Born 100 years ago today, burlesque star Evelyn West (Amy May Coomer, 1921-2004).
While our subject sounds like some literary crossbreed of Evelyn Waugh and Rebecca West, she was all about the pictures. Endowed by Her Creator with bomb-like bosoms, West first danced in a cooch tent on the midway of the Illinois State Fair, having grown up on farms in Kentucky and downstate Illinois. She began working strip joints in Calumet City, about a half hour south of Chicago, and this was the pathway to the rest of her career, which brought her to burlesque theatres from coast to coast. West had a terrific knack for publicity, advertising that she had insured her capacious bosom with Lloyd’s of London for $50,000, hence the nickname “Treasure Chest”. (She was also sometimes known as “The Hubba Hubba Girl”). West headlined in the 1947 movie A Night at the Follies, filmed while she was starring at the eponymous Los Angeles nightclub. Previously she had played bit parts in two Hollywood films, Rhythm on the River (1940) and Birth of the Blues (1941).
West also modeled as a pin-up, was frequently featured in men’s magazines. She often sought publicity by attempting to gin up controversy with other sex symbols like Jane Russell, Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield, Tempest Storm, and Anita Ekbert. Here she is “picketing” Marie Wilson:
Another gimmick in her act is a routine she did with a ventriloquist dummy named Eskie (after the Esquire mascot) who disrobed her:
From the 1950s through 1977 West was based primarily in St. Louis — you can read an excellent article about her in the Post-Dispatch. West was approaching 60 when burlesque died in the Gateway City. She retired with her husband, club owner and promoter Al Charles in Hollywood, Florida. At the time of her 2004 death (also chronicled in that article), she was known as Amy or Aimee Charles.
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For more on variety entertainment, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous,
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