2020 in Review

Dear Constant Reader,

2020 was a very hard year, as it was for all of us. There were a few bright spots, here and there, but mostly it was one challenge after another. I’m going to try to focus on the positive.

Scratch reintroduces Taste O’ Burlesque, a burlesque “open stage” and light-hearted competition. The troupe  bookends the competition section and I get to do my David Bowie number. The show goes over so well, the venue suggests a monthly event. Scratch wisely counters with every couple of months.

On a personal note, I make a close to last-minute trip to see my mother for her birthday (and see her in a play). In hindsight, I’m so glad I insisted on coming down, because my planned trip in April for my father’s birthday will be canceled.

We perform a Valentine’s Day show at Deacon Giles. It’s so much fun, as usual. Little do I know it’s the last time I’ll set foot in the Speakeasy Lab until the last day of December.

My doting mother and Scratch team up to give me the most amazing Broadway birthday celebration in NYC.  Looking now at the dark theatres, I am beyond grateful to have seen two remarkable shows that day.

We open the month with the second installment of Taste o’ Burlesque. I give Guilted Lilly a basket I made for her woodland frolics and she gives me a big hug. I don’t realize at the time, but it’s the last hug I’ll have from someone outside my household.

Then the world shuts down. I close B.A.B.E. for the rest of the month. Brown Paper Tickets stops paying anybody and owes the Academy a bunch of money. The Expo team tries to figure out what to do about the event, which is supposed to happen next month. The inaugural RVA Burlesque Festival, at which I was to perform, is postponed a year.

I record a reading of The Masque of the Red Death for my Patrons.

I re-open B.A.B.E. virtually, offering the March and April students their lessons on-line. It’s a learning curve, both technologically and pedagogically. I also start offering free mini-lessons on IG Live. And I record another story: Dracula’s Guest.

We release our first virtual show Live(ish) from Deacon Giles (sort of)!. It’s weird, performing at home for a camera. I also appear on Booklover’s Burlesque reading a selection from a just-published novella written by a friend of mine.

I am very quiet in June. Too many things bigger than burlesque are happening.

I am running (and mostly teaching) workshops twice a week at B.A.B.E. It’s kind of exhausting. Also I dive deeply into a bit of forgotten burlesque history and make some exciting discoveries.

We release The Underwear Academy. B.A.B.E. takes a break. I spend a lot of time helping set up a museum

The American Burlesque Collection opens! 

We release H.A.U.N.T. (Here’s Another “Unprecedented” Night of Theatre), our Halloween show. I sit for a virtual photoshoot with La Photographie. My editing skills get so much better as I struggle though making a video about cooking this mid-century delight.

It’s BurlyCon time! I teach (and create a recorded version of one of my classes), take classes, participate in a master-level scene study and some community events. I miss seeing people. I miss traveling.

I appear in three shows! All of them virtual… The BeauTease Holiday Special is filmed at The Manor and we have a lot of fun. It’s almost like a party, even if everyone who’s not on camera is masked and keeping their distance (it’s a big house). I also appear in two shows on Velvet Revue.

In a year of turmoil and tragedy, I felt stuck and stagnant. It’s good to look back and see some accomplishments.

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 13 January 2021 at 10:56 am  Leave a Comment  

Review: Forbidden City

Dear Constant Reader,

Today’s review was suggested by one of my Patrons, Sarah V. If you’d like to suggest items for me to review, you can join my Patreon at the “Advisory Committee” tier.

Forbidden City: The Golden Age of Chinese Nightclubs by Trina Robbins (2010)

This was a particularly timely suggestion as Coby Yee, who is included in the book, was honored at this past BurlyCon.

Trina Robbins was taking tap dance lessons with some women who turned out to be former performers from the Asian nightclubs that proliferated in San Francisco from the 1930s to the 1960s. She wanted their stories to be more widely known, but hesitated to tell it as she’s not Asian. Instead, she let them speak for themselves. The book is a compilation of interviews with people involved with the nightclubs and photos from the heyday.

San Francisco had a number of Chinese nightclubs, mostly on Grant Avenue, with Asian owners and performers but mostly non-Asian audiences, including many celebrities.The best known club was the Forbidden City, originally owned by Charlie Low and later by Coby Yee. Other clubs included the Kubla Khan, the Lion’s Den, and the Chinese Palace.

The book is divided into the following chapters.
The Clubs introduces the nightclubs and those who ran them.
The Golden Age 1937-1950 tells stories from when the the Chinese nightclubs were at the height of their popularity. 
In The Silver Age The 1950s-1970 the Chinese nightclubs, like other nightclubs, lost customers as culture shifted away from glamorous floorshows.
Grant Avenue Follies is about the non-profit dance troupe formed by veterans of the nightclubs.
Curtain Call lists the interview subjects and “where are they now”.
Addendum is a photo tour of the sites of the former nightclubs.

The first four chapters are filled with interviews from those connected to the clubs and plenty of photos. There are also a few newspaper articles. The author adds a tiny bit of commentary and context at the beginning of each one, but for the most part she just lets the history be told by those who lived it.

My only real disappointment was that there was no information about Noel Toy, The Chinese Sally Rand. I had been hoping to learn more about her, but instead there were plenty of other performers with fascinating stories. I was particularly struck by the one about Jadin Wong having to jump out of a military plane as she was headed to entertain the troops. She did the show despite her wardrobe and makeup having gone down with the plane. 

Trina Robbins has done a great service by preserving the words and stories of the people who remember this bit of entertainment history.

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 9 December 2020 at 1:36 pm  Leave a Comment  

Friday Tip

Dear Constant Reader,

We are now officially in “the holiday season”, which is stressful enough under normal circumstances, and these times are far from normal.

Enjoy what you like and let others do the same.

Do what makes you happy and no shaming of anyone else’s joy. Let everyone deal with things in their own way, okay?

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 27 November 2020 at 11:19 am  Leave a Comment  

In the Kitchen: Black Walnut Sweet Potato Pudding (1953)

Dear Constant Reader,

The other night we were having barbecue to celebrate Scratch’s birthday. I thought this dish from 250 Delectable Dessert Recipes might make a complimentary dessert. It was good, but not in the way I expected. It’s not very sweet and makes a much better side dish. I thought I would share it here in case you’re looking for a not-so-sweet sweet potato dish for your Thanksgiving table.

You will need sweet potatoes, honey or syrup, eggs, butter, milk, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, raisins, black walnuts.

The recipe itself couldn’t be simpler. Grate the potatoes, melt the butter, beat the eggs, and combine everything together. Pour into a buttered baking dish and bake. Top with more walnuts.

A few notes:
I cut the recipe in half, since the original was supposed to serve 6. They didn’t say what size baking dish to use, so I grabbed a 9″ pie pan. This amount filled it completely and I would say serves 8.

I used maple syrup for the sweetener, but I’m sure agave would work fine, or honey, like they say. I also used almond milk, like I almost always do. You could probably sub other dried fruit for the raisins. I’d probably also add a bit more than the recipe calls for.

The recipe specifically calls for black walnuts, but they’re not so easy to get. Our neighbor has a tree that drops nuts into my backyard, so I collect and process them (which is *very* labor intensive. They’ve got a very distinctive bleu cheese-y taste and really want to be toasted before using. I see no reason you couldn’t use English walnuts, or any other nut. Pecans or hazelnuts would probably be quite delicious.

(slices missing because I forgot to take a picture before I cut into it)

Here’s the recipe just as it appeared in the 1953 cookbook 250 Delectable Dessert Recipes.

Black Walnut Sweet Potato Pudding
1 pound uncooked sweet potatoes, grated
1/2 cup honey or sirup
3 eggs, well beaten
2 tablespoons butter, melted
2 cups sweet milk
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ginger or allspice
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup black walnut meats

Mix all ingredients together and pour into a buttered baking dish. Bake in slow oven (325F) 1 hour, stirring occasionally, for 6.

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 23 November 2020 at 1:29 pm  Leave a Comment  

Friday Tip

Dear Constant Reader,

I know I haven’t been around much, but I’ve been a little busy. For the past two weeks, BurlyCon has been happening virtually. I’ve been trying to cram in as many classes as I can, preferably live, but catching the recordings when need be. And I taught twice. Plus we’ve been filming The BeauTease Holiday Special. It’s going to be a lot of fun!

Also upcoming, Betty Blaize will be back at B.A.B.E. with another makeup class! In Hot for the Holidays, she teaches you a 1940s pinup look, perfect for your socially distanced holiday party. It’s December 12, 2PM EST; price is Pay-What-You-Can ($15 suggested).

And now for your tip!

Press your seams three times. Once flat to set the stitching, once from the inside to open the seam, and once on the outside to really get the open seam flat.

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 20 November 2020 at 10:16 am  Leave a Comment  

News and Notes

Dear Constant Reader,

I’ve got so many exciting things to share with you! Where do I start?

I’ll start with B.A.B.E. The next session of Introduction to Burlesque starts November 1st. That’s a Sunday, for those of you who’ve been asking for weekend classes! Sign up by October 25 to get the Early Bird price for the entire class series.

I’m delighted to announce that Bebe Bardot will be teaching her acclaimed class Shake It Up: Shake Dancing in History & Practice on November 7th!

Betty Blaize’s workshop on false eyelashes went so well, she’s going to teach a new make-up class, The 1940s Face, in early December. Stay tuned for details!

Next up, some news from The Boston BeauTease! We are having a Halloween show this year. We wouldn’t miss our favorite holiday, even if everything is terrible. We were going to broadcast it live, but we decided you should be able to watch the show on your own schedule, so we’re recording our spooky striptease. The show will be available for download next week!

And lastly, me! I’m thrilled that my writing is being featured on Burlesque Galaxy! Go to the Sextra-Sextra News page to see my article on Sally Keith, Queen of the Tassels. More to come!

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 19 October 2020 at 3:35 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Halloween at the Museum

Dear Constant Reader,

This Friday the first temporary exhibit at The American Burlesque Collection opened! Halloween Comes to Burlesqueland features costumes, photos and other items that celebrate my favorite holiday (maybe yours too).

I went up to help with the exhibit set-up and it was frantic. The museum closed at 5 and the guests coming for the inaugural arrived at 6:30. Even with the prep the staff and volunteers had done, it was not a lot of time. I was on costume duty, as you might have guessed.

The easiest set up should have been the Hedy Jo Star flame coat. One piece, zipper down the front. But I just had to get clever and do some swapping of mannequins and bases, so I’d get one that was tall enough, but also had arms. Only I discovered that there was no way to get the arms through the skinny, skinny upper sleeves. After that disappointment, in the process of removing a recalcitrant mannequin arm, I clonked myself in the forehead with it. And am sporting a charming  lump even now. It’s all glamour here.

One of the most creative displays (I had no hand in this one) is The Lost Girl and Bücher in “Creepy Doll” from The Wrathskellar. Since The Creepy Doll costume really should be displayed as creepily as possible, a standard fashion mannequin wasn’t up to the task. Instead, she’s on an articulated skeleton (’tis the season!) in one of her most disturbing poses from the act. For the final touch, a video of the act is projected just above the costumes.

I was most excited to work on a loan from Angie Pontani. She sent the museum her stunning Madame de Pompadour costume by David Quinn. This was a little tricky to display. We decided to put the undergarments on one mannequin and the over-garments on another. Makes perfect sense, right? Except the gown wouldn’t hang right without the underpinnnings. We came up with a very creative solution… Can you guess?

There are pictures of all these costumes and more are available to my Patrons. The rest of you will just have to visit the museum before November 15th!

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 5 October 2020 at 3:25 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Friday Tip

Dear Constant Reader,

It’s Friday again! I’m up at The American Burlesque Collection for the opening of Halloween Comes to Burlesqueland, running through November 15. But I wouldn’t forget your tip!

If you need sparkle quickly and cheaply, attach sequins with glitter paint.

Sometimes, especially this time of year, we often need costumes or props we’re only going to use for one show or only once a year. You don’t want to waste your precious time or rhinestones on something like that. 


These 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 2 October 2020 at 11:54 am  Leave a Comment  

Friday Tip

Dear Constant Reader,

Here we are — Friday again! How does that keep happening?

Here’s your tip!

When working with stretchy fabric, stretch it before applying decorations.

If you stretch the fabric to the size it will be when you’re wearing it, your decorations will lie flat. I like to pin flat fabric to my ironing board and use a form for things like gloves or garters (a one liter soda bottle works nicely!). If you’re gluing rhinestones, make sure there’s plastic or a silicone mat under the fabric, so the glue doesn’t stick to your work surface or another section of the garment.

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 14 August 2020 at 2:50 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Story of Buddy Wade

Dear Constant Reader,

As I was writing my Friday Tip about research, I was going to include an example of an uncorroborated statement and fell down one of those rabbit holes I mentioned.

On page 240 of Striptease: The Untold History of the Girlie Show, Rachel Shteir writes of strippers with tragic ends. “Buddy Wade’s tap shoes caught fire, the sparks ignited her costume, and she burned to death one night at the Old Howard in Boston. Walter Winchell wrote a column about her commemorating her courage for not getting near the other performers.”

That’s it. No footnotes. Not even the date when this event occurred. I always thought it was a little weird — her tap shoes caught fire? Boston historian David Kruh was also puzzled and contacted Ms. Shteir to ask for her sources, but she was unable to provide any.

For years, that’s where it stood. While writing the Tip, I thought I should see if I could find any confirmation before I dubbed the story fiction. I had my doubts about finding any evidence. Like everyone else, I’m stuck at home and can’t go to the library, so I had to try my luck with the Internet.

After striking out a lot, I hit on the key search word — “chorine”. From there I found an issue of The Billboard from December 26, 1936. In “Events of the Year” under the “Burlesque” section, dated January, it says “Buddy Wade, chorine, died from burns received on the stage of the Howard, Boston, a heroine in preventing spread of blaze.” Now I had confirmation of the kernel of the story, if not all the details, and better yet, a year!

Now I was able to find the Winchell column. Walter Winchell didn’t actually write about her. He published a letter from a Boston Post reporter who couldn’t get the story in his own paper. I found more information; Scratch found some too. I’m still hunting.

Here’s the story of Buddy Wade as I have pieced it together…

Mary Wandzilak was 23, a miner’s daughter from Shenandoah, Pennsylvania who started in burlesque in Philadelphia. Under the name Buddy (or Buddie) Wade, she was performing in the chorus of the Merry Maidens burlesque revue when it was booked at the Old Howard for a week. Also on the bill for that show was Countess Vanya with her “Dance of the Bats”, Chang Lee in “Dance of the Chinese Lamps” and comics Harry “Hello Jake” Fields and Hap Hyatt.

On Friday afternoon January 10, 1936, the chorus was about to go on for a ballet number, after stripper Margot Lopez. A spark fell from an arc light onto Buddy’s tulle skirt and began to burn. Rather than panic and run past her fellow dancers in their tulle skirts, she pressed against the brick wall of the proscenium and headed backstage to a place without anything flammable. With burns over most of her body, she was taken to Haymarket Relief, an outpost of Boston City Hospital. Unfortunately, she succumbed to her injuries. Before she died on January 12, she spoke to Boston Post reporter Allen Lester and supposedly asked if she had spoiled the show.

The drawing is a self-portrait, published along with her story in the Detroit Free Press.

Lester sent her story to Winchell to make sure people knew of her courage. Presumably the management of the Old Howard had no interest in having their audience know how close they came to a theatre fire and perhaps kept the story from running in the local papers. Lester mentions the “Iroquois theatre catastrophe” of 1903, which in 600 people were killed in a Chicago theatre when an arc light sparked, igniting a muslin curtain. Buddy Wade’s sacrifice may have prevented just such a tragedy in Boston.

I’m still looking for more information, like confirmation of her birth name and the date she died [EDIT 10/17/20: birth name and death date found and missive updated]. I’d also love to find a program from the Old Howard for that week. I’ll update you if I find anything new!

“Countess Vanya Featured in Old Howard Burlesque.” Boston Globe, January 7, 1936, page 14.
“Girl Fatally Burned in Theatre Accident.” The Gazette and Daily (York, PA), January 13, 1936, page 1. [added 10/17/20]
Massachusetts Death Index, Volume 6, Page 414.
“The Newest Burlesque Girl Gave Her Life for the Theatre’s Oldest Tradition.” Detroit Free Press, March 8, 1936, page 106.
“Shenandoah Girl Fatally Burned.” Shamokin (PA) News-Dispatch, January 13, 1936, page 7. [added 10/17/20]
Shteir, Rachel. Striptease: The Untold History of the Girlie Show. Oxford University Press, 2004.
Winchell, Walter, “On Broadway.” Reading (PA) Times, January 15, 1936, page 8.

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 8 July 2020 at 3:01 pm  Comments (1)  
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