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  
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The Expo: Costume Exhibit and The Atheneum

Dear Constant Reader,

Here we have two of my favorite things, costumes and books.

The costumes…

Ever since The Expo moved to Cambridge we’ve had a costume exhibit, ably curated by BettySioux Tailor, with the assistance of Baroness Blitzen von Schtupp for the last last *eight* years. As always, there was some fantastic stuff!

From L to R (top row and then bottom row): Scarlett Letter, Dita Von Tease, Miss Mina Murray, Hedy Jo Star (pink), Hedy Jo Star (green), Jacqueline Hyde, Dangrrr Doll, Red Hot Annie, Sailor St. Claire, Matt Finish, Scarlett O’Hairdye, Raven Roland, Angie Pontani.

The two Hedy Jo Star costumes were gifted to The Expo from a costumer working in Tokyo who found them in the storage room of her theatre company. We have no idea how they got there or who wore them, but pink one has the name “Nancy Lee” written inside. Any thoughts? Pictures can not do these pieces justice. I hope you got a chance to see them close up.


We also had an exhibit in memory of Blaze Starr, who passed away over the summer. It included several photographs (two with Boston connections!), video of a couple of her film appearances, the costume Angie Pontani wore for her tribute to the Legend at Miss Exotic World 2006, and Blaze’s own powder puff and hand-made red evening bag with a handwritten note.

And the books…

The Atheneum was a new addition this year. Librarian Jennie put together a collection of relevant books and magazines in the breakfast/tea party room for people to browse during the day. Counterpoint Press was good enough to donate Leslie Zemeckis’s Goddess of Love Incarnate and Margo Christie sent her novel, These Days. Other books came from the Library at Stately Babydoll Manor and from Jennie’s own collection.

I have a collection of “Cavalcade of Burlesque”, an industry magazine published in the early 1950’s by burlesque agent Jess Mack. They’re valuable documents for our community and I wanted to share them, but as you might expect from 65-year-old pulp paper, they’re rather fragile. So, I carefully scanned all my issues page by page and had them printed them up to be as close to the original as possible. I’m so happy to share this bit of history while keeping the originals preserved! (By the way, I’m on the look-out for the May 1953, March 1954, and May 1954 issues…)

I certainly hope The Expo continues to offer The Atheneum and it becomes a bigger and better resource.

Up next, shopping!

M2

Published in: on 2 March 2016 at 3:32 pm  Leave a Comment  
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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  
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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  
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New Books

Dear Constant Reader,

Some folks I know have some new(ish) books out and seeing as it’s getting on toward Winter Gift-Giving Holiday, this seemed like an ideal time to share.

  • Gallows Hill by Rory O’Brien: A murder mystery set in modern day Salem.
  • Witches’ Waves by Teresa Noelle Roberts: paranormal erotica, the 4th book in the Duals and Donovans series (Previous books were Lions' Pride, Foxes' Den, Fox's Folly, and Cougar's Courage.)
  • The Shelf on the Elf: Holiday Leftovers by Andrew Shaffer: five off-beat, humorous holiday essays and short stories from the author of Fifty Shames of Earl Grey, and How to Survive a Sharknado and Other Unnatural Disasters.
  • And although it’s not new, I continue to recommend Lightsurfing: Living Life in the Front of My Mouth by Marrus because everyone should read it.

    Enjoy!

    M2

    Published in: on 15 December 2014 at 12:22 pm  Leave a Comment  
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    New Books

    Dear Constant Reader,

    Here’s your daily reminder to nominate The Boston Babydolls for Best Burlesque. I *think* today is the last day for nominations, but don’t quote me on that.

    Yesterday was Mardi Gras, so today is Ash Wednesday. For your humble correspondent, that means 40 days until… The Expo1!

    Although it’s Wednesday, I don’t have a book review for you. Instead, here are some books for you to consider reading that I haven’t read yet, because they’re hot off the press (so to speak). I’m fortunate to know a number of talented writers (much more so than I) and several of them have brand new books out!

    Andrew Kirschbaum has just released the second novel in his Fifth World series, Monday and the Counterfeit Corpse. Zack Monday is a hard-boiled detective in a city where magic is as common as technology and he’s apt to use a spell as often as his fists to solve a mystery. If you want to catch up, the first book in the series is Monday and the Murdered Man.

    Teresa Noelle Roberts is known for her paranormal erotica, like Lions’ Pride and Foxes’ Den, but Knowing the Ropes is a kinky story set in this world.

    Andrew Shaffer inspired a nation-wide Naked Girls Reading event with Great Philosophers Who Failed at Love. Now he brings us Literary Rogues: A Scandalous History of Wayward Authors. Look for it at a NGR Boston in the future, maybe even on March 16th.

    M2

    1Really 38, but who’s counting.

    Published in: on 13 February 2013 at 10:16 am  Leave a Comment  
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