Layman’s Guide to U.S. Burlesque Festivals
To obtain the print copy of this guide along with a handy (and adorable!) map illustration of all the locations below, pick up your copy of the Winter 2012 Best of Pin Curl issue, available here.
Annual burlesque festivals have sprung up all over the country as the burlesque revival, now two decades strong, continues to grow. No matter where you are in the great states, there’s a burlesque festival somewhere near you. If you’re itching to take a racy road trip around the United States, we’ve got your itinerary right here!
Everything starts to heat up on Valentine’s Day with the 7th Annual Southwest Burlesque Showcase, February 14-16, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. For more information about this fabulous festival, see http://swburlesqueshowcase.com.
Or you could head down to the Lone Star State to start off your festival circuit at the 5th Annual Dallas Burlesque Festival, in Dallas, Texas. We don’t know the dates for this burlesque and pinup celebration yet, but all the info will be available at http://dallasburlesquefest.com.
Another option in February is the 4th Annual Key West Burlesque Festival in Key West, Florida. For some wild burlesque and variety entertainment, watch for the dates at http://www.keywestburlesque.com.
For more burlesque-y goodness, visit the 3rd Annual Southern Fried Burlesque Fest, March 21-24, in Atlanta, Georgia. There’s sure to be plenty of variety, and plenty of workshops at this fast-growing festival; find out more at http://southernfriedburlesquefest.com/.
Also beginning March 21 is the 10th Annual Moisture Festival in Seattle, Washington. As the website (http://www.moisturefestival.org) says, “The Moisture Festival is the world’s largest Comedy/Varietè festival, running for four weeks every spring in Seattle.” The festival lasts until April 14 so you’ll have plenty of time to catch some of it.
March 28-31 brings the 16th Annual Viva Las Vegas rockabilly festival in Las Vegas, Nevada. Touted at “The biggest rockabilly party in the world,” this festival includes a smorgasbord of activities including burlesque and pinup events, a classic car show, and a killer music lineup. Check the website for more details: http://www.vivalasvegas.net.
However, you’ll have a difficult choice to make between Viva Las Vegas and the 7th Annual Great Burlesque Exposition in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Taking place March 29-31, this burlesque festival includes an impressive variety of classes, a historical costume display, and an art show “for interesting and innovative pieces from painters, photographers, sculptors, graphic artists, and anyone else who has found their muse at a burlesque show.” See http://www.burlesque-expo.com/home.cfm for more.
April 11-13 gives you another chance to visit Texas, for the 6th Annual Texas Burlesque Festival in Austin. The coming year will include performances, workshops, a competition, and “Austin’s First Ever Burlesque Ball.” Get all the late-breaking news on this one at http://www.texasburlesquefestival.com/home.php.
You could also attend the 3rd Annual Kansas City Burlesque Festival on April 25-27, in Kansas City, Missouri for the crowning of the next Kansas City Queen and King of Burlesque! Find all the details at: http://www.kcburlesque.com/HOME.html!
Back after a short break is Tease-o-Rama, which began bringing the burlesque community together in 2001 with performances by “The Best of the Best in Burlesque”, workshops, a photo safari, and Tea&Gossip with the Legends of Burlesque. The event has been held in New Orleans, San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, and L.A., and we can’t wait to see what http://www.teaseorama.com/2012/ will say about the 2013 schedule.
As no dates have yet been revealed, we can only hope that there will be a 2nd Annual New York Boylesque Festival. “Celebrating the Male Performer and the Best of Male Burlesque”, New York, New York’s first boylesque festival, in 2012, provided workshops and networking geared toward the menfolk, and performances that everyone could enjoy! Keep checking the website (http://www.nyboylesquefestival.com/) to see what’s in the works for 2013– I know I will be!
May 2-5 brings an exciting new experience, FIERCE! The First International Queer Burlesque Festival, in Columbus, Ohio. Check it out at http://www.fiercequeerburlesque.com.
The month of May alsobrings us back to the Show Me State, for the 4th Show Me Burlesque and Vaudeville Fest, May 16-18, in St. Louis, Missouri. This burlesque and variety extravaganza includes workshops along with striptease, circus, and vaudeville acts. I treated myself to the 2012 festival, and I can assure you that you will not be disappointed! Find out more here: http://showmeburlesque.com/.
Although we don’t have the dates yet, May is the time for the 7th Annual Americana Burlesque and Sideshow Festival in Asheville, North Carolina. Featuring workshops, burlesque, sideshow, and vaudeville performances, you can learn about ‘ABSfest’ at http://www.absfest.com/.
June 6-9 brings us to a truly difficult decision. One option is the 12th Annual Hukilau in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “The largest annual celebration of Tiki culture on the East Coast, the Hukilau is a celebration of Polynesian pop culture with live music and entertainment, and much, much more. Book your trip at: http://www.thehukilau.com/2013/!
The alternative June 6-9 trip is to the star-studded Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend in Las Vegas, Nevada. Presenting absolutely amazing burlesque, boylesque, and variety performances, the BHOF Weekend includes a Q&A with the Legends of Burlesque as well as a Legends performance and tribute night, marvelous workshops, a photo safari, plenty of mingling and boozing opportunities, and features the Queen of Burlesque competition formerly known as Miss Exotic World. While you’re there, don’t forget to visit the Burlesque Hall of Fame’s exhibition space to view some of the “art, artifacts and personal histories of the art’s biggest names and brightest stars.” http://www.burlesquehall.com.
Next year’s dates are TBA, but June is the month of the 3rd Annual Carolina Burlesque Festival in Charleston, South Carolina. This burlesque and variety festival offers workshops, live music, and a pageant; stay posted by checking http://www.carolinaburlesquefestival.com/index.html.
The next one is high up on my bucket list – the annual Mermaid Parade at Coney Island, New York! Founded in 1983, “the Mermaid Parade pays homage to Coney Island’s forgotten Mardi Gras which lasted from 1903 to 1954,” and each year a new King Neptune and Queen Mermaid are crowned. The parade is followed by a ball and burlesque and sideshow performances: http://www.coneyisland.com/mermaid.shtml. But that’s not all! There’s ‘Burlesque on the Beach’ all summer long at Coney Island. Burlesque on the Beach is “a revival of the most glorious and notorious of the “girlie revues” in Coney Island history. A blend of old style burlesque, sideshow freaks, strange women, new vaudeville and toe tappin’ music,” you can see the lineup as it’s released at http://www.coneyisland.com/burlesque.shtml.
Although we don’t yet know when, the 4th Annual Pennsylvania Burlesque Festival will most likely take place in June, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Formerly known as the Jim Thorpe Burlesque Festival, this event features burlesque performers from around the country: http://www.paburlesque.com/.
July also has some great festivals: this year will mark the 4th Annual Windy City Burlesque Festival, in Chicago, Illinois as well as the 4th Annual Colorado Burlesque Festival, in Denver, Colorado. Each event provides classes and top notch burlesque performances. More information about these two stellar festivals can be found at
Another option for July is visiting the annual Circus City Festival, Inc. in Peru, Indiana. Held July 13-20, in “The Circus Capital of the World,” this event boasts “longest running circus parade in the United States.” http://www.perucircus.com/
August gives us another opportunity to visit Ohio, for the 3rd Annual Ohio Burlesque Festival, in Cleveland, Ohio. The dates are TBA, but this festival hosts burlesque and variety performances, and is unique in that it chooses a charity to support each year. Learn more at http://www.ohioburlesque.com/index.html.
We’re also awaiting announcement of the 2nd Annual ABurlyQ! Festival in Albuquerque, New Mexico, which made its debut last August with a burlesque and sideshow lineup and festivities: http://www.aburlyq.com/.
Depending on the dates that are decided upon, you’ll either have a very busy month travelling to all the magnificent September festivals, or you’ll have some very difficult choices to make. 2013 will bring us the 11th Annual New York Burlesque Festival in New York, New York. Along with performances, classes, and parties, this event includes an extra special competition, The Golden Pastie Awards. These awards honor member of the biz with titles such as “The MacGyver Award,” “Performer Most Likely to Start a Harem,” and “The Performer You Would Call with Your One Quarter from Jail.” Find out all about it at http://www.thenewyorkburlesquefestival.com/index.php.
The 5th Annual New Orleans Burlesque Festival in New Orleans, Louisiana, has a more traditional title for its competition winners: Queen of Burlesque! The weekend is chock full of workshops and shows, all appropriately located near Bourbon Street, which “featured the largest concentration of burlesque clubs than anywhere in the U.S…from the mid-1940s through the 1960s.” Look for updates at http://neworleansburlesquefest.com/.
September also means that it’s time to visit Chicago again, this time for the 4th Annual Superstars of Burlesque. Catch all the latest about this burlesque festival at http://superstarsofburlesque.com/.
As if October weren’t an exciting month already, it will now bring us the 2nd Annual Alabama Burlesque Festival, in Rocket City (Huntsville), Alabama. We don’t have dates for the return of this brand new festival, but the place to watch for updates is http://rocketcityburlesque.com/. A portion of the proceeds from the 2012 festival benefitted The Pinup Angels’ mission to send care packages to our troops!
And speaking of pinups, a 2nd Annual American Pinup Burlesque Fest is already set for October 25-27 in Tampa Bay Area, Florida. This event will consist of the Miss Pinup America Pageant, Burlesque America Competition, a Car Show, Bike Show, Tattoo Contest, and workshops! Check it out at http://www.americanpinupburlesquefest.com/.
November brings the opportunity to round out your year with a very special convention, the 6th Annual Burlycon in Seattle, Washington. As stated on their website, “BurlyCon is an annual Burlesque Educational convention that provides educational offerings, professional growth and in-person social networking for the Burlesque Community. Our aim is to further the development and historical knowledge of this rare American art form that is experiencing a popular resurgence worldwide.” There are no performances, but there are over 100 classes taught by the best in the biz! Keep in the know by checking http://burlycon.org/ for updates.
One last group to keep in mind when making your performance-art-based travel plans is the United States Association of Fringe Festivals. Dating back to 1947, the original Fringe Festival was created in Edinburgh, Scotland, and Fringe performing arts festivals can now be found worldwide. “A celebration featuring theatre and related live presentations with a special emphasis on original and innovative forms and formats,” there are a plethora of these productions to choose from in the U.S.: http://fringefestivals.us/festival.
The Ice Cream Blonde’s Last Sunday
It was a chilly December night in the Pacific Palisades when an intoxicated “Hot Toddy,” screen actress Thelma Todd, stumbled to her door after dismissing her driver, only to find herself locked out of her own home. Apparently her lover had had it with her drinking, and thought a night out in the cold might really sober her up. She had been out all night at a star-studded Hollywood party, thrown in her honor at the famous Trocadero nightclub. But as the party progressed, Todd quit drinking for fun and started drinking to forget after a spiteful fight with her ex-husband, Pasquale “Pat” De Ciccio. De Ciccio, with a new ingénue on his arm, left the party after placing a phone call, but Todd stayed on till the wee hours of Sunday morning. And that fated night of 1935 proved to be her last. Or was it?
Thelma Todd had come to Hollywood after winning a beauty contest in 1925, leaving behind a teaching career and a Miss Massachusetts title to become an actress. Known as “The Ice Cream Blonde,” Thelma got her big break doing slapstick comedies for Hal Roach. Todd proved that she could clown around with the best of them, making movies with the likes of Buster Keaton, Laurel and Hardy, and The Marx Brothers. She made a total of 120 pictures in just less than 10 years, and was at the height of her fame when she met her untimely demise. Todd didn’t show up on the set of her latest Laurel and Hardy vehicle, The Bohemian Girl, Monday morning; after her house and haunts had been searched her body was found slumped over in the front seat of her Lincoln, the ignition still on, but the motor dead, and the garage door closed. The official decree was simply “death due to carbon monoxide poisoning,” but the stumped jury was unable to sort out a more specific verdict. Much like Marilyn Monroe’s greatly-debated death, it could have been suicide, murder, manslaughter, or just plain carelessness. There was no shortage of theories, some more fantastic than others, and the evidence was all contradictory.
Although the police proclaimed the death time was early Sunday morning, at least one witness claimed to have seen Thelma driving through town on Sunday afternoon, and another claimed to receive a phone call from Thelma that day. Was it a phone call from beyond the grave? A look alike hired to throw the cops off a murder trail? Did her business partner/lover, Roland West (acclaimed filmmaker and married man) end their ambiguous relationship in violence, angered by Thelma’s incessant boozing? Did her gangster ex-husband, De Ciccio, terminate their tumultuous relationship with something more final than divorce? Or was it, perhaps, a mob hit that had no more to do with De Ciccio than a phone call? Rumors about Lucky Luciano abounded, with many theorists claiming that he had decided to teach Todd a lesson after she refused to let him run a gambling racket in Joya’s, the speakeasy she had opened on the second floor of her home.
Some sources claim that there was an abundance of blood at the scene of the ‘crime,’ signs of a struggle on the scene, and signs of abuse on Todd’s body. Yet, other sources claim that none of these were present. What is certain is that Todd’s body was cremated after her highly-attended funeral, preventing another autopsy from ever happening. Although Todd’s attorney petitioned for a second inquest, with thought to lay the blame on Lucky Luciano, the District Attorney decided to close the case, leaving it one of Hollywood’s most mysterious unsolved fatalities.
Many of the details don’t add up, and the evidence points in all different directions. From what I’ve read in books and articles, the case for suicide seems the least likely. Accidental death, while wholly believable, is still awfully suspicious, depending on which set of ‘facts’ you’re considering. It seems probable that, if Roland West was to blame, it was the result of negligence and rash actions after a lover’s spat, rather than premeditated murder. It doesn’t take a very far stretch of the imagination to believe that Luciano had Todd rubbed out when she refused to cooperate (and again, depending on the source, there are accusations of an affair between the two, and also of him using amphetamines to control Todd). But I can’t seem shake the feeling that De Ciccio was really bad news; and, after all, he was the most intimately involved with Todd. Right hand man to Luciano, De Ciccio was purportedly a bootlegger and a pimp. Todd ended their marriage due to cruelty and incompatibility after two years of drunken brawls, and De Ciccio went on to swindle 17-year-old Gloria Vanderbilt into marrying him, only to divorce him on grounds of extreme cruelty. Just two years after Todd’s death, De Ciccio was implicated in the brutal beating, and death, of Ted Healy, original leader of The Three Stooges. But then again, maybe it was just a tragic accident…
Sadly, this cold case will most likely always remain a mystery, but the charismatic work of Thelma Todd will live on. And so will the stories of Todd’s ghostly visitations. The spirited comedienne’s spirit has been seen by many gliding down the steps outside her home and café/speakeasy-turned-religious-film-production-company. Others have been alarmed at the smell of exhaust fumes and the sound of a car running with the garage door closed, but upon closer inspection, they always find the ill-fated garage to be empty.
The Lowbrow Lowdown
By: Femme Vivre LaRouge
This month I’ve decided to make it a double feature…and the theme is the roaring twenties!
First up for film is 1927’s It, the movie that made Clara Bow the very first ‘It Girl,’ and Hollywood’s first mass-marketed sex symbol. So, what is ‘It?’ As Elinor Glyn (whose novelette the film was modeled after) defined it, “‘It’ is self-confidence and indifference to whether you are pleasing or not, and something in you that gives the impression that you are not all cold.” Basically, ‘It’ is animal magnetism. While I see the merit in silent films, they usually don’t hold my attention, but Clara Bow’s charisma, vivid facial expressions, excellent comedic timing, and dynamic screen presence is just entrancing. Bow appeared in 46 silent films and, although she was one of the few to successfully make the transition to talkies, she preferred the action-oriented silents, which better suited her spunky character and spontaneous acting style (extra cameramen were usually set up for her scenes to catch her unpredictable actions). In 1931 she walked away from the film business; however, during her time as a Hollywood starlet, she was the subject of many a scandal, some probably true and many more likely not. (For more info on Bow, try Clara Bow: Runnin’ Wild by David Stenn.) Also, rumor has it that the character of Peppy Miller in recent Academy award nominee, The Artist, was largely inspired by Miss Bow, as was cartoon favorite, Betty Boop.
Next up for film is the modern-made, The Cat’s Meow, released in 2001 and set in 1924. Although embellished, the story is based on a fated night aboard newspaper tycoon, William Randolph Hearst’s yacht. Kirsten Dunst is charming as Marion Davies, Ziegfeld girl, silver screen actress, and long-time mistress to Hearst, and Eddie Izzard plays Charlie Chaplin (no introduction needed). Directed by Peter Bogdanovich, The Cat’s Meow stages one of the jazz age’s most famous Hollywood legends. The gist of the story is that Hearst, although married himself, jealously guarded Davies, and suspected her of carrying on with Chaplin behind his back, prompting him to shoot a man he mistook for Chaplin, in a fit of rage. However, the man turned out to be producer Thomas Ince, who died the following day, although the official record states that his death was due to a heart condition, which followed an attack of acute indigestion. Hearst was never charged, but the story lived in infamy as another of Hollywood’s great scandals. Regardless of whether or not Ince was really shot aboard the yacht, the film is an admirable piece of work.
This month’s literary adventure also involves murder, and even an appearance by William Randolph Hearst, but in this case it’s girl gunners, and they definitely did some time. Douglas Perry’s The Girls of Murder City tells the story of the real murderesses that the musical, Chicago, was based on. This non-fiction book reads like a novel, with titillating new details at the turn of every page. The book chronicles the lurid details of each girl’s crime and trial, the all- male juries’ reluctance to condemn a woman (especially if she was young and attractive) to the same sentence a man would receive, and the ingenious ways that lawyers, the media, and the women themselves played on that weakness.
It amazed me to find how much of the musical was actually based in truth, or at least the same version of the truth that the media was selling at the time it was all happening. This 1924 spree of shootings by women, targeted at their husbands or lovers, unsettled a society already in the midst of the upheaval of traditional gender roles. Furthermore, it illustrated the trend of treating criminals with the utmost célébrité. The play was written by Maurine Watkins, herself an unusual character and one of the first women to break into the field of crime reporting, and it is her dramatized account of women she actually interviewed. Aside from immense Broadway popularity, there have been no less than four film versions of the show since 1927, the most recent winning the 2002 Academy Award for Best Picture.
This month for music we have 1920s singer/actress, Helen Kane, the original ‘Boop Oop a Doop’ Girl. It should come as no surprise that Kane was also influential in the creation of the Betty Boop character (who, by the way, was originally drawn as a canine before she morphed into a cute girl with big hoop earrings, if you’ve ever wondered why her head has such a strange shape). In fact, Kane sued Paramount over it in 1932, charging unfair competition and wrongful appropriation in the cartoons. After all, Kane’s signature song, I Wanna be Loved by You, also became Boop’s signature song. Beginning on the vaudeville circuit and working her way through Broadway and Hollywood, Helen Kane was a cult sensation, spurning numerous look alike contests. She recorded 22 songs in 2 years, delighting fans with her bubbly, coy voice and blending of popular music styles.
For a modern chanteuse without the hiccuping and scat of Helen Kane, I recommend giving Janet Klein a listen. I absolutely adore her work, which so far includes six albums. Not only is she cute as a button and a fine ukulele player, but she is diligently working to preserve a portion of American popular culture that has been shunted aside. As Klein has stated, she sings “obscure, lovely, and naughty songs from the 1910s, 20s, and 30s.” Her backing band, The Parlor Boys, range from 6-12 musicians at any given time, and the group travels a great deal, performing at historical movie palaces and venues and doing extensive tours in Japan. A poet, visual artist, and collector of vintage sheet music, Klein is dedicated to maintaining the authentic integrity of the songs she covers. When asked in an interview with ‘Jazz Not Jazz,’ “Why do you want to recreate times gone by? And where do you see the relevance of this era for us today?” she answered beautifully with the following: “It is interesting that people ask this question. I wonder if historians are asked why they write books about the past or if they ask conductors why they put on concerts of classical music. For me, if there is such a thing as “progress” for societies, it seems that it has to include looking back as well as moving forward…and that it has to entail learning from and reflecting upon the past…and if we are smart, we’ll hang on to the good stuff and drag it with us into the future. The songs we do were not written so long ago, mostly written in America, yet they seem like music from a lost planet. There’s a familiarity and a strangeness that suggests something missing today.” For more information about the lovely songstress and archivist, visit her website at: JanetKlein.com
On to art of the visual variety- this month I’m highlighting famous pinup painter, Alberto Vargas. Vargas created show posters for The Ziegfeld Follies and Hollywood, pinups for Esquire, and was one of the most copied artists for WWII nose art. Hugh Hefner has written that the tantalizing cartoons and paintings Vargas did for Esquire nearly lost the magazine their USPS mailing permit, ending in a Supreme Court case and the decision to discontinue the use of Vargas’ artwork. Later, Playboy began to print the artist’s famous ‘Vargas Girls.’ A remarkable portraitist, Vargas excelled in watercolor, which was his most used medium. In 2003, a Christie’s auction resulted in the sale of one Vargas painting, Trick or Treat, for $71,600! In 1930, he married Ziegfeld girl, Anna Mae Clift, and remained true to her until her death in 1974, after which he abandoned painting. For the duration of their relationship, she was his model, manager, and muse. A lovely resource for his work is Alberto Vargas: Works from the Max Vargas Collection by Reid Stewart Austin, with a foreword by Hugh Hefner.
My last recommendation for this month is Youth and Beauty: Art of the American Twenties, at the Dallas Museum of Art, opening to the public on March fourth and continuing through most of May. The multi-medium exhibition is touring the nation, originating from the Brooklyn Museum. It is described as “the first wide-ranging examination of American fine art from the end of World War I through the start of the Great Depression” and “will demonstrate how American artists of the period embraced a progressive, idealized realism visible in a resurgence of figuration and in highly distilled images of American places and things.” I hope to see you there!
Pin Curl Staff Writer, and resident classic media lover, Femme Vivre LaRouge kicks off her “LowBrow Lowdown” with her favorite finds in vintage themed books, films, and albums.
Femme Vivre Recommends: The Lowbrow Low Down
Celebrate Singles Awareness Day with one of my favorite films, Down with Love. With all the style of Mad Men and Pan Am, this picture perfectly captures the sillier side of sixties cinema. Starring Renee Zellweger and Ewan McGregor, with eccentric supporting roles by David Hyde Pierce and Sarah Paulson, the film plays humorous homage to the lighthearted sex comedies of the 60s. In fact, Tony Randall, who played a part in those comedies, alongside Doris Day and Rock Hudson, made his last film appearance in Down with Love. The wardrobe is fabulous, the repartee is witty, the plot twists and turns like an Olympic gymnast, the editing/effects are clever and kitschy, and overall the film perfectly captures the stylistic essence of mid-century comedy.
See my favorite scene (split screen and innuendo at their finest) here: Down with Love
Calendar Girl, pictured here, is one of my favorite Julie London albums (the cover may have something do with that). Miss London was not only the epitome of pin up, but the ultimate lounge singer. With a soft, sultry voice, Julie seduced her audience as she sang along to the smooth jazz that she loved. An accomplished actress as well, Julie performed in numerous films, and television and radio shows. Her parents were a vaudeville song-and-dance team and Julie graduated the Hollywood Professional School in 1945- it seems that her path was always set for show business. Between 1955 and 1969 she recorded 32 albums. Hear Julie croon, “I belong to the man of the month club” in Time for August
I also recommend checking out the rock n’ roll musical, The Girl Can’t Help It (starring Jayne Mansfield and a top-notch list of musicians) to see Julie London sing her biggest hit, Cry Me a River, in a haunting, yet humorous scene with Tom Ewell. Even if you’re not familiar with Julie’s repertoire, you may also recognize her recording of the Mickey Mouse March. When asked, in an interview, how this recording came about, she said, “I was backstage in Australia, and I was rehearsing for a show at a nightclub. I had my little girl, Kelly, who was just a couple of years old at the time, with me. She got antsy, so I started to sing the song Mickey Mouse to settle her down or just get her attention. The guitarist started playing it behind me, and we ended up doing the song in the show that night. And it went over well.”
We all know of and love Gil Elvgren, the poster boy for pin up art. During a career that began in the 1930s and lasted over 40 years, Elvgren painted scads of scantily clad gals, as well as iconic illustrations for Coca-Cola, GE, and several other companies. A great American commercial artist during the field’s biggest boom, Elvgren did illustrations for all the best magazines, in addition to being a talented photographer, and teacher. Not only did he produce successful students, but many of his models went on to successful careers too, such as Myrna Loy, Donna Reed, and Kim Novak.
Gil Elvgren combined serious painting with cheesecake, producing more than 500 oil paintings of lovely ladies. Dallas Art News recently wrote, “Gil Elvgren remains the unchallenged champion of American Pin-Up Art, as evidenced by the $191,200 price realized for his 1956 Fire Belle (Always Ready), one of the master’s greatest works, in Heritage Auctions’ Oct. 22 Illustration Art Signature® Auction, and by the fact that fully six of the Top 10 lots in the auction featured his revered name.”
Aside from Elvgren’s merits as an artist, his pin up portraits stand apart because of his understanding of the genuine joie de vivre that makes pin up such a special and lovable aesthetic. He said the model “with highly mobile facial features capable of a wide range of expression is the real jewel. The face is the personality.” And furthermore, “The head is very important…But especially important is vivacity – being alive. It shouldn’t be faked but be sprightly and genuine.”
For more information, and nearly 250 full-color illustrations, I suggest the book Gil Elvgren: All his glamorous American pin-ups, by Charles G. Martignette and Louis K. Meisel, which includes a great overview of the history of American illustration and commercial painting, specifically as it relates to glamour and the evolution of the classic American pin-up. Another great resource is the website, Gil Elvgren.
This book also contains a marvelous account of pin up art, pulp art, and under the counter photos. It’s also a beautiful elegy to Bettie Page, and details the ‘rediscovery’ of her image, and resurgence of her popularity in the 80s and 90s. This newfound, over the counter, popularity resulted in Betty Page Comics, The Betty Pages- a small magazine ‘devoted almost entirely to old photos of Bettie,’ and her appearance in The Rocketeer comics by Dave Stevens. Several other artists began to revisit her iconic image, and for good reason! As the author, Jim Silke writes, even the most amateur photographer could get great results due to her extraordinary charisma and “…her beautifully designed body. Simply posed against a nondescript background, there are still enough design elements in her figure to survive the technical incompetence and make a graphically satisfying picture…it is the camera’s affection for Bettie that allows the paper girl to tell us something about the real girl.” In closing, Silke sums up her enigmatic charm and timeless appeal, “…But no matter how many pictures of her I study, or how many drawings I make, Bettie remains elusive, a whole lot easier to pin up than pin down…Bettie has power that is neither rational nor explainable. She is a character in tales told by countless imaginations, yet she is real. She is fact and she is fiction…she is not only an unforgettable image but an individual of such disturbing delight and character that she is a one and only. Bettie Page. An American original.”
Burlesque: There Are Big Hearts Behind Those Busts.
Story Femme Vivre LaRouge
It struck a poignant cord with me this year at the Burlesque Hall of Fame Legends Q&A how many of our legends have followed humanistic pursuits, not only in the performing arts, but in the social spectrum as well. I realize that it might be easy for the uninitiated to think of these sensual entertainers as divas or mere attention-seekers, but they are, in fact, intelligent, empathetic, strong, and passionate women who have chosen to share their love of life with others. Judith Stein and Shannon Doah, legends of burlesque, have displayed themselves with grace and glamour for international audiences. But their beauty goes much further than skin-deep. These ladies have followed up their lusty and illustrious careers as showgirls with work that serves others. Judith Stein brings humor to housebound patients and Shannon Doah aids animals in abusive homes. We are lucky to have living legends such as these to look up to.
Judith Stein, a resident of Nelson, British Columbia, has been inducted into The Burlesque Hall of Fame as Canada’s only Legend of Burlesque. She is active in the Canadian burlesque community as a performer and mentor, and teaches workshops on the art of striptease “for your inner tramp” (theartofburlesque.com) Ms. Stein’s performance career began in 1974 when she took up topless go-go dancing to help pay for college. From there she had the chance to learn the art, firsthand, from some of the greatest peelers in the business, and became an internationally acclaimed sensation herself. I was lucky enough to meet Ms. Stein this year at the BHoF Reunion and she was absolutely delightful, “the last Legend standing” at all the after parties!
Judith Stein now works with Interior Health of British Colombia as a Home Support Worker. She provides services to those who wish to remain in their own homes, but need a helping hand with cooking, meds, bathing and hygiene, etc. Furthermore, when these patients are getting ready to pass, Ms. Stein keeps them clean, comfortable, and in good company. She states that, in these palliative health care cases, “Of course, mine die laughing.” Some of the men she has cared for even knew her from her original days as a performer, one telling her, “I can die a happy man now.” Judith says that the great reward in this type of work, the same as with burlesque, is “The smile on people’s faces.” The importance of her work is obvious, and her patients are grateful; as one woman put it, “You walked with me to the end of the road.”
When asked, “What have been some of the more challenging and rewarding aspects
of your careers?” Ms. Stein replied that, after quitting burlesque, she moved to a small town and was open about what she had done in her previous career. “Some of the challenging things were being taken seriously as an intelligent, caring human being; being taken seriously by men, and dispelling the myth that I was probably a hooker, and dumb. I remember when I moved here, there were radical feminists, and they challenged me about my choice of career.” A long-time feminist herself, and member of C.O.Y.O.T.E. (Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics), she attempted to explain to such challengers that, “I earned my own living, I did what was right for me.” She says, “I had to educate a few people.” Judith states that what was rewarding about her career in burlesque was the ability to entertain, lots of money, travel, independence, and being her own boss. In her current line of work, it is rewarding to do something that is needed, to provide a valuable service.
I asked Ms. Stein, “What has remained constant between your careers, and what has changed?” to which she replied, “What has remained constant is my love of people, and to provide the service with the utmost of charm, grace, and intelligence.” As to what has changed, “When I was a dancer, I thought the world would never end. I hadn’t given much thought to aging. When you’re young and beautiful and in demand, you don’t think about the days when you’re going to go through menopause, health issues, and that you’re not going to have all that money again.”
When asked, “What are some of your accomplishments that you are most proud of?” Judith replied that it has always been the ability to entertain people, “to present myself as an intelligent thinking and aware woman, and well-educated.” She shared a chilling story with me about dancing at a frat party, after which a group of young men rushed the stage, shouting “Rape her!” and pulling at what was left of her costume. She said, “I got away, by sheer luck” and she took them to court over it. Although the case was not a total success, the judge was impressed that she was not after any monetary compensation, but that she was charging these disrespectful hooligans because it “was the right thing to do.” When asked by the judge what she would like to see happen to them, she stated that she would like for these boys to be sentenced one year of compulsory women’s studies. And that is just what happened- a great accomplishment, indeed, and hopefully a turning point in those wayward young men’s lives.
I also requested that Judith Stein honor us with a favorite memory from her career in burlesque. She told me a charming story about an old cowboy who came up to her after a performance in Odessa, TX, and said in the customary drawl, “Ma’am, you’re one fine filly of a lady and I’d be right honored to buy you a drink.” Later, while performing her cowgirl act in assless chaps, he played the spoons on her bum; it turned out that he had also played the spoons at none other than the Grand Ol’ Opry! Judith shared the following with me as well: “Two years ago I performed at the Vancouver burlesque festival, and it had been about 22…23 years since I’d been on stage. The music started, I walked onstage, and the whole place stood up. I was incredibly honored. It was thrilling to be back onstage, to entertain again, to put myself out there and spread the love. The young people who are involved in burlesque have been so gracious, and have honored us more than we could ever have imagined.”
For anyone interested in doing the type of work that Ms. Stein now does, she shared, “In every town there’s a senior citizens place, nursing homes, assisted living, and neighbors who live down the street and might need a hand with groceries, shoveling their walk, or just someone to drop in for a cup of tea and a visit.”
“There are no great deeds, only small deeds done with great love.” Mother Theresa
Shannon Doah (also known as Patricia Oppelt) was born in London, England, and now resides in San Diego, California. She is once again active in the burlesque scene, performing, teaching workshops, and selling some truly lovely merchandise at vintageshowgirl.com. Shannon Doah began performing in 1967, in San Francisco, after which she moved to Hollywood, and subsequently traveled a great deal to perform, into the 1980s. Elegant, gracious, and sympathetic to the needs of others, she reminds me of a modern-day Audrey Hepburn.
What influenced your decision to focus your energies on assisting with the Animal Safehouse Program, and implementing the subsequent Canine Coach Kids and Silent Companion programs, after your illustrious entertainment career?
I had been volunteering at a local humane society for nearly ten years when I was asked to join the front desk staff. I was still performing, but I was traveling less and beginning to think I should transition into a new career. I thought working for the shelter would be a place I could wrap my heart around. Within a year I became the program director for Humane Education volunteers and the Animal Safehouse.
When Janet Winikoff spearheaded the Animal Safehouse, it was a new concept and only a handful of these programs existed nationally; today there are hundreds. The program is life-saving and provides shelter for the pets of domestic violence victims who wish to leave their abuser and enter a battered women’s shelter. I won’t go into detail about my personal history, but I empathized with the women who needed this resource, and supported the new program. When Janet moved, she encouraged me to continue her work. I conducted presentations to professionals and the public on the link between violence to humans and cruelty to animals. I was thrilled to see animal welfare and domestic violence workers collaborate. I attended the domestic violence community’s workshops. I learned that a woman is abused by her partner every 9 seconds so the chances are high the family pet is also at risk. In fact, 75% percent of family violence victims who have animals report that their pets have been harmed or threatened. This added worry has kept victims from leaving their abuser and entering a domestic violence shelter. I also learned that animals could be protected in restraining orders, as property.
The need for kindness programs to help break the cycle of violence to humans and animals inspired me to create the Canine Coach Kids program. Through my experience, and from information from workshops, I learned that the children who most needed interaction with animals were those who had been displaced and exposed to violence and could readily relate to animals that were homeless and abused. I set up animal shelter tours for the kids from DV and transitional housing shelters. During one visit, a boy didn’t want to participate and was sullen and withdrawn. As we entered the rabbit area, I gave the kids some greens to feed the rabbits. The young boy’s face lit up with a big smile as he gave the rabbits their treats. According the DV shelter’s manager, it was a break-through for the youngster. I started my new program with trust and help from the community, support from my peers, child therapists, and plenty of eager homeless dogs at our shelter.
In the Canine Coach Kids program, side by side with their dogs from our adoption program, children experience goal setting, the power of the Human-Animal Bond, compassion, and a sense of responsibility. The homeless dogs’ adoptability increases, and many are adopted before the sessions end- and the kids are delighted get to train another dog!
My inspiration for creating the Silent Companion project blossomed when I served as Chair of the Domestic Violence Council Shelter and Support Services Committee. I worked on collecting data for the National Domestic Violence Silent Witness Project (awareness campaign using silhouettes of domestic violence fatalities). There were no animal silhouettes. Animals are often the overlooked and forgotten victims of domestic violence. In 2003, I created the animal figures to serve as a powerful educational tool to remember animal victims of family violence and to bring awareness of the correlation between human violence and animal fatalities. Each figure represents a companion animal killed by a perpetrator of domestic violence and animal abuse, and is a life size silhouette. Each figure wears a collar and tag with the name of the pet (when available), a description of the pet, other family members, how the animal was killed, and the outcome or conviction of the perpetrator. The animal silhouettes are displayed at international conferences, candlelight vigils, and other family violence awareness events. I’m pleased that others have shared my vision and additional silhouettes have been created.
What have been some of the more challenging and rewarding aspects of your career after burlesque?
Getting up at the same hour I had been going to sleep was a huge challenge!
When I was performing, I wasn’t open about my occupation. I often received a negative reaction to this profession. Although I didn’t disclose my former life, I was insecure that when I spoke to the professional community they wouldn’t take me seriously. I decided to call upon my stage experience to help me prepare for the public speaking. If I could strip off my cloths in front of a crowd, why not speak? I created a “show” with rehearsals, a script, and slides (no power point then!) Eventually, it became second nature to speak, and really quite enjoyable.
What has remained constant between your careers, and what has changed?
Well, I’ve never been mainstream, and I’m a progressive thinker. I think I’ve proved this by my choice to become a strip tease artist and in my willingness to create, develop, and implement programs where they don’t exist. I believe in humanitarianism and the rights of all animals. Creativity in my life has remained constant. It’s part of everything to me and has given my life meaning. The way I approach work comes from my ability to see possibilities and draw from my creative nature. What has changed is that I’ve learned I am a great collaborator.
Please honor us with a favorite memory from your career in burlesque.
There are so many fond and funny memories. Being a lover of tropical weather, I took the opportunity to perform in a huge outdoor Tiki Hut on the island of Tahiti. I was the Feature and I followed two Asian acrobats. There was no stage and the audience sat in circular fashion around the floor. Since it was all outside, if the weather was bad, I got several nights off with pay and flew over to the beautiful island, Moorea. This was 1970 and only two hotels existed on the pristine island!
I also read on your website that you are related to Jane Greer! Being a fan of film noir (for anyone interested, Jane Greer’s most famous role was the femme fatale, Kathie, in 1947’s Out of the Past, which is a visual dictionary of film noir’s classic conventions), I was very interested to learn this, and I can absolutely see the resemblance- you both have such a graceful and sophisticated loveliness. Would you care to share anything about this intriguing family connection?
The film noir actress, Jane Greer, is my cousin from my mom’s side of the family. She was classy and beautiful. I think it runs in the family, and a reason I keep my strip tease shows a class act.
Are there any resources you would like to share with our readers who might be interested in volunteer work or implementing one of the programs that you have conceived and carried out?
Readers may contact me though my website: www.vintageshowgirl.com
Readers can contact their local animal shelters or domestic violence shelters and inquire about volunteer work or programs to help break the cycle of violence. Please report animal abuse to your local animal shelter authorities.
First Strike Humane Society of the United States: http://www.animalsheltering.org/programs_and_services/first_strike/
Directory for Safe Havens for Animals: http://www.humanesociety.org/issues/abuse_neglect/tips/safe_havens_directory.html
Guide to Safe Havens for Pets: Guidelines for Programs Sheltering Pets for Women Who Are Battered by Frank R. Ascione, Ph.D.: http://www.vachss.com/guest_dispatches/safe_havens.html
National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (1-888-799-7233)
Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-344-6000
Sexual Abuse Hotline: 1-888-272-1767
Elder Abuse Hotline: 1-800-510-2020
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.
Monthly online, and biannually in print, our contributors work their pasties off bringing you the most fabulous interviews, burlesque and pin-up tips, and herstory articles. Meet Divertida Devotchka and Femme Vivre LaRouge, two of the fabulous gals who make Pin Curl Magazine possible!
Known for her juggling skills, killer rack, and love of bacon, Double D joined our team in 2009 and has been cranking out fabulous interviews ever since!
How did you become involved in burlesque?
In the summer of 2006 I was living in Denton with Femme Vivre LaRouge, and she and our dear friend Amy Marquez (Saint Luna Laguna) started a troupe called Minx Burlesque. I was actually just the photographer at first; performing didn’t even occur to me until months after it got started. I really wanted to be involved, so when they started adding more variety acts, I decided that my juggling would be the perfect way to contribute to the show. Then in January of 2008, Femme and Luna started the Vixens of Vaudeville Revue along with Dr. Q and me. I started writing for Pin Curl in the summer of 2009 and I still get excited about how I’ve been able to combine my love for writing with my love for burlesque and performance.
What is your guilty pleasure?
I’m not-so-secretly a total nerd. I LOVE puns and bad jokes; I’m usually the person to laugh at jokes that make my friends groan. I also have a very juvenile sense of humor. Oh, and I really like video games, particularly first-person shooters. (Goldeneye on N64 is my all-time favorite.)
If you could have dinner with any 5 people, living or dead, who would it be and why?
Hunter S. Thompson: Even before I began my studies in journalism, I had an affinity for Hunter S. Thompson, and that I only grew stronger the more I learned about him and the more of his works I read. Of course, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is my favorite. His writing style is unparalleled and I’d give anything to be able to have a conversation with that man.
Dirty Martini: After meeting her a few times and even getting to interview her, I still get all nervous fanboy in her presence. She’s just so gracious, warm and wonderfully creative- who wouldn’t want to know her better?
Charlie Day: The co-creator of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” who plays the character Charlie Kelly, a mostly illiterate, inhalant-abusing crazy man who I absolutely adore. Charlie is by far my favorite part of the show and I’d love to drink a beer with him, possibly dressed as Green Man.
Tim Heidecker & Eric Wareheim: If you’ve even heard of “Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!” chances are that you love it or hate it. I fall into the love category. Don’t get me wrong- they’re weird as hell, but their absurdity makes me laugh (most of the time). They seem like they’d be really fun to hang out with, so maybe one day…
Favorite burlesque memory?
It’s hard to narrow down just one memory, but I can say that most of my favorite memories so far occurred during my days with the Vixens- being creative as a group, making asses of ourselves to make each other laugh during rehearsals, the out of control afterparties, BHOF 2009 with Femme Vivre, Honey Cocoa Bordeauxx and Crystal Pistols (pants off dance off party, drunk fu, hot tub afternoon with the champagne of beers, whiskey breakfast on the pin up photo safari… I could go on and on.) I also had a blast at the New Orleans Burlesque Festival last year with the Pin Curl production crew swilling hurricanes, dancing and playing drinking games til the wee hours of the morning.
You have an interesting stage name, how did you choose it & what does it mean?
I chose my name because of my interest in language/wordplay, I suppose. I began studying Spanish about 12 years ago and have a passion for the language, so much so that I have a Bachelor’s degree. In Spanish, Divertida means funny, amusing or entertaining. The last name, Devotchka, means girl. I took the last name from the Nadsat language in Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange. Devotchka has the same meaning in Russian, but I chose it because Clockwork is my favorite book and I’m rather fond of the Kubrick film as well. Plus, I really LOVE the way the two words sound together. Bonus- I get to go by the nickname Double D and because I’m juvenile, that makes me giggle.
Little known fact: you are a badass at the gangsta rap karaoke! What are your top three song picks?
Haha! I am a BIG fan of 90’s gangsta rap and hip hop. My all time favorite karaoke songs to sing are: “Who Am I? (What’s My Name?)” and “Gin & Juice” by Snoop Dogg and “Regulate” by Warren G & Nate Dogg.
It is a well known fact that you have an obsession with bacon & love to cook. Care to share your favorite recipe?
I do LOVE me some bacon! It’s a pretty well known fact among my friends, family and co-workers. Two years ago I even dressed up as a piece of bacon for the costume contest at work! As far as a favorite recipe, that’s impossible to choose, but I make mean carnitas, flautas, and salsa verde, and I can make one hell of a cake ball!
Femme Vivre LaRouge, a true cowgirl, could ride a horse before she could walk, and always had a love for history and old movies. She put her skills in writing & her love of history together when she joined the Pin Curl crew in 2010 with her monthly Burlesque Haunts & Legends contributions.
How did you become involved in burlesque?
I began my performance journey in theatre (both school and community) and dabbled a little in film, as well. Shortly after I graduated college in May of 2006, my friend and cohort, St. Luna-Laguna, and I were dancing around my living to a Marilyn Monroe cd, lamenting the fact that no one in the area was putting on the type of show we really wanted to see, and we decided to put on our own show. We recruited some friends who were in a play with us that spring and founded Minx Burlesque, which ended up being a sort of artist’s collective, drawing our influence from vaudeville, film noir, cartoons, musical theatre, and all manner of variety arts. I convinced my then-roommate to put her wicked juggling skills to work for us and Divertida Devotchka was born. We enjoyed a wonderfully creative year as a group and then had a spectacular falling out, as happens in showbiz. In 2008 we re-formed as The Vixens of Vaudeville Revue, adding the talents of Crystal Pistols and Honey Cocoa Bordeauxx. In 2007 I also began doing gigs as an artist’s model and joined Circus della Morte sideshow, as Nurse Narcissa, and I’ve been up to all kinds of trouble since!
What is your guilty pleasure?
While I have lots of pleasures, I don’t feel very guilty about most of them! I do, however, enjoy The Gilmore Girls, Sookie Stackhouse, and all things food.
If you could have dinner with any 5 people, living or dead, who would it be and why?
That’s such a difficult question- history holds so many mysteries and colorful characters that it’s dreadful to choose, but at the moment I’ll say:
Humphrey Bogart – because he is my number one heartthrob.
Nellie Bly – for her anachronistically daring and noble exposes (this brave lady was a Victorian era undercover reporter and humanitarian who stopped at nothing to expose the truth, and we happen to share a birthday). I’d love to recreate her 1890 trip around the world, in which she broke the fictional record set by Phileas Fogg in Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days!
Robert Johnson – to meet the man behind the mystery and the music.
Prohibition Rose – because she was a total badass, and it is extremely difficult to find information about her (she built an underground empire in Portland during Prohibition, running multiple operations as madam, mob boss, and microbrewer).
Jasper Fforde – because of his incredible creativity and wit, and the absolute joy I get from reading his novels.
Favorite burlesque memory?
“Minxmas” in 2006 was a magical evening; we had a mantel, hung with a variety of ladies’ stockings, and a fireplace DVD playing in the center, we started out on stage in huge, wrapped packages, Dr. Q wrote ‘The Night Before Minxmas,’ we danced with lawn-size candy canes and had jingle bells on our bosoms, we kidnapped a very sexy Santa Claus (Divertida) and tied her up, then I gave her a lap dance while our fellow performer sang Santa Baby, and I also sang my very first number, Baby, It’s Cold Outside. The theatricality, the variety, the magic, it was all there! “Fatal Follies,” in which we attempted to string together the whole show with a murder mystery storyline was also splendid, although admittedly unfinished and unpolished. Our productions as The Vixens for The Plaza in Carrollton were also some really grand, if backbreaking, affairs (as we used to say, “I break my back for burlesque!”). “Hangin’ Out with the Hungover”, “Bustin’ Out with The Vixens”, and “Vegas or Bust” were all of a truly vaudevillian nature. At one show we even had our own Statler and Waldorf to heckle us from their balcony seats!
The last three years I have also had the great pleasure of attending the Burlesque Hall of Fame Reunion in Las Vegas and each has been uniquely wonderful, full of fantastic people, performances, and experiences. The great success of this year’s Legends Challenge was truly rewarding.
I hear you have an amazing historian project in conjunction with the Burlesque Hall of Fame- do tell.
The Burlesque Oral History Project was founded by Dr. Lukki and endeavors to preserve the history of burlesque by gathering and archiving memories of yesteryear from the remarkable ladies (and gents) that lived it. This year I volunteered, along with Tempest Devyne, to help curators Elsa Sjunneson and Julie Vogt at the Burlesque Hall of Fame Reunion, and although I’m afraid I was very little help this time, I do hope to continue to volunteer for the project. I did have the honor of interviewing legend Val Valentine and I also have plans to interview Dallas’ very own Tammi True.
We know history gets your rocks off, but what are some other more little known facts about you?
*I also share a birthday with Karl Marx. Cinco de Mayo!
*While I adore my Maltese (Detective Sam Spade), my favorite pet ever was my adventurous, intelligent, sweet, and social little rat, Lilith.
*I had an unusual childhood as I grew up almost as if we were living a century behind. We were very poor, but we grew our own food and raised our own animals. I started riding horses by myself when I was just over a year old and was bucked off for the first time at 2, I was homeschooled for years and first learned to read from The Bible, and since school attendance wasn’t an issue, my mom and I would often hit the road and visit our widespread relatives, and I very much enjoyed that gypsy lifestyle.
*I graduated Magna Cum Laude with a degree in General Studies, with concentrations in Sociology, English, and Art History, and I’m about to begin graduate studies in Humanities.
*I’m a huge old movie geek. I especially love film noir, slapstick, romantic comedies from the 30s, and pre-code films.
*My stage name, Femme Vivre, came out of my love of film noir, but with a desire to be more of a bacchic beauty, a descendant of Dionysus, than a femme fatale, thus Femme Vivre, the woman who loves life.
*My slogans are “Have boa, will travel” and “Chillin’ like a Vaudevillian”
Olive Thomas and the New Amsterdam Theatre
by: Femme Vivre LaRouge
In 1913, for his sixth annual production of The Follies, Florenz Ziegfeld moved the show to the extravagant New Amsterdam Theatre. The theatre’s Art Nouveau design, sweeping staircases, lush lounges, and large auditorium, plus fully-enclosed rooftop ‘garden theatre’ were a perfect fit for Ziegfeld’s decadent tastes. In its original days of grandeur, the playhouse was dubbed “House Beautiful” by The New York Times when it first opened in 1903. It was upon this stage that future film star, Olive Thomas, auditioned for and performed in The Follies of 1916. She also starred in the Midnight Frolic, a more risqué show that took place on the rooftop stage after hours.
The Frolic began in 1915 when Ziegfeld decided that he would rather continue to profit off of the after-show crowd than have them toddle off to another nightclub. The rooftop venue featured a glass dance floor that enticed patrons from the establishment below to sneak a peek up the dancers’ dresses. Although the Follies themselves were a couples function, the Frolic drew an almost exclusively male clientele. Chorus girls walked amongst the audience, dressed in costumes comprised mainly of balloons, which errant cigars eagerly popped. While the shows below served up a luscious palette of scantily costumed ladies, their decorum was always of utmost importance. On the rooftop, however, free and loose modernity roared its way into the twenties.
Featured in this advertisement for the Frolics, painted by popular artist Harrison Fisher, is a wanton Olive smoking a cigarette, with her hair falling loosely about her and her gown slipping off her shoulders. While a little artistic license was taken in depicting Olive as a redhead rather than a brunette, the ‘anything goes’ atmosphere of the rooftop garden is made pretty clear. It seems that stage door Johnnies often bought their jollies with expensive gifts for the rooftop chorines.
Harrison Fisher’s models, much like Charles Dana Gibson’s and Howard Chandler Christy’s, were known as Fisher Girls. In fact, Olive also ranks among the Christy Girls, and it was a competition held by Christy in 1914 that put Olive on the road to stardom. The competition, which she won, was to find “The Most Beautiful Girl in New York City.” It led to Olive’s modeling for several successful artists and catching the eye of the foremost aficionado of beautiful girls, The Great Ziegfeld. According to Mary Pickford (Olive’s future sister-in-law), “The girl had the loveliest violet-blue eyes I have ever seen. They were fringed with long dark lashes that seemed darker because of the delicate translucent pallor of her skin.”
Born Oliva R. Duffy in 1894, Olive married her first husband, Bernard Thomas, at the age of 16. After a couple of years, however, she left Pennsylvania and her husband for the bright lights of New York City. After that, Ollie’s life was a fast affair, and sadly, short. She divorced her husband and became one of Ziegfeld’s many impressive mistresses. The Alberto Vargas painting below, which she posed for shortly before her death hung in Ziegfeld’s New Amsterdam office for many a year, much to his current wife’s displeasure. The painting, ‘Memories of Olive,’ does not depict the innocent ingénue that the Hollywood press had been serving up, but rather a return to Ollie’s wilder image as a Frolic dancer. In late 1916 Olive had been signed to Triangle film studio and in 1919 she was signed by David O. Selznick for $2,500 per week. She made over twenty pictures and her last film, 1920’s ‘The Flapper,’ was the first film to use the term flapper.
With Olive’s move to tinsel town came love and a second marriage, to Jack Pickford, Hollywood heartthrob and brother of leading lady Mary Pickford. The couple eloped to New Jersey in October of 1916 and Ollie in a later interview for ‘Motion Picture’ magazine, quoted “Jack . . . is a beautiful dancer. He danced his way into my heart. We knew each other for eight months before our marriage, and most of that time we gave to dancing. We got along so well on the dance floor that we just naturally decided that we would be able to get along together for the remainder of our lives.” And so they did, although for Olive, that was to be just shy of four years, and the relationship was certainly filled with excitement. By all accounts, their marriage was a passionate and volatile one, full of fighting and making up, interspersed with expensive gifts, wild parties, and reckless driving.
The couple endured long separations due to their respective film careers and the unfortunate interruption of World War I. Jack, a Canadian, decided to join the U.S. Navy rather than be drafted into Canadian service, but he managed to avoid any threat of danger by using his film star status to recruit amateur actresses into service for his superiors. This practice eventually landed him a dishonorable discharge, which likely didn’t bother him one bit.
And so, in September of 1920, Olive and Jack set out to Paris to celebrate a second honeymoon after their time apart. Lamentably, a raucous night out on the town brought an untimely end to the rendezvous, and Olive’s life. At this point in the story, things get a little fuzzy and the truth of what really happened that September 6 will never be known. The original doctor’s report and initial press reports do not match later accounts, nor did Jack’s testimony about the event quite add up. America was awash with theories as to Olive’s demise- that she had been indulging in drug use (as did her husband), that she had committed suicide upon finding out that Jack had been stepping out on her, that Jack had killed her for her insurance money, that it was simply an accident due to her drunken state and lack of familiarity with French labels… this list went on and on. What everyone did know for sure was that Olive died from ingesting mercury bichloride, a then-common, topical treatment for syphilis. Reports indicate that she was searching for something to soothe her headache and help her sleep when her hand alighted on the fatal blue bottle.
Why she swallowed such a large dose, however, remains a mystery. Although Jack woke and quickly forced her to swallow raw eggs in an attempt to induce vomiting and the first doctor on the scene pumped her stomach several times, she could not be saved. After days of pain, paralysis, and blindness, slipping in and out of consciousness, Olive was pronounced dead at the American Hospital of Neuilly. Her body, and her spirit with it, was transported back to the states for burial. But her spirit would not rest; instead, she returned to the scene of her first showbiz success, the New Amsterdam Theatre. In short order, patrons of the theatre began to sight her specter in its various lounges, as well as backstage.
Although the once-magnificent theatre became a movie house after the stock market crash of 1929 and eventually fell into disuse, and disrepair, Olive never left it. One of her most notable appearances came in 1952 when a caretaker who had previously been a Follies crewmember saw her, twice, and recognized her as the former Follies filly he had once adored. The shade generally shows up dressed in her beaded Follies costume, wearing a gold sash with her name on it- a demand that she not be forgotten. Finally, in 1993 Disney purchased the New Amsterdam for $29 million and began renovations, which delighted Olive’s apparition, and scared the daylights out of at least one night watchman.
She has since shown herself to multiple members of the cast and crew, sometimes whispering flirtatiously and always carrying with her the damnable blue bottle. She has been known to turn out lights and shake sets and sometimes floats about on the rooftop stage. Whenever the last living Ziegfeld girls would pay a visit, she always managed to make an appearance as well. If you attend a performance of Mary Poppins at the New Amsterdam theatre, you might also get to see Olive.
For more information on the Olive Thomas haunting, see Tim Ogden’s book, ‘Haunted Theatres: Playhouse Phantoms, Opera House Horrors, and Backstage Banshees. A documentary about Olive is also available, ‘Olive Thomas: Everybody’s Sweetheart.’
The Legendary Life of Doris Eaton Travis
by: Femme Vivre LaRouge
Few of us are lucky enough to enjoy either the longevity or the fullness of life that Doris Eaton did. Born March 14, 1904, Doris witnessed almost all of the amazing twentieth century, as well as the unfolding of the twenty-first. In 2010, shortly before she passed away, Doris received her final standing ovation in the New Amsterdam Theatre, as the last living Ziegfeld girl.
At 14, Doris was the youngest girl to perform in The Follies, and she was the last dancing too, performing annually at the Broadway Cares/Equity Fights Aids “Easter Bonnet Competition” for a dozen years preceding her death. Young Doris was dancing in The Follies when fellow Ziegfeld girl, Gilda Gray, first popularized the shimmy. Along with her siblings, she was making films in Hollywood when John Wayne was just a prop boy and Alfred Hitchcock was still writing title cards for silent pictures. During the twenties, Jack and Sam Warner, her upstairs neighbors, regularly came down to mingle with the show crowd gathered there, in hopes of starting their own studio. Other regulars at the Eaton household included Fred Astaire and Charles Lindbergh, with George Gershwin on the piano. In 1929, Nacio Herb Brown wrote a little ditty called ‘Singin’ in the Rain” for her, which she debuted at the Hollywood Music Box Revue. She rode in an airplane less than twenty years after the first successful flight, lived through Prohibiton and two world wars, and witnessed the nineteenth amendment, giving women the right to vote. Doris Eaton was named just weeks before Times Square was given its name, and Doris was there, dancing in the square, for its centennial celebration.
When Doris was just a child, her eldest sister, Evelyn, used to direct the younger children in backyard productions, which led to five of the seven Eaton children working in showbiz at some time or another. Doris’ career began at age seven with a role in the Nobel-winning novel-turned-play, “The Bluebird.” The fantastic Eatons performed regularly at Zefferino Poli’s Washington, DC theatre, where President Woodrow Wilson was often in attendance. After doing the touring circuit, the Eatons wound up in New York City, taking with them a young Volga Hayworth, who didn’t make a very big splash in showbiz, although her daughter, Rita, certainly did!
For seven years straight at least one of the charistmatic Eaton children was performing in The Follies. One of them, Pearl, aided with Follies choreography and became Broadway’s first female stage manager. Pearl was a regualar in The Frolics, as well as Earl Carroll’s Vanities and George White’s Scandals, and RKO’s dance director for a time. Another sister, Mary, became The Follies’ prima ballerina, wowing audiences with her intricate sequence of impeccable pirouettes. Mary, along with Doris and their brother Charlie, also experienced success in Hollywood. After Mary and Doris tied in a seven-state beauty contest, Doris gave the follwing beauty advice: “Don’t hire a taxicab when you can afford to walk.” When Doris first appeared in The Follies, by law, children under the age of 16 were not allowed to perform in musical comedy, so she took the name Doris Levant and the following year, Lucille Levant. By her third year in The Follies, she was finally 16 and was promoted to ‘specialty dancer,’ under her own name. It was during this time that Doris met Babe Ruth (who, incidentally, married another Follies girl) and had her very own baseball signed by him on a publicity assignment. Showbusiness was booming for the Eatons.
Then came the Great Depression and the Eatons’ careers were cut short. Doris eventually found steady work in 1936 as a dance instructor at the original Arthur Murray dance studio. She enjoyed a long, successful career with Arthur Murray, opening the first new branch of the studio, in Detroit. At one time there were nearly 300 Arthur Murray dance studios, 18 of which belonged to Doris. The studio brilliantly marketed their classes with a dance-for-health campaign, and social dancing was at peak popularity. Doris wrote a weekly newspaper column, On Your Toes, which was full of dance advice along with delightful illustrations, and hosted her own television show, for seven years.
Both of Doris’ younger brothers came to work with her at the studios and in 1950, at Charlie’s suggestion, the school began to host dance getaways in Havana. These dance vacations were enchanting trips to paradise that brought the attendance of celebrities such as Ava Gardner and Ernest Hemingway. Unfortunately, that party ended in 1959 when Fidel Castro took Havana. Of course, in the sixties everything was changing and, as couples’ dancing declined in popularity, the Arthur Murray empire began to lose money. Doris had no choice but to sell each of her branches in the late sixties. Those years, sharing her love and knowledge of dance with so many, were precious to Doris. As quoted in Lauren Redniss’ biography, Century Girl, Doris said, “When I see a woman moving over the ballroom floor in grace…precision…feeling…tasting the joy of movement…creating a segue of pattern pictures, all coordinated to a rhythm…then I know this person is at one with the universe – at one with God.”
Doris met Paul H. Travis when he was taking a dance course with her and after 8 years of courtship, they wed. Doris was 45 at the time and, although she had married producer Joe Gorham at the age of 18, he unfortunately died of a heart attack less than a year later. Despite an 11 year relationship with Herb Brown, Doris did not remarry until she fell in love with Paul, and she never had any children. The couple raised racehorses instead, moving to a ranch in Norman, Oklahoma in 1969. Then in 1980, Doris decided it was high time she gave herself the education she had missed during her busy youth. After obtaining her G.E.D., Doris attended the University of Oklahoma, graduating cum laude at age 88. Later, upon her one hundredth birthday, Oakland University granted her an honorary Doctorate of Humanities. For her speech at the commencement ceremony, she sang a number, “Ballin’ the Jack,” from the 1913 Follies, much to the delight of all the graduates.
By this point in time Doris had already made her stage comeback at The Amsterdam, beginning with the newly renovated theatre’s opening gala in 1997. The event brought together the last five Follies gals, of which Doris was the only one still able to perform. At age 94 she repeated her performance from 1919’s Follies and kept returning each year to perform, while all the other Ziegfeld girls passed on. Doris did numerous interviews and documentaries and even made a cinema comeback with a cameo role in 1999’s Man on the Moon. Doris celebrated her centennial birthday on Broadway, with an enormous pink cake that was taller than she. As Tom Viola, Executive Director of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights Aids said of Doris, “no matter her age, when the stage lights hit Doris she was instantly and forever young.” Without any medications or help from doctors, Doris kept on dancing and didn’t stop until she was 106.
For further reading on the wonderful Doris Eaton Thomas and her marvelous life, I highly recommend Century Girl: 100 Years in the Life of Doris Eaton Travis, Last Living Star of the Ziegfeld Follies by Lauren Redniss. I was delighted to find that Doris also wrote an autobiography, The Days We Danced: The Story of My Theatrical Family from Florenz Ziegfeld to Arthur Murray and Beyond, which I have not yet had the pleasure of reading. For charming photos and footage of her performances with Broadway Cares, see: http://www.broadwaycares.org
Your favorite Pin Curl contributors, Divertida Divotchka and Femme Vivre LaRouge, joined forces with local emcee Violet O’ Hara to accept the Legends Challenge put forth by Burlesque Hall of Fame, and decided to sponsor Dallas’ own Tammi True. The group’s diligent fundraising efforts put them in the top three and guests of the Legends Brunch, which they gladly recapped for us.
Burlesque Hall of Fame Legends Challenge
By: Femme Vivre LaRouge
This year the Burlesque Hall of Fame issued a challenge to the burlesque community to put our pasties to work for a good cause. The first-ever Legends Challenge was a great success, raising over $13,000 to help pay the way for the living legends of burlesque to attend the 2011 Burlesque Hall of Fame Reunion in Las Vegas. Since its beginning in 1957, the annual reunion has grown into the wondrous and star-studded affair that it is today. It is a great treasure to have the chance to mingle with the beautiful, passionate, and talented women who have passed their trade on to us. Over twenty legends were in attendance, most of them sponsored by troupes and performers around the country.
We were delighted to sponsor Dallas’ very own Tammi True, former dancer at Jack Ruby’s Carousel Club. The DFW/Austin burlesque community really came together with the goal of sending Miss True to the event, and we were able to make more than we even dreamed. Numerous local performers and dedicated fans contributed to this worthy cause, with a generosity that was truly touching. With the support of Hot Rods and Heels and events hosted by Viva Dallas Burlesque, The Jigglewatts Burlesque Revue, Violet O’Hara of the Ruby Revue, four raffle baskets, an auction, a Burly-Q Bake Sale, and one event dedicated solely to the fundraiser we were able to raise over $2,000!
In fact, the Texas team did so well that we made it to the top three highest grossing benefactors of the Challenge! Boy howdy, were we gals happy to have our team listed alongside the noteworthy names of Michelle L’Amour and Cora Vette & Burly Cute! The greatest reward, aside from the honor of lending a hand to these venerable women, was a special luncheon for the Legends and patrons, which Divertida Devotchka, Violet O’Hara, and I had the privilege of attending just before the Legends Q & A.
Highlights from the BHOF Legends Q & A
By: Divertida Devotchka
What memorabilia or sentimental objects did you keep from your burlesque career?
Holiday O’Hara, the Lady Who Loves to Love You, started performing in 1968, retired in 1983 and came out of retirement in 2007. “I kept some costumes and all of my jewelry and all of my boas. What still fit was my jewelry, my boas and my duster.” Holiday also kept pictures of other burlesque performers who inspired her, particularly Gina Bon Bon.
Joan Arline, the Sexquire Girl, performed from 1953 to 1958. Joan still has her burlesque trunk and her costume from when she was 22, which still fits. She last wore the costume one week prior to the Q & A!
Share a favorite backstage memory.
Shannon Doah started performing in 1967. She shared a memory of performing at a club with a very small dressing room with a clothing rack at the back of the room. One night while everyone was getting ready for a show, they looked down and noticed a pair of men’s shoes. They kept looking and discovered a man lying under the rack hiding under the clothes!
Ellion Ness, began performing at the age of 15. During her second week performing in the chorus line at Minsky’s, she was sent on a wild goose chase to find “the key to open the curtain.” She frantically looked everywhere for this mysterious (nonexistent) key thinking that she would ruin the show if the curtain wouldn’t open, and after much searching Minsky told her not to worry and to go get ready for the show.
What do you want your legacy to be?
Camille 2000, the Cosmic Queen of Burlesque, began performing in 1968. She wants her legacy to be her tribute to Marquis de Sade.
Judith Stein began performing in 1974, and said she was “last legend standing” at the after-parties at BHOF weekend (and trust us, she was!)
Toni Elling began performing in 1960 and retired in 1974. Toni wants to be remembered as “a good entertainer. I consider myself that, not a stripper.”
Dusty Summers, Las Vegas’ Only Nude Magician, began performing in 1965. She posed a question to the rest of her peers on the panel- what was your career after burlesque?
Gina Bon Bon’s performance career lasted from 1962 until 1991. She’s now an artist and brought with her an incredible painting she did of Camille 2000. She is currently working on a collection about burlesque stars.
Joan Arline had 2 children and a successful dance school specializing in Russian ballet and ballroom dancing, and she also became a commodities trader. At age 60, she began performing in the Golden Girl Follies.
Kitten Natividad started performing in 1969. She was also known for her appearance in Russ Meyer films and Kitten had a long relationship with Meyer. Kitten now works in real estate.
Judith Stein learned to surf, started skiing again, started her own business, and now works with the dying “so at least they can die laughing.”
Camille 2000 owns Cosmic Hog Pen, which specializes in “motorcycle leather and switchblades” among other things.
Holiday O’Hara was a professional dominatrix from 1983 until 2005 and is now a hypnotherapist. “I applied the ‘you’re mine’ aspect of working a room to just one person and now I do the same with hypnotherapy.”
Shannon Doah volunteered at an animal shelter for 10 years and said she felt insecure about getting a “normal” job. She now works with a program for victims of domestic violence, particularly helping get the animals out of abusive environments. “With many abused women, the abusers also abuse the animals and they threaten to harm the animal to keep the woman from leaving.”
Tips from the Living Legends of Burlesque:
Tammi True (known as Miss Excitement, she began performing “by accident” in 1959 and retired in 1968): “I never had an ‘act.’ You don’t have to have a ‘character.’ Be true to yourself and just be you.”
Holiday O’Hara: “I’m always Holiday. I’m me. I don’t turn it off and on. Just make love to the audience. The audience makes love to you back.”
Dusty Summers: “Don’t be afraid to learn something new; try something new.”
Haji (best known for her roles in Russ Meyer films, most notably “Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!” with Tura Satana): “Fantasize. Be a flower, a snake, whatever you can think of. Be fun, be free, but don’t be vulgar.”
Tai Ping (performed from 1960 to 1970 until a car crash ended her dance career): “Use the whole stage; work it all. Everyone paid and they all deserve the same show.”
Toni Elling: “Have fun.”