Adele Jergens: Burlesque Adjacent

The career of Adele Jergens (1917-2002) is an interesting instruction on how influential burlesque is on the culture at large. While I haven’t come across any information on her working on the burlesque circuits per se, her performance on stage and screen was certainly often burlesque adjacent.

The Brooklyn native took dance classes from age 9, and by the late 30s was working as a model and as a chorine at Brooklyn’s Fox Theatre, at the 1939 New York World’s Fair (where she was voted “Miss World’s Fairest) and at Radio City Music Hall, where she danced as a Rockette. Her LA Times obit says she was voted “#1 Showgirl in New York”, though when, where or how that designation came about they do not say. She also had chorus parts in the Broadway shows Leave it to Me (1938-39), Du Barry Was a Lady (1939-40), Eddie Cantor’s Banjo Eyes (1941-42), and Star and Garter (1942-43), in which she also understudied for Gypsy Rose Lee. She actually got to go on for Lee for two weeks, during which time she was spotted by talent scouts from Columbia Pictures, launching her movie career.

In movies she started out in bit parts, often as chorus girls, but gradually worked her way up to second leads, and occasional leads, often in gritty B movies. You can see her in such films as Hello Frisco Hello (1943), Sweet Rosie O’Grady (1943), Pin Up Girl (1944), a few of the Blondie comedies, Down to Earth (1947), The Fuller Brush Man (1948), The Traveling Saleswoman (1950), Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951), Fireman Save My Child (1954, originally intended for Abbott and Costello, but replaced by Hugh O’Brian and Buddy Hackett); and The Cobweb (1955). By the mid ’50s she was down to AIP (Roger Corman) pictures, like Day the World Ended (1955) and Girls in Prison (1956). She retired following a very busy 1956.