Atlanta 3/31/19

Dear Constant Reader,

One of the wonderful benefits of the mentorship program with Egypt Blaque Knyle was working with a bunch of wonderful women, with whom I might otherwise not have met. When Coco Rosé invited the members of our group to perform at her show, either in Atlanta or Memphis, I jumped at the chance.

I haven’t been to either city before, but Atlanta won, with more reasonably priced plane tickets. It was Coco’s anniversary show and her theme was “Evolution” — I thought the act I’d developed during Egypt’s program fit the bill.

My flight arrived in Atlanta Saturday evening. It was such a luxury not to have to get up at godawful in the morning, as is usually the case when I travel. It was also a luxury to not have to check a bag. I was only doing the one act and that costume doesn’t take up much suitcase real estate.

Coco put me up at an Airbnb and as soon as I was settled in, I headed out to one of the last remaining Trader Vic’s. I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to have a cocktail at the legendary tiki restaurant. Although I considered a piña colada, I had their signature mai tai.

Sunday morning I had hoped to be teaching. Talloolah Love of the Atlanta School of Burlesque had scheduled me for a workshop at Metropolitan Studios, but we didn’t get enough students to go ahead. Instead I went sightseeing. I was staying walking distance (for me, anyway) from the aquarium, so walk I did. It was a cold, overcast, windy day and I had packed for the 80 degree temperatures of the previous day!

Because I was a tourist. I visited World of Coca-Cola. I know, a weird choice for someone who doesn’t drink soda, but what the heck. There was some fun history, like this 19th century syrup dispenser (1 part syrup, 5 parts carbonated water) and the gallery about the advertising campaigns using the Coca-Cola Sprite (who disappeared before the soda named for him was developed). I did try some of the myriad sodas from around the world. My absolute favorite was the cucumber Sprite from Russia. Pine-Nut from Africa (pineapple and coconut, not actually pine nut flavor, alas) was a distant second. Inca Kola, often seen in my neighborhood, was way too sweet for me and tasted kind of like bubblegum. Least favorite was Beverley, a rather bitter soda from Italy. I later learned it’s drunk like an aperitif. I suppose if you are an amaro fan or like tonic water, it might be a win for you.

By then it was absolutely lunch time and some previous research had revealed a barbecue place just a short walk away. If you’ve been reading here for any length of time, you’ll know how fond I am of barbecue. Twin Smokers BBQ was just what I wanted. The sausage was a little dry, but the pulled pork was perfection, and I appreciated the wide range of sauces.

Thus fortified, I headed off to the Center for Puppetry Arts. The Global Collection is a huge display of puppets from around the world, including some celebrities, like Tom Servo and Madame. I was quite taken with the Vietnamese water puppets. The other main gallery is the Jim Henson Collection. What a delight! It was like visiting a whole bunch of old friends. It was hard to pick a representative photo, but here’s Fizzgig! The special exhibit gallery also featured Henson — The Dark Crystal! Besides getting to see all the fabulous creatures up close, there were also concept sketches and prototypes and video about the making of the movie. I was just a wee thing when I saw the movie, so I had no idea how revolutionary it was in terms of puppetry and film making.

But you want to know about the show! The Red Light Cafe is a familiar sort of venue — I’ve played many like this. I knew exactly what to expect when I walked in the door. It’s set up for bands. The stage is small and carpeted with monitors up front. The lighting set up is simple. The dressing room was cobbled together from some storage space in a loft and was better than many places I’ve changed. Several mirrors, decent lighting, including a makeup station, and plenty of places to put one’s stuff. From the posters on the walls, there a lot of burlesque at the venue.

The only performer I knew, other than Coco, was Stormy Knight, who had come to an early Expo. I was so flattered that she brought her copies of my Little Books for me to sign! It was great to reconnect with her and we ended up chatting a lot in the dressing room.

The show started at 6pm, which was unusual for me, but great for a Sunday night! There were eight acts in the show with an intermission and raffle drawings in the middle. I’m always interested in seeing how other producers do things differently. The raffle was for a variety of goods and services and one could put your ticket(s) in the (glitter-encrusted) jar for the items you wanted. Then the stage kittens would mix up the tickets in one of those bingo cages. I don’t remember the pricing for the tickets but the last one was “tits to toes” as measured on Winter (the long-stemmed) Rose. Also, tipping was done with a different set of glitter-encrusted jars, one for each performer.

I had a fine slot, second act opener. Of course that meant I spent the intermission feeling anxious. The line up was Flexx Giselle, Oodles of Troodles, Royal Tee, Stormy Knight, me, Clyf Hangar, Roula Roulette, and Coco Rosé. Our stage kittens were Winter Rose and Stormy Chance. Here we all are!

I felt good about the act. It still isn’t as smooth as I would like, even with the new shoes, but a little of that was performing on carpet. I should just get used to it. I’ve never yet done the act on an uncarpeted stage. My music was nice and loud. The audience was close and they had good energy. I got some lovely compliments afterward, including one woman who said my act was “everything”.

Here’s my favorite shot of the night, by Charles Bailey Photography:

Ever since I’ve known Coco, she’s been obsessed with Sublime Doughnuts, so I just had to try one! Stormy Knight gave me a lift to the nearest shop, and I finally tasted what all the fuss is about. I even managed to bring a couple home with me.

I had been warned to get to the airport extra early in the morning to deal with the construction and monster lines through security. I didn’t mind. It meant I didn’t have to worry about getting to my gate on time. I could stroll though all the art between terminals instead of taking the tram and I had plenty of time for a nice breakfast. By lunch time I was home with Albert.

And I got to scratch off another state and add a new rhinestone to my travel map!

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 1 May 2019 at 3:42 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Los Angeles: Burlesque Bingo 1/20/19

Dear Constant Reader,

I know this is the missive you’ve been waiting for — all about the House of Knyle graduation show at Burlesque Bingo!

I was extremely grateful for this opportunity, not only to share a stage with all the women I’d gotten to know through Egypt’s program, but I can’t imagine otherwise performing in one of Audrey DeLuxe’s shows.

The venue was Harvell’s in Long Beach. Lili VonSchtupp had given me some advance info like that the dressing room was good but narrow and that the stage was carpeted and a couple steps up, which allayed a little of my nervousness. The space has a great speakeasy vibe and I can see why there’s a lot of burlesque there.

I was the first to arrive. Scratch volunteered to do whatever was needed and that turned out to be running the follow spot. All the other ladies were staying with and therefore traveling with Egypt. I kind of regretted missing out of the bonding time (and more, as it turned out), but I’m not sorry I chose to spend time with Kitten Natividad. Our Legends are so important. When everyone else arrived they briefed me on the plan for the curtain call and after, whihc they had worked on the night before at Egypt’s. That did have me a little nervous because improvisation dance is not my strength.

Burlesque Bingo works thusly: On the floor perpendicular to the stage is a bingo board, like a very low runway. At the back of the stage is a number board (see photo).
When the performer discards a costume piece, she tosses it onto the board on the floor. One of the Lucky Charms (Audrey’s adorable assistants; also see photo) turns on the light for the corresponding number on the big board and everyone marks their bingo cards accordingly. After the act is over, if no one has bingo, the Lucky Charms begin to disrobe and toss out their garments until bingo is achieved. The bingo winner then comes onto stage to claim their goodie bag of prizes. If more than one person has bingo, everyone gets a chance to roll a giant pink fuzzy die to see who claims the prize. It’s a lot of fun. It was also clear some audience members are all abut the bingo, while others are just there for the burlesque.

I wish I could do a blow by blow of the other acts, but I was more than nervous and rather in my own head most of the night, so I don’t recall a lot of the show. The line up, however, was:
Bebe Bardot
Lilac SaintClair
Dulce D’Jour
CoCo Rose
Crocodile Lightning
Nadia Lotte
Briq House
Mayo Lua de Frenchie
Mina Murray
Twirlisha Devine
Egypt Blaque Knyle

After we each did our acts, Egypt joined us on stage and presented each student with a certificate of completion.

After Egypt’s performance, we each came out in reverse order, still in our pasties, and improvised on stage for a few measures. Eventually we moved into our assigned places, arrayed around the runway, while Egypt performed again. By the end we were all over her. We wouldn’t let her leave the stage until we had presented her with our gift, a large engraved diamond.

I was very touched when Bebe Bardot, who had to race off to the airport immediately after the show, took a few moments to say some kind things about my books. I feel a kinship with this lovely lady — she’s also a scholar of burlesque history, a writer, and a classic sort of gal — so it meant a lot.

All right, I won’t make you wait any longer. Here’s my act:

What did I think? It’s still a little rough. I’m not happy with my facial expressions and I can see all the tension in my shoulders. Those shoes were giving me such trouble, especially with the turns and lunges, and you can see where I so gracefully stumble off the edge of the bingo stage near the end. However, I’m really happy with parts of it and I can see there’s some power there. I’ve since performed it three other times and it just keeps getting better as I’m more comfortable with it and I’m not stressing about trying to impress a mentor (and I got new shoes)

This act, probably more than any other one, had a lot of feedback from a lot of people. Egypt suggested the lunges after the turns (as well as other things). It was Ava’s idea that I start with the back panel draped in front. Originally I dropped to my knees for the floorwork, but Betty said “Can you drop into a plank? You do planks all the time.” Scratch came up with the belt remove. He also edited my music so there was a strong ending instead of a fade-out.

I’m so grateful to Egypt for giving me the opportunity to step out of my comfort zone, to perform in this great show, and to work with these amazing women.

Performance photo by Jason Kamimura Photography
Video by Cliesha

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 9 April 2019 at 4:46 pm  Leave a Comment  
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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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Los Angeles: Monday 1/21/19

Dear Constant Reader,

Here’s my third day in L.A.. You can read about Saturday and Sunday as well. You didn’t miss the part about the show — that comes last.

As would become our pattern for the trip, Scratch took over Kitten’s kitchen to make breakfast. Since I had Cuban food leftover from the day before, he made eggs for himself and Kitten. In case you haven’t been reading for very long, I hate eggs. In general I don’t like a lot of traditional breakfast foods. Diners that advertise breakfast all day are not a draw for me. I’d much rather have dinner food for breakfast than breakfast food for dinner. I know, I’m weird.

Then we set out to the Los Angeles Zoo to meet up with one of Scratch’s long-time friends. I didn’t even know Los Angeles had a zoo! I mean, I knew about San Diego — everyone has heard of that zoo. I’m so glad we went. It was a terrific zoo and so big! Sometimes I’m surprise at how much wilderness there is in a city like L.A.

Our native guide took us through the best parts of the zoo. We saw animals I didn’t even know existed. I was rather taken with this antediluvian-looking critter, a tomistoma (it’s between the rope and the wire, blending in with its surroundings)
There were lots more wonderful animals, including our household favorite, gorillas. I regret I didn’t ride the carousel, but I was pretty tired at the time. There had been a LOT of walking.

Despite the slight chill, it was a lovely sunny day. Which reminds me, the weather was terrible in Boston while we were gone. There was a snowstorm predicted for Saturday night, which was supposed to be bad. Betty Blaize bunked down at The Manor to make sure the weather wouldn’t prevent her from giving Albert his medicine in the morning. She’s a big damn hero.

Later in the evening we met up with my dear friend Professor A. You know those people with whom you just fall right into conversation, even though it’s been ages since you saw each other? She’s one of those. We were having such a good time catching up over a late dinner, that we didn’t want to stop, even though the restaurant was closing up around us. We retired to her charming apartment for tea and sweets she had hand-carried back from her vacation in Lebanon. Eventually it got very late and we reluctantly took our leave. I hope we’re in the same city again soon! I got lucky last year and not only got to visit her after Stripper’s Holiday, but we were also both in New Orleans the previous month.

Kitten had worried that the guest room was going to be cold and mentioned that she wanted to get a space heater. As long as Scratch and I were out, we picked one up for her. It was the least we could do for our generous and lovely hostess. And it made the room very cozy.

One more day!

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 3:05 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Los Angeles: Sunday 1/20/19

Dear Constant Reader,

Here is my second day in Los Angeles. You can read about the first one here.

As I mentioned previously, we were staying with Kitten Natividad and her guest room is a treasure trove. The walls are covered with posters and photographs from her career. She has tons of her movies — on VHS, DVD, and even film. Scratch thought she was just teasing us, since there was no way to watch them. There’s even a doll wearing a replica of one of her signature burlesque costumes. And other wondrous memorabilia, like this memento of Liz Renay. I saw her only once, but she sure left an impression.

I started my day by running my number. I reminded myself that the ceiling in the guest room was low, especially with the heels I was wearing. The music started, I forgot everything else, and WHAM! slammed my hand right into the ceiling. Chipped a couple of nails. I’m such a graceful showgirl.

After figurative licking my paws as though I meant to do that, I joined Scratch and Kitten for breakfast. Scratch took over the kitchen (as he would every morning) and made simple bowls of fresh berries and cream, which we enjoyed in the sunshine of the courtyard, watching Kitten’s kittens play. As Albert was a dignified adult cat when we found him, I forgot kittens don’t really bother with gravity. Here they are trying to scale the pergola. One would get part of the way up and the other would jump up and knock him down. Endless entertainment!

I suggested a stroll through Hollywood Forever Cemetery, which was nearby. But first we went to Larchmont Village to wander their farmer’s market. One of the things I love most about Los Angeles is the amazing produce. I just want to take it all home, but settled for sampling some oranges. Fabulous!

We drove over to Hollywood Forever, but didn’t pick up a map and thus had no idea where we were going. We decided to park over by the lake and that turned out to be the right choice. Right away I saw the very monument I’d been hoping to find! Scratch and I paid our respects to Johnny Ramone. Growing up in NYC, Scratch was fortunate to see the Ramones perform many times. As I had a more sheltered upbringing, this was as close as I ever got to the punk icons.

Wandering about the lake we found graves of many notable industry people — movie stars, directors, and starlets — but one touched me more than the others. This simple marker is a memorial to one of the greatest costume designers of Golden Age Hollywood and a personal inspiration.

On the way out we saw some of the feral cats that have made the cemetery their home. I was taken with this charmer, sunning itself on a headstone. There were a fair number of animals on the grounds — turtles and ducks on the lake, few peacocks wandering around.

Then we went back to the house so I could head over to the Fit & Bendy Studio. I was so excited when Scratch mentioned that Michelle L’amour was teaching a workshop while we were going to be in L.A. It’s called Sex Drive, and that sounded like just the thing I needed right before the big show, so I signed up right away. I quickly checked my email just before I ran out the door (so nice to be mostly unconnected all day) and saw the class was canceled. Michelle was injured and could barely walk. Obviously I was terribly disappointed, but also concerned for her. Injuries are no joke when you make your living being physical.

So instead of working on my sex drive, I joined Scratch and Kitten for a late lunch at a local Cuban restaurant.

I think I may have taken a nap, but soon it was time to head for Long Beach and Burlesque Bingo! I know you all want to heard about the show, but I’m going to make you wait. I’m going to devote an entire missive to the show, but it’s going to come last. Consider it a tease.

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 20 March 2019 at 3:19 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Los Angeles: Saturday 1/19/19

Dear Constant Reader,

At last, here it is, my trip to LA to perform with The House of Knyle!

We had a stupid early flight and Betty Blaize went above and beyond the call of friendship by driving us to the airport at 4 in the morning. I have never seen the line for security as long as it was that morning — and I had flown out of the same terminal just a week before. I don’t think it was the government shutdown (yes, this was then), because things were moving along, just SO MANY PEOPLE. It was making me rather anxious. I’m not nervous about flying, but about about missing my flight. I never really relax until I’m through security and at my gate.

Once arrived in sunny (but coolish) California, we headed to my favorite breakfast place, Du-Par’s. I just love their pancakes. As Scratch took the obligatory we’ve-arrived photo, I realized that we always sit at the same table. I am nothing if not a creature of habit. Sitting outside in January was treat, especially knowing a major snowstorm was heading for Boston.

After strolling the Farmers Market and picking up a goodie or two, we were looking for something else to do. I turned to Atlas Obscura and we decided The Museum of Jurassic Technology sounded interesting.

“Interesting” is an understatement. Behind a rather plain facade in Culver City is a wonder. No photos are allowed, so you’ll have to make do with my poor words. The space is mostly very dim, which immediately puts you in a liminal space, surrounded by curious and obscure objects. It’s not so much the items on exhibit are the works of art, but the exhibits themselves are the art. The topics are eclectic, like Ricky Jay’s decaying dice, the history of Russian space dogs, and micro-mosaics. The exhibit design is exquisite and takes advantage of various technologies to enhance the experience. I don’t want to go into details because it might spoil things. Just go. It’s weird and clever and very creative.

By then we were completely overwhelmed and tried to find our way to the tea room, only to discover there was even more museum! It’s much bigger on the inside. Weary from wonder, we stepped into the Russian-style tea room for a restorative glass of tea and cookies. We took our treats out to the wee courtyard garden — almost like a miniature of the Gardener’s — and relaxed while gazing at the doves. As a Classicist and a Deathling both, I was tickled that they had a columbarium, in both senses of the word.

At last we headed for our accommodations. The lovely and generous Kitten Natividad put us up in her charming guest suite overlooking a secluded courtyard, right in Hollywood. I’m so spoiled now — I don’t think I could stay in a hotel. It had been a long day, so I laid down for a nap. We had been thinking about going to a burlesque show that night, but when evening fell, I could not get out of bed and just went back to sleep. I’m so exciting on a Saturday night.

I had mixed feelings about my travel plans. It was a delight to stay with Kitten and spend time with a Legend and Scratch is my favorite traveling companion. However, all my House of Knyle sisters were staying with Egypt. I knew my choices meant I was going to miss out on all that bonding time. On the other hand, given that I was unconscious the entire evening, it might have been for the best that I wasn’t there. : )

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 13 March 2019 at 2:55 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Costume Creation

Dear Constant Reader,

The fun part of creating my new act for The House of Knyle mentorship program was the costume. No great shock. I love making costumes. For this act I wanted to go minimal — no gown, no gloves. The picture I had in my head was a panel skirt and bra. I like the contrast of the classic costume and the rock music.

As it turned out, I didn’t have to do too much sewing. I decided to use the bra, hip belt, g-string, and pasties from a Halloween fan dance. The base for all those pieces is black-on-black sequined fabric, which I embellished with jet, hemitite, and black diamond crystals, plus a few silver night skull rhinestones, just for fun.

The bra is a Frederick’s of Hollywood Exxtreme Cleavage push-up. It’s so “exxtreme” that I had to take out the push-up pads. For the fan dance I took off the (removable) straps, but for this act, I put the straps back on and adorned them with large black diamond rhinestones. Despite all my tricks, a couple of stones decided to pop off every time I wore it. I think I finally solved the issue.

The belt is styled after a bellydance hip belt. I love the deep V-shape. I also like how wide it is, that it’s a substantial costume piece, which makes for a nice reveal when it comes off. The only problem with that shape is that the point of the V can roll up. To keep the front nice and flat, I added a piece of boning inside. That does mean if I’m not careful, the whole thing can flip up. Embarrassing!

The G-string is based on the pattern from my book. I used flat elastic instead of tubular and (with Scratch’s assistance) added some additional strappy bits. I also made a set of thigh garters, for that appealing butt definition. The pasties (not shown) are just standard round ones, encrusted with the three colors of rhinestone.

The only thing I needed to make was panels. I already have black and silver lace ones that I use with the belt, but they’re rectangles. I wanted really voluminous panels — a full circle in the back and a half circle in the front. I was thinking red to contrast with the black, but Scratch pointed out that I already had a set of red panels (though not as full and not compatible with the belt). I was hoping to find an impossibility — a fabric with some visual interest *and* a floaty drape. I settled on some wine-colored sheer fabric at 45″ wide. I was all set to buy it when Scratch found an identical fabric over in the draperies section. Same color, same hand, same price per yard, except it was 110″ wide. Score!

Cutting the panels wasn’t too bad. I’m very lucky that Albert isn’t one of those cats who needs to sprawl on fabric. It was hemming them that was going to be a problem. I wanted a tiny rolled hem and I usually do those by hand. A rolled hem is a thing of beauty, but it’s slow going. I had an awful lot of hem and not a lot of time. Fortunately I have a rolled hem foot on my sewing machine. Time to learn how to use it.

Oh my goodness, it was lovely! It made such a beautiful tiny hem! There was hardly even any cursing as I figured out how to use it. Even with the machine, it took me quite a while to get them hems done. It made such a difference rehearsing with the actual costume pieces and all that lovely yardage! I changed some of my choreography to take advantage of them.

I am so happy with how the panels came out! I used the same snap tape as the previous lace panels, so both sets are all compatible with the same belt (this trick was a Friday Tip). By the way, panel skirts are going to be one of the topics for Miss Mina Murray’s Little Book of Burlesque Costuming, Vol. 2.

Look how fabulous the panels are! (Photo credit: Harlan)

Here’s the tricky part. I decided I needed some bad-ass shoes for the number. My character shoes are too cute; ballroom shoes are too dainty. I really wanted to use the shoes at the right, hand-me-downs from Angie Pontani. I’ve wore them on stage before, but not when I was dancing. I was committed to those shoes, because the panels were hemmed for a 5-inch heel. Even with the shoes on, the panels still touched the floor. I really didn’t want to use a lower heel and risk tripping over them. And I was having problems with the shoes… but more about that later.

I’m incredibly pleased with how the whole outfit came out. I love the wine panels against the rhinestoned black. Now that I’ve mastered the rolled hemmer, I suspect there will be even more panel skirts in my future. Stay tuned, Dear Reader, to (eventually) see how it looked in action!

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 March 2019 at 2:39 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Act Creation

Dear Constant Reader,

The centerpiece of The House of Knyle mentorship was to work with Egypt on an act. This could either be an existing one or a new one. I toyed with the idea of seeing what Egypt would do with “Mina in Furs”, the number I workshopped at Stripper’s Holiday, but decided to create something new. This was late September.

I wanted to challenge myself, so I picked a song outside my usual style. Really outside. “Whole Lotta Love” by Hollywood Vampires. I like the Led Zeppelin original, but I love this cover. I think it’s the harmonica and the vocals by Alice Copper and Brian Johnson that do it for me.

But I just didn’t know what to do with it. I felt paralyzed with indecision. This song wanted someone to dance with wild abandon and flip her hair around. That’s not me. Act creation is so hard for me. Choreography is not one of my natural talents.

So, I put things off. October was crazy while Scratch and I frantically tried to get Miss Mina Murray’s Little Book of Burlesque Costuming ready for the printer. Then I got sick and spent about three weeks of November in bed. This was about the point where Egypt announced that we had the opportunity to perform at Burlesque Bingo in January. I knew I would have to get serious.

I decided what my costume would be (and that will be a separate entry) and grabbed a reasonable facsimile. I went into the studio before rehearsal and just moved to the music in front of a camera. This isn’t how I normally create a number. Usually I’m more in my head. I break the song down and make an outline. But I was trying to do things differently, break out of my usual patterns.

I kept working on it and feeling more and more despondent. I could picture how other people I knew would dance to this song, but not me. I was thinking I would just chuck it all and start over wth something more in my comfort zone. Maybe another gown-and-gloves strip or a fan dance. I announced my despaire to the other mentees. And that’s when things started changing.

The other ladies were very supportive and Egypt and I set up an on-line date to work on it. Then I showed what I had to Scratch and he said “It’s not as bad as you think”. All that gave me the boost to keep going on it.

Egypt and I spent an hour in the studio via video chat and worked on the act. She gave me some suggestions, some of which I took, some of which sparked different ideas. I remembered Scratch’s advice to me during Stripper’s Holiday to expand my horizons, but stay true to myself.

Over the next month, I worked on the act constantly. Fear of looking terrible on stage is a great motivator. Scratch and the other BeauTease gave me feedback. I sent progress videos to Egypt. I took the floorwork section out; I put it back in, but now completely different. Scratch edited my music so the song had a stronger ending. I finalized my costume. I’m very thankful I had the time to devote to it without needing to rehearse anything else.

As for how it turned out, you’ll have to wait for a future missive.

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 21 February 2019 at 4:31 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Sally Keith, Queen of the Tassels

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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