Review: Inside The Combat Zone

Dear Constant Reader,

I love burlesque history — all the glitz and glamour of days gone by. But I also think it’s important to know about the less savory portions of our art, like carnivals. I’m particularly interested in Boston’s Combat Zone, where burlesque went after Scollay Square was demolished. I was very excited to learn about this new book and even more so when Scratch invited the author to speak at The Expo.

Schorow, Stephanie. Inside The Combat Zone: The Stripped Down Story of Boston’s Most Notorious Neighborhood, 2017.

The Combat Zone, officially designated the “Adult Entertainment District” (AED), was the area around lower Washington Street, bordering Chinatown. It was the city’s attempt to contain the adult businesses that had already moved into the area. City officials hoped for an exciting and naughty destination, with porno theatres, dirty book shops, and burlesque houses, carefully controlled. What they ended up with was a sleazy area of XXX shows, strip clubs, prostitution, pickpockets, and drugs.

After the destruction of Scollay Square (and the burlesque theaters for which it had been famed) so the new Government Center could be built on the rubble, the seamier entertainments began congregating around Washington Street. Knowing that an outright ban would just cause the businesses to move elsewhere (and that might be someplace with higher property values…), the straight-laced and puritanical Boston decided to make one legally-zoned area for adult businesses.

Schorow’s book deals a lot with the political, social, and zoning issues of The Combat Zone, but of course, she also writes about burlesque. None of the theaters originally in Scolllay Square, like the Old Howard or The Casino, moved to Washington Street, but there were plenty of new locations to see striptease. The infamous Pilgrim Theatre wanted to bring back classic burlesque and booked such well-known practitioners as Tempest Storm and Blaze Starr, but it was Fanne Foxe that made history there, with her relationship with Congressman Wilbur Mills and his unexpected appearance on stage with her.

I was delighted to learn the story of Miss Bicentennial and even more so to meet her at a book event. Julie Jordan made the Boston Herald when she stripped at City Hall Plaza in 1976. “Right on the grave of old Scollay Square”, she peeled off her star-spangled Hedy Jo Star costume.

Schorow’s book takes you through the history of the Combat Zone, from its well-intentioned beginnings through the quick slide to a dangerous area of mobsters and murder to its dwindling when adult businesses were shut down in favor of restaurants, condos, and other more “reputable” businesses. The last remnants of the Combat Zone are two strip clubs on LaGrange St. Most Bostonians don’t miss the chaos and the crime, but it was part of our past and all burlesque performers in the area should know of it.

Special bonus: the cover art is based on a photo of Satan’s Angel who was interviewed for the book, along with a few other women who worked in the clubs of the Zone.

M2These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page. Or you can just tip me if you liked this.

Published in: on 10 June 2019 at 2:42 pm  Leave a Comment  
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