Weird History "America's Most Beautiful Dancer" Made Nude Burlesque Acceptable Before Her Tragic Death  

Melissa Sartore
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Faith Bacon, one of America's earliest and most famous burlesque dancers, lived quite a tumultuous life. A savvy provocateur with a knack for skirting around the laws of the day, Bacon rose to fame for her infamous fan dance, a dance that helped to break burlesque into the American mainstream. Yet her successes came with just as many setbacks, with imitators stealing her show along with burlesque's own decline as the Depression dragged out in the '30s. Despite her innovations to the practice of burlesque, Faith Bacon usually falls by the wayside when people discuss famous vaudeville performers, often taking a backseat to imitators like Sally Rand. A combination of depression and hard times got the best of Bacon, and she ended up taking her own life in despair. Even still, Faith Bacon pictures depict a woman with a shrewd confidence, who knew exactly how to court an audience and controversy. 

Unemployed And Unhappy, She Killed Herself By Jumping From A Hotel Window



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In 1956, Bacon returned to Chicago in search of work. Her inability to land any jobs coupled with her other personal struggles led to an argument with her roommate about returning to her family in Pennsylvania. Driven to her wit's end, Bacon jumped from the window of her third story room, landing on the roof of the saloon next door. As she jumped, her roommate tried to grab Bacon but was only able to touch part of her skirt.

Bacon was taken to Grant Hospital with a perforated lung, a fractured skull, and other internal injuries. She died on September 26, 1956, at age 46. Despite her short life, Bacon lived through a great deal of happiness and hardship, a dichotomy that certainly led to her depressive state at the end of her life.

She Performed Naked On The Streets Of NYC With A Pet Fawn

Though her star began to fade by the late '30s, Bacon always looked for new, and often scandalous, ways to get attention. In 1939, she appeared on the streets of New York City wearing "a few wisps of chiffon and eight maple leaves" walking a fawn.  She was arrested by the police and charged with "disorderly conduct." She paid $500 to be released on bond. Many suspect this to be a publicity stunt to spark interest in her upcoming performance at New York World's Fair the next week.

Faith Bacon Invented Using Feathers In Her Act To Hide Taboo Body Parts

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Bacon first appeared on Broadway in 1928 in Earl Carroll's Vanities. Over the next three years, Bacon landed roles in Carroll's Fioretta and the Ziegfeld Follies as well, participating in the most spectacular shows Broadway had ever seen, all while alongside "the most beautiful women in the world." Carroll, a person familiar with the government censoring his work, wanted to present fully nude women on stage in his show Vanities. However, due to nudity laws in New York, he could only show naked women if they stood still as statues.

To skirt around the state's laws, Bacon came up with an ingenious plan. She proposed musical numbers, such as a waltz, where she would dance until the orchestra hit a pause in the music; during these pauses, Bacon would also pause and reveal herself. When asked what she would use to cover herself, she decided on ostrich feather fans. Thus her famous fan dance was born, and imitators quickly took it up as their own.

Bacon's Fan Dance Still Got Her Arrested


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With Bacon's ostrich feather dance, she and Carroll did their best to circumvent the law. Authorities failed to see it their way, however, and police raided the New Amsterdam Theater in June 1930. They arrested nine members of the Varieties cast, including Bacon and Carroll, and charged them with putting on an indecent performance. 

Two months later, the grand jury decided not to indict Carroll or any of the show's cast after only five minutes of deliberation. Bacon continued to perform her fan dance, although she wore a thin layer of chiffon so she wouldn't be nude - technically. Debate continued about whether or not Bacon was naked, which only added to the popularity and conversation around the show.