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The Archivist: Bare tummies spark high-profile uproar over 1942 city dance hall

Mary Phillips: In 1942, Commissioner of Charities and Corrections Mabel Bassett sparked a battle over bare tummies at a dance hall.
BY MARY PHILLIPS Published: March 25, 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.

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