depression’s insidious economic and psychological impact by giving Chicago and its labor force a shot in the arm . . . the fair would be a privately organized New Deal.” When twenty-eight-year-old Sally Rand is finally fished out of Lake Michigan, she is sitting in a Coast Guard station in a Chicago Tribune photo and we see the girl next door with stringy wet hair. Where did all that sex go? If you watch her comeback film, The Sunset Murder Case, you see the same daughter of America. There is a Judy Garland quality about her. She has that vulnerability. She is a bad actress in a very bad film. Her delivery is all wrong. The actors around her are B actors at best. The story is hackneyed, but there is something there that makes you root for Sally Rand if not fall in love with her. There is a determination, a sprit, a hope, an optimism, that transcends sex, that transcends the feather dance. 

Sally Rand is nothing short of the hope of the early twentieth century in the worst of times wrapped up in a five-foot bundle of energy that will not stop until she draws her last chain-smoking breath in 1979. The sixty-one boxes at the Chicago History Museum of Sally Rand’s papers are crumbling letters, yellowed newspaper articles, fragile Western Union telegrams, onionskin letters, faded cursive letters, long judgments, tax liens, car titles, brochures, baby manuals. One goes through these tan boxes looking for clues, and it can be frustrating for there is no hard answer as to why Sally Rand become famous when others did not. The dancer Faith Bacon had performed the fan dance years before Sally did. Others were better dancers, better strippers, actresses, more beautiful, more intelligent. But we don’t know their names. Who then is Sally Rand? She is like the changing, silky Lake Michigan water that she was floating around in, wondering if anyone would rescue her. This is where she marveled at her rise as she stared at those glittering buildings in the night. Maybe she could hear the traffic. Maybe an approaching boat, a seagull. She had been literally sleeping in alleys just a few years before, and now she was a star who could write her own ticket. 

Like Sally Rand, the World’s Fair of 1933 was a bet against logic. “When the Great Depression came crashing down, many thought people would never spend money on a fair in the bleakest times America had ever known. In 1933, when the fair opened, 15 million people were unemployed, and one-third of the banks had failed.”8 It was really based on hope. Hope that times will get better. Hope that the country will get through the Great Depression. Hope that a dream can become a reality. Hope that a hillbilly from the Ozarks could become rich and famous. And like any cultural force, we really can only define a person by their life. Anything else will be false. So, the young girl in the water will wait to be rescued while we look for a life that began almost thirty years before. Helen Beck was all of three years old when Teddy Roosevelt held her in his lap and she looked up at the man who had charged up San Juan Hill. She remembered he smelled like a cigar. Like the audacious young country that would eventually rule the twentieth century, Sally Rand changed her life by sheer will, using the only assets she had: her body, a white horse, a boat, and sheer guts.

Sally Rand American Sex Symbol

Trump Has Been Great For Publishing But Who Is Reading the Trump Books?

 Melanias best friend in the White House published a book telling us the dark secrets of the First Lady and President Trump. Then a disgruntled family member who was screwed out of an inheritance published a book giving us the dirt on Trump. Of course there was Rage. Then there was a flood of Trump books that hit the news cycle for a day and disappeared. Now there is Woodwards books with the earth shattering revelation that Trump knew the virus was  dangerous even though he said it wasn't. Yawn. Really. The truth is there are no revelations left...but the books keep on coming. 

Trump must be good for publishing but the question is who is reading these Trump books? I know of one person who said they read Rage when it came out. And I was in Barnes and Noble (remember when) and saw many people buying it. But we are probably a good twenty books beyond that and really there are no secrets left. Woodwards book for all the cache the author brings has really nothing new beyond the assertion that Trump did not say what he knew. Again. Yawn. 

Everyday brings another Trump book with the authors hitting the cable circuit for a day with Rachel Maddow claiming to have read the book and Anderson Cooper dissecting the hot revelation for an hour and then...then blip. Its gone and we cue up for the next one. So Donald Trump has to be good for publishing because publishers would not keep cranking them out if they were not making money. But what will happen if he loses in November. The literary world might never be the same. 

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Might the Virus Swarm Like Locusts

I am not a doctor but it occurs to me with the new information just out that just breathing can spread the virus and with the way these hotspots occur in whole cites that the virus has the ability to swarm over areas. Take NewYork City. The virus seemed to be everywhere and then it wasn't. People just could not get away from it when the city was red hot but then it seemed to leave and where did it go...Chicago. And now it has left Chicago and gone to Florida, Texas, California, Arizona. Suddenly people are getting it in massive groups...almost like a swarm of locusts descending on an area. 

Yes masks can stop it. But if people are not wearing masks and getting infected and then breathing in concentrated areas of high density then a "swarm" develops where invisible armies of the virus descend on WHOLE AREAS. So if you are in that area and come out of your home then you have the possibility of walking into the swarm generated by hundreds and hundreds if not thousands of infected people just breathing. Now lets take areas with pollution or stagnant air. Then the swarm hovers and is not dissipated and I would expect infections to soar. 

The swarm falls apart when people mask up and there is less virus in the air. Wind comes along and scatters the swarm and it loses potency and falls to earth and basically moves on. Then another state like say Florida or Texas becomes the next incubator for a swarm as people become infected. Once the swarm develops it becomes a hotspot where people are literally walking into a fog of virus. 

So I am not a doctor. But this would explain the way the virus takes hold over an area and everyone seems to be getting it until they arent' and like New York City the virus moves on to greener pastures and descends again. Just like locusts. 

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

The Ventilator of Publishing: A Mighty Blaze

The first thing you realized is that you are were all alone. The bookstores had closed. Your publisher had closed. The library had closed. Your agent was in shock. And you, you have a book coming out in the worst pandemic since the 1918 Spanish Flu. Now what? And you quickly realize that you will have to do everything your self. Publishing as you know it ceased to exist. When a book comes out you are dependent on a push from your publishers, libraries, bookstores, reviewers. That push is now non existent and it is down to you and your book.

So you are flailing. Enter A Mighty Blaze. This is essentially a Facebook site run by eighteen writers who volunteer their time to promote the new books coming out during the pandemic. It is a lifeline, but more than that at a time when publishing is on life support,  A Mighty Blaze is the ventilator of publishing. On the Tuesday of publication A Mighty Blaze blasts out posts and likes and tweets and retweets to let the world know that even in a pandemic books are still being published. Followed by bookstores, agents, publishers, the literati now  behind ZOOM screens; A Mighty Blaze gives a face to the author who has effectively been silenced by this pernicious virus.

Eventually the publishers will return, the bookstores will open, the libraries will begin again and hopefully A Mighty Blaze will still be here. But if it withers after the normalcy of publishing returns then we can only be thankful that in the worst of times we saw the best of some people who put the collective importance of publishing books first and gave of their time and their passion.

william hazelgrove

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Pulling a 5000 Pound Cannon Across the Frozen Hudson River in 1775

They began slowly, hearing long groans punctuated by cracks in the ice. John Becker Sr. didn’t want to lose the oxen and kept his eyes on the thick corded rope that he would slash with the axe. He would have only seconds to separate the yoke of oxen from the heavy weight of a sinking cannon. The worst scenario was that the cannon would plunge through, cracks rippling outward, sending men, sleds, and animals under. The best case should the ice break was that they would lose only the cannon. Extra ropes had been tied around the neck of the cannon with an eye toward retrieval.

The wind blasted across the desolate river with the far pines frosted white. The oxen made their way, hooves clicking on the ice. Becker pulled back, calling out whoa! to the oxen, slowing them further. Knox had dismounted and guided his horse, staring ahead and then behind. The other men stood by their sleds on the near side of the river, watching to see if disaster would strike and their expedition would fall into the icy water below. Along with the Indians, the Tories, and the British, the ice was another foe that could obliterate the entire train.

Silent now in the middle of the frozen river. The creak of the ropes, the slide of shoes on thin snow. The grunt of heavy animals. Knox felt his heartbeat with every step. The far side of the Hudson drew closer and Knox turned, staring at the light grooves the sled left in the ice. Seven inches of ice must be beneath the oxen and the rails of the sled; other than a groan and an occasional heart-stopping rifle crack of shifting ice, the river seemed to be holding their weight. Knox felt the stiff wind pick at his scarf. His eyes watered. He led his horse off the ice and watched the oxen find their footing in the snow with the teamster following. Knox breathed out in relief. The worst had not happened.

Henry Knox's Noble Train

Friday, May 15, 2020

The Twenty Five Year Old Boston Bookseller who Saved the American Revolution

Henry Knox was a twenty five year old bookseller who dragged 60 tons of cannons or 120,000 pounds or 28 SUVs over frozen lakes, rivers, and mountains in 1775 and changed the course of the American Revolution. How did this happen? The Americans had surrounded Boston where the British were holed up after the battle of Bunker Hill. Classic siege. In comes a new general fresh off his plantation where he had been drinking bourbon hunting foxes and having a great time off his wife's fortune. He then comes to inherit the motley American army with no idea how to dislodge the British from Boston.

George Washington knows one thing and that is that he cannot get the British out of the city unless he has  artillery. Enter Henry Knox. A twenty five year old Boston bookseller with fabulous dreams but no real military experience at all. Washington takes him on and makes him a Colonel and puts him in charge of the artillery of which there is none. Knox set his eyes on Fort Ticonderoga 300 miles away were 59 cannons are lying dormant in the snow and with Washington's support decides to bring them back to Boston.

How he does this is the stuff of legend, 90 oxen and 42 sleds are his heavy trucks of the day. But mostly it is brute strength, grit, endurance and a belief in his Noble Train that sustains him over three months in the worst winter of the century. He finally gets the cannons to Washington who shells the British from Dorchester Heights and forcing them from the city. It is the first victory of the American Revolution and all because a Boston Bookseller believed he could do something everyone else thought was impossible. It is an American story.

Books by William Hazelgrove