I only discovered the existence of Rusty Warren (Ilene Goldman, b. 1930) a few months ago, in a record shop in San Luis Obispo, while speaking at their local historical society. Warren was basically a lounge and nightclub performer who released a string of comedy albums containing songs with naughty lyrics. The peak of her success was in the 1960s, alongside contemporaries like Lenny Bruce, Redd Foxx and others, who were breaking down boundaries at the same time. Because her act, though unmistakably raunchy, was based on double entendres, obvious though they were, she seems to have avoided the same kind of legal trouble that greeted Bruce and other acts that relied on outright profanity.
Amusingly, Warren was trained to play classical piano at the New England Conservatory of Music under Arthur Fiedler. Raised in Milton, Mass., she graduated in the early ’50s and launched her act around the same time. Warren sang, told jokes and stories, and tickled the ivories — a sort of mix of Sophie Tucker and Liberace. Her first album was Songs for Sinners, in 1959. Her second one, Knockers Up (1960), recorded live at the Golden Falcon in Ft. Lauderdale, was her most popular, hitting #6 in the Billboard charts. It was followed by Sin-sational (1961), Rusty Warren Bounces Back (1961), Rusty Warren in Orbit (1962), Banned in Boston? (1963), Sex-x-ponent (1964), Rusty Sings a Portrait of Life (1964), More Knockers Up! (1965), Rusty Rides Again (1967), Bottoms Up! (1969), Look What I Got for You (1969), Lays It on the Line (1974), Knockers Up ’76 (1976), and Sexplosion (1977). When she wasn’t recording, Warren was endless touring, to resort areas like Las Vegas, Phoenix and Scottsdale, Arizona, and Ft. Lauderdale.
Catherine O’Hara’s Dusty Town character is partially based on Warren.
At the age of 90, Warren has her own website! Check it out here. And several of her records are available to listen to on Youtube.
To learn more about the variety entertainment, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous.
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