Review: Gilded Lili

Dear Constant Reader,

I have a biography of Lili St. Cyr in my to-be-reviewed pile, but I realized I had never reviewed this earlier look at the legendary stripteause.

Gilded Lili: Lili St. Cyr and the Striptease Mystique by Kelly DiNardo, 2007.

Lili St. Cyr was known for her elegant, elaborate stage shows and her cool, remote beauty, as well as her lavish lifestyle and many affairs, but she remains something of an enigma. Ms. DiNardo wants to reveal the genuine Lili St. Cyr. Besides utilizing numerous print resources, she conducted interviews with some people who still remembered the dazzling dancer. 

We look at the life of Lili St. Cyr, from her early family life and her escape though a teenaged marriage, through arc of her career and fame, to her death in self-imposed exile. Her story is interwoven with a look at the prevailing culture throughout her life. Sometimes she rebelled against the culture norms; sometimes they shaped her. We are shown the people and circumstances that influenced her, like Greta Garbo and travel by ocean liner. Also, those she influenced — there’s a section about Marilyn Monroe using Lili as a role model for her bombshell persona, which devolves into how one of Lili’s husbands tried to capitalize on his relationship with both women with some tawdry (and mostly likely utterly fictitious) revelations.  

Occasionally the book feels padded, such as a mention that the teenaged Marie van Schaak (Lili’s birth name) liked to read Vogue digresses into a paragraph about the fashion magazine, or stretched, like when the author interviewed an ex-husband’s landlord for details on his life long post-Lili.

Despite all the detail and facts, I didn’t feel like I really got to know who Lili St. Cyr was. She is the center of the book and yet I felt like we were only able to stand on the fringes of her life, at a safe distance. Many of the people Ms. DiNardo interviewed knew Lili at a remove, like the children of club owners. One of her husbands was probably the closest person to her that spoke with the author, but even he doesn’t seem to have known Lili’s inner life very well. Despite baring her body night after night onstage, she kept her soul very well concealed.

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