New York icon Murray Hill, “The Hardest Working Middle-Aged Man in Show Business” talks Don Rickles, Dita, cheeseburgers, Texas, Swedish Fish, biographies and showbiz.
Interview: Divertida Devotchka
I love how you describe yourself as simply an entertainer, as opposed to a stand-up comedian, burlesque show host, etc., as these are not really accurate descriptions. I read a 2009 interview in which you said, “I’m not up there with some great message, or going to talk about how messed up our country is, or work out my demons for an hour, I’m an entertainer, you see.” Can you tell our readers a little more about the development of your style as a performer and how it’s changed over the years (or if it hasn’t changed a bit?)
Entertainer is an old-school term these days, but it’s what I do. Simply put, I entertain. I’ve always made a conscious decision to play to as many different audiences as possible and to knock down that fourth wall…even if there isn’t one. With blood, sweat, and tears (sometimes all at once) I earned the best showbiz education available…pounding the boards of New York City in every dump, dive, and high class joint imaginable. What’s changed over the years, I’ve got a lot of experience under my belt, and a belly hanging over my belt. I’m like my Grandpa’s La-Z-Boy recliner…I’m beat up, worn in, but totally comfortable.
Obviously the burgeoning neo-burlesque scene in New York is a great avenue for your style, and I’ve read that in some ways you compare your style to that of Don Rickles, who got started in burlesque clubs. Rickles eventually earned the reputation of being an insult comedian, but I’m curious to hear your take on where the line is drawn between making a joke and alienating your audience with too many insults. How do you know when to draw the line, especially when so much of your material comes from off the cuff?
Working the burlesque scene has been a Reese’s peanut cup from day one. It just works. The showgirls, the booze, the energy. I’ll take a lounge, theater, nightclub over a comedy club any night of the week. Don Rickles is the Master. To truly understand his act, you need to see or listen to it from beginning to end. Unlike the crass insult comics, or really most stand-ups today, he had a heart and he was all class. He never came from a mean place. It’s a subtle difference but it’s palpable as an audience member. Comedy clubs are often cold places, Rickles is all warmth. Ironically, he’s called Mr. Warmth…in reality, that’s the vibe of his shows. I love this quote from him: “If I were to insult people and mean it, that wouldn’t be funny.”
The line is thin between alienating people and making them in on the joke is hair thin. Based on your earlier question…after years and years of doing this, I’ve learned how to play that line and not go too far. In the early days, I wasn’t as disciplined as I am now and sometimes schtick went too far or negative. One of my biggest priorities is making sure any room I play is warm. That’s showbiz.
You just got done hosting a string of sold out shows featuring Dita von Teese. Care to share a few of your favorite highlights from the tour?
So many highlights, that could be its own interview and reality show! Working with Dita is like being in the major leagues. It’s all pro, all the time. She’s elevated burlesque through the roof and into the mainstream. My Texas debut was in Dallas and that show was a personal highlight. The energy was high-voltage so I gave it back full blast and then some. To have a sold-out house flip out like a stadium rock ‘n roll concert for burlesque, well, that’s showbiz. That’s warmth. Nothing I love more than bringing all kinds of people together and presenting them with a jaw-dropping show. The Texas audiences blew me out of the water.
I must say, it was about 110 degrees that day. At the after party, a very busty and sexy woman came up to me and said, “I know it’s a federal crime, but I want to kidnap you. I know it’s hot baby, but I got a pool. I’ll even clean it.” I’ve been in showbiz a long time, that’s one of the best line’s I’ve heard. A little later in the night, a fox screamed out “Marty! You my boo! You crazy, you funny, you my boo Marty! You crraaazzyy.” That had me laughing too!
You were a photographer when you first came to New York, and much of your subject matter was related to drag queens. How did you make the transition from photographer to performer, and what made you decide to go that route?
That’s a long story. I’ll tell ya, I saw a discrepancy in representation out there, so I became the subject matter I didn’t see. I like to say, if you don’t feel represented out there, then go out there and represent yourself. Photography is a powerful medium but it’s silent in a way. I wanted to have a voice (even though it can be high-pitched at times) and take up some space. I wanted to even the playing field so to speak. So eventually I put the camera down and jumped on the other side of the camera. Through performances, I’ve traveled the world, met so many people and made some history in the process. That beats hanging a picture on a wall any day. Although, I wouldn’t mind my double-chin being photoshopped.
You have been incredibly busy as of late, and I’m astounded at the number of notable appearances and cameos that you’ve made on television programs and music videos. Which of your recent appearances was the most exciting for you and why?
They don’t call me the “hardest working middle-aged man in show business” for nothing! I love being in a Gossip video and then being on Real Housewives of New York. Keeping it real, and keeping it showbiz. It was a great honor to have a cameo in HBO’s “Bored to Death.” Jonathan Ames, one of my showbiz pals from the East Village created the show after years of hitting the boards in NYC and has hit the big time. A real inspiration, and he never lost his unique voice.
As a notorious meatatarian, I share with you a strong affinity for cheeseburgers. Tell me about Murray’s dream burger. I want to know everything- the bun, the meat (rare, medium, well?), toppings and assorted condiments, as well as your preferred side dish and beverage, if you wish to include that (though they obviously take a backseat to the burger.)
Incredible how many double entendres I read in this question. I love a good cheeseburger, and my preferred side dish is the legendary Dirty Martini. Cheeseburger and fries, straight up, that’s my favorite. I’ve had to cut down on my cheeseburger consumption to just remain 20 pounds overweight. It’s tough in the biz, I tell ya. Right now, the recent best burger I’ve had is at the joint in Brooklyn called 5 Leaves. Also, I’m addicted to Swedish Fish candy. Ladies out there, it’s a real weakness for me. I’ll do anything for a bag of Swedish Fish.
What’s next for Murray Hill?
Waking up before noon tomorrow! Rimshot. Small, attainable goals are the key to life. Next up is shooting a TV show in London this fall on Channel 4 called Dirty Digest. I can’t wait! I’ve spent a lot time over there filming pilots, and one of the planes got picked to fly. And, because this recent southern tour was a blow-out, I think Dita and her VonTourage have some more shows cooking! It’d be great to share the showbiz all over! Of course, make sure to check on http://mistershowbiz.com !
Anything you’d like to add?
You know I’m a showbiz biography addict? I’ve got a big library of showbiz books here at the headquarters. When I get a chance, I’m going post The Murray Hill Book Club on my website. I’m a student of showbiz, so to speak. I’m reading Keith Richards and Roseanne’s new book right now. Some favorites are books on Jimmy Scott, Sammy Davis, Dean Martin, Benny Hill….and I read everything on the old Catskills and comedians that worked the resorts, or the “hills” as they used to say. Sitting on my desk, waiting to be cracked open is Tina Fey, Kay Thompson and Dancing at Ciro’s. Readers out there: send me your favorite showbiz books to listmurrayhill[at]gmail.com!
Chicago’s Stage Door Johnnies, winners of Best Group at this year’s Burlesque Hall of Fame, took time out of their crazy schedules to dish with us. Group members Bazuka Joe, Ray Gunn, and Jett Adore and talk masculinity, Hot Toddy, codpiece malfunctions, Twizzlers, world domination, and drunk dials.
Interview: Divertida Devotchka
Please tell us about your performance experience prior to burlesque.
BJ: I performed some theater in high school and started focusing a little more on dance in college. When I moved to Chicago I did some back up dancing in Chicago for a bunch of performers and that’s actually how I met Ray and Jett!
JA: I have been a professional actor and dancer since childhood, performing mostly on stage, but also in film, television, commercials, and print. I have a fine arts degree in acting and in musical theatre, and a minor in dance.
RG: I was a professional modern dancer for 12 years. I was the artistic director of a professional dance company in Chicago for 3 years then started my own dance company which I have been running for the past four years.
Care to briefly explain the development process of each of your boylesque personas?
BJ: I got my name by accident actually. When I was learning my very first solo (at the tutelage of Hot Toddy) I forgot I was chewing gum. We joked that my name should be Bazooka Joe and it stuck! (I changed the spelling later to give a nod to my Asian half … and for copyright issues!). Now, the name is really more of an extension of my actual personality, only much more exaggerated. Bazuka Joe is comical, sweet, unconditionally optimistic, almost naive.
JA: First, I imagine, I pretend, that nostalgia actually exists for male burlesque just as it does for the ladies. I dream, what if, when burlesque was at its original height of popularity, male burlesque had been as prominent and mainstream as the women who have made history? How would those men have translated the genre? I aim to create a character who, just as so many of the divas of burlesque, has a playful sense of humor, without sacrificing legitimate sex appeal. I aim to explore masculinity, and to draw on icons and images which promote it, exploit it, twist it, exaggerate it, expand it, I never intend to bend gender, but I ask always as a man, what can be provocative in the contrasts between delicacy and muscularity, softness and brawn. I am fascinated by exploring the contradictions in our romanticized male icons; his tenderness, charm his glamorous elegance, all despite his brute strength.
RG: The name Ray Gunn is a nod to science fiction and blacksploitation films and my love for the genres.
Can you please tell us about the creation of the Stage Door Johnnies as we know them? What exactly is the involvement of Hot Toddy (2009 King of Boylesque)?
BJ: As Hot Toddy was getting more into the burlesque scene, he kept asking a few guys back regularly as back-up dancers. Little by little we kept showing up together. One day he asked us to meet, and at the time, we kind of knew he was going to ask us if we were interested in getting more involved. Much to our surprise, only the three of us showed up and he already had our first gig booked, a photo shoot set, and we each needed a solo and persona in two weeks! (Surprise!) Since then, Toddy has focused more on improv theater and we’ve taken up the reigns. Every now and then we get him to come and perform with us onstage though! It’s fantastic!
What in your opinion are the pros and cons of performing in a predominately female industry?
BJ: Wow! Loaded question! The biggest con is probably having to explain what it is we actually do. Even to audiences who are privy to female burlesque it’s really hard to convey until they actually see us perform. Usually they think we’re Chippendales knock-offs or drag queens! Also, it’s hard to find male legends who we can learn from and model ourselves after. BUT, there are plenty of amazing female performers who we learn from, idolize, and really work hard to pay homage to but in a masculine, theatrical way. We’re really grateful that the burlesque community is so welcoming and supportive.
JA: We have been embraced by the women of burlesque with immense love and respect. We love being part of something innovative and relatively untouched from the male perspective. The word “boylesque” has worked against us, though, as it means so many different things to different people and confuses the idea of our aim in burlesque, which is to create a male counterpart to the historic art form, with the same standards for refinement, polish, and style as the top women in the business.
RG: Pro: All the inappropriate comments a boy could ever want! Con: Always having to remember to put the toilet seat down.
Have any noteworthy show mishaps, costume malfunctions or the like that you’d care to tell about?
BJ: Ha ha ha!! Yeah, ironically, a burlesque performer’s costume malfunction is usually when something DOESN’T come off. But there are still times when something comes off that you don’t want to. In our case, we wear codpieces that cover crotches – lots of times they’re decorated and used as the punch lines for acts. Well, I was in Indy with Lola Van Ella’s Show-Me Burlesque tour performing my chef routine “Dixie Biscuits”. The punch line is a very glittery codpiece that reads “Kiss The Cook”. Well, as you can probably guess, the glue wore off and I didn’t know until my final reveal. FORTUNATELY, I turn away from the audience right before I show them the end and noticed it in time to hold it up with my hand, so the audience didn’t see anything they weren’t supposed to. The stage crew on the other hand…. (whoops!)
JA: I slipped and completely fell onstage once, and took the opportunity to do some impromptu floor work. I think all of us have had a codpiece malfunction at one point or other along our journey to continue improving on their designs and construction. Thankfully there is always a hat, cape, or feather fan to save the day.
RG: Nothing really shocking, although I Have had clothes not come off when they were supposed to. During my act “Trust Me” the corset got stuck and I spent a good portion of that section trying to wiggle my way out of it!
How has winning best group at this year’s Burlesque Hall of Fame weekend changed things for the group?
BJ: So far, life has gone on as usual. We have been getting a few more offers than normal and some really great opportunities to jump into line-ups with other burlesque icons and title-holders. I do think however, it’s helping to mainstream the concept and idea of our style of male burlesque. We’re finding more and more people who ‘get it’ and know what to expect.
RG: We are busier with travel but we still get referred to as the ‘Backdoor Johnnies’ from time to time.
Please share a few of your favorite burlesque memories so far.
BJ: Another loaded question! I could go on and on! I’d first have to mention the number of hilarious drunk dials I’ve gotten (and given) by performers all over. Minnie Tonka got that train running and now on any random weekend evening we get largely unintelligible calls from god knows who! I usually save them and play them back the next time I see that person.
JA: Performing the last two years at BHOF has certainly been a highlight. Also, one of my most noted honors was when Midnite Martini threw her bra onstage during my performance at the Best of Midwest Burlesque Festival.
RG: Experiencing, first hand, World Famous Bob’s “Bobs Away”. If you don’t know what that is, just have your birthday celebration the next time she’s around! Your life will never be the same!
I’d like to know 3 little known facts about each of you.
BJ: Hmmm…. tough one. 1. I get really nervous in front of cameras. 2. I have ZERO sense of style for blinging up costumes. 3. I have a huge crush on Julie Atlas Muz!
JA: 1. I am the parental guardian for a bear named Franklin (He’s often mistaken for an Akita). 2. I never sleep, but I dream about sleeping. 3. I bathe in buttermilk every Tuesday at dusk.
RG: 1. I love Twizzlers… the original kind, not those crappy Pull-n-Peels. And not those other random flavors – not the cherry, not the peach, not the raspberry, and *definitely* not the watermelon. The original strawberry Twizzlers. 2. I have my own professional dance company. 3. I’m a huge comic book nerd.
What’s next for the Stage Door Johnnies?
JA: We are continuing to stay beyond busy traveling and performing all over the US and in Canada and have been negotiating several offers to perform overseas as well. Our big “next” is our huge monthly show here in Chicago at the legendary Park West Theater starting in October.
RG: World domination. ‘Nuff said.
Jonny Porkpie – performer and host, director, writer, and the Burlesque Mayor of New York City – talks unfortunate run-ins with the color purple, inauspicious beginnings, and of course- grabbing his junk.
Interview: Femme Vivre LaRouge
From Mr. Porkpie’s debut novel, The Corpse Wore Pasties: “I’m Jonny Porkpie, known to audiences as the Burlesque Mayor of New York City. It’s not an elected position—I’m self-appointed—but I do take my duties very seriously. I try to spend as much time as possible pressing the flesh and polling the electorate-”
First of all, let’s talk names and titles. Your name, Jonny Porkpie, comes from your trademark hat, a porkpie. Tell us about your favorite hat and what led you to make that your moniker…
The hat is so-called because of its crown, which – it is said – looks not unlike the crown of a savory pastry. The story of how it came to be named after me, or I after it (Wikipedia is unclear on that point) is a long and depraved one, involving not only savory pastries but savory pasties, a defunct basement dive bar called “Siberia” and an unfortunate run-in with the color purple. Someday, perhaps, it shall be revealed.
You bill yourself as the Burlesque Mayor of New York City and in 2009 you actually ran for Mayor of New York City, your main opponent being The Naked Cowboy. What set you on the campaign trail? Did you rise from inauspicious beginnings or have you been groomed for politics since birth?
Inauspicious beginnings, but of course. I like everything I do to be as inauspicious as possible. I got into the race specifically because this so-called “naked cowboy” was running. I mean, have you seen the guy? He’s wearing tightie-whities. I know naked. Some of my best friends are naked. And that, sir, is no naked. Soon after I entered the race, he dropped out. I think that says something.
I read that you’re an Ivy League graduate with a degree in Visual Arts – you’ve got smarts as well as a good dose of sex appeal and good humor! But what began your career in the Performing Arts?
Yeah, but for some reason they never list my shows in the alumni magazine. Strange. As for the performing arts, it’s unclear whether it was nature or nurture – all three of my parents are actors, and my first appearance onstage was as a rather large lump in my mother’s stomach. But once I scored the starring role of “Boy” in my kindergarten production of that seminal work “A Sunny Day” (by either Mamet or my teacher Mrs. Herbst, I forget which), I suppose there was no going back.
Another title you’ve gained is “Most Innovative” for your duet performance with Nasty Canasta at the 2007 Exotic World pageant in Las Vegas. I believe this was also the first time that award was given? Please tell us what it was like to win a title at the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend.
Was it 2007 or 2006? I’m forgetting. Yes, that was the first one, and it was quite a surprise to get it… We’d forgotten there were more awards for which we would be eligible, and suddenly people were saying “You just won! Get the heck onstage!” I’m thrilled to have shared the honor of being the first, and thrilled to be in the company of those who have won it since. I miss doing that number.
I had the great pleasure of meeting you this year at the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend in Las Vegas and all I really knew then was that you’d given one of the most delightful performances I’ve ever seen. If I had been more acquainted with your work I might have needed a fainting couch, but you were incredibly amiable and down to earth. How did you get to be such a great fella? And won’t you please share a description of that number so that our readers, who may not have had the chance to see it, can envision its greatness?
Oh, god, it can’t possibly live up to that ballyhoo! The name of the number is Competitive Burlesque, and it’s a classic burlesque number to classic tunes featuring classic moves – bump and grind, glove peel, stocking peel, tassel-twirl, etc., but with sports commentators narrating
the action as if it were an Olympic event. Special thanks to Jo “Boobs” Weldon for putting me through high-heeled boot camp to help get my classic moves up to snuff.
You’re co-creator of the widely acclaimed “Pinchbottom Burlesque” as well as creator of the bump and grind game show “Grab My Junk”(Grabmyjunk.net) and the monthly production, “Jonny Porkpie’s Bad Ideas.” “Grab My Junk” is currently wrapping up a summer tour and has even spawned a franchise in Melbourne! The show combines striptease, inappropriate questions, and a plethora of prizes that must be pulled from your pants. Now that’s a Great idea! What have some of your best ‘Bad Ideas’ been?
Those are probably inappropriate for a family publication. This is a family publication, right? No? Well, probably still pretty inappropriate.
This March Hard Case Crimes published your first pulp novel, The Corpse Wore Pasties. (He has supplied the first chapter for free on his website). The book has made mention in Vanity Fair and Publishers Weekly just to name two, and Bob Lunn of LibraryJournal.com states that the novel “will surely come to nestle comfortably between Gypsy Rose Lee’s classic 1941 The G-string Murders and Kinky Friedman’s mysteries.” What made you decide to put your wit and words on the page and where on earth did you find the time? Can we expect more hardboiled, lusty literature from you in the future?
I’m working on a follow-up (set in Las Vegas during “the Superstars of Striptease Showcase and Reunion”), but have to admit I didn’t get much writing done on tour. The first book happened because Charles Ardai, the creator of the Hard Case Crime line came to a Pinchbottom show and I guess he liked what he saw… And of course, he saw quite a bit. (Useless tip for aspiring writers: Putting talented nudity in a show is sure to catch an editor’s eye!) Charles proposed that we collaborate in some way, and I managed to convince him that the best way would be for him to publish a novel written by me.
Last, but not least, won’t you tell us what it’s like putting the burly in burly-q – what are some of the challenges and rewards of being male in a predominantly female field?
Tigger says, and I agree, that it’s very important that it IS a female field, and that it remain so, and that men are guests in it. (Don’t get me wrong, I love the boylesque as much as the girlesque, and in my travels have tried to get as many men into pasties as humanly possible, but it’s not the thrust of the genre.) It’s not just that burlesque is female-driven, it’s that it’s performer-driven – the performers themselves not only conceive, choreograph, costume their own acts, but also produce the shows, stripping alongside the people they hire. This is what makes burlesque such a vibrant, joyous, immediate, and fearless art form.
Thank You, Jonny Porkpie, for sharing your time, talent…and junk with us.
Rick Delaup, producer of Bustout Burlesque and The New Orleans Burlesque Festival, chats about Bourbon Street, Viva Las Vegas, and Ol’ Dirty Bastard.
Interview: Jolie Ampere Goodnight
As burlesque is primarily an industry run by women, what is it like to be a man in burlesque? What are the challenges of being a man in burlesque? What is that you love about being a producer?
As a male burlesque producer, I deal with the same issues as female producers. I’ve swapped stories with many female producers, and we face a lot of the same challenges – dealing with venues, booking talent, promoting shows, etc…
I enjoy putting good shows together and entertaining audiences, and if it turns a good profit, then that’s icing on the cake. Besides booking acts, I also create them. I have visions of what I’d like to see on stage. And it’s all based on my knowledge of the nightclub shows of the 1940s through the ‘60s. So I come up with ideas, work with a choreographer, a costumer, and sometimes with the legends of burlesque, like Evangeline the Oyster Girl and Wild Cherry.
What do you look for in classic routines, that is to say, what do you enjoy seeing? What enlivens you? What are some of the qualities of burlesque legends that epitomize classic burlesque for you?
I enjoy seeing a real bump ‘n’ grind, a real burlesque walk, someone that’s knows how to work their costume and/or prop. I like to see beautiful women who are confident on stage. I like dancers who can energize an audience. I also like to see something new and original. I would have loved to see Lilly Christine, Blaze Starr, Tee Tee Red, Evangeline the Oyster Girl, Rita Alexander, and all these other incredible performers live on stage! They paid so much attention to detail in their costuming, choreography, make-up, and the overall glamour of their act. They knew exactly how they wanted their lights and their music. They always looked their best on and off the stage.
As seen on Facebook this year, it appears that you love the build up of announcing performers for the New Orleans Burlesque Festival. Why is that?
Yes, I built up the announcement of our Queen of Burlesque contestants. So many people applied to the festival, and there are only 8 coveted spots for the competition. There’s been a lot of interest in the festival since I created it in 2009. A lot of excitement builds as the festival draws near, so I’m just contributing to it.
Bustout Burlesque is famous for being the show with a live jazz band. What is it that motivates you to maintain a show with both a full band and performers?
In the 1990s, I first heard about what the nightclubs shows used to be like on Bourbon Street in the 1950s. I became very interested in learning more about it. It sparked my passion for burlesque. It was always my goal to see those types of shows come back to life. Although it’s very costly to produce, I really love the formula. Just like the old nightclub shows, Bustout Burlesque always includes a comic emcee, singer, variety act, burlesque dancers, all accompanied by a live traditional jazz band. Although the focus is on the striptease dancers, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.
You spoke at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and you live in the birthplace of jazz. What is it about jazz that is so enticing for you? Who are some of your favorite legendary and new jazz performers?
Jazz is the soundtrack to the city of New Orleans. If you’re strolling in the French Quarter, sitting by the river, relaxing on a balcony, socializing in a bar, it’s just what you want to hear. It’s fitting for a street parade and also for a funeral! But there’s nothing like watching a beautiful burlesque dancer performing to a live jazz band, especially if her movements are in time to the music. Everyone feels the music, and everyone is energized by it, from the band members to the dancer to the audience. Bustout Burlesque has been performing for 6 years, and we’ve never performed without the live band, even when we’ve done shows in small venues.
I haven’t thought about favorite jazz performers, because I don’t really listen to jazz at home or in the car. And I don’t often go to jazz shows, other than my own. I think jazz is great when you have the visual of a beautiful dancer to go with it, or a talented and entertaining singer! Usually, I just like it as atmosphere when I’m out and about or doing other things. But when I just want to listen to music, I listen to other styles of music. I love all the different genres. Perle Noire wants me to say I listen to Ol’ Dirty Bastard!
There are various philosophies about the way a fan dance should be done and it’s well known that you have strong opinions about fan dances. What is it that you look for in fan dance? What makes a fan dance thrilling to you?
Actually, I don’t have a strong opinion about how fan dances are performed. I enjoy watching Catherine D’lish’s fan dance and Dinah Might’s fan dance. They both have very different styles and techniques. I guess you’re referring to the fact that I discourage performers from submitting fan dances to the New Orleans Burlesque Festival. We just get so many of them! A dancer would have a better chance of getting into the fest by submitting something else. Back in the glory days of burlesque, there weren’t nearly as many performers doing fan dances as there are now.
It’s clear that you are in love with New Orleans and the history of New Orleans. What you do think it is about New Orleans that makes it such a great city for burlesque (past and present)?
In the 1950s, Bourbon Street had the highest concentration of burlesque clubs in one area than anywhere in the country. The nightclub shows are why Bourbon Street is known all over the world. They had beautiful neon signs and huge photos of the dancers in the windows of the clubs. You could walk up and down Bourbon Street and see numerous burlesque shows on any given night. They had big stars like Blaze Starr, Lilly Christine, Alouette Leblanc, Tee Tee Red, and on and on. New Orleans was known as “Sin City” way before Las Vegas.
One reason New Orleans is a great city for burlesque today, is that we don’t have to worry about getting our shows shut down. A second reason is New Orleans has many tourists that seek out this type of entertainment. And a third reason is that we have several nice stages. House of Blues has been the home of Bustout Burlesque for almost four years. And the theatre at Harrah’s is the main stage for the New Orleans Burlesque Festival. They are big venues with big stages, and nice dressing rooms. It’s great to work with a professional production crew that makes the show look and sound so great.
[Editor's note: Want to know more? Rick Delaup contributed to an article we did in 2009 on The History of Burlesque in New Orleans. ]
What has been one of your favorite moments as a burlesque producer?
My favorite moment was pulling off the first New Orleans Burlesque Festival. The moment it was over, I felt I accomplished something big that will grow every year, and hopefully be around ‘til the end of days – which I hope is not 2012.
You are now one of the producers for Viva Las Vegas 15. Will there be differences between Viva and New Orleans in terms of style and performances?
I’m producing the Burlesque Showcase next year. They asked me to do something different than previous years. So I decided to bring Bustout Burlesque to The Orleans for VLV. What could be more fitting? It’s an authentic New Orleans burlesque show featuring live music. I think the audience will love it. However, I haven’t decided which performers will be in the show. I waiting until after the festival to put it together, because not only am I too busy planning the New Orleans Burlesque Festival, but I want to see all the acts in the NOBF. I’ll be looking for stand-out performances. I’m also looking forward to seeing dancers I’ve heard about, but have never seen in person. The NOBF is a perfect time to look for talent I can book for Bustout Burlesque and other shows.
Burlesque seems to be gaining mainstream popularity. Do you see this as something positive? Do you have concerns? Why do you think burlesque is gaining so much momentum?
Of course it’s positive that burlesque is gaining a bit more popularity in the mainstream. That would mean it’s getting more profitable and creating more opportunities for producers and performers. However, it still has a long way to go. Burlesque can still be a pretty hard sell. It seems people who have never seen a burlesque show do not quite know what it is, or what to expect. And then there are those who do not enjoy their first burlesque show, and think all the other shows must be the same.
I think burlesque has been gaining momentum every year because it’s fun adult entertainment that women and couples can enjoy. There’s nothin’ like a burlesque show!
Do you view burlesque as more of an art form or a purely sexual form of entertainment?
I guess it should be both. Clearly, I see it as an art form. I think burlesque should sexy and/or humorous.
What are your plans for the near future? Are you in the midst of working on anything exciting?
I work in burlesque full-time, and I obsess about it 24/7. The only time my mind really moves away from it is when I’m watching a good movie or a TV show. I always have many projects up my sleeve! I don’t really like to talk about anything before it comes together. But I can say that I’d like to produce more shows besides Bustout Burlesque and the NOBF. I’d like to stage more shows outside of New Orleans. I have a new website project I’ll be working on soon. But my ultimate goal is to have a real burlesque club in the French Quarter that also includes a burlesque museum and gift shop. I have a huge collection of vintage New Orleans burlesque items that include tons of photos, promotional items, costumes, beaded bras, jeweled g-strings, interviews, and more. I want authentic burlesque to return to New Orleans in a big way!
The Great Ziegfeld: A Self-Made Legend
by: Femme Vivre LaRouge
Born in 1867, Florenz Ziegfeld forged his legendary status as a Broadway producer through numerous productions, most notably The Ziegfeld Follies and the original production of Show Boat. He brought together the best of the best in every field, both onstage and behind the scenes, to present glitzy, glamorous spectacles like no other. With the showmanship of PT Barnum and the charm of Casanova, Ziegfeld truly glorified, and adored, the American girl.
Ziegfeld’s first success as a publicist came when he brought fame to The Great Sandow during the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893. Sandow, a progenitor of modern bodybuilding, modeled himself after classical Greek statues, working tirelessly to achieve the ‘ideal’ proportions of man. While he performed great feats of strength for his audiences, the act was not very successful until Ziegfeld began enticing rich society women to not only see Sandow flex his 58-inch chest up close and personal, but also squeeze his bouncing biceps backstage!
Ziegfeld’s next sensation came in the form of 18-inch ‘wasp waist’ music hall singer, Anna Held. Miss Held delighted American audiences with her hourglass figure, French accent, and flirtatious songs. But Held did not succeed on her vivacious personality and risque tunes alone –Ziegfeld pumped the press machine relentlessly. It seems that he was never afraid of telling a little lie, so long as it was interesting. For example, ‘Flo’ spread the word around that Miss Held regularly took milk baths, and even went so far as to publicly accuse a dairy of delivering sour milk to Anna, then sue the dairy! A Follies publicity stunt consisted of a staged police raid during a particularly tittilating number, which ended with the officers in uniform doing a kick line with the chorus girls!
For over a decade Ziegfeld tailored his productions around Anna Held and it was she that gave him the idea for the Ziegfeld Follies format, modeling it after the Folies Bergere. What started out as a common law marriage finally ended in divorce when Anna could no longer ignore Flo’s affair with Lillian Lorraine, who he had even moved into an aparment upstairs from his and Anna’s own suite. Lillian, a tempermental Follies star, was only one of Ziegfeld’s many dalliances, including Olive Thomas and several other starlets.
One amusing anecdote about Lillian Lorraine came about when she threw a tantrum, accusing singer and comedienne Fanny Brice of attempting to steal a boyfriend away from her. The argument ended with Brice dragging the diva across the stage by the hair of her head, in front of an audience! Brice was one of the great comics catapulted to stardom by Florenz Ziegfeld. Another was Bert Williams, the first black actor to join a white cast on Broadway. Although the racial lines were still quite clear, Ziegfeld withstood multiple protests for even booking Bert. Flo worked with a remarkable range of stars, booking established vaudeville talents such as W.C. Fields and Will Rogers, and discovering scores of newcomers. Many of his cast and crew went on to work in the burgeoning Hollywood film industry.
Flo enlisted the incredible talents of set designer Joseph Urban, who created the show’s signature sweeping staircases that reached toward the heavens and grandiose rotating sets adorned with scores of lovely girls. Urban built trap doors, fully glittering fountains, and a floor that lit up when touched by a dancer’s foot, and he also designed Ziegfeld’s own theatre in 1927. Lavish backdrops, exotic animals, and gimmicks such as numbers specifically designed to be viewed through 3-D glasses all made the Follies shows spectacular above all else. Irving Berlin and Jerome Kern composed original music for many of the shows, while Lady Duff-Gordon, survivor of the Titanic, costumed the girls in the enticing and opulent garments that set a Follies girl apart from any other showgirl. The costumes and sets were often conceptual, artistic, and wildly creative.
The first Follies show took place in 1907, and from the very beginning Ziegfeld offered up the luxury, allure, and laughter that modern audiences were after. The production cost was a whopping $13,800, but it paid off by pulling in $130,000 in ticket sales. In the early 1920s, Follies shows ran for over 500 performances apiece and in 1924, Ziegfeld shelled out $170,000 to make sure the production had that magical ‘Ziegfeld touch.’ The Ziegfeld Follies, by Marjorie Farnsworth, describes that special touch thusly, “First, Ziegfeld knew the subtle line between desire and lust, between good taste and vulgarity, and never crossed it…Second, the exhibitionism which was part of his private life was not contrived. It was an integral part of the personality mechanism that made him what he was: a gambler who had an almost childish irresponsibility toward the value of money and an equally childish conviction that he could always get some more when he wanted it. Most of the time he was astonishingly right.”
In 1914 Ziegfeld married the young actress, Billie Burke, who he also starred in the Follies. Although she retired from film for a time to raise their daughter, Patricia, Billie enjoyed a long and critically acclaimed career. Today she is best remembered as Glinda The Good Witch. Billie and Florenz remained together, despite his philandering, until Flo’s death in 1932, and Billie worked hard to clear the debts incurred by Flo in the stock market crash, and to preserve the name of Ziegfeld in the annals of history.
There are many films that make tribute to Mr. Ziegfeld and his career, including those listed below. The Great Ziegfeld is a marvelous, partially fictionalized biopic, and Ziegfeld Follies has a stellar lineup of some of the most talented performers of the twentieth century, presented in a musical revue format with stunning costumes and scenery.
The Great Ziegfeld: www.imdb.com/title/tt0027698/ from 1936, starring William Powell as Ziegfeld, Fanny Brice as herself, Myrna Loy as Billie Burke, and Frank Morgan of Wizard of Oz fame (the wizard) as well as Ray Bolger, the scarecrow from the same.
Ziegfeld Follies: www.imdb.com/title/tt0039116/ from 1945, with William Powell again playing Ziegfeld, and the incredible talents of Lucille Ball, Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Judy Garland, Esther Williams, Red Skelton, Lena Horne, and many more!
Ziegfeld’s own, and only, foray into film, Glorifying the American Girl: www.imdb.com/title/tt0017896/ from 1929, starring Mary Eaton, sister of Doris Eaton Travis.
See ziegfeld-follies.tumblr.com for a plethora of magnificent photos of Ziegfeld girls.
We found this amazing video on ThreadBanger on making a hat block (or mold) to use to make an amazing custom hat on the cheap! Whether you are looking for a classic Fedora, Bowler, or Pork Pie- this video will show you how!
Don’t see video above? Click HERE
Want to make a FEZ instead?
Things You’ll Need
• 5-inch-square piece of felt
• 7-inch-high rectangle of felt of a length that is 1/2 inch more than your head’s circumference
• Small tassel
Step 1: Cut the top of the hat from a 5-inch-square piece of felt. The top should be a circle. Although head sizes differ, a 4-inch diameter is usually sufficient for the top of the hat.
Step 2: Cut the body of the hat from a rectangle of felt. You want to end up with a curved rectangle of felt. Make sure one part of the curve is the circumference of the circle you made in Step 1. The sides of the curved rectangle should be about 4 inches, the height of the fez.
Wrap the curved rectangle of felt around your head to make sure it fits. Pin the loose sides together so that the fez sits securely on your head.
Sew the loose sides of the fez together using a needle and thread. Leave a 1/4-inch portion not sewn at the top. You will use this 1/4 inch to attach the body of the fez to its top.
Turn the body of the fez inside-out, and pin the remaining 1/4-inch portion to the circle that will be the top of the fez. You might need to snip the top 1/4 inch in a few places, so that you can sew it smoothly to the circle. Sew the two pieces together.
Sew the tassel to the center of the circular top of the fez.
Originally Published HERE
With September being the month that brings Fall, and The New York Burlesque Festival an apple cocktail & dessert seemed the obvious choice!
The Big Apple Manhattan
- 1/2 oz Wild Turkey bourbon
- 1/4 oz Amaretto Di Saronno
- 1/4 oz Apple Pucker liqueur
- 1 oz cranberry juice
- cherry garnish
- Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Add ice.
- Shake vigorously for 30 seconds, then strain into a chilled martini glass.
- Garnish with a cherry.
- 6 large apples (Try: Granny Smith, Winesap, or Rome Beauty) peeled, cored and medium diced
- 6 tablespoons sugar, divided
- 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 6 tablespoons cold butter, cut into pieces
- 1 lemon, juiced
- 1/3 cup brown sugar
- Vanilla ice cream, for serving
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Place the apples and just 1/2 of the sugar (3 tablespoons) into a saucepan and cook over medium heat for approximately 10 minutes or until apples begin to soften. Drain them and set aside.
For the crumb topping: Combine the remaining 3 tablespoons sugar, flour, cinnamon and butter in a bowl. Blend with your fingertips until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Set aside.
Coat the apples with the lemon juice and spoon into a deep baking dish. Top with the crumble mix and sprinkle with the brown sugar, and bake until done, about 30 minutes. To minimize oven clean-up, you may want to place foil under the baking dish to catch any spills. The fruit will bubble and will be very hot, so exercise extra care in removing from the oven.
Serve topped with ice cream.