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Bare tummies in dance hall sparked uproar

Mary Phillips Published: April 8, 2013

In 1942, city roadhouse owner Billy Gragg opened a downtown dance hall at 7 N Broadway and named it the Daisy Mae after the character in the long-running comic strip, “Li’l Abner.”

Bragg said, “Girl attendants will dress as Daisy Mae, while fountain boys will appear as Li’l Abner.”

With World War II ongoing, Gragg decided female patrons must show their ration books to prove they were of legal drinking age.

With the police chief’s blessing, Gragg instituted a rule that men must show their draft cards to show they were 21, but he would serve the military regardless of age. ” … if he is big enough and old enough to carry a gun, he’s big enough and old enough to carry a glass of beer.”

On April 5, 1942, veteran Oklahoman writer Tom Rucker reported the Daisy Mae’s most memorable event.

The battle of Mrs. Mabel Bassett v. the Daisy Mae’s bare tummies closed its second round Tuesday night with no decision and the tummies still bare.

The complaining commissioner of charities and corrections was sidestepped in the first round, when the very male city council pointed out that city ordinances cover such things as bare tummies in a legal sort of way and referred her to the police department.

The second round opened with verbal sparring with L.J. Hilbert, police chief, and with Mrs. Bassett failing to land any telling body blows, but was brought to a sudden halt when Billy Gragg, owner of the honky-tonk, said in effect: “Bare they are, bare they stay.” His actual words were: “If anyone complains that the bare midriffs are vulgar, we’ll cover them up.” When it was pointed out that Mrs. Bassett already had complained, he gave out verbosely, but which boiled down in paraphrase to: “Anyone else.”

Mrs. Bassett claimed that up to six inches of anatomy of the Daisy Mae’s waitresses showed between halter and skirts.

A detailed examination of the midriff of one tall waitress made Tuesday afternoon (purely in the interest of facts, Lou Verna, my dear) revealed:

Two and one-half inches of slightly tanned, smooth skin between the upper and lower garments. If she breathed deeply the bare would have built up to four inches.

If the bare built up to six inches the inspection no longer would have been scientific.

This particular waitress, a charming 18-year-old blond, wore a polka-dot halter with a full back in it. It was tied in front with one of the ends drooping down, thus hiding at least one square inch of skin.

Her jagged skirt, a la Daisy Mae fashion, ended just below her knees, in a much less intriguing manner than the scanties worn in the comic strips by the real Daisy Mae.

Thus the score stood Tuesday night: Two rounds, no decision, eight tummies still bare.

Gragg has had several brushes with officials. An old hand in the entertainment business, he usually adopts a conciliatory attitude. But Tuesday he just wanted to ask more questions of Mrs. Bassett.

What, he asked, is Mrs. Bassett going to do with housewives who wear midriffs downtown this summer? And how about girls at swimming pools and women who wear two-piece evening dresses?”

This wasn’t the end of the story. On May 22, 1944, The Oklahoman reported a Chicago trade magazine, “Institutional,” had picked up the story of the bare midriffs and ran the photo of a Daisy Mae waitress in her “uniform.” The only problem was they identified the waitress as “Mabel Bassett of the Daisy Mae tavern in Oklahoma City fashions the very latest in Dogpatch style.”


Bassett was out of town and apparently chose not to make a public comment when she returned.


“Why the idea,” giggled Elsie D. Hand, assistant commissioner, “of Mabel Bassett going around showing half of her stomach. That’s the funniest thing I ever heard of.”


Mabel Bassett was elected and served as the state commissioner of charities and corrections for 24 years. She oversaw the operations of the state schools for boys and girls, orphanages and the state penitentiary. If a child was orphaned or abandoned, she would often pick up the child herself, or if a prisoner had a complaint, he or she would come to her. She was also recognized early in her career for being the first woman patrolman in the state at Sapulpa. The state correctional facility in McLoud is named for her.


The Daisy Mae lasted until late 1947 when Chuck’s Billiards took over the location and arrests began to rise for illegal gambling and bookies.


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