Archive for the Burlesk Category

Sherry Britton: A Stripteuse with Brains

Posted in Art Models/ Bathing Beauties/ Beauty Queens/ Burlesque Dancers/ Chorines/ Pin-Ups/ Sexpots/ Vamps, Burlesk, Women with tags , , , , , , , on July 28, 2017 by travsd

Burlesque performer and actress Sherry Britton (Edith Zack, 1918-2008) was born this day. Originally from New Brunswick, New Jersey, Britton danced during the heyday of the national burlesque circuits in the 1930s, and then in nightclubs after the circuits folded throughout the 1940s (including a 7 year residency at Leon and Eddie’s on 52nd Street, NYC’s jazz neighborhood). Britton usually made her entrance in classy gowns and a tiara, disrobing to classical music. As she matured, she gradually switched to singing in cabarets, and acting in plays and musicals, appearing in nearly 40 regional productions over the years. As befitted her sometime billing “Great Britton: The Stripteuse with Brains”, she went back to school during her retirement, graduated from Fordham University with a pre-law degree at age 63.

How Faith Bacon, Inventor of the Fan Dance, Leaped to Her Death

Posted in Art Models/ Bathing Beauties/ Beauty Queens/ Burlesque Dancers/ Chorines/ Pin-Ups/ Sexpots/ Vamps, Broadway, Burlesk, Hollywood (History), Women with tags , , , , , , , , , , on July 19, 2017 by travsd

Faith Bacon (Frances Yvonne Bacon, 1910-1956) was born on July 19. Bacon started at the top as one of the most famous dancers in Broadway revues, then gradually worked her way down the show business over a period of 20 years until she made headlines one final time for her spectacular suicide.

It is said that she began dancing in Maurice Chevalier revues in Paris during the 1920s. When she came to New York, her willingness to take risks made her a favorite of Broadway showman Earl Carroll, who put her in four shows between 1928 and 1931: two editions of the Vanities, one edition of Earl Carroll’s Sketch Book, and a book musical called Fioretta.

Bacon was willing to do full nudity, an attention-getting novelty at the time. The publicity was increased by police raids and show closings for indecent exposure. Various gambits were tried in order circumvent the law. First she was presented in tableaux, totally still, with shifting light effects (the law stated that you couldn’t move on stage and be undressed at the same time). Then she and Carroll devised a fan dance for her to perform, creating an eternal question for the researcher. For, at around the same time, Sally Rand was creating her own fan dance at the Paramount Club in Chicago. Who invented it first? Did one hear about the other’s and replicate it? Did they both get the idea at the same time, a mere coincidence? Both claimed to have been the originator of the act. They both appeared at the “Century of Progress” World’s Fair in Chicago in 1933, each claiming to be the Original Fan Dancer. Five years later Bacon sued Rand for damages and sought an injunction to prevent her from doing the act. The legal action was unsuccessful.

In 1931, Bacon may have made a fatal career mistake by jumping ship from Earl Carroll’s Vanities to the Ziegfeld Follies. Ziegfeld’s was the more prestigious name, but the 1931 edition was to be the last edition of the show while he lived (he died in 1932). If she’d stayed with Carroll she might have been working on Broadway as late as 1935. At any rate, after the Follies, as we said, she worked the Chicago World’s Fair, also a prominent engagement,  from 1933 through 1934.

In 1936 Bacon was dancing in a revue called Temptations at the Lake Theater in Chicago. During the run she fell through a glass platform, cutting herself badly. She sued the theatre, which eventually settled with her for a few thousand dollars.

In 1938, she landed her first and only film role in the low-budget independent feature Prison Train, which also featured Fred KeatingDorothy Comingore (soon to co-star in Citizen Kane, here billed as “Linda Winters”), Clarence Muse and Sam Bernard. The following year she performed at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York, although she was arrested for disorderly conduct while engaging in a publicity stunt. It is after this that her career appears to dip below the radar.

In 1942, she appeared in a couple of Soundies, including “Lady with the Fans” and “Dance of Shame” (they are presently viewable on Youtube). Through this period of the 40s, she was more what we would call a burlesque dancer, although the old burlesque circuits were a thing of the past. There were still individual theatres and clubs in most major cities devoted to the undraped female, and Bacon worked her various gimmicks, mostly the fan dance and a bubble dance, at these venues. By the end of the decade, she was also reduced to playing carnivals. In 1948, she claimed a carnival manager had placed tacks on the stage floor, and tried to sue him on that basis, but it was thrown out of court.

Now in surroundings less glamorous

According to the book Striptease: The Untold Story of the Girlie Show by Rachel Shteir she also developed an addiction to heroin, which fueled her downward spiral. At some point she was said to have gotten married to songwriter and music consultant Sanford Hunt Dickinson, whose most prominent IMDB credit is Ed Wood’s Glen or Glenda (1953). He vanished from her life at some point. According to Leslie Zemeckis in her book Behind the Burley Q, she attempted to start a dance school in Indiana in 1954, but was found unconscious on the premises, having taken an overdose of sleeping pills.

In 1956 Bacon went to Chicago to seek work, rooming with a grocery store employee. Unable to find employment, she finally leaped from the third floor window of her hotel to her death. She was only 46.

For more on show business history, including Broadway revues and burlesque, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever fine books are sold.

On the Amazonian Glory of Tura Satana

Posted in Art Models/ Bathing Beauties/ Beauty Queens/ Burlesque Dancers/ Chorines/ Pin-Ups/ Sexpots/ Vamps, Asian, Burlesk, CAMP, Hollywood (History), Movies, Native American Interest, Television, Women with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 10, 2017 by travsd

It may seem impossible that such a perfect creature was born on planet earth, but it’s true: Tura Satana (Tura Luna Pascual Yamaguchi) came into the world on July 10, 1938. She was born in Japan, to a Filipino-Japanese father who’d been a silent movie actor, and a Cherokee-Scots-Irish mother who’d been a circus performer. The family moved to the U.S. only to be interned in a prison camp at the start of World War Two.

Her teenage years were predictably wild. She led an all-girl gang, went to reform school, worked as a stripper and burlesque dancer, and married at age 17, a liaison that only lasted a few months but gave her an excellent new last name: Satana. Satana happens to be a real surname, but the fact that it so closely resembles “Satan”, and goes so well with “Tura” makes the whole thing seem orchestrated by a cosmic puppet-master. She had moved to L.A. during her teenage years; this was the period when she posed for Harold Lloyd’s 3-D photo sessions with Hollywood nudes.

Photo from her early burlesque dancing/ pin-up period.

She became in demand as an exotic dancer for a number of years at nightclubs around the country, and is said to have become romantically involved with Elvis, undoubtedly one of the few men who could handle her.

In 1963, she was cast as the prostitute Suzette Wong in the movies Irma la Douce. Often she was cast as dancers or stippers in cabaret scenes in movies and television. Her turn in Who’s Been Sleeping in My Bed? (1963) made the movie poster:

She’s in a 1964 episode of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. as a character named Tomo:

In 1965, she got the role of a lifetime, when Russ Meyer cast her as Varla in his great camp exploitation masterwork Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! 

Inevitably, I think that Satana WAS Varla, we picture her in full Varla costume whenever we think of her. The film made full use of her martial arts abilities, statuesque yet buxom form, and wisecracking ad libs. She also got to race a cool hot rod in the desert and kick a lot of people’s asses, including, most satisfyingly, those of men.

“How do you like THAT health care plan, Senator?!”

Unfortunately this cult tour de force didn’t lead to big budget Hollywood stardom. She went back to playing a stripper in Our Man Flint (1966). In 1968, she returned to what seemed to work best for her — a bigger part in a smaller movies. In Ted V. Mikels The Astro Zombies (1968), she plays a Dragon Lady character she named after herself and got to share the screen with John Carradine and Wendell Corey, in a movie that was co-written and co-produced by Wayne Rogers!

Mikels hired her again for The Doll Squad (1973), about a quintet of agents set to foil a madman who wants to take over the world. It was the last film of the first phase of her career.

After this, she suffered a number of setbacks. She was actually shot by a former lover. She broke her back in a car accident. She gained weight and took a succession of jobs outside of show business. In the intervening time of course the fame of her early work grew and her movies became cult favorites. In 1985 a glam metal band emerged calling themselves Faster Pussycat. She became in demand at live fan events. Starting around 2002, she began to make appearances in films again, and acted in a few low budget movies (two of them were “sequels” to Astro Zombies). By now, her appeal had altered. An older, heavier woman, but one who simultaneously carried a legend with her, her appeal was more John Waters than Russ Meyer, but she enjoyed the renewed attention. Tura Santana passed away in 2011.

There is a campaign under way to make a documentary about her. Read about it here.

 

 

Candy Barr: Cowgirl Pioneer

Posted in Art Models/ Bathing Beauties/ Beauty Queens/ Burlesque Dancers/ Chorines/ Pin-Ups/ Sexpots/ Vamps, Burlesk, Dance, Women with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 6, 2017 by travsd

July 6 was the birthday of Texas born burlesque dancer, stripper, nude model and actress Candy Barr (Juanita Dale Slusher, 1935-2005).  Barr rose to a fame rarely afforded to others in her profession, for a long list of reasons.

One: there’s her iconic gimmick, the cowgirl outfit with the toy guns. That’s a classic, one I’d put on a very short list of the strongest burlesque gimmicks. The U.S.O. scene in Apocalypse Now (1979) features a go-go dancer who is totally channeling Candy:

Second, at the age of 16, she starred in Smart Alec (1951), a 20 minute short which has retrospectively come to be called the first porn film. The fact she was underage, and almost certainly coerced into appearing in it (she was also a prostitute at the time), combine to make it a cinematic work I’m not inclined to celebrate. Nor was she proud of it; she invariably expressed regret that the film existed. But it did make her famous after a fashion and fame gets you hired. She began to dance professionally in burlesque and striptease clubs.

Teaching Joan Collins to dance sexy, with saxophone accompaniment

Thirdly, she was famous for her associations. For several years in the 1950s, she dated gangster Mickey Cohen. She was also a close friend and confidante of Dallas nightclub owner Jacky Ruby, particularly during the months just prior to the Kennedy assassination and Ruby’s murder of Oswald. She appears to have been the lover, at one point, of Gary Crosby, Bing Crosby’s son, who was rumored to have underwritten Smart Alec. Her third husband was “Hairdresser to the Stars” Jack Sahakian. And, in 1959, she worked as a choreographer on the film Seven Thieves, teaching Joan Collins to perform stripping routines.  In 1957, she actually appeared in a legit play, taking the Jayne Mansfield role in the Dallas production of Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?, surely a sign of her growing fame.

Fourthly, there were several arrests, which also helped with publicity (initially). In 1956 she shot, but did not kill, her abusive husband. Charges were dropped. In 1957, she was busted for marijuana possession and given a sentence of fifteen years. (It sounds like she was being railroaded). After many appeals, she lost her case and began to serve her sentence in late 1959, emerging in spring 1963 after being paroled. It was during this period that she palled around with Ruby, who gave her a pair of dachshunds to breed. Exiled from Dallas, she retired from dancing for a time, but returned to it in 1968. She was once again arrested for marijuana possession in 1969, but this time the charge was thrown out due to lack of evidence.

These were short term inconveniences but they fed her long term fame. Candy Barr was still being featured in men’s magazines in the mid 1970s. At her height, she was pulling down $2,000 a week to dance in the night clubs of Dallas, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and New Orleans. She retired to her hometown of Edna, Texas in 1992.

 

The Perennial Mystique of Bettie Page

Posted in Art Models/ Bathing Beauties/ Beauty Queens/ Burlesque Dancers/ Chorines/ Pin-Ups/ Sexpots/ Vamps, Burlesk, Hollywood (History), Movies (Contemporary), VISUAL ART, Women with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 22, 2017 by travsd

Bettie Page and sister, Coney Island. Parachute Jump in background

April 22 is the birthday of Bettie Page (1923-2008). I feel sort of Bettie Page cult-adjacent, near but not of the intense widespread worship of this iconic pin-up girl of the 1950s. So many people of my generation are so crazy about her that it fascinates me. I feel I get it even if (for some reason) she doesn’t obsess and beguile me as she does so many other people. It’s almost like she’s the Mona Lisa or something to certain people. Without exaggerating, I must know dozens of women who pattern or have patterned their appearance after her, not just burlesque dancers, but artists of various kinds, painters, musicians, stage directors, and women who are simply into vintage culture. My wife has owned this fridge magnet ever since I’ve known her:

Is it something about the period? Is it the clash between the wholesome and the illicit? There is something about Bettie Page that reminds me of actresses in noir films of the 40s, like Veronica Lake. It’s like she’s the girl next door who is game enough to dabble at being daring without being swallowed up in some sinkhole of ruin. She was literally a secretary who posed for naughty pictures for a decade, then stopped doing that. Interestingly, her life didn’t fall apart (mental illness, several divorces) until AFTER she retired from modelling and became a born again Christian.

There are several points of overlap and interest for me about her life and short career. The first is that she is from the great town of Nashville, home of my ancestors. A lot of classic burlesque girls and pin-ups were of my stock: poor Southern white folk. It’s one of the strong connections I feel to classic burlesque culture — a subject for a planned future post.

The second is that she was discovered at Coney Island! She’d come to NYC to be an actress in 1949. A few months later an amateur photographer named Jerry Tibbs saw her on the beach at Coney and asked her to model for him. Ironically, Tibbs was an NYPD officer and Page’s work would eventually take her into illegal territory. But photos like the one at the top of this post, and this one, are illustrations of her connection to the beach and amusement park at Coney Island:

Betty Page is in several burlesque films of the mid ’50s: Striporama (1953), Varietease (1954), and Teaserama (1955). I became acquainted with these about five years ago in preparation for directing a couple of editions of Angie Pontani’s Burlesque-a-pades. With the passing of 60 years these films have acquired much charm they probably didn’t seem to possess when they were first released, full of theatrical values and efforts that fell by the wayside in such films as the late ’60s gave way to straight up porn.

Also, as we wrote here, in the 1950s, Bettie posed — Believe it or NOT — for Harold Lloyd! The former silent film comedian experimented with taking art shots of sexy girls with a 3-D camera during his retirement. Some are published in the 2004 book Harold Lloyd’s Hollywood Nudes in 3-D. 

Bettie Page photo by Harold Lloyd

In 2004, Gretchen Mol starred in/ as The Notorious Bettie Page. Ironically, I discovered this film backwards. Mol had appeared in the film adapted from my friend Jeff Nichols’ book Trainwreck, American Loser (2007). The Mad Marchioness then referred me back to the Page bio-pic, for which Mol is obviously much better known.

In 2012 the definitive documentary, Bettie Page Reveals All was released. Access it here at the official site.

The mania continues unabated!

For National Bird Day: The Bird Acts of Vaudeville

Posted in Animal Acts, Burlesk, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 5, 2017 by travsd
Rosa Naynon and Her Cockatoos, circa 1907

Rosa Naynon and Her Cockatoos, circa 1907

I’m informed that it’s National Bird Day, which raises the interesting question, “Is it National BIRD Day? Or NATIONAL BIRD Day?” i.e., a day to celebrate all of our avian friends, or just a day to sing the praises of the bald eagle? Well, I know it’s the former, but it does remind me of the old Bob and Ray routine wherein the announcers mistake ground HOG meat for GROUNDHOG meat.

At any rate, I’m sure the intention of today’s observation is supposed to be about naturalism or preservation or something, but I am going to subvert it entirely by celebrating the working beast,the birds who sing for their supper strictly for human entertainment. In his book Vaudeville, Joe Laurie, Jr had this to day about bird acts:

“There were a lot of cockatoo acts (they were easy to train): Swain’s Cockatoo’s, Merle’s Cockatoo’s, Marzella’s, Lamont’s, and Wallace’s. They walked the wire, rang bells, put out a fire in a toy house, etc. Very entertaining. There were Marcelle’s Birds, Camilla’s Pigeons, Conrad’s Pigeons, and of course Olympia DesVall’s was the best bird act of them all. There was also Torcat’s and Flora D’Alizas Educated Roosters, followed by Kurtis’s Educated Roosters.”

7f59efcba23e6d36ec89dde2bab3011d

Watercolorist Charles Demuth painted this unidentified “Vaudeville Bird Woman” in 1917:

charles-demuth-vaudeville-bird-woman

Birds were an integral part of C.A. Wright’s Traveling Tent Show. 

Burlesque dancer Yvette Dare worked with macaws and parrots who were trained to undress her to music:

4de493c8f9f0d333cedb448820f0639d

Dare.

Here’s another one of Madame Marzella, circa 1896

e83cdef4bf402e91706c13c7aa0abfa1

For more on vaudeville historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

For Talk Like a Pirate Day: Trav S.D.’s “Sea of Love”

Posted in Art Models/ Bathing Beauties/ Beauty Queens/ Burlesque Dancers/ Chorines/ Pin-Ups/ Sexpots/ Vamps, Burlesk, Coney Island, Contemporary Variety, Indie Theatre, LEGIT, EXPERIMENTAL & MUSICAL THEATRE, ME, My Shows with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 19, 2016 by travsd

1235916_10151705179113380_994667408_n

All things considered we give our plays short shrift here (and elsewhere,I think) and one of our New Year’s resolutions is to make amends by plugging them aggressively. The best way to make your New Year’s resolution come true is to get to work on it several months early.

Fortunately, we have a handy “way in” to talk about one of my plays today, it being INTERNATIONAL TALK LIKE A PIRATE DAY and all. Trav S.D.’s Sea of Love is basically an extended “talk like a pirate” nautical riff, structured as a series of crashing ocean waves. It has had many lives.

It began as a two-hander about a couple on a date, which I began developing as a student at Trinity Rep Conservatory in 1987. It begins with the galling premise of a prudish young man rebuffing the scary advances of a highly open and sexual female co-worker whose trippy monologue provided its original title, Love Embrace at 50 Fathoms. It was a Gilligan and Ginger scenario, if you will.

1989-mermaid

A couple of years later (1989) I attended the Coney Island Mermaid Parade for the first time, and that inspired me to take the play where it eventually went, an over the top fantasy scenario, where the date is first invaded by the young man’s equally sexual and forward mother “Mrs. Paul”, and then the ghost of his pirate father “Long John”. This version was produced at the now defunct Vortex Theatre, and featured my good friend Sarah McCord Williams as “Gidget” and her then-boyfriend Brian Price as the hero “Bildad”. Coney Island performer Sailorman Jack opened the show with a set of sea chanteys.

In the early ’90s I directed yet another version at the old Village Gate, which is now Le Poisson Rouge. I think at this stage I had the effrontery to call it Wet Dreams, which is gross, but actually fits the theme.

seaoflove

Tony Millionaire designed the postcard for the 2002 edition

Then in 2002 came what I consider the definitive version of Sea of Love, at the Ohio Theatre’s Ice Factory Festival. For this one, I pulled out all the stops. I introduced a dance chorus number, choreographed by the one and only Julie Atlas Muz, and featuring several key burlesque dancers as the “Naughty Nereids”, including the legendary Bambi the Mermaid (THE Coney Island Mermaid Parade Mermaid), Kate Valentine (a.k.a Mistress Astrid), Lin Gathright (a.k.a. Miss Bunny Love) and others. The lovely Moira Stone sang my song “Love of the Ocean” for a curtain raiser.

Stone (right), with Sarah Jane Bunker, who played Gidget, backstage at the Ohio

Stone (right), with Sarah Jane Bunker, who played Gidget, backstage at the Ohio

And I added another wave of craziness in the person of the Great God Poseidon, played by Robert Pinnock wearing nothing but a thong and a green afro wig. Jeff Lewonczyk played Bildad’s mother Mrs. Paul (in drag, natch), and Bildad was to be played by the multi-talented writer-comedian (and former Fox commentator) John Devore. 

I was extremely jazzed to play the part of the pirate — in fact, that was kind of the whole point (see the publicity photo at top). But just before opening night Devore suffered a tragic death in the family, and (as I have had to do so often in the past), I had to understudy for him, re-envisioning the pirate by having Adam Swiderski and Dan Maccarone play the body (at different shows), with Pinnock supplying the voice offstage through a microphone. Then we closed out the show by having the entire cast sing the Donovan song “Atlantis”.

As too often happens when I write/direct/produce/ and star in something, little (sometimes major) things fall through the cracks. All too often it has happened that I forgot to arrange for photographs of the production! Thus there is no photographic record of this  show. I have video of it, but it’s kind of rough (at least my copy is), and so I really only have memories.

And then there was additional life. In 2007 we did a commemorative reading of the play at Coney Island USA, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the parade.

And then that terrific resource Indie Theater Now made it available to purchase! It’s yours to peruse and (hopefully) produce at this link:

http://www.indietheaternow.com/Play/sea-of-love

%d bloggers like this: