Review: My Journey

Dear Constant Reader,

Here’s another review from the archives.

My Journey: Burlesque: The Way It Was by Doris Kotzan (2005).

This is the memoir of burlesque dancer Dolores Rozelle, also known as Bambi Brooks, Bambi Jones, and Joi Naymith. These days she’s know as Bambi Sr., to distinguish her from her daughter, Bambi Jr. Her story well documents the declining days of burlesque in the 1950’s & 60’s, as the shows moved from theatres to nightclubs and the performers went from stars to glorified B-girls. I was particularly interested because she was from Massachusetts. Unfortunately, her run at the Crawford House with Sally Keith was over before it began, since she wouldn’t mix (hustle drinks from the customers). She did work the Casino Theatre and saw Winnie Garret flash the audience.

She met a lot of luminaries of the burlesque world, like Blaze Starr, Carrie Finnell, Zorita, Hedy Jo Star, and Candy Barr, but there are mostly just snippets about each one. During the height of Joe Namath’s fame, she hit upon the gimmick of a football act, billing herself as “Joi Naymith”. At one point, she was booked with that act in Suriname, a Dutch colony in South America and it was an utter dud. Her audiences knew nothing about American football. A lesson for us all when drawing from pop culture for our inspiration…

As with all the other autobiographies of burlesque performers that I’ve read [at the time I originally wrote this], it is in desperate need of an editor (probably more than most). Ms. Kotzan does not have a great writing style. Her tone is very casual and more than a little rambling. In fact, it feels more like a transcript of an oral history than a memoir. It’s mostly a random collection of stories and thoughts with little logical order. Each chapter title is a town where she performed, and it might be sort of vaguely chronological (with lots of divergences), but it’s hard to tell and there is no organization other than that. My biggest gripe is the truly atrocious punctuation: randomly sprinkled commas, erratic capitalization, and an egregious and often incorrect use of quotations marks. It made me want to whip out my red pen.

There are some gems that make it worth plowing through. When performing at a club in a dry area of Kansas, she got paid more than she expected, she was told she got a commission on steaks. Normally the dancers had to hustle drinks, not meat! The same club held church services Sunday morning. One of her bookings, in Western Massachusetts, required that her costume be weighed at the end of her act. In Las Vegas (New Mexico, not Nevada), the audience showed their appreciation by flinging silver dollars at her.

Although the author is not a polished writer, she was a burlesque performer and her memories and stories are valuable to our understanding of our history.


Published in: on 11 March 2015 at 3:04 pm  Leave a Comment  
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