No single employee at the fair demanded more press coverage than Rosita Royce, the exotic "dove dancer" at "The Crystal Palace."
That Famous Dove Dancer
Norman Bel Geddes created the Fair's most popular and astounding exhibit for General Motors – Futurama. But, this noted industrial designer also had a crowd-pleaser in the Amusement Zone – Rosita Royce.
Rosita Royce understood the value of positive publicity. Months before her first appearance at the fair, Miss Royce invited astonished reporters to her Essex House apartment and demonstrated her dancing talents. By the time The Crystal Palace opened, she had the viewing public clamoring for a visit.
Patrons at The Crystal Palace stood around a thirty-foot runway. Savvy visitors soon learned a ten-cent tip to the attendant guaranteed early admission to Miss Royce's performance.
The show was presented in two parts: an historic review of famous girl stars at previous world's fair and then Rosita Royce. The master of ceremonies could barely be heard above the cat calls of "Take 'em off!" as the historic review began in 1843.
By the time the MC arrived at Chicago's "Century of Progress" and Sally Rand's fan dance, the crowd yelled, "Now we're getting somewhere." A few moments later, at last, Rosita Royce entered to perform her famous "Doves of Peace Dance." The audience exploded.
But how did this talented young lady become Rosita Royce?
Marjorie Rose Corrington, she assumed her mother's maiden name for show purposes, grew up in Kansas City and later lived in Lincoln, Nebraska. Her father owned a chain of dental offices throughout Kansas and Nebraska but lost everything during the depression.
At the age of three Marjorie developed heart problems. Doctors suggested dancing as a form of exercise. By the age of eight, she was a student of Ruth St. Denis. Marjorie attended the University of Nebraska and Wesleyan University.
After breaking a toe, Marjorie turned to Spanish dancing and assumed the name Rosita. She traveled to New York and performed in Earl Carroll's "Vanities." One day the famed Broadway producer pulled her aside: "Rosita, it's a shame to cover up a body like yours." The dancer took her mentor's advice, trained doves to help in the act, and suddenly experienced new-found fame.
Her performance: Rosita entered, fully clothed, wearing long, velvet gloves. Within minutes her father released seven doves who landed on Rosita's gloved arms and head. Each bird weighed fourteen pounds, nearly three times the size of ordinary pigeons. As the music played, Miss Royce called the birds by name who then carefully removed a piece of her costume. It was that simple!
Throughout the late spring and summer months, Rosita Royce kept her name in the daily media. Within days of her premier performance, she fired her lighting technician for flubbing the light cues. Differing accounts listed her musical accompaniment as "In a Monastery Garden" on an electric organ or the compositions of Dr. Sigmund Spaeth, radio's popular "tune detective." And she fought with the fair's administration over parking. The fair allowed her a free entrance pass and parking space, but her doves could no longer be dropped off at The Crystal Palace but had to be carried by Rosita to their place of employment.
In late May, the strain of performing fourteen to sixteen times a day took its toll. On Saturday, May 27, just before her last show, Rosita fainted. When the management offered to refund the admission price, the crowd demanded rain checks instead. The Crystal Palace relented. Rosita explained later to her disappointed fans the combined weight of the doves simply tired her out.
By early July, Rosita's famed doves were suffering the same affliction. Although Rosita maintained two fully-trained teams, a number of the birds suddenly grew quite ill, not from removing Miss Royce's clothing over extensive performances, but from perching on her arms all of that time. To keep the doves, Rosita, and the paying public happy, and not facing cancelled performances, the management eliminated the morning and afternoon shows, now opening at 6:00 P.M.
On Sunday, July 29, Rosita walked out during the evening's intermission. She complained about performing seventy-four shows a week and the working conditions of the chorus girls. The Crystal Palace's manager, Philip Gelb, called the walkout "a cheap publicity stunt" and informed the press the chorus only worked six minutes during each forty-five-minute performance.
Gelb felt he had his dove dancer in a contractual cage as she had signed an exclusive-rights document with him for eighteen months. However, not to be out smarted, Gelb telegraphed Sally Rand, requesting under what conditions she would bring her fans to "The World of Tomorrow." Royce, relaxing at her home in Whitestone, posed for pictures with her doves and issued a "no comment" to the Rand threat.
However, within days, Rosita entered Flushing's Parsons Hospital for "a serious nervous condition." Charles Freeman, her business manager, also stated fourteen of her twenty-one doves were in a veterinary hospital: seven with heart ailments and seven with swollen joints.
Seven days later, Rosita's parents visited their daughter in the hospital to celebrate her third twenty-third birthday. The patient explained the unusual natal occurrence: "Two years ago I was too young to be dancing. So I made myself very old."
Still hoping to return to The Crystal Palace, she stated: "What I do is something beautiful. I try to make pictures. I try to make striking formations with my doves."