Review: The American Burlesque Show

Dear Constant Reader,

I know Wednesdays are my book review day, but I know you’ll forgive me this lapse. Things have been a little higgledy-piggledy lately, what with the tour and me being sick *again*. I swear I’ve had this rotten cough 4 times this year. It usually knocks me flat for about 2 weeks. But the show must go on… Enough complaining, here’s your review.

The American Burlesque Show by Irving Zeidman (1967).

Mr. Zeidman is a self-proclaimed expert on burlesque. According to his bio he has “read almost everything written on this historically obscure phase of show business” and that “no burlesque theatre has opened on closed in the New York metropolitan area since 1930 without being subject to his personal scrutiny.” The result is a history of burlesque in America, from The Black Crook to the fading out of burlesque in his present day.

Each chapter takes on a single topic, such as the wheels, impressarios (including the Minskys, of course), strippers, comedy, candy butchers, and censorship. They’re roughly in a chronological order, showing the different facets of burlesque, but little linkage between chapters, creating almost individual essays rather than a narrative history. Not surprisingly, a lot of the focus is burlesque in New York. The author assumes his reader is familiar with burlesque already, so this isn’t the best introduction to the topic. He’s frequently snide about his subject, but occasionally affectionate, making the reader wonder where his sympathies lie. His closing remarks about sum it up: “American burlesque has given a livelihood to thousands upon thousand of performer, musicians, stagehands, ushers, producers, candy butchers and censors. It has provided countless hours of unmitigated boredom, and many other hours of genuine pleasure. It has served as a proving ground for talent. It may have given some surcease to the lonely, the derelict, the sexually driven. Beyond that, one cannot and should not hope for more, or expect less.”

There are some photographs throughout and a very limited bibliography.

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Published in: on 14 June 2012 at 1:32 pm  Leave a Comment  
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