George “Beetlepuss” Lewis: Best Banana in Burlesque

George “Beetlepuss” Lewis (1901-1955) started out in vaudeville but achieved his greatest fame in burlesque, where he was one of the most popular comedians.

Lewis appears to have worked with everybody in burlesque, and was based primarily on the West Coast. Robert Alda was one of his partners. Alan Alda writes fondly about him in his autobiography Never Have Your Dog stuffed. In 1938 Lewis starred in a revue  called Revels of Burlesque, with comedy partner Claude Mathis.

Lewis also appeared in a half dozen films. Along with Willie Howard, he’s in a 1938 Al Christie short penned by Billy K. Wells called Pardon My Accident. He’s a drunk in a B movie called Half Past Midnight, and a comic (essentially himself) in the Betty Grable musical When My Baby Smiles at Me, both 1948. The rest of his films are essentially cinematic depictions of burlesque shows: Midnight Frolics (1949), Strip Strip Hooray (1950), International Burlesque (1950), and Ding Dong (1951). In 1953 he appeared in a 3-D short of the comedy sketch I’ll Sell My Shirt, along with Charlie Crafts, Jack Haley’s old comedy partner, and Corky Marshall, “Da Brooklyn Lovebird”. In the film, the pair trick Corky into taking off her clothes. Can I get a #Metoo? This one recently reemerged on a 2015 video compilation called 3-D Rarities. 

According to Leslie Zemeckis’s Behind the Burly Q, Lewis contracted cancer, and Lou Costello paid for his stay at a sanitarium in his final days. He was only 54 when he died.

To learn more about vaudeville, burlesque and other forms of variety entertainment, please consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous,