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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.



Edy Williams: A Doll Beyond

Posted in Art Models/ Bathing Beauties/ Beauty Queens/ Burlesque Dancers/ Chorines/ Pin-Ups/ Sexpots/ Vamps, CAMP, Hollywood (History), Movies, Women with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 9, 2017 by travsd


Iconic shot from “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls”

A tribute to Edy Williams (Edwina Beth Williams), whose birthday it is today, according to IMDB. Williams is on my radar chiefly because she is one of the best things (in a film full of best things) about one of my favorite movies, Russ Meyer’s 1970 Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.

Amusingly, Williams was also married to Meyer in 1970 — amusing because she’s one of the villains in the film and is directed to be (gorgeous as she is) as unappealing as possible. She has enormous fun in the role, and it’s sort of a miraculous high water mark given her career as a whole. Most of her career prior to that was in bit parts: set dressing, eye candy, or to use the awful phrase from Soylent Green: “furniture”.

She began as a model and beauty pageant contestant, apparently winning some of her contests. Originally from Salt Lake City, she had a wholesome kind of beauty, not unlike Sharon Tate’s, which makes the sleaziness of her later roles more interesting in the context of an “evolution”. And, if these photographs are any gauge, for a period of time, she also worked as a receptionist:

“It’s for you!”

It seems as though she was very versatile. For example, she could be a cowboy…

Or an Indian:

When she began to get film parts, they seem an extension of her modeling. She plays a chorus girl in the famous Twilight Zone episode The Dummy (1962) with Cliff Robertson, about the evil ventriloquist dummy:

She’s in Paradise, Hawaiian Style (1966) with Elvis:

She’s in a two part Batman episode as a henchwoman to villain Chandell, played by Liberace:

In another Batman episode she’s a hostess at a nightclub run by Catwoman:

Here she is with Jonathan Harris as Dr. Smith on Lost in Space (1967):

She’s in the 1966 Steve McQueen western Nevada Smith as a saloon girl, and in the 1967 Sonny and Cher movie Good Times as one of George Sanders’ “girls”. Then she starts to get some real roles. She’s 4th billed in George Axelrod’s The Secret Life of an American Wife. Here she is with co-star Patrick O’Neal:

And she’s sixth billed in Garson Kanin’s Where It’s At (1969).

Then came the the years with Meyer. They met while making Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970) and he married later that year. The following year, she had a part in The Seven Minutes, Meyer’s ill-fated attempt at legitimacy. In 1973 he photographed her for a full color spread in Playboy. The couple divorced in 1977. Meyer went back to his particular brand of campy nudie films, and Williams continued on a sort of parallel track. Some of her more prominent roles were in The Happy Hooker Goes to Washington (1977), Paul Mazursky’s Willie and Phil (1980), and an episode of the satirical tv show Sledge Hammer (1987). In later years (through the 90s at least) she became best known for showing up at film festivals and awards show with outfits specially designed for her to fall out of her dress. But this is how we like to remember her best:

Kay Laurell: Too Beautiful for this Earth?

Posted in Art Models/ Bathing Beauties/ Beauty Queens/ Burlesque Dancers/ Chorines/ Pin-Ups/ Sexpots/ Vamps, Broadway, Silent Film, Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc., Women with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 28, 2017 by travsd

Kay Laurell (1890-1927) came into the world on a June 28. Born Ruth Leslie (an equally good professional name, I think) in Erie Pennsylvania, she moved to New York as a teenager where she very quickly discovered and employed as an artists’ model for such illustrators and William Glackens and Howard Chandler Christy. This brought her to the notice of Flo Ziegfeld, who cast her in his Follies of 1914, 1915 and 1918. Because of her great beauty (and her willingness of disrobe) she became famous for appearing topless or near-naked in Ziegfeld’s “artistic” tableaux, appearing as Aphrodite in the 1915 edition, and “The Spirit of the Allies” in 1918, when the U.S. was in Wold War One. Here she is decorated as “September Morn”:

There’s a snap in the air!

Most commentators remarked on her beauty but H.L. Mencken is said used her for inspiration for his acerbic 1918 book In Defense of Women, quipping that she was gifted with “all the arts of the really first-rate harlot.”

She dabbled in pictures next, appearing in three silent films: The Brand (1919), The Valley of the Giants (1919), and Lonely Heart (1921). She next toured in vaudeville and with stock companies for the next three years. She returned to Broadway to appear in the plays Quarantine (1924) and Nocturne (1925), but the latter ran only three performances. Her remaining two years were spent working in London and Paris theatre.

Laurell died in childbirth in 1927 giving birth to her first child. The father of the child was a son of Canadian adventurer Klondike Joe Boyle, but the pregnancy was out of wedlock because Laurell was still legally attached to Fox executive Winfield Sheehan whom she’d married in 1917. She was 36 when she died — young for us, but rather old for a first pregnancy in those days.

For more on the history of show business consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever vitally informative books are sold. For more on early film, consult Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube,  released by Bear Manor Media, also available from etc etc etc. 

Billie Dove: Follies Girl

Posted in Art Models/ Bathing Beauties/ Beauty Queens/ Burlesque Dancers/ Chorines/ Pin-Ups/ Sexpots/ Vamps, Broadway, Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film, Women with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 14, 2017 by travsd

Silent film star Billie Dove (Bertha Bohnny 1903-1997) was born on this day. Born to Swiss immigrant parents in New York City, the stunningly beautiful teenager began her working life as a model to artists like Charles Dana Gibson and James Montgomery Flagg. She was also said to have worked as an extra on the Mabel Normand picture Joan of Plattsburg (1918), although she is not visible in the finished picture. In 1919, she was hired as a replacement for the Ziegfeld Follies during the infamous strike; she was also cast as a replacement in the Marilyn Miller show Sally, also produced by Ziegfeld.

With Fairbanks in “The Black Pirate” (1926)

She moved to Hollywood right after this, where she was a star for just over a decade. Her first proper role was in the screen adaptation of George M. Cohan’s Get-Rich-Quick Wallingford (1921) starring Sam Hardy. Interestingly, though her time as an actual chorus girl was brief, she would PORTRAY a chorus girl on screen so often that it became a big part of of her Jazz Age image, in movies like At the Stage Door (1921), Polly of the Follies (1922), An Affair of the Follies (1927), The Heart of a Follies Girl (1928), and her very last film Blondie of the Follies (1932). Among her other notable pictures were, The Black Pirate (1926), opposite Douglas Fairbanks, and Kid Boots (1926), Eddie Cantor’s screen debut, an adaptation of his Ziegfeld-produced Broadway show featuring Cantor and Clara Bow. Billie Dove also was known for co-starring in numerous westerns with the likes of Tom Mix, Hoot Gibson, and others.

Dove had a three year romance with Howard Hughes, who’d produced several of her films. In 1933 she retired from the screen to marry oil tycoon Robert Alan Kenaston. After a 30 year absence from the screen she stepped before the camera one last time for a cameo in the Charlton Heston vehicle Diamond Head (1963). Singer Billie Holiday is said to have taken the first part of her stage name from Billie Dove’s.

For more on silent film, consult Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube,  released by Bear Manor Media, also available from etc etc etc. For more on show biz historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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!

Princess White Deer: Native American Royalty in Vaudeville

Posted in AMERICANA, Art Models/ Bathing Beauties/ Beauty Queens/ Burlesque Dancers/ Chorines/ Pin-Ups/ Sexpots/ Vamps, Broadway, Dance, Native American Interest, Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc., Women with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 2, 2013 by travsd


Today is the birthday of Esther Louise Georgette Deere, a.k.a Princess White Deer (1891-1991). A genuine Mohawk Princess and granddaughter of the tribe’s last full chief, Chief Running Deer, she was also a third generation show business professional.

Starting in the 1860s, Running Deer and his family began performing in medicine shows, Wild West shows, and circuses, often masquerading as members of any tribe they were hired to impersonate: Kickapoo, Umatilla, Sioux, Apache, or Shawnee. The members of the troupe would perform traditional chants, dances and rituals, do trick riding. re-enact famous battles — whatever would thrill the crowds. They also played in melodramas in legitimate theatres in shows like On the Trail of Daniel Boone and Queen of the Highway. The Deer family performed in some of the biggest shows of the era: P.T. Barnum’s, John Robinson’s, Texas Jack’s and numerous others. Running Deer’s last performance was at the 1901 Pan American Exposition in Buffalo. The family act continued on for nearly a decade, touring the U.K., Continental Europe, South Africa, and as far East as Russia, which is where Esther (Princess White Deer), who had been performing with her family since childhood, split off and went solo.

For the first several years of her career she performed in night clubs and music halls of Imperial Russia (reportedly even marrying a Count, who died in the First World War). The war sent Princess White Deer back to the States. Starting in 1917, she was a headliner on the big time Keith-Albee circuit, performing with a full company as “Princess White Deer and her Braves”. P.R. copy described her as “the only real American Indian in theatricals who dances and sings”, which probably wasn’t too far from the truth. The 17 minute act boasted an elaborate set and costumes, and a large troupe of performers. She would continue to return to Keith vaudeville periodically through the end of the 1920s.

Meantime, there were also other types of venues, and other acts. She was a frequent performer in Ziegfeld’s Midnight Frolic and Nine O’Clock Frolic. She traveled with the road company of Raymond Hitchcock’s Hitchy-Koo of 1919. She also appeared in the Broadway shows Tip Top (1920), The Yankee Princess (1922), and Lucky (1927). In 1924 she played supper clubs in Atlantic City with a ballroom dance act with an Argentinian smoothie named Peppy de Albrew. From 1928 through 1929 she performed in the cabarets and music halls of Paris.

Upon her return to the States in 1929, she appears to have essentially retired from show business, occupying herself with tribal activities and ceremonial appearances for the next 60 years. More on this remarkable person can be found in the book In Search of Princess White Deer, by Patricia Galperin. 


To learn more about vaudeville consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.


And don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from etc etc etc


Lili St. Cyr: Naked But Not Dead

Posted in Art Models/ Bathing Beauties/ Beauty Queens/ Burlesque Dancers/ Chorines/ Pin-Ups/ Sexpots/ Vamps, Burlesk, Hollywood (History), Movies, Women with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 3, 2013 by travsd

Some girls work with parrots; Lily apparently worked with a Griffin

Lili St. Cyr (Willis Marie Van Schaack, 1918-1999) was born on this day. Having studied ballet as a child in her native Minneapolis, she first broke into show business as a chorus girl. One of her first jobs was in an act backing up the Duncan Sisters. She lobbied hard to become a featured dancer, enhancing her stunning looks with classy and creative gimmicks, and became one of the most famous burlesque performers of the 1940s and 50s.

Happy Thanksgiving!

So great was her fame that she also became a popular pin-up model, and appears in several Hollywood films, including Son of Sinbad (1955) and The Naked and the Dead (1958). (She played the Naked). At the same time she was appearing in Irving Klaw’s nudie films, such as Varietease (1954) and Teasarama (1955). Her sister Rosemary (known as “Dardy”) married Harold Minsky.

Leslie Zemeckis has written a terrific biography about this legendary burlesque performer. Read about it here.

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