Archive for dancer

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.

Althea Henley: Almost a Star

Posted in Art Models/ Bathing Beauties/ Beauty Queens/ Burlesque Dancers/ Chorines/ Pin-Ups/ Sexpots/ Vamps, Broadway, Dance, Hollywood (History), Movies, Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc., Women with tags , , , , , , , on July 23, 2017 by travsd

Chorus girl and actress Althea Henley (Althea Heinley, 1911-1996) was born on this day. As a girl, Henley trained as a dancer in her native Allentown,Pennsylvania. Encouraged by a teacher and a local theatre promoter, she auditioned for a chorus part in a tab musical, and began touring the Publix vaudeville circuit in 1926. Ned Wayburn spotted her and put her in his touring revue New Buds of 1927, which then led to a chorus part in Ziegfeld’s touring production of Three Cheers with Will Rogers and Dorothy Stone. This led to small roles in Ziegfeld’s Show Girl (1929) on Broadway with Ruby Keeler, Jimmy Durante and Eddie Foy, Jr. Probably through Foy or Stone, she was then cast in 1930’s Ripples, featuring Foy and the Fred Stone family.

That is she, paired with Curly on the left

Scouted while she was appearing in Ripples, she was given a contract at Fox and moved to Hollywood — where she only got bit roles and chorus parts, although she did appear in notable movies. She’s in the chorus in Eddie Cantor’s The Kid from Spain (1932), as well as International House (1933), George White’s Scandals (1934), and Redheads on Parade (1935). In 1931 she co-starred with Mary Mulhern, Jack Pickford’s last wife in a stage production of Kaufman and Hart’s Once in a Lifetime, but not much seems to have come of it.  In 1935 she signed with Columbia, where she had roles in three Three Stooges shorts: Three Little Beers (1935), Ants in the Pantry (1936) and Movie Maniacs (1936).  She then had a walk on role in Frank Capra’s Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936).

In 1936, she got her first decent feature role in the British film Find the Lady with Jack Melford and George Sanders. While in London she married her second husband, British auto manufacturer Arthur Markham. Markham died of a brain tumor, but Henley remained in London through the war years, returning to the U.S. to marry Hollywood agent William J. Begg in 1947. 

For more on vaudeville including performers like Althea Henley,  see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available wherever fine books are sold, and for more on classic screen comedy, consult Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube,  released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc.

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.

 

George Murphy: Song and Dance Man in the Senate

Posted in Broadway, Dance, Hollywood (History), Irish, Movies with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 4, 2017 by travsd

July 4 is the birthday of George Murphy (1902-1992). Previous generations would be nonplussed to know how quickly and thoroughly this prominent American cultural figure (both theatrical and political) would be swallowed up by time. Sometimes it’s a lazy stream; sometimes whitewater. Murphy retired in 1971 and afterwards it was as though he’d gone over the falls. But he’s both notable and worth remembering for numerous reasons.

Murphy grew up in New Haven, Connecticut, the son of Michael Murphy, a college track coach, and the coach of the 1912 U.S. Olympic team which Jim Thorpe led to victory. The younger Murphy attended Yale for a time but dropped out in order to become a professional dancer — a rare choice in that or any era. New Haven as of course where Broadway rehearsed and workshopped shows for out-of-town tryouts. Murphy picked up dancing skills (including tap) at the local rehearsal halls. He formed a team, onstage and off with Julie Johnson in 1926; she became both his dance partner and wife. Johnson and Murphy rose rapidly, performing in nightclubs, society parties and vaudeville. In 1931 the pair made it Broadway in the show Shoot the Works. This led to Murphy being cast in the hit shows Of Thee I Sing (1931-1933) and Roberta (1933). Johnson retired from performing but the couple remained married until her death in 1973.

With Fred Astaire and Eleanor Powell in “Broadway Melody of 1940”

Hollywood called next. His first picture was Kid Millions (1934) with Eddie Cantor. Other notable films included Broadway Melody of 1938, Broadway Melody of 1940, For Me and My Gal (1942), and Broadway Rhythm (1944). He co-starred with Shirley Temple in Little Miss Broadway (1938), with Judy Garland in George M. Cohan’s Little Nellie Kelly (1940), and with Ann Sothern in Ringside Maisie (1941) and Up Goes Maisie (1946).

From 1944 to 1946 he served as President of the Screen Actors Guild and this proved the beginning of his transition away from acting and into politics. His last proper role was the espionage thriller Walk East on Beacon in 1952. Having switched from the Democratic to the Republican party in 1939, he began to take a more active role circa 1952, becoming a leader in the California Republican Party and directing the entertainment for Eisenhower’s inaugural gala.  At the same time, Murphy accepted executive positions at Desilu Studios and the Technicolor Corporation.  In 1966, he was elected to the U.S. Senate, serving a single term (until 1971). He was hampered in his re-election by a 1968 operations for throat cancer, which took away his ability to speak above a whisper.

Murphy was a pioneer in the not-always-fortunate innovation of show biz people entering politics as actual candidates. By contrast, Ronald Reagan, with whom he had appeared in the 1943 film This is the Army, and to whom he was to be a kind of political mentor, did not officially join the Republican Party until 1962. At the time, the idea of Murphy serving in the Senate was considered such an absurdity that Tom Lehrer wrote a satirical song about it — and it was much more about him being a dancer than being a conservative. Thanks to Reagan and Murphy, for a time there was a peculiar Hollywood conservative actor domination of California politics. (Another Murphy co-star, Shirley Temple ran for Congress as a Republican in 1967, as well, but lost). Oddly now, despite the fact that Murphy came before him, most people think of Reagan as the pioneer of the doleful trend of show biz people in office. Reagan one referred to Murphy as his “John the Baptist”, which I guess makes Reagan the Messiah. That can’t be right.

For more on show business history, vaudeville and hoofers like George Murphy, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever fine books are sold.

Dorothy Stone: Broadway Legatee

Posted in Broadway, Hollywood (History), Movies, Women with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 3, 2017 by travsd

Stage and screen performer Dorothy Stone came into the world on June 3, 1905. The daughter of Broadway and vaudeville legend Fred Stone (the original Scarecrow in the Broadway version of The Wizard of Oz), Dorothy managed to crawl past her dad’s large shadow, but only just barely. Most of her Broadway credits were either shows that she appeared in with her dad, or shows in which she replaced the original star. The first Fred Stone shows she appeared in were Stepping Stones (1923), Criss Cross (1926), and Three Cheers (1928; Will Rogers replaced his friend Fred prior to opening when the latter was injured in a plane crash).

By 1930 the elder Stone had recovered and Dorothy appeared with both her parents as well as her younger sister Paula and Charles Collins, in Ripples (1930), an updated version of Rip Van Winkle. Collins became her dance partner; the two were married in 1931. Other “family affairs” included Smiling Faces (1932) with Fred and Paula; Sea Legs (1937), with Collins; a revival of You Can’t Take It With You (1945) with Fred and Collins; and The Red Mill (1945) with Collins; and the film shorts Shave it with Music (1932) with Fred and Collins, and Paree Paree (1934) with Collins and Bob Hope; A Radio Hook-up (1938) with Collins; and Latin High-Hattin’ (1938) with Collins.

As a replacement, she went in for Ruby Keeler in Show Girl (1929), and Marilyn Miller in As Thousands Cheer (1933), and got glowing notices in both cases, although these seem to have been her only outings without either a father or a husband around to team up with. Apart from one very special exception…

In 1936 she starred in the interesting horror movie Revolt of the Zombies, which we wrote about in this post about zombie films. That film, as well as the aforementioned Paree Paree, which is one of Bob Hope’s very first screen credits, is what she is best known for today. I managed to watch both films somehow without realizing that Dorothy was Fred Stone’s daughter.

Another frequent co-star of Dorothy Stone’s was Eddie Foy, Jr, who appeared with her in Show Girl, Ripples, Smiles, and The Red Mill. Foy’s dad was of course a contemporary of Fred Stone’s; this close connection is almost like yet another family connection. In addition to Paula, a third Stone sister Carol had a successful career on stage, and in film and television, one that was a bit more independent and longer lasting. While Collins managed to land some minor roles throughout the decades, Dorothy Stone’s last credits were in the late 1940s, scarcely outlasting the career of her dad. She died in 1974.

To learn more about vaudeville, show business, and Fred Stone, please see my book No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever illuminating books are sold.

Leonard Sillman: The Man Behind “New Faces”

Posted in Broadway, Dance, Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 9, 2017 by travsd

Several years ago I acquired a box of old theatre books that someone was discarding. Tucked in the pages of one of them, presumably as a bookmark, was a xeroxed program for a show called New Faces of 1952. This was my first awareness of Leonard Sillman (1908-1982).

I’m not a collector; in fact I actively try NOT to collect (however, books do seem to accumulate). But I understand why others  collect. There is a magic to stuff. Facts that you hear or read about feel theoretical. But when you can put your hands on something it becomes real. Here was a real old theatre program left by someone who had attended a Broadway show full on then-unknowns, “unknowns” among whom were Mel Brooks, Paul Lynde, Eartha Kitt, Alice Ghostley, Robert Clary, Carol Lawrence and Ronny Graham. “What a wonderful thing, I thought. Vaudeville was long dead in 1952, but Broadway still had this mechanism for introducing talent to the public in the form of these revues.”

The man responsible for the New Faces series, and much else, actually had a vaudeville background. He was 14 when he moved from his native Detroit to come to New York to love with an aunt and study dance with Ned Wayburn. He was only 16 when he replaced Fred Astaire in the road company of Lady Be Good. He performed in vaudeville for a bit with Frances Gershwin, sister of George and Ira, for a partner. He also appeared in three Broadway shows: Loud Speaker (1927), Merry-Go-Round (1927), and Polly (1929).

Then he headed out to Hollywood where he taught dance to movie performers, Ruby Keeler among them, and got bits parts in three films in 1933: Whistling in the Dark, Goldie Gets Along and Bombshell. It was there in 1933 that he also produced his first theatrical production Lo and Behold at the Pasadena Playhouse, featuring Eve Arden, Tyrone Power, Kay Thompson and Mr. Silliman’s own sister June Carroll. And Sillman performed in the show himself as well, as he often did throughout the years.

Sillman at Work

Lo and Behold was such a hit that he was able to bring it to Broadway under the title New Faces of 1934, and with new cast members, including Henry Fonda and Imogene Coca, with staging by Elsie Janis. The timing of this development is interesting. As we wrote here, the great Broadway revue series of the early 20th century were in their death throes when the Depression hit. Their aesthetics were old-fashioned; and the scale of the spectacle was becoming cost-prohibitive. This was like a passing of the torch. While Sillman himself was a dancer, and his shows certainly featured song and dance numbers, they didn’t have huge, expensive kickline choruses. Smart, sophisticated sketches, initially written by Sillman himself were the meat of it. Sillman was to create, produce and direct numerous such revues, many of them under the New Faces banner, through 1968! Some other “new faces” he introduced to Broadway included Van Johnson (1936), Irwin Corey (1943), Billie Hayes, Maggie Smith (both 1956), right down to Madeline Kahn and Robert Klein (both 1968). There was also a a film version, New Faces of 1937, with Milton Berle, Joe Penner, Parkyakarkus, Bert Gordon, and Harriet Hilliard, a radio version (1948), and a 1954 television version of New Faces of 1952. 

In addition to his revues, Sillman also produced and directed book musicals and straight plays, most of which weren’t as successful as his revues. His last Broadway credit as producer was a 1970 revival of Hay Fever featuring Sam Waterston and Shirley Booth that ran three weeks. Leonard Sillman had a good eye for talent.

To find out more about  the history of vaudeville and variety entertainmentconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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