Marathon dances became a big thing in the 1920s and 1930s. They were endurance events, in which couples competed with each other, and prizes went to whichever duo had the legs to outlast the rest. This odd pastime started in 1923, when a woman named Alma Cummings outlasted six partners and danced for 27 consecutive hours at the Audubon Ballroom in New York City. That inspired others, and dance marathon contests quickly spread across the US, as competitors tried to break Cummings’ record.
The competitions became spectator events, publicized in the press and hyped up by promoters and sponsors. The happy-go-lucky Roaring Twenties ended with the stock market crash of 1929. In the resultant Great Depression, dance marathons took on a sadder and grimmer tone. Competitions once driven by a desire to break records now took on a sadder cast, with dancers desperate to win prize money. Even if they lost, they would at least spend a few days out of the elements, with free meals and a roof over their heads.
Most dance marathon competitors in the Great Depression were no longer in it for the fun of it. They did not even bother to dance. They wanted the prize money, or to at least spend as much time as possible indoors and fed by the event’s sponsors. So they expended as little energy as possible while sticking to the letter of the rules. Generally, the rules held that the dancers could not fall asleep and remain stationary, but must move constantly. Some competitions however allowed one partner to sleep, so long as the other was awake and kept the pair moving. Thus, dance partners slowly shuffled around the dance floor, adhering to the rules about maintaining a hold upon each other, without their knees touching the floor.
In some competitions, contestants got fifteen minutes’ rest each hour, during which they rushed to sleep on cots. Other competitions had no hourly breaks, and allowed dancers to leave the floor only for bathroom breaks, medical purposes, or to change clothes. Once back on the dance floor, they took turns supporting each other’s weight to keep their partner upright, as he or she got some extra rest and shuteye while being propped and shuffled around. The popularity of dance marathons declined in the 1930s, as they grew increasingly controversial and came under increased criticism. Aside from the immorality of exploiting destitute dancers to entertain spectators, there were concerns about the exhibition of female bodies and potential exploitation. By the end of WWII, dance marathons had largely vanished.
Frank Sinatra (1915 – 1998) is not as well known today as he was in his mid-twentieth century heyday. Ever since, the man known as Ole Blue Eyes and Chairman of the Board has captured the hearts of music lovers around the world. His music sold about 150 million records, which puts him among history’s top artists by volume of sales. When he died in 1998, Sinatra had already established himself as an iconic figure in the same league as a Marilyn Monroe or Elvis.
Sinatra had an abundance of self-respect. Early in his career, at a time of significant anti-Italian sentiment, bandleader Harry James recommended that Sinatra change his name because it was “too Italian”. He replied: “No way, baby. My name is Sinatra. Frank f**king Sinatra“. It’s a good thing he kept the name: bobby soxers, enthusiastic 1940s teenage female fans of pop music, loved it and him. Their passion never dimmed for the rest of their and his life. Sinatra was a class act, but he did have an iffy side. For example, as seen below, he was once arrested for “seduction” of a reputable woman.
Frank Sinatra had a criminal rap sheet. Not a long sheet, but he had one. In 1938, when he was 23-years-old, Sinatra was arrested in New Jersey for the seduction of a reputable woman. Seduction was a crime back then, and an old girlfriend accused him of breach of a marriage promise to get back at him. Per FBI reports: “On the second and ninth days of November 1938 at the Borough of Lodi … under the promise of marriage [Sinatra] did then and there have sexual intercourse with the said complainant, who was then and there a single female of good repute“.
Sinatra was booked for seduction, and released on a $1500 bond. The charge was dismissed when it turned out that his supposedly single accuser had actually been married when she got it on with him. Presumably, the fact that she had broken her marital vows meant that she was not “of good repute“. However, that was not the end of Sinatra’s troubles. A month later, the charges were amended, and he was arrested again, this time for adultery. He was released on a $500 bond. Eventually, that charge, too, was dismissed, and Ole Blue Eyes was free to go on with his seductive ways.
Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading