As I’ve said countless times, one of my favorite things in life is reading classic Hollywood biographies and autobiographies. Words can’t possibly describe how much I love them, so I won’t even try – suffice to say that when I have a great one in my hands, I am as happy as happy is allowed to be.
The gorgeous (as in stunningly gorgeous) book you see here is Barefoot to the Chin: The FANtastic Life of Sally Rand and it is one of the best books I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading – whether it’s my beloved Old Hollywood books, my treasured Agatha Christie collection, or the countless historical biographies I collect and devour. This book is as well-written, beautifully presented, perfectly researched, and thoroughly enjoyable as any book I’ve ever met.
If you have ever written a book review, you will know what I mean when I say that the better the book, the harder the review is to write. You’d think it’d be opposite – a wonderful book should be easy to rave about… a terrible one should be hard to talk about. However, my own personal experience is that the more I love a book – the more difficult it is to reign in all of my thoughts.
This particular book is so outstanding that my adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, and direct objects are all bumping into one another.
I work with words all day in my home office and yet, here I sit, trying to hog tie enough words to make a coherent sentence!
“Hog tie…” I may watch too many Westerns.
Barefoot to the Chin: The FANtastic Life of Sally Rand is wonderfully written by Jim Lowe (in collaboration with Bonnie Egan). It is clearly a labor of love and great respect for its beautiful, fascinating, intelligent, and uncommonly brave subject, Sally Rand.
“She could hold her own in any conversation – an amazingly brilliant woman.” ~ Jack Grodon, Fort Worth Press (1936)
I love books that pull you in and grab your attention right off the bat. Books that take a few chapters to warm up often are never given the chance with me. Can you say short attention span? Barefoot to the Chin grabs your attention on the first page and never lets it go – never even loosens its grip. If anything, it tightens it now and again, just to keep the reader honest.
I’m a huge history buff, so I hung on every word of Sally Rand’s family history. The proverbial “stage” is set beautifully for us. We can see how Sally’s childhood, and perhaps even her family’s fascinating history helped propel her into the spotlight. Make no mistake about it, once the stage was set and the spotlight turned on, this beautiful lady made her own history, on her own terms.
In 1934, Mae West and Sally Rand were the record earners among women entertainers.
I recently became somewhat obsessed with reading about showgirls and burlesque dancers such as Sally Rand, Faith Bacon, Tempest Storm, Gypsy Rose Lee, the dancers who went by the name Little Egypt (there were more than one!), and many others. People can point fingers and pass judgment (personally I’m not into either of these sports) but these women and others like them danced their way into what was, at the time, the entertainment industry. Many simply did what they had to do to get by.
Others? Maybe they darn well liked it!
It was such a treat to come across so many of these flamboyant ladies within the pages of the book. Not only did I get to walk along with Sally as she lived out her colorful life, I got to meet so many fascinating people along the way. In addition to the Sally’s contemporaries, we meet up with A LOT of familiar names from Old Hollywood and history on these delicious pages.
However, I’d like to quickly and decisively add that Sally is the star of this book. The rest? Well they’re co-stars, of course.
Sally Rand had a boldness and a palpable determination about her that made her a force – a decidedly feminine force, but a force nonetheless – one not to be messed with OR told what to do. On the flip side, however, there was a softness… even a vulnerability to a certain extent that draws you to her. She was also a kind, compassionate soul – traits that also draw you to her.
This type of personality is to be celebrated if you ask me.
“I was born in the last naive moment America was ever to enjoy… between the Spanish-American War and the First World War. Things were S. S.& G.- Sweet, Simple, and Girlish.” ~ Sally Rand
As a great lover of Old Hollywood biographies, I have even entertained writing one, myself, about one of my favorite actresses. The motivation would be to share her life with others, to help them understand her better, and to… certainly… draw others to her. To, through the written word, celebrate her life in the best way possible – after all a biography is a lasting legacy for generations to read.
While reading this exceptional book, I thought many times about this very thing because it is precisely what Jim Rowe has done. He has celebrated a life very much worth celebrating and left a legacy for her – an especially beautiful one, at that.
He spent years getting to know Sally Rand better and has shared this WEALTH of information with his readers. Fortunately for us, he is such an engaging writer that each and every page is a joy to read. He has a stunning knack for creating scenes and allowing your mind’s eye to see, not only Sally, but all that Sally saw.
Ten Things I Love Best About Barefoot to the Chin
When writing Old Hollywood movie or book reviews, I try to keep it brief – I always tell myself, “Never rant and rave for as long as it’d take them to watch the movie or buy the book!” Ironically, I feel that I am going to break my own rule, here, but I do hope you’ll stick with me – I desperately want you to get to know Sally Rand better and would love to see this book read by as many people as possible.
Below are ten of the things I love best about this wonderful celebration of Sally Rand.
- Sally Rand is treated with the UTMOST of respect. It would be easy (given this particular beautiful subject’s penchant for sex appeal and nudity) for an author to make “Junior High School” type jokes or to drift, even briefly, to crude words that equate to wolf calls. I mean, let’s face it, Sally was a knock out. The girls who danced in her circles? Knock outs. The author, however, never even hints at sensationalism, crudeness, or howling. She is treated as she should be treated, as an entertainer and with great respect. As a female, as a mother of females, and as a fan of Sally’s, I love this to distraction and appreciate it greatly.
- There were NO shortcuts with anything associated with this book. Whether it’s the incredible research (many years of research, at that), the gorgeous cover, the stunning photographs throughout the book, or the mere fact that each and every chapter is filled with spellbinding content – the reader is never short-changed in any way possible. You’re given so much more than you dared to expect. Counting the Epilogue, this book is 718 pages in length. It is the type of book you lose yourself in. The type of book that, even while cooking supper, your mind is thinking, “When can I get back to Sally!?“
- The photographs are an absolute JOY. As I often point out with my reviews, one of my biggest goals (second to telling my readers what they’ll love about the book in question) is to be certain not to give anything away. I am obsessive when it comes to this! Authors, editors, and illustrators put so much time, effort, energy, and passion into making a book exactly as they want it to be – from the manner in which they share their information to the pictures they share. That’s why I’m not photographing and sharing any of the wonderful pictures from this book. (When you click through Barefoot to the Chin: The FANtastic Life of Sally Rand and read about the book on Amazon, you’ll find a few pictures.) The main reason, when it comes to books like this is, the mere fact that these wonderful, wonderful pictures (I especially love the ones of Sally as a child) are almost always from a loved one’s private collection. My reasoning is, if they want the pictures on the internet, they’ll put them there! Suffice to say, the pictures and the history they tell and the lives they share are breathtaking.
- You never know who you’ll meet along the way. Those of us who love, love, love biographies like this get a special thrill out of reading about other stars and/or historical figures as we follow our subject’s life. In Barefoot to the Chin, not only do we get to know Sally Rand ever so much better, we also get to know familiar names and faces along the way better than we knew them before. In the vein of not giving too much away, I will just throw a few names out there – Elvis, Teddy Roosevelt, Claudette Colbert, Joan Crawford… there are many more than these giants, but I simply cannot allow myself to name any more. I’m already clearly breaking one of my own rules as it is.
- The author is a GREAT author! Have you ever read a biography about someone and thought, “This is great research… I love the star the book is about.. but the author is so dry dirt is envious of him/her!” I have. While non-fiction is my favorite thing to read, and the only thing I read (aside from my Agatha Christie obsession), I have found that it takes a special talent to tell about someone’s life and make it as compelling to read as a great novel. Jim Lowe has done just that. This wonderful book, in fact, it could be a great, best-selling novel – IF you didn’t know the larger than life heroine actually existed. Boy, did she ever.
- Mental Spark Plug… When is the last time you learned something new? Do you remember how exhilarating it was? I find that when I’m learning something new or taking my mind in an entirely new direction, it feels like a natural high. The world of burlesque dancers and showgirls is a pretty new world to most of us. But it is so fascinating you’ll wonder why you haven’t been reading about these ladies all your life. As I said earlier, they are now a new personal interest and I cannot read enough about them or this era. Learning new things and reading about new people acts like spark plugs for your brain. And, come on, who doesn’t need that kind of action?!
- I love that this book is unique and filled a void. Certain stars seem to have countless biographies. Not that I’m complaining, mind you, very often a fresh voice can give you a fresh understanding of someone you only thought you knew. However, I also LOVE when stars who have comparatively little written about them have their time to shine.
- This book would make an EXCELLENT gift. Whether it’s for Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, a birthday, or Christmas, gifting a book lover with Barefoot to the Chin would be a extraordinary idea. While lovers of Classic Hollywood or history would, obviously pass out from delight with this book, so would your average bookworm. My oldest daughter, for example, prefers fiction but I can’t wait for her to read Barefoot to the Chin. She is forever talking about her favorite authors – how some hold your attention better than others, etc. She is going to love this author so much. In fact, I have a feeling he’ll make a non-fiction fan out of her!
- I love the research that went into this book. I can only imagine all the effort and time that went into researching, not just Sally, but her family, friends, and contemporaries as well. Frankly, there isn’t a lot out there. After I recently read another biography about Sally Rand and Faith Bacon, I was ravenous for more information about them as well as other dancers and showgirls. There simply isn’t much information to be found. To turn up all this fascinating information is just phenomenal – and I hung on every word. When you read this book (and I certainly hope you do), be sure to go slowly and enjoy each step. This book is a journey and journeys aren’t meant to be rushed through, they’re meant to be savored.
- Last but certainly not least… Sally. Make that SALLY. She was intelligent, beautiful, complex, creative, brave, SASSY, and bold. Reading about her life was a joy and I plan to reread the book (after my daughter reads it) this summer. Sally’s life (as told beautifully and thoroughly through this book) would make a phenomenal movie – I can’t tell you how much I’d love for that to happen! Getting to know Sally better while walking along with the author through her colorful life has made me a huge Sally Rand fan (and an author can’t really ask for more than that).
I truly hope you’ll grab a copy of Barefoot to the Chin: The FANtastic Life of Sally Rand right away. I’m so anxious for others to get to know this wonderfully entertaining woman. She’ll make you laugh, make you gasp, and make you cry. One thing is for certain – you won’t forget her.
Sally Rand was once named the most beautiful girl in America by Cecil B. DeMille!
See Sally Rand Fan Dancing at the 1934 Chicago World’s Fair!