Striptease: The Untold History of the Girlie Show

Striptease: The Untold History of the Girlie Show

Rachel Shteir

Language: English

Pages: 448

ISBN: 0195127501

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


The fascinating, untold story of the history of undressing: over fifty years of taking it off. Striptease combined sexual display and parody, cool eros and wisecracking Bacchanalian humor. Striptease could be savage, patriotic, irreverent, vulgar, sophisticated, sentimental, and subversive--sometimes, all at once. In this vital cultural history, Rachel Shteir traces the ribald art from its nineteenth century vaudeville roots, through its long and controversial career, to its decline during the liberated 1960s. The book argues that striptease is an American form of popular entertainment--maybe the most American form of popular entertainment.
Based on exhaustive research and filled with rare photographs and period illustrations, Striptease recreates the combustible mixture of license, independence, and sexual curiosity that allowed strippers to thrive for nearly a century. Shteir brings to life striptease's Golden Age, the years between the Jazz Age and the Sexual Revolution, when strippers performed around the country, in burlesque theatres, nightclubs, vaudeville houses, carnivals, fairs, and even in glorious palaces on the Great White Way. Taking us behind the scenes, Rachel Shteir introduces us to a diverse cast of characters that collided on the burlesque stage, from tight-laced political reformers and flamboyant impresarios, to drag queens, shimmy girls, cootch dancers, tit serenaders, and even girls next door, lured into the profession by big-city aspirations. Throughout the book, readers will find essential profiles of famed performers, including Gypsy Rose Lee, "the Literary Stripper"; Lili St. Cyr, the 1950s mistress of exotic striptease; and Blaze Starr, the "human heat wave," who literally set the stage on fire.
Striptease is an insightful and entertaining portrait of an art form at once reviled and embraced by the American public. Blending careful research and vivid narration, Rachel Shteir captures striptease's combination of sham and seduction while illuminating its surprisingly persistent hold on the American imagination.

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Square Theater on Irving Place as a movie palace, and by Loew and Albee, vaudeville kingpins.50 In 1914, Kahn switched to burlesque and began to buy up theaters under the name “Big Ben.” He made a profit. By the fall of 1917, the Minsky sons, casting around for something to do with the Winter Garden roof, saw that Kahn had the right idea. They replaced the nickelodeon with a legitimate theater. To get around the problem of carrying the sets up and down six flights of stairs, they housed their own

the contraception of vice” who wears “tortoiseshell glasses” and tries to stop the show. In an essay published in The Dial, Cummings also praised burlesque’s “primitivism” and the “excessively mobile” shimmy of the Minsky cootch dancer Cleo, who, as she finished, exclaimed, as if congratulating herself: “Burn my clothes! I’m in heaven!”54 Gaston Lachaise used a burlesque teaser as a model for his monumental female sculptures, and Henry Miller paid homage to Cleo, whose real name was Vivian Clio.

sassiest was ninety-three-year-old Mother Elms, the Republic’s avuncular wardrobe mistress. Asked how old she was, she said, “I never notice years; that is why I am 93.” But Elms proved a savvy witness as well as a jokester. Asked if she liked the dances the strippers did at Minskys’, Elms, who had been a burlesque queen in the 1890s, quipped, “I wish I could do [them] myself. There was a time when I could.” Moreover, refusing to fall into the prosecution’s trap of damning Depression-era morals

Depression argued that the wage codes Herk proposed were too ambitious. In 1935 several Los Angeles op- LaGuardia Kicks Striptease out of New York 161 Cartoon of stripper from Zit’s Theatrical Newspaper, March 31, 1934, 7. Billy Rose Theatre Collection, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundations. erators went before the BAA to argue that if they paid the wages the union required, they would go bankrupt.25 The NRA began to toy with the idea of

Place comes from the journalist H. M. Alexander, who describes one night there in a romantic-comic-pornographic tone. Starting the evening is a production number featuring chorus girls imitating horses, an act that, as Alexander points out, hardly interested the audience at all. But then the strippers appear. . . . the band plays “La Cucaracha” . . . a little crop-headed brunette appears in a much bespangled white evening dress with a yoke collar. She moves downstage in a jerky, eccentric

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