Published in September 1964, author Hank Reeves compares the 1964 New York World’s Fair to the one in 1940.
AS WORLD’S FAIR ATTENDANCE LAYS AN EGG, MOSES MIGHT REMEMBER THAT THE ’40 FAIR WAS A FINANCIAL FLOP UNTIL SEX CAME TO THE MIDWAY.
By HANK REEVES
The New York World’s Fair amusement area is losing so much money, it isn’t funny – or even amusing.
The least amused are the concessionaires, who have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in the hope of turning a quick profit. Now all the turning that many of them are doing is in their sleep.
Planners had hoped that the amusement area world be one of the Fair’s liveliest spots. But business is such that the indefatigable Mike Todd Jr., for instance, gave up after his show, “America Be Seated,” too in $300 at the box office in two days.
Others worried concessionaires met recently to see what could be done to draw more visitors. Some lamented that blueprints had be scrapped to build a huge moving sidewalk that would have taken tourists effortlessly to their pleasure palaces. This project was abandoned as too expensive.
Others suggested playing lights on the amusement area to draw Fair-goers like moths. Some even went so far as to suggest ways to make the admission price cheaper for tourists.
In the light of World Fair History, it was rather strange that no suggestion was made to toss a little s-e-x into the amusement section to liven things up a bit. Strange, when you look back at what happened at the New York World’s Fair of 1939-40.
That business of trick lighting a giving dollar-wise visitors a break isn’t new. In 1940, Fair admission prices were cut, and the lighting the Great White Way was boosted to 10 times the candle power of ’39.
But that was just for eye-openers. Summing up the ’39 officials’ experience, the Daily News’ Jack Turcott wrote the following year.
“Fair officials learned that dividends were paid off only to concessionaires who gave fun and frolic, with a goodly share of near nudity thrown in.” He stated the naked truth: the officials of the 1940 Fair were going to emphasize sex.
The ill-concealed facts behind this decision b Fair Authorities sound vaguely familiar. The Fair fathers were forced to step in and financially rescue more than seven productions in the Great White Way amusement area whose operators had come close to losing their shirts.
Now losing you shirt isn’t such a bad idea, reasoned the Fair officials, if you happened to be built right-like a girl. And if people paid money to see you without your shirt on, then you might be able to have both boom and bust!
Even the staid New York Times felt compelled to note that the refurbished Great White Way that year was “brighter . . . livelier” that its predecessor. It went on to mention “Oscar the Obscene Octopus” in the show “Twenty Thousand Legs Under the Sea.”
“Oscar,” the Times reported for its marine-life enthusiasts, “is a rubber octopus utilized by a dancer to initiate a new form of strip tease.”
The News’ famous critic, Burns Mantle, happily reported that Gypsy Rose Lee was abiding by the rules of the art as laid down by the Fair authorities – she was very careful not to take off more than she had on.
Somewhere in between the real and famous Miss Lee and the fake and infamous Octopus were scores of girls willing to show all their beauty for art and to keep the Fair’s turnstiles twirling. The mood of the sexy Fair was set to some extent by the arrival of Yvette Dare, who was accompanied by her specially trained parrot.
Yvette, a stunning brunette with a profile remarkably resembling a Hedy Lamarr’s, showed up wearing a white picture hat, blouse, black skirt, black gloves, a long-handled black pocketbook and black shoes. Oh, yes, and that parrot perched on her shoulder.
Some 50 usually blasé reporters met Yvette, then began acting uncomfortable, like a bunch of bashful schoolboys. For while the gentlemen of the press dropped their pencils and fumbled with their notebooks, Yvette peeled off her blouse. Then the parrot went into his act. Instead of saying, “Polly wants a cracker,” or any such avian nonsense, Pol proved himself to be taciturn bird of action, not words.
Pol wasn’t the only lucky bird at that Fair. The winged variety, we’re still talking about. Rosita Royce, a star attraction at the White Way Casino’s “Nation on Parade,” climaxed her act wearing nothing but a white satin train flowing from her waist, a large ring on her finger, a pair of open-toed satin pumps – and five lucky birds.
Rosita, another brunette, would stand there with wide eyes and taut breasts, and those white doves looking a though they didn’t care what union they belonged to.
Even the great actress Carol Lombard got a case of buck-naked fever which seemed to sweep the Fair like an epidemic. Clad only in a technical sense, she wore a fake buckskin G-String to match the motif of the Indian Village while her portrait was sketched by another Fair Maiden.
As you may have guessed – or remember, if you are lucky enough to have seen it – sex at the Fair 25 years ago had is whacky side. At the “Hot and Cold Show” nearly nude girls like Marge Berk were slipped inside hollowed-out cakes of ice while torrid dances wee stated around them to provide the “hot” part of the show.
Salvador Dali, the artist, concocted a “Dream of Venus” act in which a girl swam in a tank with a sleeping nude posed against a surrealist set. Some viewers thought this beat Dali’s melted watches.
And there was the Enchanted Forest, at which viewers could look through gall as a miniature woodsy setting and see, reflected to miniature size, a girl in bra and G-string appear and dance amid the trees. This was enough t make some visiting lumberjacks swear off the sauce.
Even the Lama Temple, admittedly a dud during the ’39 season, began packing them in when it sexed up its name to Forbidden Tibet and featured a ballet in which a Tibetan Lama was tempted by a girl playing “a symbol of desire.”
Perhaps one of the loftiest acts along these lines was staged by Alma Bray, who billed herself as the first strip tease artist to perform her act on a trapeze at a night club. No one challenged her claim.
Alma began her daring young-woman-on-the-flying-trapeze act clad in a full-length evening gown. Then, as she flew through the air with the greatest of ease, she began dropping her clothes and ended up wearing a G-string that would make a bikini seem like a pair of overalls.
There was also the nudist dancer Dolores at the Cuban Village. There were Norman Bel Geddes’ Crystal Lassies. There was the Congress of Beauty. There were the Sun Worshipers. . . .
This is not to say that a couple of million persons didn’t stop off and take the 250-foot parachute jump, which was a feature of the Fair. And many visited Robert Ripley’s $2,000,000 collection of curios at his Odditorium. They also took safaris to Frank Buck’s Jungleland, and they watched Billy Rose’s Aquacade, which starred Eleanor Holm and Buster Crabbe with a cast of 500 “aquabelles and aquabeaus.”
But sex ws the big drawing card, and the sexier shows set records to prove it. Attendance at the rejuvenated amusement area was more than double that of the previous year.
All this in 3-D contrast to the decorous mood of the current World’s Fair, whose 75-year-old president, Robert Moses, has declared: “We shall have no cheap midway . . . dubious side shows.”
That word “dubious” apparently covers a lot of ground. One of the current Fair’s big attractions is “Les Poupees de Paris.” When Moses heard that one of the 32-pound lady puppets was about to perform nude from the waist up, the whip of officialdom cracked. The puppet appeared, all right, wearing a hastily fashioned bra.
The dedicated New York girl-watching societies are now focusing their binoculars on a related test involving the famous Folies Bergere. The Folies girls, used to appearing in the altogether in their native France, opened in a Broadway theater June 2.
The producer, Stephen Sharmat, vowed before the show opened that the girls would appear equally as undraped as in their native habitat. “This is a clean show,” he said. “Nude, yes. But clean. The show is going to open undraped. What happens then is up to the Commissioner of Licenses of the City of New York. My attorneys tell me that if we have to go to litigation, we will, win it.”
If Sharmat and his legal beagles prove correct, who knows, the World’s Fair might get the message. It might just remember the lesson of ’39-and bring on les girls.
NOTE: This is the entire article as it appeared in Sir Magazine and written by Hank Reeves. It has been reproduced here to afford readers information about the two Fairs and the attitude about sex at the Fair.
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