February 3rd, 2008

1939 World's Fair

the apogee of oriental choreography

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THE BENDIX LAMA TEMPLE was a reproduction of a 1767 Buddhist temple in Jehol, China. The replica was built in 1930 and in 1933 was transported, piece by piece, to Chicago Century of Progress International Exposition at the behest of watch magnate Hugo Vincent Bendix. Sven Hedin, Bendix's explorer contact in China, was unable to find an actual temple or pagoda to purchase and move to the States. So instead, Hedin proposed to build a replica and ship it across the Pacific. That way they could easily claim the building had been transported, piece-by-piece from China, and by that claim infer it was the genuine thing, instead of having to outright call it a duplicate from the start. Inside, the "finest existing example of Chinese Lama architecture" displayed Tibetan art, relics and interior decorations as part of a "working Chinese village" demonstration.

The temple at Jehol itself, though, wasn't a real temple either. It, too, was a replica, this time of a temple in Lhasa. It was built in the 18th Century at the summer retreat of the Manchurian emperors, who had created a "working Tibetan village" for their amusement and that of their guests. Bendix's temple, then, was a recreation of a recreation, but little mattered that to him, nor, I presume, to any of the millions of guests who passed through it during the Chicago exposition.

After the Exposition the temple was once again dismantled and eventually rebuilt for the 1939 New York World's Fair. This time around, however, the temple was not used as a showpiece for a working village, nor did it display educational relics and decorations. No, this time around (and here's the truly bizarre part) the temple housed a girlie show, and the outside bally went something like this:
IT MIGHT SOUND STRANGE and a trifle incongruous having lovely girls in front of the million dollar temple of Jehol, whose gold leaf roof you can see over the top of this façade, but the fact is that we have a girlie show in here and a good one.

The author of the book Forbidden Tibet, Horizon Hunters and technical advisor of the picture Lost Horizon, he doesn't want his good name associated with this scandalous enterprise as brought back from the land of the Lost Horizon, those Terpsichordion aphrodisiacs, the love temptation dancers from the lamasteries of Tibet. A lama is a Buddhist priest and as such he must remain celibate. He must be deaf to the calls of the flesh, immune to the pangs of passion, and adverse to the charms of beautiful women. In other words he must not marry or anything.

Once each year he is given a test, the questions of which are the unquestionable figures of questionable young ladies, courtesans brought from the outside world to corrupt the young lama and seduce him from his holy way of life.

Now ladies, this show has been approved by Good Housekeeping, but in case a stray moron seeking a racy spicy girl show is in this otherwise obviously intellectual audience, he too can go in there and not know the difference, but you, you lovers of art will surely recognize this show to be the apogee of oriental choreography.

The whole thing rises to a climax when Sasha and her hilarious horde of vivacious vestal virgins unite in that unclad climax, that orgiastic ecstasy at the tail end of our performance, the passion dance of love. It's terrific. Now once inside, sit down as long as you like and admire the bare beautiful temple but those beautiful bare forms and they, I say, are not too formal. Go on, right away. This being the first show of the afternoon, I am going to cut the price of admission in half.

Everybody goes!
What remains of the temple now reside at the Sven Hedin Foundation in Stockholm and are known as The Golden Pavilion.