Zorita and Her Gorgeous Gimmicks

Burlesque legend Zorita (Kathryn Boyd or Ada Brockett, 1915-2001) was born on August 30. Orphaned as a baby and raised by strictly religious adoptive parents in Youngstown, Ohio, by her teenage years, she was already stripping at stag parties.

When she was 20, she was hired to take part in the Zoro Garden Nudist Colony exhibit in the California Pacific International Exhibition in San Diego (1935-1936), which gave her not only her career but her stage name. She began dancing professionally in burlesque in San Francisco in the mid 1930s and became legendary for her creative gimmicks.

The most famous involved snakes. Zorita worked with two boa constrictors named Elmer and Oliver. One of her dances was called “The Consummation of the Wedding of the Snake.”

As a publicity stunt, she would would take the boas out for a walk on a leash.

She also did a famous he-she number called “Half and Half”, where half of her body was the bride and half the groom, and she would work her way up to their wedding night:

Other numbers included a Spider Dance where she was trapped on a glittering web, while spider-like hands undressed her, and a “Dance of the Wandering Hands”.

She bleached her hair blonde later in her career and looked more like this:

In 1954 she retired from dancing but remained in burlesque for another two decades, owning and managing clubs in New York and Miami. When she left the business in 1974 it is said that she did so to raise Persian cats. And, look! Here’s proof of how she loved the animal:

Working with animals in burlesque was a double bind. Zorita was constantly in the papers for being arrested, half the time for indecency, half the time for animal cruelty. You know what they say: damned if you do, and damned if you do!

Zorita also appeared in a handful of films: the stag movies I Married a Savage (1949), Naughty New York (1959), and Judy’s Little No-No (1969), the exploitation film Revenge is My Destiny (1971), and — her one “legit” film, a walk-on as a club owner in the 1974 Lenny Bruce bio-pic Lenny!

To find out more about  the history of the variety artsconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. 

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