Review: Growing Up Naked

Dear Constant Reader,

Scratch got me a copy of Burlesque West: Showgirls, Sex, and Sin in Postwar Vancouver for the holidays, but that’s not the book I’m reviewing. I’ll get to it. Eventually. Early in the book, the author mentioned a book I’d never heard of, I was intrigued, and found a copy. And here it is.

Growing Up Naked: My Years in Bump and Grind by Lindalee Tracey (1997).

Lindalee Tracey began stripping, underaged, in an unspecified Canadian city in the 1970s, a transitional time for burlesque. She worked at Eden with angry, artistic Emma, Ruby who would spread, elegant Yvette who was once on a bill with Lili St. Cyr, and beautiful, bitter Sugar. She discovered the joy and power of dancing on the club stage. She also dealt with backstage jealousies, sleazy management, and a trial for lewdness. After being forced into a humiliating publicity stunt, she left Eden to tour in the U.S. There she discovered some unfortunate truths about Americans, in the industry there and in general.

She returned to Canada in time for the Olympics and found a home in Montreal at the SexOHrama. Some of her colleagues from Eden had also made the move, but their lives and fortunes had diverged from hers. After a while, she began drifting away from stripping to concentrate on her writing. Before she left the business entirely, she founded the Tits for Tots strip-a-thon, which raised both money for a local children’s hospital and the esteem of the participating strippers. Her final project before leaving stripping entirely was to be involved in a feminist documentary, which didn’t quite go as she’d hoped.

Her writing borders on poetic (not surprising, since she also wrote poetry). It’s all present tense, which gives it a sense of immediacy, but it has a misty quality of looking backwards as well. Unlike some other burlesque memoirs, she often looks inward and describes her feelings and emotional experiences, not just events and actions. Her story is interspersed with letters from some of her fans and her own poetry.

One of the aspects I found interesting was the changes in burlesque during the author’s career. When she started in burlesque, features (strippers) were still performing 20 minute sets. Early in her career the author muses on themes and songs for an act. Also, the features never mingled with the audience. It was go-go dancers who hustled drinks for tips. Periodically the go-gos would come on stage for a “paltry” three-song set. Then the go-gos were being brought on stage en masse for what became known as “the meat market”. The features were trying to compete with twenty girls at once (many of whom would “spread”) but also with porn movies being shown in the clubs. Once table dances were introduced, some strippers chose to step down in status to become a go-go for the increase in income via tips. You can see the evolution into the present day strip club.

It’s clear Lindalee loved stripping and what it had been when she started. She felt it made her more, bigger, stronger. She fought constantly against being diminished and demeaned by her employers, the audience, and others who wouldn’t see the power the performers had on stage. When she left, striptease had changed completely and she mourned the loss of what it had been.

Besides her published writings, Lindalee Tracey also made films. At some point, I’ll review her documentary The Anatomy of Burlesque.

I filmed myself reading a short passage from this book, but only my Patrons can see the video. The rest of you will have to content yourself with this photo.

M2These writings and other creative projects are supported by my 7 Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page.

Advertisements
Published in: on 12 July 2017 at 3:05 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags:

Review: Always Something Doing

Dear Constant Reader,

Another book review from the archives! I originally wrote this review years ago on another platform. I should get back to my current books to review, but this was low-hanging fruit, so to speak.

Always Something Doing: Boston’s Infamous Scollay Square by David Kruh (1999).

Boston has a reputation (rightly so) for being full of Puritans and blue-noses. And, right in the heart of the city was a hotbed of low past-times and pursuits. Always Something Doing (the motto of the Old Howard) is a history of Scollay Square from its very beginnings to the 20th century. Although the square as a location existed before the American Revolution, it didn’t get its famous name until 1838. The Charlestown trolley line that stopped in front of the Scollay’s Building had been using that as the unofficial name of the area.

Although Scollay Square is remembered for seedy entertainment (think of it as the Times Square of Boston), it was a respectable and ritzy area until the mid-19th century when the Brahmans fled for the newly created Back Bay and the Square became more commercial and affordable for the majority of Bostonians, including the influx of Irish immigrants. Besides being a major shopping district, it was full of restaurants and entertainment, including the famed Howard Atheneum. Despite hosting the first American performance of Giselle and other highbrow performances, by the end of the Civil War the Old Howard was presenting more popular entertainment at lower ticket prices.

By the 1920’s Scollay Square was well known as a haven for burlesque. Many of the biggest names, including Ann Corio and Georgia Sothern, played the Old Howard and Sally Keith, tassel twirling queen, was a standard at the Crawford House. Boston had such a great history of burlesque and I’m proud to be a part of that now.

But there’s more than just burlesque to Scollay Square. The book is full of vintage photographs and anecdotes from those who remember the Square well. I was particularly amused by the poor sailor who woke up after a drunken night in the Square to discover a pink elephant tattooed on his butt. Boston has never had another haven for sailors since the Square was demolished.

Scollay Square fell pray to urban renewal when it and the entire West End of Boston were razed in the early 1960’s to make way for the new City Hall and other government buildings. This plan had the side effect of creating the much deplored Combat Zone.

It’s clear the author’s sympathies are with the long-gone lively, sleazy neighborhood of cheap eats, burlesque theatres, tattoo parlors, and photo studios, than with the stark, soulless Government Center that replaced it

M2

Published in: on 26 January 2017 at 2:20 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: ,

Review: Lady of Burlesque

Dear Constant Reader,

Lady of Burlesque: The Career of Gypsy Rose Lee by Robert Strom (2011).

This was a gift from one of my Adoring Fans who indulged me in something from my wish list.

I’ve already read a number of books* on Gypsy Rose Lee and wondered what new information I could possibly glean from this, but it wasn’t the expected biography. Mr. Strom presents a year-by year timeline of Gypsy’s career, from 1930 until her death in 1970. He cites his sources (a newspaper article, a contract, &c.) and frequently quotes entire articles. The book is peppered with photographs, some I’d not seen before. The book is rounded out with appendices, like a discography, productions of Gypsy, and more.

Not what I would call a gripping read, but a fine reference book.

M2 *American Rose: A Nation Laid Bare: The Life and Times of Gypsy Rose, Gypsy Rose Lee, Writing & Stripping, Stripping Gypsy: The Life of Gypsy Rose Lee, Gypsy and Me: At Home and on the Road With Gypsy Rose Lee, Mama Rose’s Turn: The True Story of America’s Most Notorious Stage Mother, Gypsy: The Art of the Tease, and of course, Gypsy: Memoirs of America’s Most Celebrated Stripper

Published in: on 12 January 2017 at 3:34 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags:

Review: Queen of Hearts

Dear Constant Reader,

The Queen of Hearts – The Life and Times of a Golden Age Burlesque Star by Sandy McQueen (2014).

Sandy McQueen was a burlesque performer in the 1960’s & ’70’s, what she calls the “Golden Age”, predominantly on the West Coast. She got her start in the Bay Area as a teenager. She tried to get a job as a cocktail waitress, since the trays were lighter and the tips were better than the drive-in where she had been working, but a club owner through she’d be better on stage.

In the very early ’60’s, she played both Alaska and Hawaii, and loved them both. Her first engagement in Alaska was Kodiak Island, which had just suffered a massive earthquake and tsunami. In fact, the town was under martial law and she couldn’t work for two weeks. Later, she went to Fairbanks which involved more than three solid days of driving though the wilds of Canada.

In Hawaii, she was asked to go on to Japan and the prospects sounded great — a 20-piece band and 3 shows a night. Then she was told by someone in the know that the musicians didn’t speak English and the shows were at 3 different theatres, each a 200 mile train ride apart. The Shinkansen high-speed rail did exist by then, but still. This reminds me of a story I was told by a Legend that she was offered work in Japan, which would also involve shows at several clubs over the course of a night (*sixteen* she said), but she would be transported on the back of a motor bike. Needless to say, Sandy turned down the offer.

I was particularly delighted that she ended her career in Boston’s Combat Zone. She worked at The 2 O’Clock Club on Washington St. from 1975 until it closed, when she moved to the Mouse Trapp [sic] and then The Piccadilly Club. Her descriptions of working in the Zone were worth the price of the book for me. You can see a little of what it was like in “…A Kind of Life.”: Conversations in the Combat Zone. I think some of the performers Ms. McQueen mentions are portrayed in the book.

Most of the section on Boston are sketches of the performers and club employees. She differentiates between “dancers” and “walkers”. Walkers did just that — walk up and down the stage and strip — and they were rarely features. Unlike some clubs, at The 2, performers didn’t have to mix if they didn’t want to. There were mixers who didn’t always perform, just hustled drinks. There a mention of “Heidi Jo” (Hedy Jo Star), who made wardrobe for most of the performers. Sandy writes that she still has a set of body jewelry, including a metal bra and g-string, made by Hedy Jo’s husband.

In 1979, Sandy McQueen retired from burlesque and moved to New Hampshire.

The most refreshing thing about this memoir is that Sandy looks back without rancor or bitterness. Occasionally, she regrets the way a relationship ended or that something was stolen from her, but for the most part, she doesn’t complain about what might have been or should have been. She treats the years as a grand adventure and her enthusiasm makes the memoir so fun to read.

M2

Published in: on 7 December 2016 at 3:43 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags:

Book Review: Behind the Burly Q

Dear Constant Reader,

How about a book review? While at BurlyCon, I had my copy of this book signed by the author. It deserved to come out of the to-be-reviewed pile and back to its place of honor in the library.

Behind the Burly Q: The Story of Burlesque in America by Leslie Zemeckis (2013).

When Leslie Zemeckis interviewed former burlesque performers and their family members for her documentary “Behind the Burly Q”, there were too many stories to fit into her film (disclosure: I haven’t watched the documentary yet). Thus the book was born. And we’re so grateful it was. This history deserves to be preserved before we lose it for good.

The book is a series of essay on individual topics, not a strict chronological history of burlesque. Some chapters focus on one performer (“Texas Justice”) or on a type of performer (“The Tit Singer”) or some other aspect of burlesque (“The High Cost of Stripping”). The chapter “Interlude Before Evening” is a good prelude to Goddess of Love Incarnate: The Life of Stripteuse Lili St. Cyr.

It’s a nice bite-sized way to get some burlesque history, reading a chapter hear and there. The book is thick with quotes from those Leslie interviewed. It’s peppered with photos from the author’s collection, many of which came directly from the performers themselves.

Ms. Zemeckis has a clear affection and great respect for the art form and for those involved in it, which shines through strongly throughout the book. Highly recommended.

Now I need to see the documentary…

M2

Published in: on 30 November 2016 at 3:25 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags:

Review: Tales of Tammi True

Dear Constant Reader,


  The Wild and Wayward Tales of Tammi True by Nancy Myers & David Hopkins (2015).

Nancy Powell (now Myers) danced under the name of Tammi True in the Dallas area in the 1960s. She got her start when she was hired by a band to go-go dance, but the club that booked them wanted a stripper instead. After her successful debut, she performed in many of the area clubs, like the Theater Lounge and the Skyliner Ballroom.

Her infamy came when she was called to testify before the Warren Commission because she had worked at Jack Ruby’s Carousel. Before the newspapers published her personal information, she had successfully been keeping her burlesque career a secret from her neighbors. Although she continued performing after that, she retired before the decade was over.

The book isn’t very long and about one-third is about her burlesque years. The writing came out of interviews with Ms. Myers for a magazine article and it shows. My biggest quibble with the book is that the authors can’t seem to decide how to present her story. It’s predominantly a verbatim transcription of Tammi’s reminiscences, but there are sections in Q/A format and some third-person passages. I also wish that the section of photographs had been captioned.

I didn’t find her story particularly wild or wayward (especially compared to some I’ve heard from Legends), but my perceptions are probably a bit skewed compared to someone with no grounding in burlesque history. That’s not to dismiss her story; everything we can learn first-hand about burlesque back in the day is valuable.

M2

Published in: on 18 August 2016 at 4:10 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags:

Book Review: The Night They Raided Minsky’s

Dear Constant Reader,

I have a backlog of books to review and I’ve even started reviews for most of them, but I never seem to find the time to finish writing said reviews. It’s a failing. Of course, this is the newest book in the Manor collection…

The Night They Raided Minsky’s: a Fanciful Expedition to the Lost Atlantis of Show Business by Rowland Barber (1960).

It is an undisputed fact that a burlesque show at a Minsky’s theatre was raided in the 1920’s. The rest of the details chronicled in this novel are up for debate. Many of the characters are based on actual people, some more accurately than others.

Our story climaxes on April 20, 1925 with the police raid of the evening burlesque show at the Minsky’s National Winter Garden. The novel traces the stories of the principal players in the drama while counting down to the raid itself. We meet Louis Minsky, the hardworking patriarch who hates burlesque, and his showman son and world class troublemaker, Billy. Then there’s Mlle. Fifi from Paris, the former Betty Buzby of Philadelphia, whose father, who hates her love of dancing, has finally caught up with her. Plus, of course, all the family members, chorus girls, comedians, and hangers-on directly and indirectly involved with the show.

The story is fast-paced and heads inevitably toward the raid, like a pushcart rolling downhill. On the way there, the reader is given a tour of the Lower East Side of the day, complete with dialect. I particularly liked the scenes of overheard conversation at the theatre as the chorus girls gossip and the comedians rehearse in their respective dressing rooms. Post-raid, the story runs out of steam as the author crams the remaining history of Billy Minsky and his brothers into a meager few pages.

Quite entertaining and well captures the time and place, if not the reality, of the heyday of Minsky burlesque. Now I’ll have to watch the movie and see how it compares.

M2

Published in: on 7 July 2016 at 2:56 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags:

Review: Plain Jane to Pinup Queen

Dear Constant Reader,

I know it’s been forever since I reviewed a book! The Boston BeauTease just had a photoshoot and in preparation, I pulled out this book.

Plain Jane to Pinup Queen: Pinup Modeling Workshop in a Book by Bombshell Betty (2008).

This is one of Bombshell Betty’s famed pinup workshops, recast as a book. She give the readers all the basics of how to have a successful photoshoot, illustrated with unretouched photos from her own shoots.

Part one is all about posing and it’s rightly the bulk of the book. Good posing is key to a successful shoot. She covers how to pose in the most flattering way for your figure and how to use props and clothing items so they enhance your pose, rather than hiding you and taking over. She explains why certain poses work better in the medium of photography and how to think of yourself in 2-D. I found the section on facial expressions to be particularly useful, but I’m almost never happy with my expressions.

In the second part, she covers styling, but it’s just a brief overview. After some basic tips for makeup, she covers makeup styles by decade for 1920’s through 1950’s. The section on hair is similar — basic tips on curling and then iconic styles by decade. There’s a very brief section on costume styling by decade. There’s a URL for further resources, but it doesn’t seem to be currently active. If you’re looking for more in-depth help in creating vintage looks, I’d recommend Retro Makeup and Vintage Hairstyling.

The third part is about photoshoots, with sections on how to work with a photographer, what to expect from a shoot, &c. There’s important information on safety at shoots and the does & don’ts of modeling releases. I like the timeline of preparing for a shoot and (or course) the check list of what to bring.

The book wraps up with an cheat sheet of key points for posing and a URL of further resources which sadly seems to be dead. Sic transit gloria Internet…

Obviously a book isn’t going to replace a workshop where the participants are coached and can see the results of their poses on camera, but it’s still a fine resource. It’s directed at the novice model looking for guidance, but it’s also useful for the more experienced pin-up looking to improve her posing skills. It’s out of print, but I’m sure my clever readers can find a copy out there.

M2

Published in: on 12 May 2016 at 1:33 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags:

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.

M2

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

Review: Banned in Boston

Dear Constant Reader,

I realized that I had reviewed a number of books in the Library at Stately Babydoll Manor elsewhere. I’ll be sharing them here with you, probably updated as I re-read the books and see them through a filter of more years in the business.

Banned in Boston: Memoirs of a Stripper by Lillian Kiernan Brown (2003).

This is a rather charming memoir of the short burlesque career of Lily Ann Rose. It’s got some good information about burlesque in Boston and the northeast in the late 1940’s. Lily Ann was a chorus girl, a soloist, Sally Keith’s protégée, banned by the Watch & Ward committee, and arrested for lewd and lascivious behavior — all before she was 17. She’s honest about the ups and downs of the life of a burlesque performer and has some amusing stories (believing her grandmother’s warning that kissing made babies) and some horrible ones (assault by a man she trusted). The descriptions of acts, hers and others, are always treasures.

Ms. Brown occasionally repeats herself (she tells the same story about stripping for Ann Corio when she was three years old twice, in almost exactly the same words) and she has the naive tone of the teenager she was at the time that she’s recalling. Like I said, the book is charming, clearly a labor of love. My main complaint is about the layout of the book itself. The text is double-spaced like a school essay and filled with errors, like double periods, stray quotation marks, and other misplaced punctuation that a capable editor should have caught. It made me kind of crazy and I actually read it with red pen in hand.

Since I originally wrote this review, I had the privilege of talking with Ms. Brown and learning a little more about her career, which did not end when the book does. She continued stripping in Boston burlesque houses for a few more years, and after her retirement, managed to keep her early career a secret from her family for decades. She has one gown left from her burlesque days, which I wrote about in The Berlesker.

M2

Published in: on 7 January 2015 at 11:15 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: ,