Burlesque Past and Present: The sad story of Faith Bacon

The art of the tease is on everyone's lips; with a rising interest in burlesque, cabaret clubs are in full swing and new acts are cropping up every week. At Playful Promises we just adore a bit of cheek, and would love to introduce you to our favourite burly girls, past and present! Keep your eyes firmly peeled, as each week we feature inspiring performers guaranteed to set pulses racing!


 



Said to be the most beautiful woman in the world, at least according to Florenz Ziegfeld, Faith Bacon was a starlet turned burlesque dancer who suffered a sad demise.



At 20 years old, Faith appeared on Broadway in Earl Carroll's 'Fioretta' and the Ziegfeld Follies. Carroll was a hit Broadway producer, earning the name "the picker of pulchritude". At the time, it was only legal to have nude women on stage if they acted as unmoving statues, which often resulted in shows of grand artistic tableaux.


 

 


This just wasn't enough for Carroll, who pushed the censorship laws in 1924 by putting on a show, titled "Vanities", in which the majority of the female acts cavorted nude around the stage. Enough was enough for the New York District Attorney, who demanded Carroll clothe his performers. He refused and continued on with the show, resulting in a hilarious instance of a police officer tasked with the purpose of stopping any displays of nudity using a blanket. The officer raced onto the stage attempting to capture a naked star, who broke free and dashed off - to the audience it was like a scene from the Keystone Kops.



Carroll battled with censorship throughout his career, serving jail time for some of his debaucheries (including throwing lavish parties with nude women bathing in illegal alcohol), and was always on the lookout for new ways to flash some flesh.



Faith had an idea; "Mr Carroll... Why can't we do a number where I'm covered when I move, and undraped when I stop? For example -- let's say the orchestra plays a waltz. I dance around, but on every third note, the music stops and I stand still and uncover!" Clearly impressed, he asked her what she could use to cover herself during the movement, to which she suggested ostrich feathers. And so, according to Faith, the fan dance was born.

 

 


Faith took her fan dance across America, causing a stir both among the public and the police. The fan dance took off, and in 1933 she competed with Sally Rand (who is remembered as the more popular, and even the inventor of the fan dance) at The World's Fair.



From there her life went downhill. In 1936 she took part in a performance at Chicago's State-Lake theater, in which she was told to stand on a glass box for the finale. "Well, the curtains parted and I crashed through the box. All the girls started screaming for a doctor and running around the stage, but somehow I climbed out of all the broken glass and danced." Her role was to portray the temptation of beauty, which must have been quite a shock as she danced covered in blood.

 


Faith was taken to the hospital for a month, and left with deep scars on both legs. It was two months before she could dance again, and even had to learn to walk all over again.


 



Her star faded; the only jobs she could get were in less wholesome venues, eventually ending up in small town bars and carnivals. In 1938 she had a small role in a tacky low-budget movie, "Prison Train", as a dancer called Maxine. Ten years later she sued a carnival boss for throwing tacks on the stage as she danced barefoot, supposedly trying to force her to break her contract.



On the 26th September 1956, after a particularly long search for work and distraught by her lack of success, she argued with her roommate about her decision to go back to her family in Pennsylvania. Faith ran from the room, and suddenly opened a window in the stairwell. Her roommate attempted to grab at her skirt, but Faith tore free and jumped. Her body landed on the roof of a one-story saloon next door, resulting in her death at 46 years old.



Her friend later told reporters that Bacon "wanted the spotlight again. She would have taken any kind of work in show business."



Faith's effects reportedly comprised of clothing, one ring, a train ticket home, 85 cents and a pair of rented fans.