Shirley Jean Rickert: A Baby Star in Burlesque

Now, now, don’t jump to conclusions. Yes, Shirley Jean Rickert (1926-2009), was both a child star and a burlesque dancer, but at entirely different times in her life, much as the Hovick sisters Gypsy Rose Lee and June Havoc went from a kiddie act to much more grown-up stuff when they got older.

Born in Seattle, Shirley Jean won a baby beauty contest when she was a year and a half old. With this as encouragement her family moved to Hollywood where the tot began to get cast in films in 1930, starting with the Monte Collins short How’s My Baby? That year she was also in The Sins of the Children with Louis Mann, Robert Montgomery, Leila Hyams, and Clara Blandick; Night Work with Eddie Quillan; and Follow Thru with Buddy Rogers, Nancy Carroll, Eugene Pallette, Jack Haley and Thelma Todd.

In 1931 and ’32, she worked for Hal Roach, appearing in a half dozen Our Gang shorts, and a Boyfriends comedy. In 1933 and ’34 she supported Mickey Rooney in a half dozen Mickey McGuire shorts. From 1934 through 1942 she was a bit played in about a dozen features, ranging from The Scarlet Letter to The Five Little Peppers in Trouble. 

From 1942 through 1952, a transitional period, where she danced in musicals and dance hall scenes in westerns. She’s in about ten films in this capacity, including Meet the People (1944), Good News (1947), Royal Wedding (1951) and Singin’ in the Rain (1952).

THEN she’s a burlesque dancer.

In burlesque her gimmick was her long blonde tresses. She billed herself as Gilda and Her Crowning Glory. You can see her in the nudie cutie The A-B-Cs of Love (1953), and she PLAYS a stripper in The Human Jungle (1954) her last film. She retired from stripping in 1959. In later years she worked as a saleswoman, continued to perform in live theatre, and made personal appearances. She also busied herself with this website, which remains up in her honor.

To learn more about show biz history please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, and for more on classic comedy, please read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube