Review: Behind the Burly Q

Dear Constant Reader,

Ages ago I said I was going to review my way through my collection of burlesque DVDs. So far, with a big gap between, I’ve reviewed a movie, an instructional video, and a vintage burlesque film. Time for a documentary!

Behind the Burly Q: The Story of Burlesque in America by Leslie Zemeckis (2010)

You aren’t mistaken; I already reviewed Behind the Burly Q. But that was the book. The documentary came first. In fact, it turned 10 this year!

Zemeckis  traveled the country interviewing burlesque performers and others associated with the art or, in some cases, their descendants, to get as full a picture as possible of American burlesque. Seeing the interview subjects and hearing their stories in their own words has an impact the printed page can not match. Zemeckis herself is invisible, allowing the focus to remain on the history. She may be guiding the interviews off-camera, but she’s not a part of them and there’s no obvious agenda other than collecting the stories, where ever they may lead.

The interviews are interspersed with photographs, newspaper clippings, and film footage. Rather than a chronological history of burlesque, the stories are loosely grouped into sections like “Occupational Hazards”, “Too Many Husbands”, or “Big Money”. Of course many burlesque dancers are featured, some well-known like Dixie Evans and Tempest Storm, some more obscure, but the documentary also tells the stories of comics, singers, variety performers, producers, and more.

The history is further fleshed out by relatives of those no longer with us, such as the son of “tit singer” and straightman Robert Alda (actor Alan Alda), Lou Costello’s daughter, Ann Corio’s husband, Lili St. Cyr’s sister (burlesque dancer Dardy Orlando, who was also married to burlesque producer Harold Minsky). Zemeckis also includes a couple of modern day experts, like David Kruh and Kelly DiNardo.

Since the footage was collected, a number of the interview subjects passed away and in the ten years since, we’ve lost even more. With their words and images captured on film, this documentary is a precious record of our past.

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 24 December 2020 at 1:51 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: ,

Review: Love Moods/Bedroom Fantasy

Dear Constant Reader,

We have a large collection of Something Weird videos. For those not familiar, these are vintage burlesque films released on DVD. This disc is two shorts, each about 15 minutes, featuring Lili St. Cyr: Love Moods and Bedroom Fantasy.

The first, Love Moods: A Ballet Pantomime (1952) was filmed at Ciro’s, the Sunset Strip nightclub where Lili frequently performed. It was directed by Lilian Hunt, the choreographer and talent agent who discovered Tempest Storm. With the stage covered in elegant furniture, including an elaborate bath tub, you get a great idea of the opulence of Lili’s stage shows.

Lili parades around the stage, occasionally throwing in some dance moves, and pouting for the camera. She directs her longing looks at a photo on her vanity. As she prepares to go out, presumably with the man in the photo, she tries on and removes four glamourous gowns and a negligee, as well as jewelry, furs, and other accessories. The centerpiece of her preparations is her famous bubble bath in her gilded tub.

Her striping is the height of tease. The audience never sees more than the slightest flash of her pasties or g-string. She’s always concealed, behind her dressing screen, her garment, a towel, or her maid’s body.

The film is not in great condition, with a number of small jumps; the worst being when Lili’s second stocking mysteriously appears on her leg while she’s dressing at her vanity.

The second film, A Bedroom Fantasy (1953), is a little more like an excerpt from a burlesque show. It opens with The Folliettes, a mob of chorus girls dancing the cancan with more or less skill. After a minute or two this turns into a stately parade as a singer begins crooning off-stage. Then they become a backdrop for the Duponts, dancers who perform a somewhat comedic duet. The Folliettes reprise their can-can and everyone takes a bow.

Now the curtain opens on the main show. Lili is returning to her boudoir after an evening out. The setting is slightly different from Love Moods — instead of an ornate bath tub, she has a lavish bed on a platform. She slowly and expertly strips out of her evening attire and poses languidly on her chaise before putting on her night attire with the help of her maid (a different maid from the previous short).

She dances and poses and even does some calisthenics (gracefully, of course) before climbing into bed. But then the phone rings and she rapturously listens to a singer “on the phone” as she writhes on the bed and wriggles out of her nightgown. The act ends with her going to sleep.

Of the two, I like Love Moods better. She seemed to be having more fun with it. Also, you get to see more outfits, more teasing and, of course, her signature bubble bath. As it was filmed at Ciro’s, this is probably about as close as we can get to seeing an actually Lili St. Cyr stage performance.

The rest of the disc is filled with trailers for other burlesque films, but I’ll be honest — I haven’t watched them.

The performances by Lili St. Cyr highlight why she was such a popular performer in her day and why her legend lives on today. Few performers today come close to matching her opulence and her grace on stage.

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 October 2020 at 2:58 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: ,

Review: Brown Skin Showgirls

Dear Constant Reader,

Although I still have a huge pile of books to review, today I’m grabbing the newest addition to my library from the top of the pile.

Brown Skin Showgirls by Leslie Cunningham, 2017.

This slim paperback showcases photographs from Leon Claxton’s Harlem in Havana, a revue with Black and Cuban entertainers that toured with Royal American Shows from 1936 to 1967. Royal American was the carnival with which both Sally Rand and Gypsy Rose Lee toured, and just a few tents away Harlem in Havana also presented striptease as well as Latin and Caribbean dances.

The book is almost entirely photographs with captions, but very little other text other than a short introduction to the history of the show. Some of the stars of the show are highlighted, like The Bates Sisters (including the author’s grandmother), The Cuban Dancing Dolls, and female impersonator Greta “Garbage” Garland. It certainly left me wanting more!

Don’t get me wrong — The photos are absolutely worth the price of admission. Pages and pages of performers on stage (and occasionally off). Performance photos are so much rarer than publicity photos and photos of Black burlesque performers are very scarce. This book is a treasure trove! And you can get a good look at the costumes too.

I was happy to hear that Cunningham is going to expand on the story of Harlem in Havana with the documentary film, Jig Show: Leon Claxton’s Harlem in Havana. It should be out soon (all things depending on the pandemic, of course). I want to learn more about the performers in these tantalizing photographs.

Order your book direct from the author and she’ll sign it for you!

I want to thank Jo Weldon’s NYSB Book Club for arranging for Bebe Bardot‘s great interview of Leslie Cunningham about Brown Skin Showgirls, Harlem in Havana, and Jig Show.

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 12 August 2020 at 3:10 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: ,

Review: Gypsy and Me

Dear Constant Reader,

Not only do I have a pile of books to review, I also have a passel of books I reviewed elsewhere, but not here. Since I’m on a bit of a history kick (I’ll explain why in another missive), here’s Gypsy Rose Lee’s son’s memoir about growing up with America’s most famous stripper as a mother.

Gypsy and Me: At Home and on the Road With Gypsy Rose Lee by Erik Lee Preminger (1984). Also published as My G-String Mother.

Picking up years after Gypsy left off, Gypsy Rose Lee’s only child chronicles his conflicted and often combative relationship with his famous mother. The story begins when Erik was 12 and Gypsy has decided to give up “the act”, the striptease show she’s been doing for decades. Now she needs another source of income.

His depiction is not always so flattering. He shows a Gypsy that was stingy, self-absorbed, and domineering. She was terrified of poverty, despite her frequently lavish spending, and constantly searched for the next thing that would support her. The author paints a flawed portrait of himself as well, honestly relating incidents of his anger, disobedience and petty crime.

Despite all the clashes between them, he loved her deeply and she was a devoted mother. She would take Erik on tour with her because she hated to be separated from him. He would help her set up her act and was even her dresser. She was a terribly hard worker, throwing herself into projects, barely eating and rarely sleeping. He describes her with tea stains on her clothes and cigarette ashes powdering her reading glasses. She was witty and clever in private, as well as in her public image. And she adored animals, sometimes more than people. She was terribly proud of Erik and wanted everyone to know he was her son. She even toured Southeast Asia to entertain the soldiers after Erik joined the Army.

Despite a truly unusual and often difficult childhood, Mr. Preminger is not bitter about his mother, and strives for an honest accounting of a very contradictory woman.

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 30 July 2020 at 4:27 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,

Review: Legends of Burlesque, Then and Now

Dear Constant Reader,

I’m catching up on my book reviews! The Burlesque Hall of Fame is usually a chance to meet our Legends in person. However, it’s happening virtually this year. While trying to decide if I should submit something for the on-line showcase (answer — probably not), I was flipping through this book.

Legends of Burlesque, Then and Now presented by Gina Bon Bon and Julie Mist, 2018

This is a collection of photographs of burlesque legends, from their glory days onstage and also from the present day. It’s a large format hardcover book, but with matte paper pages, which make the photos seem slightly muted. Each Legend is featured on at least two, sometimes more, pages of photographs, with a Quick Facts side bar with, generally, their legal names, career span, acts, and prominent bookings or awards. Some have additional brief information and anecdotes. Toni Elling talks about dealing with racism and Kitten Natividad about surviving cancer. Many reveal what they have been doing since they left the stage.

Also included are a couple of people (and a place) who don’t actually qualify as legends, but have been important to honoring the legends and keeping their legacy alive. The place, of course, is the Burlesque Hall of Fame.

The book opens with profiles of some prominent performers (and a couple of lesser known ones) who had passed away, like Ann Corio and Dixie Evans. Sadly, since the book was prepared, a few of the Living Legends are no longer with us. Our legends are a dwindling resource and should be cherished.

This is by no means a comprehensive volume, either in subject or scope. There are just over 3 dozen performers covered, which doesn’t include everyone considered a legend. The information about them is just a tantalizing taste of their stories. There are other books and documentaries that cover more, but this work was created by legends about their fellow legends which gives it an interesting perspective and a bias quite different from works created by those outside the industry.

I had a fantasy of going to BHoF and overcoming my shyness to meet as many of the Legends as I could, but alas, not this year. While we’re unable to gather in person this year, perhaps reach out to your favorite legend and just say thank you for creating the path we follow.

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 30 June 2020 at 2:53 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,

Review: In the Kitchen: Dollface Kitchen

Dear Constant Reader,

New book review for you!

Dollface Kitchen by Cherry Dollface (2020)

This is the second book from pinup model and vintage enthusiast, Cherry Dollface. (I’ve had her first book since it came out and never reviewed it — must be better about that…) As you probably guessed from the title, it’s a cookbook. You know how much I love cooking, especially vintage recipes! She was supposed to have a book release party at Viva, but instead it got moved to FB and IG Live. It was fun to watch her sign my book on-line, but I miss author events…

It’s probably not the best timing to try to review a cookbook during lockdown, since mostly I have to look at the recipes and sigh. The book is organized into six categories, of the sort you would expect like main dishes and desserts. Each of those has three “Healthy-ish” recipes, three “Not-so-healthy”, and two vintage recipes — one “weird” and one “wonderful”. The vintage recipes are the sort found on boxes and cans and I’m unclear if she’s actually cooked any of them. All recipes are marked if they are vegetarian, vegan, dairy-free and/or gluten-free.

As you might expect of a pin-up model, the boook is full of photographs. Cherry is shown posing with food, in the kitchen, or just making faces (usually at a weird vintage recipes). There are also tempting photos of all the dishes (except some of the vintage ones). Everything looks bright and fun. I’m looking forward to trying several of these, like the carnitas tacos, baked oatmeal, and caramel apple bread pudding. I can’t wait to cook for friends again!

All of Cherry’s recipes have notes from her about how to change things up or her personal preferences (she doesn’t like onions) in the header of the recipe. She also tells you if the recipe can be changed up to fit diet requirements, like swapping out chicken broth for veggie to make a soup vegetarian. I really like the little cartoon bubbles with another helpful tip. You know I’m all about the helpful tips… It’s a very friendly book, occasionally even silly, like the recipe that starts, “Preheat oven to 450. Just kidding, this is fruit salad.” She writes as though she’s chatting with you, which is nice in this kind of lonely time.

I couldn’t review the book without making something. The “wonderful” vintage dessert Fudge Batter Pudding had the note “If you try any of my vintage recipes…try this bad boy!” So I did. You make a simple chocolate sauce that goes in the bottom of a baking pan, then you spoon a chocolate batter on top and bake. The result is a sort of brownie with a fudgy sauce underneath it. The cake part is on the dry side (it has no eggs and only a smidge of butter and milk), so it needs the sauce. When we had it cold the next day, a little cream poured over was a nice addition. It was easy to make and can be whipped up from pantry staples, so I’ll call it a win.

The book is only available from Working Class Publishing, but I think you can still get a signed copy. It may take longer to get to you, but where else do you have to go…?

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 May 2020 at 12:52 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: ,

Video Review: Booty Lab

Dear Constant Reader,

Here’s another instructional video from my collection.

Booty Lab by Michelle L’amour (2013).

The Queen of the Booty is undoubtedly Michelle L’amour, so who better to take you through all different ways to use your backside. And today is her birthday!

The video starts with a warm up, which is going to be needed if you follow along. The rest of the video is breakdowns of burlesque moves focused on the hips, thighs and bum.

She starts with bumps and shimmy variations that are standard burlesque fare, but they are clearly explained and demonstrated by Michelle. It’s no surprise that she includes isolations, one of her signature moves which you cans see to great effect in her famous “Butthoven” video.

She moves down to the floor for some moves that quiver and shake your legs. These are then translated to standing moves, including the infamous ass clap. Take it from me, it’s much easier to do them on the floor…

Finally, she teaches the move everyone wanted to learn, the booty bounce. Later on there’s a bonus section of Michelle doing the bounce while in a handstand with her feet up on the wall.

After a review of all the moves, there’s a twenty-minute workout, focusing on the booty, of course, but with some abs and arm work as well. This is followed by a much needed stretch. I do this section (plus the warm up) when I need a hit of toning and don’t have much time.

Michelle is an excellent, polished teacher, and her explanations are easy to follow. She demonstrates the moves facing in different directions as necessary for a clear view. They’re also pretty clear for those who have no interest in learning these moves and just want to watch Michelle jiggle.

I’ve had this video since it came out and was fortunate enough to take Booty Lab with Michelle at BurlyCon before it existed. I go back from time to time to polish my moves. I always believe in going back to basics no matter how experienced you are. And maybe someday I’ll actually perfect the clap!

The DVD is no longer available, but you if you rent or buy Michelle’s extensive series of instructional videos, you also get Booty Lab.

Happy birthday, Michelle!

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 15 April 2020 at 8:15 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: ,

Film Review: The Night They Raided Minsky’s

Dear Constant Reader,

The other day one of my students asked for recommendations for movies about burlesque and I remembered this one…

The Night They Raided Minsky’s, directed by William Friedkin, MGM, 1968.

Based on the book of the same name, this movie, set in 1925, tells the tale of Rachel Schpitendavel (Britt Ekland), an Amish girl who dreams of dancing on stage in New York. She arrives at the National Winter Garden, a burlesque house, run by Billy Minsky (Elliot Gould).

Minsky is beleaguered by Vance Fowler (Denholm Elliott) a zealous anti-vice crusader who wants to raid the theater. Straightman Raymond Paine (Jason Robards) and top Banana Chick Williams (Norman Wisdom) realize they can solve this problem by informing Fowler that Mademoiselle Fifi will be performing her dance that drove a million Frenchmen wild at the midnight show. Of course, the performer will actually be modest Rachel, doing her Biblical interpretive dance. The raid will be a bust and Fowler humiliated.

Meanwhile Minsky is courting gangster Trim Houlihan (Forrest Tucker) in hopes that he’ll invest in the theatre, but Houlihan thinks that investment gives him exclusive rights to Mlle. Fifi… But not if Raymond Paine seduces her first… And Rachel’s father is storming into the city from Pennsylvania. His daughter had better on the last train home or he will disown her.

Suffice it to say, almost every man in this movie wants Rachel for something.

It’s not spoiling anything (since they announce it at the start of the movie) to say that Rachel gets on stage, discovers the power she has over an audience, and invents the striptease.

The movie betrays its 1960s creation with the saturation of the colors and Britt Ekland’s bouffant hair. However, it does slip in some actual footage from the 20s, and the Lower East Side is dressed up pretty accurately. There’s a nice bit where they transition from the vintage footage to black and white film of a street scene and then take it to color.

The best reason to watch this movie is the burlesque show. Throughout the movie you see the show in progress. A chorus line of 10 terrific girls (but only 9 costumes) prance and shimmy on the stage in skimpy costumes. One of them looks like she’d rather be anywhere else and another just can’t dance. There are classic comedy sketches like “Meet me Round the Corner” and “Crazy House”, some of them including talking women. The candy butcher does his spiel, pitching bonbons along with the promises of gold watches and racy pictures of Mlle. Fifi.

In 1968 there were plenty of people who still remembered burlesque and some of those people were in the movie. The Master of Ceremonies is played by burlesque tit singer Dexter Maitland. Bert Lahr, playing a retired straightman, got his start as a burlesque comic, before his fame as The Cowardly Lion. When he died before filming was complete, burlesque comic Joey Faye stood in for him. Morton Minsky, the youngest Minsky brother, was the technical advisor.

It’s a fun film with a great cast, but the highlights are the scenes onstage and backstage.

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 April 2020 at 2:44 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,

Review: In the Kitchen: The Necronomnomnom

Dear Constant Reader,

If you follow me on Instagram, you’ve seen some photos lately of dishes with rather odd names and a sinister tome in the background. What is up with that? I’ve been cooking from…

The Necronomnomnom
It’s a cookbook, but a truly special one. It’s full of rituals and rites, illustrated with arcane sketches and notes, which must be interpreted to achieve tasty results. As you might have guessed from the title, it’s a Lovecraft-themed cookbook. There are fifty recipes, including cocktails, appetizers, entrees, side dishes, desserts, and even recipes for children (that is, for children to eat, not how to cook them). As the names evoke eldritch horrors, so do the presentations, with odd colors, additional tentacles, or inscribed runes (all edible, of course).

The recipes have terribly wonderful Lovecraft pun names, like The Sandwich Horror or The Custard from Out of Space. But in order to cook them, you have to puzzle through the ingredient lists and instructions, which are written in archaic and mystical fashion — even poetry. The degree of obscurity varies from recipe to recipe, from relatively straightforward in terms of ingredient names and measurements to rather baffling at first glance.

Here, for example are the ingredients for Deep Fried Deep One, the first dish I cooked.

What is the Herb of Mysterious Purpose? The Bay of Elders? It helps to be an experienced cook, because once you figure out what the dish is, things start to fall in place. I was often chuckling at the cleverness of the authors or feeling smug that I puzzled things out.

And the instructions for The Oats of Dagon.

I’ll admit, this was a challenging one! I’m not even sure how many times I read and misinterpreted the instructions before I finally got it.

The illustrations are very detailed and in perfect keeping with the theme. Be sure to read all the scribbled little notes — there’s a story running through the book. Here’s a little taste of the artwork:

I managed to get my hands on a first, or Grimoire, edition, which is only the mystic rituals. There’s really nothing to break the illusion that this is a mysterious spell book and the cover is pretty horrifying. There was also a super-special edition with a three-dimensional flayed skin* cover, for that extra touch of realism.

Don’t worry if the thought of figuring out the ingredients and instructions fills you with fear. The “Bookstore Edition“, which comes out in just a few days, has all the rituals and illustrations, but also practical additions like a table of contents, index, and… all the recipes in clear language in an appendix in the back. I’ve had a lot of fun figuring out the recipes, but I know that’s not for everyone.

I’ve been really happy with most of the results! I’ve also had fun bringing out The Manor’s spookiest china and arranging the tentacles just right for a good photo. Here’s some New England Damned Chowder:

For more delicious photos of my endeavors so far and some commentary on the recipes, I’ve created a photo gallery just for my Patrons.

Highly recommended for creative cooks, lovers of puzzles, and weird fiction fans.

*Or maybe cast latex…

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 25 September 2019 at 3:19 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: ,

Review: A Pictorial History of Striptease

Dear Constant Reader,

Our apprentice Electrix wanted to pick our brains about burlesque in London, since she’s hoping to study there (wish her luck!). I remembered this book included a section on burlesque in London and then I realized I’d not given you a proper review.

A Pictorial History of Striptease: 100 Years of Undressing to Music by Richard Wortley (1976)

This book is exactly what it promises: pages and pages of photographs of women taking (or having taken) their clothes off, plus related ephemera, like programs and advertisements. The illustrations are broken up by text on striptease, its history and evolution. Many of the pictures are full page and in color. There are plenty that are not the standard fare of burlesque books. However, as the book was published in the mid-seventies, there are a lot of contemporary photos of topless showgirls with amusing hairstyles

Thew books begins with a history of striptease from its 19th century origins to the present day. Then it looks specifically at Paris, Britain, and the United States. Paris, of course, highlights the Moulin Rouge, the Follies Bergère, and Crazy Horse, but there are photos of showgirls at other cabarets. Britain focuses on the Windmill Theatre (we never closed!) and the nightclub empire of Paul Raymond. There’s also a mention of Arthur Fox in Manchester who imported many performers from the US. The US looks at the showgirls of Las Vegas and Carol Doda (and Them) among others. Tempest Storm gets a mention right on the first page.

The book also delves into striptease and nudity on film. That includes scenes like Marilyn Monroe and her flying skirt as well as actual nude scenes. This is followed by a chapter on the rivals to striptease on stage, like live sex shows, porn movies, and various topless businesses. The very last chapter is an illustrated how-to for performing your very own striptease. It pairs very nicely with Libby Jones’s striptease.

It’s a great look at striptease and how it was up to the mid-1970s. Some of the photos are absolutely ridiculous in sort of a wonderful way, like the woman dangling her bra above a dolphin like a herring. Some are a study in glamour. In many of the photos, the performers are more naked than burlesque performers today. In fact, in the chapter on the US, American performers are seen as quaint for wearing pasties and G-strings. My biggest wish is that the photos had been dated. I’d love to know more about some of them.

It’s long out of print, but you can find it used for a reasonable price.

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 11 September 2019 at 3:15 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: ,