Book Reviews

Abbott, Karen. American Rose: A Nation Laid Bare: The Life and Times of Gypsy Rose
Ms. Abbott attempts to strip away the mythology Gypsy created about herself as immortalized in her autobiography and the musical based on it. As well as combing through archives, Ms. Abbott interviewed the two then-living people who knew her best, Gypsys son, Erik Lee Preminger, and her sister, June Havoc. Gypsy portrayed her mother as eccentric and driven and the musical turned her into the quintessential stage mother. In American Rose she is revealed to be dangerously unstable and shown to have committed murder more than once. Deceptions abound from the very beginning of Gypsys life she was originally named Ellen June, but a couple of years later her mother gave the name to her baby sister.

The chapters of the book skip around in chronology, starting at the peak of Gypsys career, then jumping back to her childhood, then to a chapter on Billy Minsky, then back to 1940, then a return to vaudeville days. It can be a little confusing and is the biggest criticism of most reviews. When Ms. Abbott gets into her subjects heads and writes from their perspective, she tends towards the overly dramatic and veers into the realm of fantasy. Shes best when quoting directly from her sources.

I wont say its an enjoyable read, because the portrait she paints is sometimes so horrible that its hard to believe either Hovick sister survived their childhood and its not surprising that Gypsy grew up, as has been said, allergic to the truth.




Allen, Ralph G.The Best Burlesque Sketches.
Lest you think burlesque is all about the stripteasers, this book will introduce you to one of the other major talents in a burlesque show -- the comic. It's a collection of routines that were compiled for the Broadway show Sugar Babies. Many of the sketches are classics, like The Gazeeka Box or Crazy House. Some are just corny and some are racier than you might expect -- the ending to Meet Me Round the Corner had to be toned down for the show!

Before my burlesque days, I spent quite some time performing commedia dell'arte in its earliest form. For those who don't know what I'm talking about, it's 16th century Italian improvisational comedic theatre. Scratch, who is a recognized authority, teaches a fantastic class on the subject, but I digress. I can clearly see the roots of commedia in these sketches -- the stock characters, the vulgarity, the room for improvisation, the physical gags.

Most of the sketches require several men, a challenge if you are part of a troupe that's mostly women. And much of the humor is dated. Some jokes can be modernized, but some would just have to be presented as a period piece and hope for the best. Even if you don't plan on doing comedy, it's worth reading to appreciate the entirety of a burlesque show and the atmosphere in which the dancers were performing.



Allen, Robert Clyde. Horrible Prettiness: Burlesque and American Culture .
There was burlesque before striptease! In 1868 Lydia Thompson and her British Blondes brought burlesque to America. Professor Allen examines its effect on theatre and on society. Early burlesque was a form of musical satire. Popular tunes and themes were rewritten to spoof current social norms. Women were the stars and frequently played men, in abbreviated classical costumes, showing off their legs. Thompsonian burlesque was considered a threat to the cultural norms, giving women power and sexuality on stage.

By the 1890s burlesque had changed so much that Lydia Thompson said she did not recognize the art form she had brought to America and it was going to change even further. For one thing, women lost their voices on stage and became merely objects of desire, showing their legs and even more and more. By the 1920s striptease had become an indelible part of burlesque.

If you are interested in early burlesque, this is the book. Its an academic work, thoroughly annotated, with a large bibliography.



Beck, Kathrine.Gypsy Rose Lee, Writing Stripping.
This very short biography of Gypsy Rose Lee is part of a collection of essays about the history of Washington state (the Hovick family came from Seattle). It's a good introduction if you want a quick overview of Gypsy's life, but if you've read any of the major books about her, it's not worth your $0.99. The author uses all the usual sources: Gypsy: Memoirs of America's Most Celebrated Stripper , Gypsy and Me: At Home and on the Road With Gypsy Rose Lee , Early Havoc , and More Havoc . If those are on your shelf, you don't need to add this one.



Bosse, Katharina. New Burlesque.
If this book were larger, it would be a coffee table book, but the slim paperback format doesn't really qualify. Ms. Bosse's photographs of neo-burlesque performers are bold and colorful. These are not performance shots in low light or smoky boudoir portraits. The dancers are proudly posed outside in the sunlight in front of mostly urban backdrops. I recognize some taken in New Orleans and the desert, probably outside the former home of Exotic World. The few indoor shots tend to show the performer in a more domestic setting, but still in costume and character. It's a veritable who's who of the pioneers of the burlesque revival. There's only a short essay in the back which discusses burlesque, the revival, and the photographer. It would have been nice to have little text to accompany each photograph.



Briggeman, Jane.Burlesque: Legendary Stars of the Stage.
Jane Briggeman founded the Golden Days of Burlesque Historical Society to find retired burlesque dancers and let them reconnect. The result of these contacts was this book of profiles of dancers (and a couple of comics). The profiles are often verbatim from interviews with the dancers themselves. The book is also full of photographs, magazine covers, and other ephemera.

There is no doubt that the subjects of this book are very close to Ms. Briggeman's heart. In fact, it's a little too personal from time to time. In most of the performer essays, she specifies the extent of her relationship -- did they meet, just write letters, talk on the phone, or have no contact at all.
There's now a second edition available. I'm interested to see how it differs from the first.



Brown, Lillian Kiernan.Banned in Boston.
This is a rather charming memoir of the short burlesque career of Lily Ann Rose. It's got some good information about burlesque in Boston and the northeast in the late 1940's. Lily Ann was a chorus girl, a soloist, Sally Keith's protege, banned by the Watch Ward committee, and arrested for lewd and lascivious behavior -- all before she was 17. She's honest about the ups and downs of the life of a burlesque performer and has some amusing stories. The descriptions of acts, hers and other's, is inspirational.

Ms. Brown occasionally repeats herself (she tells the same story about stripping for Ann Corio when she was three years old twice, in almost exactly the same words), but like I said, the book is charming. It's clearly a labor of love.My main complaint is about the layout of the book. The book is double-spaced like a school essay and filled with errors like double periods, stray quotation marks, and other misplaced punctuation that a capable editor should have caught.

It's certainly worth reading, especially for a Boston burlesque performer.



Bruce, Honey. Honey: The Life and Loves of Lenny's Shady Lady.
I first read this book as a teenager when I was obsessed with Lenny Bruce and didn't know the first thing about burlesque. Reading it again from the perspective of a performer historian was a new experience.

Honey Bruce (aka Harriet Jolliff aka Hot Honey Harlow) began her performance career as a teenager when she was hired as The Blue Bird, a topless showgirl in Miami. She lasted all of one night, hustling drinks and being groped by patrons. After a stint in prison and an unhappy, but brief, marriage, she began stripping in the girl show of a traveling carnival and worked her way to a featured dancer in night clubs. There's a great section about how she learned to command the stage from a flamboyant female impersonator. And of course that visit to an all-night diner where she met the not-yet-legendary comedian Lenny Bruce and became his shiksa goddess.

A lot of the book is a cautionary tale about drugs. Not long after meeting Lenny, they both start using heavily. Honey is in and out of jail, loses custody of her daughter, and watches her marriage and career crumble. Even a trip to Europe with her little girl turns into a never-ending quest for a fix, in which she is robbed, assaulted, and kicked out of hotel after hotel. It's interesting to contrast her story with her portrayal in the movie Lenny. I suspect the truth is somewhere between.

Not surprising for a book published by Playboy Press and subtitled The life and loves of Lenny's shady lady, there's a lot of sex, written in a soft core style, but it doesn't distract from the details of her life, and her good and bad decisions, presented unapologetically.



Cary, David. A Bit of Burlesque: A Brief History of Its Times Stars.
This is a tiny book, only about 60 pages and I suppose that for one who knows nothing about burlesque it might be useful as an introduction. Half of the book is a history of burlesque from the usual speculations about ancient roots to the present day strip clubs, although there is no mention of the burlesque revival. The rest of the book are brief profiles of the big names from the 20's to the 50's and some thumbnail information on costumes, comedy, and slang, but not much more than padding really.

If you've already read any of the other burlesque history books out there, I'd give this one a pass. Besides, it has some minor factual errors (like calling the actress who played Blaze Starr in Blaze Lucy, instead of Lolita, Davidovich) and that sort of sloppy editing makes me crazy.



Corio, Ann.This Was Burlesque.
Ann Corio was one of the biggest burlesque stars in the Golden Age of Burlesque, especially in Boston. She played the Old Howard frequently and was much beloved of Harvard students. She claimed other colleges referred to her as Harvard's baby, but she was definitely known as Her Majesty, The Queen. After her career in burlesque she turned to acting on stage and in B-movies, but just couldn't forget about burlesque.

In 1962 she and her partner Michael Iannucci opened This Was Burlesque in New York City. A retrospective of comedy, striptease, and chorus girls, it ultimately played all over the country for almost 30 years. It was filmed by HBO in the 70's, but the VHS tapes are hard to find.

Fortunately, we have Miss Corio's book. She writes a light history of burlesque as one who was there through most of it. She perpetuates some burlesque myths and creates some new ones, but this is hardly an academic tome. She presented burlesque as cleanly and gently as possible to an audience who wanted something a little naughty, but not too threatening.

The book is illustrated with photographs from her show and as well as historical burlesque performances. There's a strong emphasis on comics, especially ones who started in burlesque and went on to fame in film and television. She includes a number of scripts for comic sketches.

The book is out of print, but can be found at used book dealers without too much difficulty.



DiNardo, Kelly. Gilded Lili: Lili St. Cyr and the Striptease Mystique
Lili St. Cyr was know for her elegant, elaborate stage show and her cool, remote beauty and this biography attempts to go behind the facade and decrypt the enigma of Lili. Ms. DiNardo has created a meticulously researched book. Besides utilizing numerous print resources, she also conducted many interviews with those who still remembered the dazzling dancer. She interweaves the life story of Lili St. Cyr with a look at the culture of the times and how they shaped her subject and vice versa. Occasionally the book feels padded, such as a mention that the teenaged Marie van Schaak liked to read Vogue digresses into a paragraph about the fashion magazine, or stretched, like when she interviewed an ex-husband's landlord for details on his life long post-Lili.

It's a thorough history of Lili St. Cyr, from how her grandparents and parents shaped her early life, through the height of her fame, to her death in self-imposed exile. Despite all the detail and facts, I didn't feel like one really knows or understands Lili and that she remains as cool and remote as her stage persona.



Dubberley, Emily and Fixter, Alyson. Ultimate Burlesque.
Most anthologies are hit-and-miss and this collection of 30 erotic burlesque stories is no exception. Some of the stories, while sexy, have very little to do with burlesque and some of the ones with a firmer grounding in burlesque are not so erotic. Fortunately there are more hits than misses and several stories are quite strong. And sale of the book supports the charity Burlesque Against Breast Cancer, so you can feel virtuous about buying smut.



Glasscock, Jessica. Striptease: From Gaslight To Spotlight.
Striptease: From Gaslight To Spotlight, not to be confused with Striptease: The Untold History of the Girlie Show or Strip Tease , is a history of the display of the female form from the 19th century roots to the decline of burlesque. Glasscock does not focus solely on burlesque; nearly half the book is on other forms of tease and display, such as tableaux vivants, skirt dancing, and bathing shows. An entire chapter discusses the orientalist craze and its influence on both girl shows and modern dancers. I was a little disappointed that she perpetuated the myth that Little Egypt performed at the 1893 Columbian Exposition (Chicago World's Fair), but it's a pretty common belief. (I think I'll have to review Looking for Little Egypt later). After the heyday of burlesque, she discusses pin-ups and Playboy and includes an epilogue on the modern burlesque revival.

One of the strengths of this book is its wealth of illustrations. Nearly every page has a photograph or print with descriptive captions. There are plenty of pictures of the legends of burlesque: Gypsy Rose Lee, Tempest Storm, and Sally Rand are all well represented, but there are also lesser known or unknown and unnamed performers. There's a lot of inspiration here for costumes.

It's one of the staples of my library, especially when I'm looking more for inspiration than for information. It's a fun book just to leaf through and look at the pretty pictures, but the text is too good to be ignored.



Goldwyn, Liz. Pretty Things: The Last Generation of American Burlesque Queens.
After making her documentary, also called Pretty Things, Ms. Goldwyn returned to her original focus, burlesque costumes, with this book. There's lots of fabulous information about two prolific costumers with photos, sketches, pages from their account books, c. Some of the sketches even still have fabric and trim samples attached. It's marvelous inspiration.

The book also discusses burlesque in general and certain performers in specific, liberally illustrated with photographs and scrapbook pages. The biographies of Betty Rowland, Dian Rowland, June St. Claire, Lois de Fee, and Zorita are livened with first-hand stories from interviews conducted with some of the remaining last generation. I was a little surprised that despite numerous quotations from Sherry Britton, she didn't rate a chapter of her own.

Ms. Goldwyn clearly loves her subject and her sources, but she's not a dazzling writer. There are the occasional clunkers like the dancer who was riding a horse wearing a white feather bikini. Even if you skipped the text and just looked at the illustrations, this book would be worth it.



iMinds. Burlesque: Pop Culture
Do not bother with this little ebook. It merely regurgitates what others have said better. There are no new insights, no interesting information. Save your 99 cents.



Janes, Brian C. It's All That Glitters: Portraits of Burlesque Performers in Their Homes.
Photographer Brian Janes traveled around the country photographing burlesque performers in their homes, as the subtitle says. The performers were asked to be in costume and in some room of their house. Some are in the bedroom, some the bathroom, some their burlesque room. Some have been carefully styled to create a lovely backdrop for the performers personality, others were just as it is. All say performer in her/his natural habitat. Occasionally pets or children make an appearance.

Accompanying each full-page portrait is the performers own words, explaining what burlesque is to them.

Im privileged to be one of the performers featured, along with Scratch and Betty. So if you get the book youll see my naked rear (Im posing with my fans, of course) and well as my disaster of a sewing room. Brian really liked the overflowing bins of fabric, the overflowing book cases, the extension cords snaking across the floor (my overhead light needed to be replaced) and generally clutter. I think its funny that you cant see my sewing machine, the usual centerpiece of the room, because its hidden behind me.



Knox, Holly. Sally Rand: From Film to Fans.
In 1932 Sally Rand auditioned for The Paramount Club in Chicago and her life changed.

With mere hours to put together an act, she bought two large feathered fans at a second-hand store and hastily began making a Grecian-style gown. She planned to dance to a record of harp music. Her gown wasnt ready in time for curtain and all the music was provided by a piano player. She asked him to play Debussys Claire de Lune and went on stage with nothing but her fans to cover her.

It was 8 minutes of magic. And she continued to perform that same act for almost 50 years.

As for what occurred before that night and after, I leave that to the book to tell. The author, Holly Knox, performed in Sallys show in the 1950s. She profiles a dedicated performer, a producer, a mother, a religious woman who swore like a trucker. She was both generous and tight-fisted. She created two etherial acts the fan dance and the bubble dance but never shied away from getting her hands dirty. Theres a photo of her up on a ladder, assembling her own sets.

A number of bw photographs of varying quality. No bibliography or notes. As far as I can tell, the only book on Sally Rand. You can (and should) buy it directly from the author via Amazon. She sends it inscribed Have a fan-tastic read.



Kotzan, Doris. My Journey: Burlesque: The Way It Was
This is the memoir of burlesque dancer Dolores Rozelle, also known as Bambi Brooks, Bambi Jones, and Joi Naymith. Her story well documents the declining days of burlesque in the 1950's, as the shows moved from theatres to nightclubs and the performers went from stars to glorified B-girls. I was particularly interested because she was from Massachusetts. Unfortunately, her run at the Crawford House with Sally Keith was over before it began, since she wouldn't mix (hustle drinks from the customers).

As with several of the other autobiographies of burlesque performers that I've read, it is in need of a stronger editor. While her tone is very chatty and easy to read (although occasionally too chatty, as she wanders off topic from time to time), the book follows no logical order. Each chapter title is a town where she performed, but there is no organization other than that. I found myself very confused as to chronology. My biggest gripe is with the typesetter who allowed some truly atrocious punctuation: lots of opening quotation marks with no close, randomly sprinkled commas, and erratic capitalization. It made me want to whip out my red pen.

It's worth sifting through for the tales of strange dressing rooms, pranks pulled by comedians, and descriptions of acts, but it could have been so much more.



Kruh, David. Always Something Doing: Boston's Infamous Scollay Square.
Always Something Doing (the motto of the Old Howard) is a history of Scollay Square from its very beginnings to the present day. What does this have to do with burlesque? Scollay Square was well know as a haven for burlesque. Many of the biggest names, including Ann Corio and Georgia Sothern, played the Old Howard, and Sally Keith, tassel twirling queen, was a standard at the Crawford House. Boston had such a great history of burlesque and I'm proud that we're part of that now.

But there's more than just burlesque to Scollay Square. The book is full of vintage photographs and anecdotes from those who remember the Square well. I was particularly amused by the poor sailor who woke up after a drunken night in the Square to discover a pink elephant tattooed on his butt. Boston has never had another haven for sailors since the square was demolished. *heavy sigh*

It's clear the author's sympathies are with the long-gone lively, sleazy neighborhood of cheap eats, burlesque theatres, tattoo parlors, and photo studios, than with the stark, souless Government Center of today.



Lee, Gypsy Rose.Gypsy: Memoirs of America's Most Celebrated Stripper.
Most people are at least a little familiar with Gypsy's story: her childhood in vaudeville where she was ignored in favor of her more talented younger sister, her ambitious mother, and her success in burlesque. Her own account is a must read for any burlesque performer or fan. There have been several biographies of her written since (some of which I'll review) and to truly appreciate them, her words should be read first.

Gypsy is a very funny lady. She often writes about things in a humorous way so that it's not immediately apparent how awful they are. She doesn't judge, just lays the facts out in a way that you can't help but see how crazy her mother was. She only recounts her story until she went off to Hollywood, but her son picks up her story in his book Gypsy and Me: At Home and on the Road With Gypsy Rose Lee .

The play based on this book was subtitled A Musical Fable and in many ways the book is a fable too. This was Gypsy's chance to rewrite history a little and make sure she was the star. Research shows she downplayed some incidents and omitted others entirely. It may not be entirely how it happened, but she felt it made for a better story and is therefore more true.



Livingston, Bernard. Papa's Burlesque House: Growing Up in a Burlesque Theater.
This novel, purporting to be an as-told-to story, is more of a thinly veiled autobiography. The point-of-view character grew up in a large Jewish family in Baltimore during the Depression. His weak-willed father, unable to support the family, is pushed into managing a burlesque theatre by a pawn-broker uncle who has acquired the unsavory building.

Family life focuses around the theatre, since the narrator's father can rarely leave. Shabbos dinner is held with the entire family crammed in the ticket booth. While his parents refuse to enter the theatre, the narrator frequently sneaks backstage and dallies with strippers. He becomes increasingly resentful of his parents' plans for his life (he's to become a lawyer -- his older brother is going to be a doctor), especially after he learns a few things about his father.

The theatre, called The Burlesk, but known as The Scratch House, is a filthy, seedy dump on the infamous Block. The comics are drunks and the girls are third rate. Some of the activity at the Burlesk is down right unsavory and it will come back to bite the family badly. Not a pretty picture of burlesque, but a realistic one.



Miller, Neil. Banned in Boston.
Banned in Boston. Anyone who is a fan of burlesque knows that phrase. But who did the banning? Professor Miller presents the history of the New England Watch and Ward Society, founded as the New England Society for the Suppression of Vice, was a volunteer organization dedicated to keeping Boston, the Athens of America, clean and moral. Essentially vigilantes, the Society used quasi-legal methods to expose and punish crime, such as gambling, drug use, and prostitution. Sometimes they worked with local police and sometimes they set up their own raids and stings. But what the Society is really synonymous with censorship.

Any book, play, or motion picture that did not meet with the Watch and Ward's approval could be banned. At the height of the Society's power, there was a gentleman's agreement between them and the booksellers. Banned books would quietly be taken off the shelves and the bookstore owners would not be prosecuted for selling obscene material. Eventually the banned label was used as a selling point in the rest of the country.

There's one chapter in the book on burlesque and the Watch Ward. Of note is the system of communicating to the performers that a censor was in the house. When under scrutiny, the performers would go ahead with the Boston version, a cleaned up act, which applied to dancers and comics alike.

It's worth reading to understand the atmosphere in Boston during the Golden Age of burlesque, but the burlesque specific chapter is relatively short. Much of the book is concerned with censorship of books and legitimate theatre. I found it interesting that a play banned in Boston was produced with great success in liberal Quincy! Oh, how times have changed.



Minsky, Morton and Machlin, Milt. Minsky's Burlesque.
This is one of my favorite burlesque memoirs. It's funny, warm, and entertaining while giving a ton of information about the most famous and notorious family in burlesque. Minsky was synonymous with burlesque in New York and did that cause the brothers no end of trouble! The Minskys faced problems from cops, licensing boards, investors, fickle performers, and even other family members. Mr. Minsky is never bitter as he outlines their woes, merely nostalgic for a great business that came to an untimely end.

The book is chock full of anecdotes about some of the most famous stripers and comedians of all time. Just wait until you read about Georgia Sothern's entanglement with Errol Flynn! There's only a short tantalizing mention of the Minskys' business in Boston, alas. Every chapter starts with a short comedy bit, which makes it worth a look for that alone. As a bonus there's several pages of illustrations, a glossary of burlesque lingo, a couple of comedy sketches, and a candy butcher's shpiel.



Poston, Dick. Burlesque Humor Revisited.
This isn't a book about burlesque humor; it's a play involving burlesque humor. Subtitled A History-like Comedy Run-down from the World of Burlesque Condensed into Twelve Classic Sketches, there is a thin frame surrounding the aforementioned sketches, which the author created from a collection of 156 comedic bits. The premise is that the Straight Man is attempting to give a lecture of the history of burlesque comedy, but he keeps getting interrupted by the other performers who would rather do the comedy bits instead of merely talk about them. In between sketches, the author places notes about the history of burlesque, which appear to be the lecture that the Straight Man keeps failing to give.

Unlike most historic burlesque sketches, which could involve a whole passel of comics, these have been distilled down to just a straight man, a comic, and a talking lady, making is much more accessible to smaller troupes. Also, the entire play is done on a bare stage with just a couple of chairs standing in for various set pieces. There is a minimum of props.

Some of the most classic of sketches are presented here, such as Watt Street, Crazy House, Niagara Falls, and the immortal Who's on First. If you're interested in the comedy, skip the framing device and just get to the funny business.



Preminger, Erik Lee. Gypsy and Me: At Home and on the Road With Gypsy Rose Lee.(Also published as My G-String Mother.)
Picking up after Gypsy left off, Gypsy Rose Lee's only son chronicles his conflicted and often combative relationship with his famous mother. The portrait is not always so flattering. He shows a Gypsy that was stingy, self-absorbed, and domineering. She refused to tell her son who his father was until she was dying, insisting that it was none of his business. She terrified of poverty, despite her frequently lavish spending, and constantly searched for the next thing that would support her. The author paints a flawed portrait of himself as well, honestly relating incidents of his anger, disobedience and petty crime.

Despite all the clashes between them, he loved her deeply and she was a devoted mother. She would take Erik on tour with her because she hated to be separated from him. He would help her set up her act and was even her dresser. She was a terribly hard worker, throwing herself into projects, barely eating and rarely sleeping. He describes her with tea stains on her clothes and cigarette ashes powdering her reading glasses. She was witty and clever in private, as well as in her public image. And she adored animals, sometimes more than people. She was terribly proud of Erik and wanted everyone to know he was her son.

Despite a truly unusual and often difficult childhood, Mr. Preminger is not bitter about his mother, and strives for an honest accounting of a very contradictory woman. As an epilogue, he writes about finally learning the identity of his father and their first meeting.



Reighley, Kurt B. and Aaron Bagley.United States of Americana: Backyard Chickens, Burlesque Beauties, and Handmade Bitters: A Field Guide to the New American Roots Movement.
There are many people in America seeking a return to a time past, when things made by hand were of high quality and had value. It's not a nostalgia movement, pining for things that once were, but a new appreciation of craftsmanship.

This field guide highlights old-school products that are still made as well as new ones in the same vein. It showcases back-to-basics endeavors like chicken raising, straight-razor shaving, classic bartending, c. The music section stands out as being a somewhat different format from the rest and clearly the author's passion. Most of the focus is on the Pacific Northwest, the author's home.

So, what about burlesque? The last section is on entertainment: burlesque and circus. It's focused on the burlesque revival in Seattle with a little bit about New York. There's some history as well. There's a little overlap between the burlesque and circus sections, but it boils down to about 10 pages specifically on burlesque.

I can't recommend this as a burlesque book -- the percentage of information specifically on burlesque is too low. It's not a bad book if you're also interested in such eclectic topics as styling a mustache, buying a bespoke suit, and home canning. If you just want to learn about the burlesque revival, try Burlesque and the New Bump-n-Grind instead.



Rella, Ettore. A History of Burlesque.
During the Great Depression, the Work Projects Administration put many unemployed people to work. The common image is of hard physicval labor, like roadwork, but the WPA employed artists and writers as well. One such WPA sponsored project was the San Fransico Theatre Research monograph series. There were at least 15 manuscripts published on the history of theatre in San Francisco, specific theatres, performers, and theatircal genres, including burlesque.

Mr. Rella looks at burlesque from 1850 until the present day, that being 1940. His focus is obviously on appearances of burlesque in San Francisco, but it's still a good overview of the evolution of burlesque over almost a century. He studies individual shows as well as performers and frequently quotes from the scripts.

If you're interested in early burlesque, this is a great resource.



Rosebush, Judson. Burlesque Exotic Dancers of the 50s 60s.
Like The Bare Truth: Stars of Burlesque From the '40s and '50s and The Queens of Burlesque: Vintage Photographs of the 1940s and 1950s , this is a collection of photographs, mostly of burlesque performers, but some are belly dancers. They appear to be booking photos, not publicity pictures. Era is obvious in the hair makeup, but also the toplessness and even nudity of some of the performers.

The book opens with a short essay on the history of burlesque and the little that is known about these photos. The photos are nicely presented on glossy paper, one to a page. They're in no particular order, other than photos of the same performer are grouped together. Information on the photos, like the dancer's name and tagline, is reprinted at the bottom of the page. It's easily readable on the original and so appears superfluous. Sometime information from the back of the photos is presented, but it's not distinguished from the compilier's own notes.

The photographs are a great source of inspiration for costumes, hair styles, makeup, and poses. Some of the performers are long forgotten, some are complete unknowns (that is, there's no name on the photo), and there's one or two you might know...



Rothe, Len. The Queens of Burlesque: Vintage Photographs of the 1940s and 1950s.
Charming collection of full-page black white publicity photos of burlesque performers. Some are quite famous, like Lili St. Cyr and Ann Corio, and some have faded into obscurity. It's a great resource for costumes, poses, hair, and makeup inspirations. Photographs are presented in alphabetical order by dancer's last name.



Rothe, Len. The Bare Truth: Stars of Burlesque From the '40s and '50s.
A follow-up to The Queens of Burlesque, this book presents more photos of burlesque performers with little to no overlap with the first book. This time there are short text pieces about burlesque scattered throughout.



Schwarz, Ted.Candy Barr: The Small-Town Texas Runaway Who Became a Darling of the Mob and the Queen of Las Vegas Burlesque.
Candy Barr's story is not a pretty one. Born Juanita Slusher in rural Texas, she suffered abuse from a young age. As a teenager, she ran away to Dallas, hoping only for a job and the chance to dance. Instead she found herself forced into prostitution and porn. Bright, beautiful, and a talented dancer, she managed not to be crushed by her horrible situation and escaped to become a headlining burlesque dancer. There were a few shining years as a star in Las Vegas and Los Angeles before forces beyond her control again tried to bring her low. She seemed destined never to have a quiet life.

Because Candy/Juanita was alive while the book was being written (she died in 2005), it is full of quotes and memories direct from the source. The author does tend to play the martyr card a little too much. He often portrays the dancer as a naive innocent, caught up in a vast conspiracy to destroy her. The chronology is occasionally hard to follow as the author sometimes jumps ahead or back to provide a better flow to the story.

Her story is one of survival against terrible odds rather than one of glamour and glitter. The descriptions of her dancing will make you wish you were one of the lucky ones in the audience.



Shteir, Rachel.Striptease: The Untold History of the Girlie Show.
If you could only read one book on this history of burlesque, this is the one I'd recommend. It's not the be-all and end-all, but it's a good survey.

Ms. Shteir looks at the entire history of burlesque in America and its foreign influences. She begins with the earliest days -- minstrel shows, travesties and tableaux vivants -- and the introduction of the striptease. She continues through the golden age, the decline, and finally the introduction of the topless (and more) club. There's a little bit about the burlesque revival at the end.

The endnotes are extensive and reveal an academic bibliography. The book may originally have been her Ph.D. dissertation, but it's quite readable. Illustrations sprinkled throughout.



Shteir, Rachel. Gypsy: The Art of the Tease.
The author of Striptease: The Untold History of the Girlie Show follows up with a work focusing on the most famous burlesque performer. Shteir's thesis appears to be that Gypsy was such a success because she promised a lot, but revealed so little: of her body, her life, and her true self. She was called a stripper who didn't strip (or sing or dance) and that made her so compelling. Essentially self-made, Gypsy teased her audiences on-stage and off with facts and fictions about herself, blurring them together. She put forth a front of educated sophistication while mocking the same.

The book is extremely well researched, but as a narrative is flat, reading more like a dissertation than a biography. I felt there was little information that were not already revealed in Gypsy: Memoirs of America's Most Celebrated Stripper or Gypsy and Me: At Home and on the Road With Gypsy Rose Lee , which are much livelier and more entertaining reads. The Art of the Tease would be more at home in the college classroom.



Slaughter, Kevin I.Queens of Burlesque, Dames of Burlesque, and Dolls of Burlesque.
These three little ebooks contain selections of burlesque publicity photos from the collection of an unnamed friend of Underworld Amusements. Some of the photos, after being shown full size, are repeated, enlarged and cropped. In a couple of cases, I was a little surprised as to what the editor thought should be the focus of the cropped photo.

Queens of Burlesque is the best organized of the lot, being divided into sections by dancer. As promised, there are pictures of Ann Boom Boom Arbor, Ann Corio, Gypsy Rose Lee, Lili St. Cyr and Sally Rand, each under her own chapter heading. In Dames and Dolls, the pictures are unidentified, unless the dancer's name appears on her photo. However, these collections also have vintage cartoons and advertisements scattered amongst the photographs.

Although I have yet to check against the other photograph collections in my library, I think at least a few of the photos are unique to these books, and that makes them worthwhile.



Sobel, Bernard. A Pictorial History of Burlesque.
Mr. Sobel is a big burlesque fan. In this, his second book on burlesque (the first being Burleycue: An Underground History of Burlesque Days ), he writes glowingly about the comedy, the variety, the clever parodies, even the Amazon parade (a chorus of pretty girls in scanty costumes). Then he bemoans the later addition of striptease, which ruined good old-fashioned burlesque. Despite that attitude, he does give peelers a fair shake, with an entire chapter (plus some) dedicated to some of the foremost practitioners of the art.

As promised in the title, the book is filled with photographs illustrating the history of burlesque from the days of The British Blondes and minstrel shows to modern (mid-1950's) stripteasers and comics. There are individual chapters on comedy, music, management and other topics interspersed with a roughly chronological history of the artform.



Sothern, Georgia. Georgia: My Life in Burlesque.
Like some other performers of note, Georgia Sothern began in vaudeville and turned to burlesque out of desperation. Stranded far from home when the dance troupe with which she was touring collapsed, she joined a burlesque house when no one else was hiring. Terrified, she danced wildly, ripping off her costume and swinging it about, trying not to think about what she was doing.

Her fast style of stripping had never been seen before and she was an instant success, catching the eye of Billy Minsky, who brought her to New York. Little did the famed impresario know, the Dynamic Redhead was only thirteen years old when she signed his contract. She managed to pack plenty of excitement into her young life -- whirlwind romances, trouble with mobsters, a shy but doting millionaire, and on-stage disasters. A few incidents stand out: Her tumultuous relationship with Errol Flynn, her debut in a Billy Rose production -- painted green!, Georgia trying to fulfill two contracts without the producers finding out.

The memoir runs from her last days in vaudeville through to opening night of Star and garter on Broadway. Unlike some burlesque autobiographies, it's very smooth and readable (perhaps suggesting a ghostwriter). Some of the material seemed familiar, and I realized those passages had been used in Minsky's Burlesque , almost word for word, although this isn't one of the books listed in that bibliography. There's some great information about acts and costumes as well as general backstage goings on. It's frequently funny, but the humor is tempered with events no teenager should have lived through.



Starr, Blaze. Blaze Starr: My Life as Told to Huey Perry.
Blaze Starr grew up in rural West Virginia as part of a big loving family. When she was a teenager, she knew there was more to life than hoeing corn and running moonshine, and set out for the big city. As a waitress in a doughnut shop in Washington D.C., she was discovered by a sleazy producer who convinced her to strip in his club. However, he also wanted her to strip at his place, and do more... The resourceful Blaze extricated herself from that situation, but decided stripping was the career for her. She started at Baltimore's Two O'Clock Club and was soon in demand all over the country.

She was booked at the Sho-Bar in New Orleans where she met Governor Earl K. Long, and the rest, as they say, is history. Her long affair with the governor is the stuff of legend... and a movie! Blaze, based on this book, tells the story of the romance between the stripper and the governor. Paul Newman, as Earl Long, completely steals the show.

Throughout her story, Blaze is completely unapologetic. Yes, she has a dynamite body and big boobs and she used them to further her career. Yes, she had a well-publicized affair with the married governor, but she loved him and planned to marry him. She is honest about some of the stormy events in her life, usually involving her losing her temper and belting someone.

The story ends with Blaze considering having her memoirs written and then doing what she loves best, performing at the newly reopened Two O'Clock Club, which she owns. The afterword is a lovely note from Blaze's mother, who is so proud of her ambitious daughter.



Stencell, A. W. Girl Show: Into the Canvas World of Bump and Grind.
As long as there have been carnivals, there have been girl shows and this history covers the early days through the decline. The many photographs illustrate all aspects of the carnival: girls in action and backstage, advertisements, posters, show fronts, and more. In the back there's a glossary for some of the carney terms used throughout book, like single-O, blow off and bally.

Some of the biggest names in burlesque worked carnival girl shows: Gypsy Rose Lee, Sally Rand, and Lili St. Cyr, to name a few. Many of the shows were big production revues with relatively elaborate sets and lavish costumes. But there was a lot of grit behind the glitz. There were plenty of cooch shows where the girls worked nude and allowed the patrons to grope them... and more. And this went on for 10, 12, 14 shows a day.

The book spotlights some of the great names in the carnival biz, some of whom are well known to burlesque fans and some who are more obscure. There's a fabulous section all about Tirza the Wine Bath Girl and the evolution of her act, with photos. And there's a mention of that girl who set her tits on fire. Sound like anyone you know? Besides girls, the book also covers talkers, candy butchers, show families, and general carnival life.



Summers, Dusty.The Lady is a Stripper.
To say that Donna had a lousy childhood would be an understatement. Her father was abusive, both physically and psychologically, and her mother refused to see it. Donna loved school, so her father made her quit. Finally, she ran away, and after she found someone who would listen to her woes, instead of just sending her back to her parents, she had a few years of happiness in foster care.

After an early marriage and divorce, at 18, in 1966, she found herself at the Airport Inn in Tucson applying to work as a bikini go-go dancer. Dusty Summers was born.

That was only the beginning. There were more marriages (nine total!), children, and a change from go-go to exotic dancing. Then Dusty met Professor Turban and her life changed again she married him and he taught her magic. Abracadabra! She became Las Vegass Only Nude Magician.

And theres even more, but Ill leave that to the reader to discover.

Dustys story is often hard to read. The abuse she suffered from her parents and some of her husbands is heartbreaking. However, her determination, her accomplishments, and her love for her sister and daughters are inspirational. Throughout it all she was always classy, never raunchy, unashamed, completely a lady.

Shes still performing today, and if you have the chance to see her, dont hesiate. Her magic is amazing and her performance skills are top-notch.



Von Teese, Dita.Burlesque and the Art of the Teese/Fetish and the Art of the Teese.
This is two books in one. When you finish reading about burlesque according to Dita, flip the book upside down and read about fetish according to Dita!

Most of the text is Dita on how fabulous it is to be Dita. She tells of her transformation from a shy and dowdy girl to a glamourous burlesque star. You have to admire her dedication and marketing. Theres also a light history of burlesque, some interesting tidbits and trivia in sidebars, and a makeup guide by decade. There are other, better books on those subjects, but you didnt buy this book to learn about burlesque history. You want to look at photos of Dita and be seduced by the fantasy of her life. And the photographs are gorgeous.



Von Teese, Dita and Sheryl Nields.Dita: Stripteese.
At first glance this is a dainty pink book tied shut with a satin ribbon. In actuality it's a box containing three tiny flip books. Each book can be riffled front to back and then back to front to display one of Dita's signature acts in motion.

The collection contains her Bird of Paradise act, Martini Glass act, and a striptease in a vintage outfit. The flipping only gives a so-so presentation of each act, but unlike pausing a video, each still photo is crisp and clear, if small. One can feast one's eyes on every detail... of her costumes.

It's a cute idea and the presentation is charming. Recommended for Dita fans.



Vogt, Julie N. Woman to Woman: Ann Corio and the Rehabilitation of American Burlesque..
I met Julie Uberblonde at the Great Burlesque Exposition of 2010 and we chatted about her doctoral dissertation about Ann Corio. She had some strong opinions about some popularly held beliefs of burlesque history. I was hopeful that she would eventually publish her dissertation as a book for more general audiences. It was a shock to learn that she died this past December. So, it was a little bittersweet to read her dissertation, knowing that there are so few academically researched books on burlesque.

Her main topic is on the creation of Ann Corio's style of burlesque as a brand and marketing it to women. However, she also uses Ann Corio as a focus to delve into a critical study of burlesque, as a performance art and as a business. Along the way, she provides a review of the existing literature and she dispels some burlesque myths, a number of which Ann Corio appears to have created.

There's a lot of information and some excellent research, but I'll be honest -- despite the topic, it's still a doctoral dissertation and parts of it get a bit thick with academese. I'm pretty fluent in academese, so I was able to mine the gold. And there's a lot of it.

Her death was a terrible loss for her family, friends, and students, and also for the study of burlesque.



Weldon, Jo. The Burlesque Handbook.
These days there are several books available on the history of burlesque or the socio-political ramifications of the burlesque revival, but Jo Weldon has produced the first book on how to perform burlesque. At last, a practical manual! She presents many useful articles from costumes to tassel twirling to backstage etiquette to creating a character. And there's even templates for making pasties. I found the worksheets in the appendix to be incredibly valuable. Even a pro can find it useful to stop and question her own creative process.

The book is liberally sprinkled with black and white photographs (some taken in Boston at the Expo!), which educate (e.g. a step-by-step routine) or entertain (like a portrait of Jo's alter ego, Fanny Fromage). The performers pictured tend to be from New York, not surprising as it's Ms. Weldon's hometown.

Just to give you an idea of how valuable it is, I have a copy on my bookshelf (thanks, Scratch!) and a e-version on my Kindle, so I'll always have it for reference.



Willson, Jacki.The Happy Stripper: Pleasures and Politics of the New Burlesque.
Ms. Willson became interested in exploring the display of women's bodies in a post-feminist world after seeing a piece of performance art involving striptease. She wonders if burlesque can be both sexy and subversive. Although the performers are putting their bodies on display, are they also fully empowered? Her focus is the examples of Ursula Martinez (performance artist), Immodesty Blaize (UK burlesque superstar), and Dita von Teese (no introduction necessary).

The book is quite academic and densely informative. I suspect it's was originally the author's dissertation. It's not so much about burlesque as an art form but as the background for discussing the social implication and political ramifications of stripping. To really get the most out of this book, it's helpful to know something of the different waves of feminism and the major players in each.

The focus is predominantly UK-centric, although she does use some US and Australian sources. The bibliography is exhaustive. If you're looking for a light read on neo-burlesque, this isn't it. If you're interested in delving into the philosophies of stripping and feminism, this is your book.



Wortley, Richard. A Pictorial History of Striptease: 100 Years of Undressing to Music.
This book is exactly what it promises: pages and pages of photographs of women taking (or having taken) their clothes off, plus related ephemera, like programs and advertisements. The illustrations are broken up by text on striptease, its history and evolution. Many of the pictures are full page and in color. There are plenty that are not the standard fare of burlesque books. Besides stage performances, Wortley also delves into nudity on the silver screen and print.

I do wish the photos had been identified by date whenever possible. Some are more obvious than others. The book was published in the mid-1970's in Britain and there is a definite bias toward that time and place in the book's content. There's more about Paul Raymond than the Minskys and a lot of pictures of topless showgirls with amusing hairstyles.