Liz Smith: Burlesque Laid Bare

tumblr_mdcsk3eAGh1qh0yodo1_1280“YA, know, from the way that dame walks, she would have made a damn fine stripper in her day!”

So says Tessie Tura, commenting on Mama Rose, in “Gypsy.” (Tessie is one of the three strippers who belt out “You Gotta Have a Gimmick!”)

81vVwTWOlnL._SL1199_I’VE HAD “Gypsy” on my mind ever since I finished reading “Behind the Burly Q: The Story of Burlesque in America.” This entertaining, and often poignant book was written by Leslie Zemeckis. It is a more detailed version of Zemeckis’ 2006 film documentary of the same name. In the film, I thought that the remarkable Dixie Evans — “The Marilyn Monroe of Burlesque” — was the standout. Evans is so earthy, funny and real.

But the book opens up even more tales behind the twirling tassels. It tells of the comics, the talking women who worked with the comics (they rarely stripped — and few strippers would condescend to be a “talking woman” — even in an emergency.) and, of course, about those tantalizing beauties who took off as much as the law allowed.

And if a “pastie” popped or there was a bit of a “flash”, well — accidents happen. Amongst the bare: Sally Rand (she of famed feather fans), Rose La Rose, Sherry Britton, Margie Hart, Zorita, Tee Tee Red, Kitty West, Georgia Sothern, Ann Corio, Tempest Storm, Blaze Starr, Lili St. Cyr, and but of course, Miss Gypsy Rose Lee. 

Miss Lee wasn’t much liked, personally, but everybody seemed to admire her style: “She challenged and controlled her audience.”

gypsy(The real Gypsy looked nothing like luscious Natalie Wood in the movie version. One stage manager told Zemeckis of Gypsy: “She had a horrible body!”)

Each life story in this book is compelling, and most of the women don’t regret their careers, despite hardships on the road, being jailed occasionally, and perhaps not as much time for a normal family life as they might have wanted.

Many would have continued, had burlesque not been watered down by New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia,and by a more open society — namely pornography. The individual “gimmicks” that each lady employed — snakes, headstands, bathtubs, parrots, cats, agility with certain body parts — so as to stand out, makes for delicious reading.

There is a touching anecdote from Dixie Evans, who so resembled Marilyn Monroe. This speaks volumes about both women. After one of Marilyn’s miscarriages, Dixie, extremely upset, sent Marilyn an emotional telegram. Two weeks later Dixie received a response: “My dear Dixie Evans, of my many friends and acquaintances throughout the world, your telegram was of the greatest comfort to me at this time. Marilyn Monroe Miller.” (When Monroe died, Dixie became hysterical, “I was crying not only because my career was over, but because Marilyn was no longer in the world.”)

marilyn

The book reminded me a lot of the documentary I saw just last week, “The Girls in The Band.” (And of Nathan Lane’s version of hidden gays in Burlesque in “The Nance.”) Their struggles were similar, though the musical ladies might not wish to be classed in with burlesque queens. Still, they were all women fighting for independence in a male dominated world, sharing a special camaraderie under often difficult circumstances. As Blaze Starrcomments in the foreword: “Burlesque provided an opportunity to many girls, like me, to escape poverty.”

And author/filmmaker Zemeckis is correct when she writes: “Burlesque thrived in its day and even though its time has passed, its influence is everywhere — in television, film and music today. We owe so much to the art form.”

Indeed! Why, just ask — Baz Luhrmann.

P.S. Isn’t it time for another revival of “Gypsy” on Broadway? I say yes.

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WITH the serious news of Angelina Jolie’s double mastectomy rocking the public — at least that part of the public who are not fixated on President Obama’s “second term curse” — we ask: how will the glossy weeklies handle Angie and Brad from now on — or at least for a little while?

brad-pitt-angelina-jolie-another-wedding-bummer__oPtThe magazines have made their bread and butter off this couple, having them splitting up, in fits of jealously, arguing and decoding their every move and gesture.

This famous pair are conjoined, tabloid-wise, with the stories speculating about Jennifer Aniston and her ongoing “heartbreak” and the Kardashian girls, as favorite targets. (Substitute “subjects” for “targets” if you find that fair.)

So, it’s bound to be a respectable couple of months before the tabs have Brad and Angelina at each other’s throats again, or going their separate ways. Anyway, these stars seldom cooperate, have no press agents that I know of and insiders claim that Angelina has all the magazines’ exact deadlines so she deliberately caused them to miss the latest flash on their covers by her adroit timing and reserve in her New York Times op ed piece.

But now, probably, the tabloidettes will concentrate for a while on sentimental tales of Angelina and Brad getting married. Because that part of the press has so much concern for legal niceties.

I’VE HAD more than one offer of money for an introduction to Gloria Steinem.But now the Ms. Foundation for Women, celebrating 40 years, will do its own thing, offering a one-on-one lunch with Gloria for donated bidding.

The Ms. Foundation is also auctioning off a chance to meet with Diane von Furstenberg of whom there is no “whom-ier” — for fashionistas and those who worry about other people’s welfare. If you bid on Diane, you get a $2,000 reward for a DVF fashion spree.

You can also win a two-night stay at the luxurious Westglow Resort & Spa in North Carolina, or a four-course dinner and wine at Chef Scott Conant’s Scarpetta. This chance closes May 29th so log onto www.charitybuzz.com/support/msfoundation.

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This column originally appeared on NYSocialDiary.com on 5/20/13

2 comments so far.

  1. avatar Roxanna Chapman says:

    Glad to hear the Ms. Foundation is still going strong.
    I would rather bid on you!
    (would I still be eligible for the DVF fashion shopping spree?)

  2. avatar Community Manager says:

    As always, pure Liz!