Century of Progress Era in Chicago

1933 -1934



This month we will look at the many happenings in Chicago in the years 1933-34. The Century of Progress opened on May 27, 1933 on what is now Northerly Island. The fair buildings were multi-colored to create a “Rainbow City”, as opposed to the “White City” of the World’s Columbian Exposition.  The buildings generally followed Moderne architecture in contrast to the Neo-Classical themes at the1893 fair.

When Prohibition ended on December 5, 1933, NIGHTLIFE IN CHI-TOWN REALLY TOOK OFF, AS YOU WILL SEE!





Sally Rand became one of the biggest attractions at the Century of Progress; some say she was probably the one who helped save the fair from bankruptcy in the depths of the Great Depression.

Early in 1933 she was working as an exotic dancer with her fans at a little place on East Huron Street called the Paramount Club. She wasn’t even the star attraction at this little joint—just another dancer.





Many years ago, in the late 1960’s, I had the opportunity to have lunch with Miss Rand at the Pump Room, where she told me the story of how this all happened. It was truly amazing to hear.

“Stanley, I was working at a little club on Huron Street and not making much money either. I heard that the fabulous World’s Fair was going to open in a few days. In the weeks before the opening of the fair, I had tried many times to get a job down there with my little dance with the fans, but to no avail. I was always turned down. I was getting desperate, so I came up with this wild, crazy idea that would either get me noticed or arrested.

The night before the opening of the fair, I read that there was going to be a big gala on the fairgrounds, which would be attended by all the bigwigs of the city and all of the Chicago society crowd. With my last ten bucks, I rented a horse and hired a little barge on the river around Wacker Drive that would take me to the fairgrounds. (Remember, ten dollars was a lot of money during the Depression.)

About fifteen minutes later, we arrived on the barge at the gates of the “Streets of Paris,” which was the fairgrounds entertainment area. The security guard at the gate must have assumed I was supposed to be there as part of the gala celebration. The poor man probably thought, ‘Who the hell would be arriving on a horse with practically no clothes on – OF COURSE! – she must be part of the show!’ By the photo, you can see that I was wearing very little.


“I was covered by lots of false hair in the most strategic places. I slowly rode through the Streets of Paris dressed (or undressed, rather) as Lady Godiva. TO SAY I CAUSED A SENSATION IS AN UNDERSTATEMENT!!! Just remember, this was 1933 and people’s modesty standards were much different than today.

“After this spectacle, I went home that evening to my little rooming house on Division Street. I knew there might be a few pictures of me in the newspaper the next day – maybe that would help me get a job at the fair. Early the next morning, I got dressed and took a trolley back to the fairgrounds still hoping to get that job. On the trolley, I noticed a few staring eyes in my direction but didn’t think much of it until I arrived at the fair. When I arrived there, I was shocked beyond belief when I saw my picture on the front pages of every national newspaper and my photograph with the headlines: ‘LADY GODIVA CRASHES WORLD’S FAIR AND CAUSES A SENSATION.’

“Everybody seemed to be holding a newspaper and shouting, ‘Where’s Lady Godiva? Where is she appearing?’ I ran to the owner of the club and told him that I was Lady Godiva. He was shocked beyond belief and shouted, ‘LADY, YOU’RE HIRED! SO GO GET YOR DAMN FANS AND BE BACK HERE WITHIN THE HOUR!’ He even paid for me to take a taxi back home to get my fans. I was dizzy with excitement – I didn’t even discuss my salary – and couldn’t believe that all this was happening to me so quickly. Unbelievably, I became the one of the main attractions of the Century of Progress.”



Incredibly, she continued to schlep those huge fans around the world, doing basically the same dance for 45 more years until her death in 1978.




On July 15, 1934, the second season of the Fair, The Gumm Sisters were booked into a spot called The Old Mexico Nightclub, just another of the many clubs on the midway, for a three week engagement. (Notice, they were last on the bill. They were even billed under “Hank the Mule”!) The club, Old Mexico, folded near the end of their third week – they were never even paid for the second and third weeks of their performance.

Running out of money, they luckily got an engagement at the Marbro Theater on West Madison Street. Again, they were listed near the bottom of the bill and TO TOP THINGS OFF, THEY WERE BILLED AS “THE GLUMM SISTERS”!

The following week, as a last minute fill-in, they were booked into the Oriental Theatre in the Loop – a huge break! The headliner, George Jessel, was so enthused by their talent and the audiences’ response, that by the second show he changed their last name, Gumm, which had gotten a laugh from the audience during the first show, to The Garland Sisters. Jessel took the name from New York World Telegram’s Robert Garland.

The next week, the Garland Sisters were booked into the Uptown Theatre for an engagement. Shortly after that, they left Chicago and within a year Judy went out on her own. Initially, she was billed as Frances Garland, still using her own first name. Soon after, she changed it to Judy, which she took from the famous Hoagy Carmichael song “Judy”.  











Stanley Paul



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Coming next in Stanley Paul’s Classic Chicago series, That Toddlin’ Town: Chicago in the Mid- to Late 1930’s.