The Minskys: The Gold Standard of Burlesque

The most famous patronymic in the annals of burlesque management was to arrive late in the game — was indeed to oversee both burlesque’s Renaissance and demise all in one feel swoop. The father Louis had come from (and named himself after) Minsk and was known as “Pop”. It was he who had built the National Winter Garden Theatre,a  Yiddish venue on the Lower East Side, and let his sons Billy and Abe show movies on the roof starting in 1912. Two years later, their brother Herbert joined them and they converted to burlesque. In the twenties they began to buy important theatres all over town and add them to their empire, and their younger brother Morton joined the concern.

It was the Minsky Brothers who brought burlesque to Times Square, converting many Broadway and vaudeville houses to the industry. It was this showy prominence that made Minsky theatres impossible for authorities to ignore (as they previously had) and forced the city to bow before the various legions, societies and committees in taking action. (At the same time striptease was becoming an ever increasing part of the burlesque presentation, another factor).

The first of the big raids was on the mother theatre in 1925, and has been immortalized in the 1966 movie The Night They Raided Minsky’s. The raids continued all throughout the 1930s, climaxing with a city edict in 1937 that all burlesque houses in NYC be shut down. By 1942, they were. The burlesque industry limped on elsewhere in the country but since the industry had been headquartered, financed and organized in New York, its days were numbered. One by one, the burlesque houses became movie theatres…some of them not so nice.

To find out more about the variety arts past and presentconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. And don’t miss Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, to be released by Bear Manor Media in 2013.


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