On the Happy Hollidays: A Tribute to One Cool Variety Couple

A nod today to a pair of lovebirds from the transitional era between old and new show biz. Bill Holliday (William F. Holliday, 1914-1971) was a ventriloquist, trumpet player, and balloon twister. Originally from Detroit, he had started out in show business playing his horn with the Lucky Millinder band. By the early ’40s he was appearing in night clubs with JoJo, his dummy partner. Later he toured in burlesque troupes with his wife Jean Idelle, who today is the better known of the two.

Jean Idelle was known as the “Sepia Sally Rand“, on account of her specialty in burlesque was the fan dance. Idelle had studied serious dance with Katherine Dunham, and was spotted by an agent who got her a job headlining at Minsky’s in Chicago. Ere long she was traveling with her own troupe. She is largely credited with helping to integrate burlesque. She’s been featured in countless magazines, and got a second burst of fame in the neo-burlesque era, when has been widely heralded as a legend. Her entry at the Burlesque Hall of Fame is here, but Google her, and you will find much, much more. She is a hero to young women of color pursuing careers in exotic terpischoreanism.

The pioneering Hollidays retired from show biz in the mid ’60s to raise a family. In his last years, Bill worked as an interior decorator. From what I can glean, Jean is still among the living. Their grandson C-Holliday is a rap artist.

To learn more about the variety arts, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous