Dear Constant Reader,
The Queen of Hearts – The Life and Times of a Golden Age Burlesque Star by Sandy McQueen (2014).
Sandy McQueen was a burlesque performer in the 1960’s & ’70’s, what she calls the “Golden Age”, predominantly on the West Coast. She got her start in the Bay Area as a teenager. She tried to get a job as a cocktail waitress, since the trays were lighter and the tips were better than the drive-in where she had been working, but a club owner through she’d be better on stage.
In the very early ’60’s, she played both Alaska and Hawaii, and loved them both. Her first engagement in Alaska was Kodiak Island, which had just suffered a massive earthquake and tsunami. In fact, the town was under martial law and she couldn’t work for two weeks. Later, she went to Fairbanks which involved more than three solid days of driving though the wilds of Canada.
In Hawaii, she was asked to go on to Japan and the prospects sounded great — a 20-piece band and 3 shows a night. Then she was told by someone in the know that the musicians didn’t speak English and the shows were at 3 different theatres, each a 200 mile train ride apart. The Shinkansen high-speed rail did exist by then, but still. This reminds me of a story I was told by a Legend that she was offered work in Japan, which would also involve shows at several clubs over the course of a night (*sixteen* she said), but she would be transported on the back of a motor bike. Needless to say, Sandy turned down the offer.
I was particularly delighted that she ended her career in Boston’s Combat Zone. She worked at The 2 O’Clock Club on Washington St. from 1975 until it closed, when she moved to the Mouse Trapp [sic] and then The Piccadilly Club. Her descriptions of working in the Zone were worth the price of the book for me. You can see a little of what it was like in “…A Kind of Life.”: Conversations in the Combat Zone. I think some of the performers Ms. McQueen mentions are portrayed in the book.
Most of the section on Boston are sketches of the performers and club employees. She differentiates between “dancers” and “walkers”. Walkers did just that — walk up and down the stage and strip — and they were rarely features. Unlike some clubs, at The 2, performers didn’t have to mix if they didn’t want to. There were mixers who didn’t always perform, just hustled drinks. There a mention of “Heidi Jo” (Hedy Jo Star), who made wardrobe for most of the performers. Sandy writes that she still has a set of body jewelry, including a metal bra and g-string, made by Hedy Jo’s husband.
In 1979, Sandy McQueen retired from burlesque and moved to New Hampshire.
The most refreshing thing about this memoir is that Sandy looks back without rancor or bitterness. Occasionally, she regrets the way a relationship ended or that something was stolen from her, but for the most part, she doesn’t complain about what might have been or should have been. She treats the years as a grand adventure and her enthusiasm makes the memoir so fun to read.