Atlanta’s Katherine Lashe, the “Girl Behind the Behind,” talks Southern Fried Burlesque Fest, working for free, Dita, and looking cheap.
Interview: Divertida Devotchka
You’re the producer of the first ever Southern Fried Burlesque Festival, to be held in Atlanta March 10th-13th. Tell us a little about all the preparation required for such an undertaking.
Many of us had been kicking the idea around for a while because there just weren’t any festivals like this here. We figured being fairly centrally located in the Southeast and a major city, we could showcase a happy medium that would include ultra classic burlesque, the more modern neo-burlesque, as well as variety acts.
One of the biggest decisions was who to have headline the event. The first people I contacted were our very own local legends Torchy Taboo and Jo Boobs, who actually used to work at the Cheetah here in Atlanta, and have always been a great inspiration for me. Dirty Martini had been in Atlanta before with the Sex Workers Art Show Tour back in 2007, and was just amazing. She and I had a conversation about how much she loved Southern cooking, but she never actually really got to have any when they were on tour because they were always just passing through. I had made the joke that maybe we could just bribe Dirty with a real, home cooked Southern meal and get her to perform – which got me wondering what it would take to get her to come down. With Ursula’s encouragement, I sent Dirty an email and she sounded excited, so we began the booking process. I had chatted with Gary Beeber online about bringing “Dirty Martini and the New Burlesque” to Atlanta, and we ended up being able to set up a screening to kick off the festival on Thursday night.
I have a confession: I have zero graphic skills. The beautiful banners on the webpage, the posters, the t-shirts, are all designed by Ursula Undress. That was actually how I got her into this, she was helping out as an advisor/graphic designer and it just ended up that she was so passionate and had so many great ideas she ended up becoming a co-producer. She is great to work with as we both have opposite strengths so we really complement each other as a partnership.
Your bio says your debut in burlesque was opening for Dita von Teese in 2003. Tell us more about how you managed to debut opening for one of the biggest names in burlesque.
Shortly after moving to Atlanta I ended up getting a job at The Chamber as a go-go dancer/performance artist. After working there for a while we started what we jokingly called “Team Chamber” which consisted of all the payroll artists which included myself, as well as burlesque performers Renea le Roux and Gia Nova. One day the manager came up to us and said, “You’re opening for Dita in two weeks, do something burlesque-y.” She had just been on the cover of Playboy about a month before she came, and I had no idea who she or what burlesque really was. We ended up putting together a performance and costumes in the two weeks we had, and managed to pull it off fairly successfully. Afterwards, I got to sit back stage and talk with Dita for a while and she was amazingly nice, gracious and more than willing to answer all of my random questions. My favorite part of the conversation was her talking about how she has a room that holds all of her costume pieces, and that she sometimes would just sit in there and gaze at them, basking in their beauty. She was so glamorous, like a porcelain doll of a French Can-Can dancer, and after that I was kind of hooked and started looking more into it.
You’ve been performing burlesque consistently since 2004, but began producing in 2006, and you’re one of the founders of Syrens of the South Productions. Tell us about the creation of Syrens and how it’s evolved over the years.
Syrens of the South was a name I came up with for a sister act, and it ended up carrying over to the production company. I started out with the idea that it needed to be something different than anything else in the Atlanta area at that point, which was dominated by troupes. Blast-off Burlesque had just formed about a year before, and they do amazing Sci-Fi and more comedic performances. Dames Aflame is Atlanta’s oldest burlesque troupe, originally started by Torchy Taboo, and does very Vegas showgirl style performances, feathered headdresses and all. There are a couple of vintage themed troupes, but I never wanted to do any one theme. I do acts from Grease to The Sex Pistols, so I really needed to be in an environment where I could do all of it.
Syrens of the South is not a troupe, it’s a production company that works with everyone. We’ve had members of local troupes as well as independent performers from all over the country grace the stage of a Syrens show. We’re able to pull from a much bigger pool of performers rather than limiting ourselves to a core group and trying to mesh schedules for group rehearsals. I like to trust that everyone will be professional, work on their own acts when it’s convenient for them, and come together to do an amazing show!
You’ve taught burlesque history classes at festivals, but you’re probably best known for your Business of Burlesque class. What does that class entail? What is one piece of burlesque business advice you wish you’d received before you got started?
The “Business of Burlesque Class” is my most requested class when I travel to festivals. I go over everything from how to manage oneself as an independent performer to how to produce a show and make a budget. I also go over how to price merchandise, places to order it from, and how to work a crowd to get them to buy as well as how to lock in your stage name to establish yourself.
The one piece of business advice that I wish I’d gotten is sometimes it’s okay to turn down a gig. When I first started I did everything and anything offered to me regardless of pay, and really started over-saturating myself with not enough time to produce new, quality numbers. If they don’t appreciate the time and effort that you put into putting together a number including creating a costume, choreography, and concept through payment, or some great exposure, it’s absolutely okay say “I’m sorry, but I am unavailable for your event.” I’m not saying that any of us are in if for the money, I do free shows for causes I believe in or for major exposure; but the moment it’s not fun and you don’t feel good about it, what’s the point? Everyone deserves to get something for their efforts, and if you’ll do anything for free all the time, it cheapens what you do and cheapens what your fellow performers do and no one will ever get paid what they’re worth.
While growing up in Tennessee, you studied everything from ballet, to clown and mime workshops, and seemingly every aspect of musical theater, including dance, voice, scene study, movement and even lighting, sound and especially costuming. It’s almost like you were prepping to be a burlesque powerhouse without even realizing it! How did the skills you learned in those areas translate to your burlesque career?
I know that my theater experience definitely helped me as far as being comfortable to take risks, and helped the most with producing and running a show. I’ve stage managed a lot, and that knowledge is what made me know what information we needed from each performer for each act to make sure everything flowed as smoothly as possible.
The dance training helped for obvious reasons, since the striptease and dancing goes hand in hand. My ability to pick up choreography fairly quickly has been a huge help, and I know I wouldn’t be able to do that without the years of having it drilled into my head.
The costuming has probably been one of the biggest helps as far as a money saver since, as Mae West said, “It takes a lot of money to look this cheap.” I’ve made costumes for myself as well as many other Atlanta performers. Often my sewing for other people is how I pay for my own costumes. I have this little beam of pride every time another performer is on stage wearing something I made because I got to help make their vision come true!
Anything you’d like to add?
Burlesque has been an amazing opportunity for me, not just for performing but as a catalyst for personal growth as well. I have never been a size 0 with Double D breasts, and I never will be. Starting in middle school, I was obsessed with my size and weight because at a size 8, I thought I was a cow. One of the things I love about burlesque is that it doesn’t matter if you’re a size 2 or a 22. If you have the self confidence and the right attitude, you’re sexy because that shows from your soul, not just your outer appearance. I have never really been one to have a lot of female friends, but the women involved in burlesque have this inner confidence and glow that isn’t as catty and judgmental like a lot of the women outside the community. I’ve gone from someone who had almost no female friends to someone that has a wonderful group of burlesque sisters that are my family and I love them all as such.
Atlanta burlesque performer and model Ursula Undress talks motherhood, rockabilly, curves, and confidence.
Interview: Divertida Devotchka
First off, congratulations on expecting your second child! Since you already have a daughter, are there certain things you’ve learned since having your first child that you think will make this pregnancy (and raising this child) any easier?
Well, we just found out that this one is a boy, so we are pretty much throwing any prior knowledge out the window! One thing that I will definitely do this time around is to make sure that I stay active as a performer and as a woman in my own right. Last time, I was in mid-Michigan finishing my degree, and sort of got sucked into the mom/full-time student aspect of things, and forgot to nurture other parts of me. Burlesque has definitely helped me to maintain some balance there and keep the individual me alive, and I also have people who have promised to keep me from falling into that again.
How on earth are you able to balance being a mom and expecting another child, as well as being a production assistant, burlesque performer, graphic designer, and having countless other responsibilities?
Honestly, I have no idea. I am a creative person and thinker, so being organized isn’t one of my strong suits. Mostly, things happen in order of urgency around here! I do have these elaborate fantasies that my life is completely organized and my house is always clean, but I know that will never happen. Other than that, I am a pretty even-keeled person, and that keeps me from being insane about not being able to juggle everything. Not to mention, I have the best husband in the world, and a small, but strong support network of friends here to call in a pinch!
You have a background in musical theater and dance. Tell us about the making of Ursula as we know her.
Well, 14 years of performing in both musical and dramatic theatre came in handy for sure since Burlesque is just as much about having stage presence if not more than stripping. I also was a choreographer, and that definitely helps with understanding what the language of movement can do to a performance, and with creating a character.
As far as the birth of Ursula goes – that actually didn’t happen until I had been performing Burlesque for a few months. I was performing in the beginning as “Chrystal Shawnda Leer,” trying to be more classic and all that, but I didn’t exactly look the part, and I definitely liked to pick music that was more rockin’. I had kicked around the new name, Ursula Undress a few times and told no one to take it. When I opened for Unknown Hinson with a Rockabilly number that December, Katherine Lashe said “tonight, Ursula was born!” So, I guess the rest is history…the Cult was born – ha!
Tell us about your role(s) in the Southern Fried Burlesque Fest.
Well, I am what you would call the co-organizer. Katherine and I work very closely and really balance each other out when it comes to the kind of experiences that we bring to the table. She has had a lot of Burlesque Production, Sci-Fi Con, and festival experience and knows how they work, and I completely respect her knowledge. I have been both an employee manager and production manager in my former careers in events and weddings, and understand logistical aspects of pulling together an event and how it looks, so that is also covered. Not to mention the whole graphic design thing has been my job since the beginning, so I am responsible for all of the printed and designed material. Right now, we work side-by-side and are a really smooth team that has done pretty much everything together without a single conflict. I am so glad her brain is so terribly organized, and that she can do timelines and charts and all the stuff I absolutely do not excel at!
For many, one of the biggest draws of burlesque shows is the variety in body types of the performers. Being a lovely, curvy gal like yourself, do you have any advice for curvy girls who haven’t yet come to terms with the allure of their shape?
Honestly, this is one of the main reasons I perform. I, like many other women, have spent FAR too many hours being unkind to myself over the way my body looks. Ever since I hit my mid-20s, I have felt everything from guilt and fear, to full-out hatred for not looking the way I did in high school (I was a size four back then). Then, one day I just realized that, hey – I am still attractive, desirable, and I am still womanly, and all of these negative things I have been telling myself were just that – things I told MYSELF, because no one else was saying them to me. Then I thought – how AWFUL would it be to actually SAY some of the things I would say to myself to SOMEONE ELSE?! How would I feel if someone said any of those things to my daughter? It would be cruel, and hurtful, and wrong. That was a huge moment for me.
Fast forward to 2007, one day I am doing research on Burlesque because I wanted to get into it, and I watch a video of Dirty Martini. I was FLOORED. This woman was the embodiment of grace, style, and SEX. She had so much attitude and confidence. I couldn’t take my eyes off of her! She really was the final push to get me back on stage. She is a representation of what a woman is like who doesn’t give a damn about what the media says women should be, and THAT makes her incredibly sexy and alluring. I have yet to find a woman who hasn’t watched her and made this connection between sexy and being confident. So, you can imagine how excited I am that we are bringing her in for our first year.
Now, I feel like I have become an advocate for this kind of thinking and it is really a focus of my Burlesque Fitness classes that I teach. The main thing that gets drilled into the women in my class is that confidence is really what makes the difference in a woman in many ways. I have women my age, and older that are learning that it is okay to be seductive, it is okay to be flirtatious, and most of all, it is perfectly okay to not worry about what other people think! I am not an advocate of being physically unhealthy by any means, the thing is that there are lots of ways to be unhealthy, and I believe that not embracing who you truly are, flaws and all, is one of them.
You’ve opened for Unknown Hinson, of “Squidbillies” fame. How did that come about and what was the show like?
Oh my god, it was amazing! Basically, I was hired by Syrens of the South Productions – it was sort of my first foray into professional Burlesque. That was the night Ursula was born, and I was completely embraced by the audience that was there. I finally felt like I was at home onstage in front of them, because these are people who appreciate loud, high-energy music. Doing his shows now is just a riot, and I will do anything I can to not turn down being able to perform them. I have fans that only get to come out to see me perform there because of distance, and they are so loyal and raucous! Those shows are definitely the most high-energy for me, I think.
Meeting him was also incredible – he is what I would call a complete Southern Gentleman and was so complimentary to all of us pretty gals backstage. And as busy as he is, he still remembers us individual performers when we work together.
From what or whom do you take your inspiration?
Mostly it is music. There are just some tunes that you listen to, and you can actually visualize being up on stage doing the movements, wearing the costume, etc. It is really strange, because I am such an aesthetic person, yet I rarely begin a number with a costume idea or something visual like that. Other times, it is movies or just a photograph from a time period. In the end, I would have to agree with Kitten De Ville, that it really is all about the music. Some days I would just kill to perform with a live band!
Kellyn Willey, owner of Pin-Up Girl Cosmetics, talks poorly blended foundation, places to visit in Atlanta, grapeseed oil, human disco balls, and owning a business before she owned a car.
Q: Pin-Up Girl Cosmetics is a full concept unlike any we’ve seen in the country. You have a storefront location, with regular business hours, and on site photographers, make-up artists, and stylists, in addition to a retro clothing boutique. How was the idea born in 2006, and was there a “model concept” or “model store” to look to for inspiration?
There was no model for the shop. The original owner was an extremely gifted makeup artist and hair dresser. She wanted to have her own shop where she could express her talents. Eventually she met up with an equally gifted female photographer and opened the shop together in June 2006. It was just 2 talented young women expressing their creativity and passion of vintage culture and fashion.
Q: Your site mentions that the pin-up shoots were almost an afterthought, to document the fabulous makeovers, and now you have three full time photographers on premises! Tell us about the evolution of that aspect of the business.
Yes, in the beginning the first owner just wanted to have a cosmetic boutique but then she met, who would be her co-owner, a local female photographer and they decided to join forces and make a store front together. Now, in our new location, photo shoots compete with the cosmetic services, but the shots win with a few steps ahead.
Q: How did you go from “working at the shop in 2007” to “proud owner in 2009”?
Well I was hired in November 2007 as a makeup artist but predominately a shop girl: just very simple tasks with little to no real responsibility. Then the owner decided to go in a different direction when she realized that I was also a budding photographer and graphic designer. She cut the staff back 3 months after hiring me and made me store manager. Then by the end of the summer, we moved the shop out of Little 5 Points to Grant Park due to issues with our original landlord. It was the best thing we could have done. Eventually after a few months of being in our new shop home, the owner told me she was feeling overwhelmed by running the shop and taking care of her new baby, not to mention to the global recession being upon us all. She asked me if I wanted to be the owner…I said no way! I’m only 23 years old and I don’t even own my car!
Eventually I realized that if I wanted to keep the ONLY job I’ve ever loved and ever been good at, I was going to have to own it. So, in late July 09, she signed the entire company over to me. It was so terrifying and I had no idea what I was doing in the beginning…except pay the bills on time and advertise online. But with the support of my staff, family and friends and a lot of praying and midnight panic attacks, it all panned out over time.
Q: Your shop has recently tripled in size from its original location, and is now located in the hipster paradise that is Grant Park (Atlanta’s largest historic neighborhood), and become the “talk of the town”. What are passerby’s reactions to the entire pin-up thing? Have you noticed an increase in folks familiar with, and inspired by, the look recently? Do you ever get walk-ins?
Oh yeah the neighbors really were shocked when they first saw us…they still are. Oversized paintings of nude women hang in our pink and red store front with corsets and stockings lining the walls. We’ve heard it all before, “What is this place? What kind of pictures do you take? What the hell is a Pin-up girl?”
We have many walk-ins every month, typically clients getting their brows done or shopping and then we have the Frequent Flyers! These are our clients who get multiple services a year…over several years. We have about 4 die-hard ones who are moving into their 8th and 10th shoots since 2007. It’s pretty incredible to have support like that in a business that’s not considered a necessity but a luxury. Not to mention having our newest addition to the Pin Up Girl family, “Lucky Starr” a fantastic vintage clothing and accessory boutique. Christine Starr Cookus is the brilliant owner and she was one of my clients years ago when we first moved into the Grant Park space. Christine is a breath of fresh air to our business, bringing with her tons of new clients and a positive attitude. She has only been with us a month and I can’t imagine the shop without her. Groupon has also brought us boat loads of new clients…219 new faces in 24 hours to be exact! We’re very blessed and more than thankful.
Q: In fact, you’ve been getting so much attention that you we’re named “Critics Pick- The Best Reason to Dolled Up” in the Best of Atlanta 2009 Issue of Creative Loafing. What was your reaction?
To be honest, I cried. I had only owned the shop for 3 months and was stressed all the time due to low revenue from the recession. I remember that day so well. My best friend, Shellie called me up about 7am screaming, “You made the Best of 09!!!” I didn’t even know what she was talking about. I remember people voting for it online, but everything those early months was a blur. Then she emailed me the link…and I almost died. I felt like we won an Oscar, and in a way we had. It’s such an honor. I was and am still so proud of that. My staff deserved it for all the long hours they put in every week. They’re so patient and passionate.
Q: On your list of services you also include theatrical and special effects make-up. That’s unusual! Were you or Kiah [Kiah Clark is the other make-up artist at PG!] formally trained in make-up, or are you all self taught?
Kiah and I both studied makeup under our perspective high schools. Theatrical makeup is something we do in our freetime…when we have it. Kiah does make-up for the local Rocky Horror Picture Show at the Plaza Theatre here in town when she has the chance. While I’ve done dozens of local, independent films and photo shoots with special effects makeup like zombies, severe bruising and gashes. Yes, we are self-taught and we have learned a lot of techniques from other makeup artists from around the region.
I would never call myself a special effect makeup artist, but I do believe a true makeup artist can pick up any cosmetic tool or product and figure out how to apply to any skin type in a matter of moments. I’ve done so many crazy makeup applications from making someone into a human disco ball, pageant and drag queen makeup to making myself appear as a zombie with buckets of blood pouring out of my mouth. I love it all!
Q: What are your biggest make-up or pet peeves, or common make-up mistakes?
Poorly matched and blended foundation….Yuck! A bad quality foundation whether it’s a powder, cream or liquid, is even worse when not blended into the face a neck well. If it doesn’t match your skin it can make you look old and dry to say the least. My favorite trick to well-blended foundation is to apply the makeup to your whole face with a brush our sponge then use your hands to blend the makeup into your neck and edges along your hairline and ears.
Too much undereye liner gets annoying to me too. Unless you have HUGE eyes, it can make you look decades older and tired. Try applying a small amount of liner to the inner bottom lid by your bottom lashes on the outside corner. Add a bit heavier of a stroke on the farthest outside point of that line wear your eye ends for added drama. You can even do the same technique on the top lid. It’s very Sofia Loren!
Q: What are your five favorite specific beauty products?
1) A great moisturizer! At our shop we love blending aloe vera gel and grapeseed oil as our face moisturizer. Grapeseed oil is packed with antioxidants, has natural SPF 15 protection, is closest to the oils your face produces and is a very neutral/mild emollient great for all skin types PLUS extremely affordable. If you have the drier or more mature skin, add more grapeseed oil. If you have oilier skin, use more aloe vera. Always moisturize when you have freshly washed skin that is still damp. You only need a nickel size amount of this moisturizing blend.
2) All-natural lip balm! It’s a secret to the perfect lipstick/gloss application. My favorite is Burt’s Bees original formula. Dry lips make you look dull, dehydrate and yes, old; all things we fear as women. Many lip products are made with mineral oils, parabens, alcohols and other petro-based ingredients and they only moisturize temporarily. I apply lip balm 3-5 minutes before I apply my lipstick and I make sure to bloat of any extra balm I have before I apply the lip color to ensure a lasting application.
3) A truly dramatic mascara! I don’t leave the house without it! There are so many great brands out there I can’t name them all, but I’m wearing Rimmel’s Glam’ Eyes Flirt lately and I love it. My old tried and true favorite is Physician’s Formula Plump Potion mascara. Try a heated lash curler AFTER you apply your mascara for even more drama. They really work and your lashes stay curler ALL DAY! Mine has a silicon strip instead of a metallic, bristly wand, and I can sanitize it after ever use. It was less than $10 from Ardell at Ulta.
4) A fantastic red lipstick! I fought red lipstick for years until I found PinUpGirl! I didn’t believe that it would look good against my dark skin. But I soon realized that it looks incredible on all skin types and ages, you just have to find the shade last works best on you. Cooler tones, like a more blue-based red, look better on fairer tones: think of red like a deep candy apple red. If you have darker skin tones, try a warmer red with more yellow tones like Coca-Cola red with a darker red or even a plum/ violet lipliner. ALWAYS line your lips first when applying a red lip. If not, it can bleed, feather and make your lips appear smaller than they truly are. For that true retro pout, heavily line the 3-dimentional line of your lip (slightly outside) and feather in the liner then apply the red and blend with a lip brush. Our favorite red are the ones we sell in the shop through our private label but MAC has some incredible shades especially in the Pro Longwear LipCreme shades!
5) A great teeth whitening system! It’s more affordable than you think. So many of us love lipsticks, especially those luscious reds and a bright, white smile will make all the difference in that sexy kisser of yours. I recommend a pre-brush whitening rinse, then a whitening tooth paste with fluoride using a good electric tooth brush (Oral-B makes the one I use and it’s less than $30..I’ve had mine for 4 years), a post-rinse with great restorative properties like enamel strengtheners to keep your teeth in shape and they even have whitening floss to brighten up in between your teeth. I guess I’m obsessed with pearly whites…but it’s a great way to always look your best without wearing a stitch of makeup!
Q: In just a matter of weeks, Atlanta will be filled with tourists checking out the Southern Fried Burlesque Festival. If you could only recommend five places to visit while there, what are your picks for vintage minded visitors?
1) The Starlight Drive-In on Moreland Ave. It’s worth the drive to enjoy a great movie under the stars with your honey. Sometimes you can even catch a retro flick if you review their schedule.
2) The Clermont Lounge on Ponce It’s where strippers go to die and party before they hit the ground. Yes, I just said that This is a must-see experience that EVERYONE (over 21) has to partake of. Not for the faint of heart. Seriously, it’s a blast, especially on Karaoke night!!!
3) Holy Taco on Glenwood Ave Some of the absolute best flash mural designing in the city, incredible cocktails and the food is truly amazing! I LOVE GREAT Mexican food and this place has INCREDIBLE Mexican food!!! I have had many a mid-day margarita there and I’m looking forward to my next!
4) Liberty Tattoo on Ponce or Grant Park If you need to bleed, you’ve come to the right place! Just ask for Shay or Kaki or anyone holding a tattoo needle for that matter. Tell ‘em Kellyn sent you!
5) Anything in Little 5 Points I can’t list everything I love in Little 5 because there is so much but stop in Libertine for awesome accessories plus cosmetics, the Porter for their Belgian fries and a Lemon Gingerade (my favorite combo), Stefan’s for some hard-to-find vintage apparel, and Rag-O-Rama for great second-hand trends and finds!
Burlesque has seen many incarnations, ups and downs, and even periods of hibernation over the past century, but try as the censors might, it has never really gone away. The magical connection between burlesque and the American audience can be summed up in the lyrics of Willkommen from the opening of Cabaret: “Leave your troubles outside! So life is disappointing? Forget it! We have no troubles here! Here life is beautiful…the girls are beautiful…even the orchestra is beautiful!” Although burlesque has seen success on the stages of Broadway and other high end venues, it remains an essentially working class form of entertainment, aiding escapism from the worries of everyday life through the troubles of the Great Depression and war times. Miss Georgia Sothern was a big player throughout. Her career lasted from 1922-1977 and began when she was barely 13!
Raised in vaudeville, Georgia began performing with her uncle when she was a toddler; her father had abandoned the family and her mother struggled to make ends meet for Georgia (then called Hazel) and her sister, Jewel. Within a week of Hazel’s thirteenth birthday, her mother was in a state-funded hospital being treated for tuberculosis and her beloved Uncle Virgil had died of the same. Uncle Virgil had entrusted Hazel to another vaudeville act, but that form of entertainment was vanishing quickly and the act soon dissolved, the manager running off without paying Hazel, and she found herself alone on the streets of New York city. After a week of nearly starving and without finding work in the only field she knew, the brave young girl turned to burlesque. She had a number of false birth certificates from her vaudeville days and was able to pass herself off as 17! Later, when Mr. Minsky found out that she was only 14 (and had been working for him for over a year) he nearly hit the roof, but she gave him one of her false birth certificates and assured him that she would never alert the law to this indiscretion.
Born in Atlanta, Georgia picked her name on the spot in Phil Rosenberg’s office and in her nervousness, forgot the ‘u’ in Sothern, and so the spelling stuck. Her unique style of whirling dervish striptease was also born out of nervousness, during her very first performance and this jazz age baby rode it all the way to the bank, eventually having a signature tune written for her, “Hold that Tiger.” Ann Corio wrote, “The mere sight of this red hot red-headed temptress tossing her hips in fantastic abandon to the wild music of the band caught up everybody in its spell…the audience was almost as exhausted watching as Georgia was performing.” Sometimes she would get so caught up in her exuberant dance steps that she would end up taking off and putting on her clothing several times during a number, leading one fan to remark, “She strips just like she had dynamite for lunch.”
Not only did she do a fast strip, she led a fast-paced life in the roaring twenties and no matter how conservative she actually was, adventure always seemed to seek her out. Her skirmishes with the law didn’t always involve burlesque, but often gangsters and bootleggers, as well as her poorly picked husbands. While still only 13, Georgia witnessed a gangland murder that would have had her dead that very night, but for the fact that she had worn black and the streetlight happened to be burned out, so that the killers didn’t notice her. The plot thickened later, when she found out that perpetrator was her best friend’s boyfriend! Months of living in fear that he would discover her identity culminated in his dropping a large wad of stolen cash at their apartment as he fled from the police. But when he returned much later, to kill his former flame, he was the one that ended up snuffed out in a nearby park, thanks to her friend, Foxie, a rival bootlegger. The police also became involved in her personal life when her first husband threatened to jump from a tall building, to the amusement of a large crowd and the chagrin of the police squad. Georgia, however, called him on it, and he flew into a rage, swearing at her and hitting her, and ultimately landed himself in jail.
But back to burlesque. She was never busted for being underage, but she was escorted out of Philadelphia by the police. Whenever Mr. Poole, the city’s censor, would come around, the burlesque houses would tame down the show and cut all the bumps and grinds. He became fixated on finding Miss Sothern doing whatever it was that made her so popular; one night the theatre was not slick enough and Sothern was caught wearing only three sequined rosebuds. She was given 24 hours to leave town, or end up in jail. Although Georgia was mortified, the reporters were on her side and it all turned out for the best, with Mr. Cohen selling Georgia’s contract to none other than Billy Minsky. Burlesque thrived in the city of New York’s emerging nightclub scene for years to come, but further into the thirties, things began to change. Mayor LaGuardia was doing his best shut down burlesque and issued stricter and stricter edicts, including this one: “You are not allowed to remove an article of clothing. You may not peel from your person even so much as a glove.” The biz had to get creative, some operations creating floating nightclubs, modeled after prohibition speakeasies. However, when the states entered WWII, the art of the striptease didn’t seem so bad. As Ann Corio wrote in 1941, for Variety, “Burlesque, along with aviation and munitions, is experiencing a wartime spurt.” During this time, Georgia joined Gypsy Rose Lee on Broadway in Mike Todd’s productions of Star and Garter and The Naked Genius.
But when the war was over, burlesque was booted from The Great White Way and it was back to the nightclubs for the peelers. In 1948, Georgia was arrested at Club Samoa in Manhattan, under the charge “lewdness in a tent.” The star was fined $125, but this didn’t stop her. She spent years fighting the case and finally won, the judge ruling that “the city could not deprive her from earning a living in a lawful occupation.” Furthermore, Georgia is cited as being the main force behind the abolishment of the ‘police card,’ which performers in New York had to pay for every two years and, if their card was taken up for any reason, they were not allowed to work in the city. Georgia was a great advocate of her profession and prompted H.L. Mencken to coin the term ‘ecdysiast’ to try and ameliorate the unfavorable image brought to mind by the term ‘stripper.’ Performing the carnival circuit in the later years of her career, Georgia eventually took her own shows on the road, Sothern’s Red-Headed Revue and the Top Hatters. She didn’t retire from the stage until five years before her death, in 1981. She was 72, and in my book, this dynamite dame deserves a lifetime achievement award.
For more information on Georgia Sothern, the Red Headed Bombshell, I highly recommend reading her autobiography, Georgia: My Life in Burlesque.
Burlesque Haunts: Atlanta
Founded in 1837, the great city of Atlanta has had plenty of time to collect ghosts. There are a number of ghost tours offered, including one on segway! Or, you can simply go out to the theatre or the club in hopes of having a ghostly encounter.
The New American Shakespeare Tavern is home to The Atlanta Shakespeare Company, which holds the distinction of being the first American company ever to perform upon the stage of Shakespeare’s Globe theatre in London. The Shakespeare Tavern, where the troupe took up residence in 1990, is a beautiful theatre and English pub, with a full menu to match. The venue produces a variety of historical shows, including the vaudeville-inspired farce, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and Salome, whose Dance of the Seven Veils created a craze that was very influential to the earliest days of modern dance and burlesque as we know it. Although the Tavern itself is not old, perhaps the span of history that passes across its stage draws its ghostly visitors. Employees, performers, and patrons of the tavern have all witnessed voices and shadows without a source. Some have even seen apparitions, such as a dark figure that likes to stroll along the stage’s catwalk at night and a female entity that prefers the women’s dressing room and has a tendency to move things around to suit her liking. There are also reports of flickering lights, a foreboding, clammy upstairs room, and the sighting of an old man dressed in 19th century clothing. The most eerie incident, though, happened in 1993, during the tavern’s production of Henry IV. While in his dressing room, preparing for the show, the actor playing Falstaff was gravely surprised to see a little boy in a blue velvet suit standing beside his dressing table.
Atlanta’s Fox Theatre is a magnificent historic structure, built for the Shriners in the early 1920s and originally named the Yaarab Temple Mosque. To generate funding for its costly construction, the building doubled as a luxurious movie palace under the supervision of mogul William Fox. A lavish and well-maintained venue, it would cost over $300,000,000 to build today. It did fall on hard times in the 1970s, but the Rolling Stones actually helped to save the building from demolition. Although the Fox’s so-called ‘phantom of the opera’ is really the live-in caretaker and resident guru, there have been multiple sightings of a confederate soldier pacing the halls.
The Masquerade, a nightclub and venue operating in Atlanta since 1989, also has a long history, and not all of it’s pretty. Built in the early 1900s, the building originally served as a mill and saw the accidental deaths of many young women working there under terrible conditions. The building has also suffered structural collapses and fires over the years. After hours the back stairs are sometimes filled with strange noises, phantom screams, and footsteps; sometimes heavy amplifiers are pushed over by phantom hands, as well. A tall, dark man has been spotted walking around the club and there are rumors that a vampire even inhabits the building. Others claim that vampires merely frequent the club, and some (like the Atlanta Vampire Alliance) just like to hold meetings there. The club is divided into three floors- bands perform on the Heaven level, customers lounge in Purgatory, the mid-level, and the dance party rages on the lowest level, Hell. In the month of October there is also the addition of a horrific haunted ‘torture chamber’ behind the club.
If that isn’t enough of Atlanta’s ghostly nightlife, check out The Compound Night Club, former headstone factory and slaughter house. Although no apparitions have been sighted, The Atlanta Ghost Hunters were touched, kicked, scratched, and spoken to upon their investigation!
Atlanta based conceptual photographer Dangerously Dolly talks signature styles, copycats, and being overly optimistic.
Interview: Shoshana Photos: Dangerously Dolly
Q: Your bio mentions after years of experience with post production, at 23 you made the switch to focusing on your own projects and shooting. What was your previous gig, and how hard was the transition to being self-employed?
My previous gig was simply being a kid, but I took an interest in web graphics and design at 12 years of age. Being a self-employed photographer is really hard because you need to make it all happen. It takes a lot of marketing skills on top of the list of skills you need to simply be a photographer.
Q: Are you formally educated in photography (lighting, shooting, and post) or self-taught, more trial by fire? What are your thoughts on the two camps?
Self-taught is the way to be. No one should be taught by an instructor on how to create art. It’s in your blood!
Q: Tell us about the early days. What was your first shoot?
My first little shoot was with my little sister. I had finally gotten my first camera and was eager to play around with it. My first shoot with someone else was actually shot in a dirty motel room, haha! As wrong as it sounds, at least she wasn’t naked. I still love those pictures, but I’ve come a long way since then.
Q: How did you evolve to finding your own conceptual & high key style?
As I was getting into the whole pin-up scene, I realized as much I loved it, I couldn’t find a true create outlet through it. I was doing what others wanted to do and wasn’t really doing what I was capable of doing. My move away from pin-up and into a more alternative pin-up style which would be more of what someone considers “my signature,” I suppose, was when another photographer would accuse me of taking their ideas, when all I would be doing is referencing from the 1920′s-1960′s. I don’t understand how someone could point their fingers on something that has already been done time and time again. Of course shortly after my move away from that, it was like a breath of fresh air. The pictures I take might not be a true representation of what pin-up is, however I combine and mix all the spices together. I take a little from everything I like.
Although the pin-up photography world is large but still pretty small (if that makes any sense,) I would like to say that I do not involve myself in others business, or try to sabotage any kind of opportunities for anybody. I’ve had a real rough time with things like that and I’ve never understood why people like to pick wars on each other, for whatever reason. To be honest, it looks unprofessional. With that in mind, I stay to myself, I respect people, I keep it professional, and just simply ignore people I am aware of that like to create problems for others. I didn’t get into this to be stepped on or to further find misery sitting next to me. Photography should always be a fun and exciting thing, even when you’re hard at work.
Q: What is your favorite specific piece of equipment?
My computer, all the way. For too many reasons I can’t even list!
Q: There’s a quote on your site that says, “After investing in my shoot with DD my bookings went from unpaid work to paid work. She has a way with images that make people want to stop and look. Not only did I receive quality images worthy of my portfolio, I also received them in a timely manner! She doesn’t take pictures she creates art! “— BillieJo
What is your advice for gals who are looking to break into pin-up modeling?
If you want to be a pin-up model, just go for it. Don’t be nervous, don’t think you can’t do it because you can. The best way to start something is ALWAYS with a positive attitude.
Q: Think of the models you love to work with, your muses. What qualities do they possess that make you want to work with them over and over?
A good connection is first, and being able to be open with my ideas, because that’s extremely important. If I don’t see a little bit of me in the picture, then there’s no Dangerously Dolly.
Q: What does the future hold for Dangerous Dolly?
I truly dislike being overly optimistic, but I really do see something big coming my way, I don’t know what it is exactly, but all I do know is that I pray it’s not a train or a bus because I have a lot left to accomplish and a lot to offer to many, many people. The best thing would be is to remain positive, and look forward to whatever great and amazing things may come out of my project.