On December 31, 1913, the San Francisco Call and Post, which describes itself as “A Clean and Wholesome Paper for California Homes,” printed the following headline: “Tango Bad? Slit Skirt Worse? What! Judge Dunne’s Caustic Advice Brings Fair Sex to Arms for Privileges.”
It appears that the paper canvased a number of superior court judges, as well as community members at large, to glean their opinion on the slit skirt and the tango. Opinions range from progressive (“I would leave it to the good sense of the women…I for one would not want to mark a line and say to women, beyond this you can not go and retain the respect of the community,” – W.I. Brobeck), to prurient (“We hear a great deal these days about providing proper amusement for the public, and I know of nothing that has given the people more interesting entertainment than the slit skirt,” – Supervisor Ralph McLeran), to condemnatory (“I think the tango, when extreme, is wicked,” – Mrs. Cecil Marrack.) I encourage you to read the commentary in full.
Demonstrating both the slit skirt and the tango for the article is Mrs. Douglas Crane and her mister, who are described as “society exponents of the tango.” A little internet research into the Cranes reveals that they were, in fact, professional dancers well known for “popularizing the tango on the Orpheum vaudeville circuit” (Inside the Hollywood Fan Magazine, by Anthony Slide). According to Mr. Slide’s The Encyclopedia of Vaudeville, the Cranes were known as “the Irene and Vernon Castle of the West.” (p. 121)
Mrs. Crane has a particularly interesting backstory. According to Mr. Slide, she was born Ivy Payne in Australia, and spent time teaching South Sea Island dancing in New York. (Inside the Hollywood Fan Magazine, p. 119) Rolling Stone described her thusly:
“Ivy Wilson, Ivy Crane Wilson, was one of the Dancing Cranes, exhibition ballroom dancers like the Castles. She and her husband popularized the tango in the U.S. Ivy had been the featured dancer in Kismet with Otis Skinner on Broadway in 1912, and later danced in pictures with Tom Mix and Ronald Colman. She sent Rudolph Valentino to Hollywood. ‘I gave him $500 to get him out of San Francisco because all the men were jealous,’ she laughs. ‘And I’ve often thought it was a lucky break for him.'”
At some point, Ivy Crane married her third husband, Harry Wilson, and, according to Rolling Stone, became a Hollywood correspondent and columnist for British papers, writing under the name Ivy Crane Wilson. Publications of her various Hollywood Albums can still be found on Amazon.
The article was provided by Chronicling America. The featured image for this post was also provided by Chronicling America. It features Mr. and Mrs. Douglas Crane, who share the page with what appears to be other performers. Note the woman on the left who is dressed like a man. It is reproduced in full below.