Los Angeles: Tuesday 1/22/19

Dear Constant Reader,

Our last day! You can read about the previous three here, here, and here.

Again Scratch cooked breakfast for the three of us — a delicious vegetable sauté with a lot of spinach — and again, we ate outdoors in the sunshine. I could really get used to that.

Scratch and I set out for one of our favorite places in Los Angeles, the garment district, and met up with the lovely and talented Sheila Starr Siani. I am so happy the we managed to see so many friends on this short trip. I am also pleased at our restraint. We each had proprieties — I needed gloves for B.A.B.E., Sheila wanted rhinestones, and Scratch was hunting for a name necklace for Ava, our newest troupe member — and we all found what we wanted and didn’t even buy too much else. Although I was sorely tempted. I am so jealous of the local performers and the resources for costumes they have available.

After a bite with Sheila, we returned to Kitten’s house to pack for the trip home. I was sorry to be leaving the warmth of the weather and our friends, but I was also missing Mr. Albert pretty badly. Kitten’s kittens are adorable, but more interested in racing around and chasing one another than snuggling and purring.

As a farewell and thank you, we took Kitten out to The Musso and Frank Grill, an old Hollywood classic. We love the timeless, dingy charm and it turned out to be one of Kitten’s favorites too. She used to go there all the time with Russ Meyer. The food is old-school, since the menu hasn’t changed in decades: steaks, lobster thermidor, chicken a la king, &c. I’m told the martinis are excellent and I can personally vouch for the sand dabs (it’s a Pacific flat fish, like sole). But you’re really going there for the history and the feeling of being in another era. I was excited to realize we were there during the centennial year.

After a Caesar salad, I had the fettuccine Alfredo. The story is that Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks had the original dish in Rome and cajoled, begged, and bribed Alfredo into sharing the recipe, which they brought to Musso and Frank. It really was sublime. I usually never order it because most place serve it with a gloppy cream sauce. I’m very picky about my pastas! (just ask me about how carbonara should be made). This was silky, cheesy, and rich without being cloying. I barely made a dent in the huge plate, so Kitten took the rest home. I’m glad all that deliciousness didn’t go to waste.

Then it was time to say our goodbyes and head to LAX for the red-eye back to Boston. Our flight was on-time, but we heard the morning flight, which I had considered taking, had been delayed for six hours. I’m glad Scratch convinced me to take the evening flight — more time in L.A. and no waiting to go home.

I always book an aisle and a window seat for us, hoping that no one wanted the middle seat. If someone did, I end up taking the hit and offering them the window. As the plane filled up, we kept an anxious eye on the empty seat between us. Could it be… a travel miracle? The only vacant seat on the plane was between us! I happily lay down and went to sleep until we arrived in Boston.

And that, dear Reader, is the end of my trip to Los Angeles, but not the end of my story. I still need to tell you all about Burlesque Bingo, the whole reason I was there!

M2These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page.

Published in: on 28 March 2019 at 3:10 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Friday Tip

Dear Constant Reader,

Happy Friday! Here’s your tip!

Spring forward, fall back, and take care of your internal clock too.

If you live somewhere that changes the clocks twice a year, you’re going to lose an hour this weekend, the equivalent of traveling one time zone. It’s perfectly normal to feel slightly jet lagged and it might take a couple of days to adjust. Be aware of it and be kind to yourself.

M2Like this tip? There are lots more in Miss Mina Murray’s Little Book of Better Burlesque.

These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page.

Published in: on 8 March 2019 at 2:40 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Essay: Sally Keith

Dear Constant Reader,

As part of the mentorship program with The House of Knyle, we each had to write an essay on a Legend. I think most of the other women chose living Legends — I know some of the subjects were Shawna The Black Venus, Miss Topsy, and Kitten DeVille. Because I like a good challenge, I chose Sally Keith, a performer strongly associated with Boston and Scollay Square. She was very well-known, but as it turns out, not known well. I had to do a lot of digging to get beyond a couple of superficial stories and along the way I found a lot of contradictions. Perhaps in my spare time (“spare time”, I’m so funny!), I’ll continue my research.

[Note: I made a couple of corrections for grammar and spelling that I missed when I originally submitted this and added one tidbit that surfaced after the due date.]

Sally Keith
Queen of the Tassels

Sally Keith is one of the burlesque performers tied strongly to Boston during the Golden Age of burlesque in Scollay Square. For someone so famous, there is very little information on her personal life, especially before and after she performed in Boston. I’ve gleaned as much as I could about her life and career from newspaper articles, books, and some from people who knew her. The two main sources were her niece, Susan Weiss, and her protégé, Lilian Kiernan Brown (Lily Ann Rose), who wrote a memoir of her own time in burlesque. Memory is, of course, inherently unreliable, especially after decades, and and research is made even harder by the fact that Sally seems to have fabricated some of her public story, especially her age. This is her story, as best as I have pieced together.

Known as “Queen of the Tassels”, Sally Keith performed at The Crawford House’s Theatrical Bar in Boston’s Scollay Square for almost 20 years. Her specialty was to twirl tassels on her breasts and buttocks. She was famed for being able to twirl in every direction, especially opposite. Her tassels were very long, I’d guess about 8 inches, and all the photos show them sewn to her costumes. I wish we could see her act, but it doesn’t seem to have been filmed. It was clearly memorable, since many people in Boston talked about seeing her, even decades later.

Stella Katz was born in 1913, in Cicero, Illinois, near Chicago. She came from a large Jewish family with eight brothers. Her father was frequently reported to be a Chicago policeman, perhaps because it made for better publicity. In reality he was a house painter, although Sally also said he owned a bakery. A beautiful blonde with lovely blue eyes, she changed her name to the less Jewish-sounding “Sally Keith” when she began performing in Chicago. “Keith” may have been an aspirational name, from the very prestigious B.F. Keith vaudeville circuit, onto which many performers dreamed of being booked. Unfortunately I haven’t found any information about where she performed in Chicago and if she was doing tassel twirling then.

She told Lilian Brown that she won a beauty contest at the 1933 World’s Fair (where Sally Rand got her start) at age 15. You may have noticed that the math doesn’t work — she seemed to be in the habit of shaving a few years off her age all her life. She was then discovered by a Jack Parr, who became her agent and taught her the tassel dance. He got her started in Atlantic City and then brought her to the Crawford House in Boston. Another source said it was Harry Richman, a popular entertainer of the time, who spotted her at a beauty contest in a Chicago suburb and he got her started on Broadway. I’m not sure how much, if any, of these stories are true. Her obituary in the Boston Globe states she was discovered at Leon & Eddie’s, a popular burlesque venue in New York, by Boston theatrical agent Ben Ford in 1937.

Ann Corio said “Sally Keith, next to Carrie Finnell, was the best tassel-twirler I ever saw. She didn’t have Carrie’s huge bosoms and fantastic muscular control, but she could make those tassels spin with a fury.” Carrie Finnell twirled her tassels using her pectoral muscles, which indicates that Sally didn’t. Sally’s secret to her amazing twirling, it’s said, was to weight her tassels with buckshot. In an interview she mentions painting her tassels with radium, so she must have done a twirling act that glowed in the dark. I’ve seen advertisements for her “electrified tassel dance”, which was probably the one.

Scollay Square, a restaurant in Boston, claims to have a pair of her tassels, but I don’t think they’re authentic because they are attached to pasties. According to reports and photographs she wore the tassels attached to her costume, rather than to her body. Her twirling costumes are fairly modest, at least by modern standards. I don’t think she stripped during the tassel dance, but she did in other parts of her act. An MIT student remembers going to her dressing room to ask for a g-string as part of his fraternity initiation. She invited him and his brothers to see the show, saying she was tired of Harvard men.

Besides twirling her tassels and dancing, Sally also sang. Some of her singing captured on 78 records in the 1940s, which I think they were just live recordings of her shows. She also composed at least one song, “Belittling Me”, which was published as sheet music. Her photo, in her tassel outfit, graces the cover.

Her home base, the Crawford House, was a hotel and restaurant which opened in 1867 and lasted until it was demolished in 1962, like the rest of Scollay Square, to make way for the new City Hall and Government Center. A few sources say Sally eventually owned the Crawford House, but I haven’t found any evidence of that. She was so strongly associated with it and may have had some creative control over the shows that people may have just believed she was the owner as well.

At the Crawford House, Sally reigned at the Theatrical Bar. It began as The Strand Theatre, a 24-hour movie theatre under the Crawford House, but been transformed by the early 1930s. Patrons could see “3 Sparkling Floor Shows Nightly”, featuring comedians, dancers, and of course Sally Keith. Her photograph was even on the cover of the restaurant menu.

During the War, Sally did her part for the troops, touring with the USO and visiting military bases. She was even named “Sweetheart of Camp Edwards”. Some of her support for the troops may have been because most of her brothers were serving. She liked to live large, with furs, jewels, and elaborate clothes, but she was also generous with her money. She put aside part of her earnings for war bonds. A newspaper article praised her incredible generosity and listed some of her good deeds, like paying for medical treatments and tuition for the less fortunate. According to the article, one of the beneficiaries of her largess had willed her his life savings of $18,000. This may have just been a publicity stunt, but she did perform in benefits to help others. She was certainly very generous with her family, sending money home to support them. Her niece recalls that when her parents went to Boston for their honeymoon, Sally picked up the tab.

She owned a gold Cadillac convertible with leopard-covered seats and monogrammed doors. The color went beautifully with her platinum hair, but she was a terrible driver. She knew it and would have other people drive her around, like her 14-year-old protégé, Lily Ann Rose (Lilian Keirnan Brown). Sally didn’t seem to care that Lily Ann didn’t have a driver’s license – she was much better behind the wheel than Sally.

Another of Lily Ann’s jobs was getting Sally in and out of bed when she’d had too much to drink, apparently a fairly frequent occurrence. Although the Crawford House served a cocktail in her honor, The Tassel Tosser (brandy, anisette, and Triple Sec — for just $1), Sally preferred stingers, a mix of brandy and crème de menthe. Her drinking problem seems to have continued her entire life.

1948 was a big year for Sally, making headlines in the local papers. On January 5th, Sally had finished her last performance of the evening and had gone up to her suite in the Crawford House hotel. She answered a knock at her door, thinking it was the bellboy, bringing her a sandwich. Two men burst in and knocked her down. She struggled and one of them tore off her clothing while the other grabbed her $4000 mink coat and $600 worth of costume jewelry, leaving about $35,000 of real jewels behind. The coat was later recovered in the hotel. Sally made the front page of a Boston paper with a photograph showing the bruises she had sustained in the attack. She moved out of the Crawford House shortly thereafter.

Sally’s niece, Susan Weiss, claims the whole thing was a publicity stunt and the bruises were just makeup. Lily Ann Rose says the robbery actually happened and Sally kept her jewelry in a bank after that, except for two diamond necklaces that Sally and Lily Ann wore all the time for safe keeping.

In March of the same year there was a fire at the Crawford House. Sally had moved out by then, but her wardrobe was still kept in her suite. She burst into the building demanding to go to her rooms where she had $100,000 worth of furs, jewelry, and costumes. The Boston Herald reported “Sally Keith Grinds Her Way into Blaze, Bumps Fireman”. The fire destroyed two stories of the hotel, but not Sally’s rooms on the second floor.

Like many of her contemporaries, Sally modeled for girlie magazines and ended up on a couple of covers. I haven’t found any evidence that any of her performances were filmed. It’s too bad that her act wasn’t preserved because her tassel dance sounds like nothing anyone else was doing. Sally was noted for not taking herself too seriously as a performer, but her career lasted for decades. She was clearly a decent businesswoman as, unlike other burlesque performers of the era, she seems to have managed her finances well.

I found mention of her performing in Boston as late as 1960. Although she is strongly associated with Boston and The Crawford House, she performed in other venues and cities, like New York and Miami. She also performed internationally, with tours of Europe and South America. In the late 1940s The Sally Keith Revue, created by and starring Sally Keith, of course, opened in Boston for three months, then went on to New York City for several months. For the summer the show moved to Lake Geneva in upstate New York.

There’s very little about Sally’s personal life. We know she married twice. Her first husband was her agent, Jack Parr, who she divorced when she was 22 because he was too controlling. If she had any romantic relationships while she was in Boston, they were kept very quiet. She married her second husband, Arthur Brandt, after she had retired from performing and was living in Hollywood, Florida. She had no children.

She died on January 14, 1967 in New York of cirrhosis of the liver or perhaps a cerebral hemorrhage – sources differ. Besides her obituary in the Boston Globe, I found a tiny squib in a newspaper in Lowell, Massachusetts mentioning her upcoming funeral. Both that notice and a reminiscence by a Globe reporter listed her age as 51. Keeping with her lifelong practice of taking a few years off, she was actually a few years older. Ed McMahon, who performed at the Crawford House, mourned her on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.

Sally Keith may have been indelibly linked to Boston, but she deserves to be known more widely. Her tassel dance sounds like something unlike any other tassel twirling act, past or present. She should be included in any list of tassel-twirling legends, alongside Carrie Finnell, Satan’s Angel, and Tura Satana. I hope more present-day burlesque performers take inspiration from her.

Bibliography

Brown, Lillian Kiernan. Banned in Boston: Memoirs of a Stripper. 1st Books, 2003.

Corio, Ann., with Joseph DiMona This Was Burlesque. Madison Square Press, 1968.

Kruh, David. Scollay Square. Arcadia Publishing, 2004.

Kruh, David. Always Something Doing: Boston’s Infamous Scollay Square. Northeastern University Press, 1999.

Kruh, David. “Sally Keith, Queen of the Tassels.” Welcome to Scollay Square.

Zemeckis, Leslie. Behind the Burly Q: The Story of Burlesque in America. Skyhorse Publishing, 2013.

Scollay Square and Tales from The Crawford House.” New England Historical Society.

“Sally Keith Beaten, Robbed.” Boston American, 6 Jan. 1948.

“Sally Keith Grinds Her Way into Blaze, Bumps Fireman.” Boston Herald, 24 March 1948

“Sally Keith’s Unknown Friend.” The American Weekly, n.d. 1948.

“Sally Keith Dies in New York, Long a Hub Entertainer.” Boston Globe, 15 Jan. 1967.

“Sally Keith Rites Wednesday.” Lowell Sun, 16 Jan. 1967.

M2These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page.

Published in: on 4 February 2019 at 3:07 pm  Comments (1)  
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Los Angeles: The Prologue

Dear Constant Reader,

I was in Los Angeles recently and there’s quite a bit of back story as to how I got there.

In the fall I applied to be part of a mentorship program with Egypt Blaque Knyle. Now, you may saying, “Mina, why do you need someone to mentor you? You’ve been doing burlesque for over a dozen years. You teach and you’ve even coached students through the creation of routines. Shouldn’t you be the one doing the mentoring?” While this is all true, I also want to improve my skills. This is why I take classes with other people whenever I can. It’s why I go to BurlyCon and The Expo almost every year and why I attended the New Orleans Burlesque Retreat and Stripper’s Holiday last year.

Egypt is a very different type of performer that I am. I wrote in my application essay that she is “almost the polar opposite of me – uninhibited where I am reserved, exuberant where I am stately”. I thought I could learn a lot from her. Dear Reader, just writing, let alone submitting, that application made me feel incredible vulnerable. And that’s not a side of myself I tend to show the world. Just writing the essay was a learning experience about myself.

In the end there were ten highly-motivated women with various levels of experience, scattered around the country, chosen to work with Egypt. We had to read books, research Legends, write essays, and create or polish a routine. I chose to create a new routine, about which I will write in depth. I’ll also share some of the essays I wrote. Our graduation was performing at Audrey Deluxe’s Burlesque Bingo in Long Beach, CA. Although it was not mandatory, everyone made it! I’ll tell you all about it later as well.

I’m not sure, timing-wise, it was the best choice for me to take this on. The mentorship began in later September. In October I was frantically trying to get Miss Mina Murray’s Little Book of Burlesque Costuming ready for the printer. In November I was sick for most of the month. I think I ended up having about six weeks to get my brand-new act from zero to show time. But I did it!

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.

Published in: on 30 January 2019 at 3:07 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Friday Tip

Dear Constant Reader,

Happy Friday! Your tip today is an old seamstress trick:

If you get blood on your fabric, spit on it.

We’ve all done it. You’re sewing along and stab your finger with the needle. Next thing you know there’s a little crimson stain on your sewing project. Quick! Dab some saliva on it. The blood stain will magically dissipate. I have no idea why or how it works, but I’ve saved my work this way. As soon as you can, properly wash the area with cold water and gentle soap to get out the spit and the last remnants of blood.

M2Like this tip? There are lots more in Miss Mina Murray’s Little Book of Better Burlesque.

These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page.

Published in: on 14 December 2018 at 2:27 pm  Leave a Comment  

Brrrlesque This Saturday!

Dear Constant Reader,

This Saturday, December 15 The Boston BeauTease present our winter holiday show at Deacon Giles Speakeasy Lab in Salem, MA! You can get a little taste of last year right here:

We’ll be presenting some of your favorite seasonal stripteases. As a special treat for good girls and boys everyone is bringing at least one brand-new act. Be the first to see them! I’m very excited to show you mine!

For an added bonus, we’re bringing The Boston BeauTease Burlesque Boutique! Browse our hand-rhinestoned ties, pasties, and other goodies to find the perfect gift for someone special, or yourself! I’ll have copies of both my Little Books too!

Get your tickets right here! There are only a few tickets left for the early show. The venue is very intimate and we tend to sell out, so don’t wait!

Entertaining burlesque plus creative cocktails — treat yourself!

M2These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page.

Published in: on 12 December 2018 at 10:23 am  Leave a Comment  
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Friday Tip

Dear Constant Reader,

Happy Friday! Last Friday I was in New York and visited The Museum at FIT to see the costume exhibit Pink: The History of a Punk, Pretty, Powerful Color. I’m always impressed with the striking items on display at the museum. One of them inspired this tip.

Varying the amount of embellishment can have great impact.

The photo is from a Dior gown and I was really struck by how the varied embellishments on those petals add interest and depth without completely obscuring the base fabric. They are thickly decorated around the outside, but taper off toward the center. We may not be Dior, but we can still try the technique. I think it’s more interesting and creative than encrusting with rhinestones.

M2Like this tip? There are lots more in Miss Mina Murray’s Little Book of Better Burlesque.

These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page.

Published in: on 30 November 2018 at 3:47 pm  Leave a Comment  

Friday Tip

Dear Constant Reader,

Happy Friday! I want to thank everyone who pledged to support my new little book. We’re finishing up the layout and getting it ready for the printer now! It’s been an incredibly stressful couple of weeks and I really appreciate all the support.

Now for your tip!

Miss MIna WriterKeep a costume inventory.

We all have tons of costumes and few of us can dedicate an entire room to storing them. How many time have you been unable to find a garment you know you have or turned up an item you had forgotten all about while searching for something else.

Keeping track is much easier when you have a list of everything. This can be as simple as a list in a notebook or a database with photographs, locations, and cross-references. You can even make it part of a check-in system, so you know after a show that everything is back where it’s supposed to be.

It’s a big job, so I suggest doing it a bit at a time. One day inventory just your gloves or everything you keep in that box (and then label the box). Before you know it, you’ll have an inventory of all your costumes. And maybe you’ve culled some unwanted items or filled in some gaps along the way .

M2Like this tip? There are lots more in Miss Mina Murray’s Little Book of Better Burlesque.

These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page.

Published in: on 26 October 2018 at 3:32 pm  Leave a Comment  

Latest Book Update

Dear Constant Reader,

We’ve got about 30 hours and $100 to go to make the third (and I’m assuming final) stretch goal!

Thank you to everyone who has pre-ordered a copy of Miss Mina Murray’s Little Book of Burlesque Costuming, Vol. 1: The Foundations! If you haven’t yet, now’s the time!

I’m very excited and incredibly nervous. We’ve got a hard deadline to have the books by BurlyCon and there’s still much to do. I shouldn’t even be writing to you!

M2These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page.

Published in: on 22 October 2018 at 12:45 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Book Update

Dear Constant Reader,

I’m thrilled to let you know that Miss Mina Murray’s Little Book of Burlesque Costuming, Vol. 1: The Foundations has reached its initial funding goal!

And we’ve just made the first stretch goal! The book will now include a bonus chapter! Besides teaching you how to make pasties, g-strings, panties, and bras, I’ll also show you how to make charming bags to store and transport your dainties.

Our next stretch goal is on the horizon. If we make that one, the book will have 4 pages in color! If we make that one, I’ll have to come up with something else! That’s a problem, I’d like to have.

You’ve got 8 days left to pre-order a copy and 3 days if you want your name in the acknowledgments.

Thank you all, Dear Readers, for your support.

M2These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page.

Published in: on 15 October 2018 at 3:34 pm  Leave a Comment  
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