Thursday, August 30, 2007

Interview with Kelly DiNardo

If you haven't yet visited Kelly Di Nardo's Blog, you must. Any fan of burlesque and exotic dance is sure to be thrilled with her articles, links, and interviews.

We decided to interview each other some time ago, and I'm just now in town long enough to start editing all the interviews I've done in the past month. I'm pleased to start my return to blogging with this interview!

First, the adorable Kelly:

How did you get interested in burlesque?
I was working for Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan on their biography of Frank Sinatra. One of their research requests for me involved Lili St. Cyr. I became fascinated and started reading a lot about her and the other women of burlesque. I was surprised to learn how the men of burlesque were still well-known names -- Abbott and Costello, Jackie Gleason -- but that for the most part the general public didn't know much about the women of burlesque.

What does burlesque mean to you?
There's so much to it. It can be campy and kitschy. It's funny and saucy. It can be downright sexy. But it's always about the tease whether it's the comedians giving a verbal tease or the dancers with a visual one.

What was your first experience with live burlesque?
I believe my first live burlesque show was one of the Miss Exotic World competitions. Or it might just have been such a spectacle that it's the first one that really stands out in my mind. It was when MEW was still in Helendale and it was a blast. I've since been to Burlesque-A-Pades several times. I've seen Trixie Little and Evil Hate Monkey a few times. And I've been back to Miss Exotic World. Each show has been a lot of fun for very different reasons.

What is one of your favorite experiences so far?
I really have loved them all. The first time I went to MEW was such a treat because it was still new to me. I got to meet a lot of the performers I'd spoken to over e-mail or the phone. And I got to see the Lili St. Cyr memorabilia in the museum. This year's MEW had such a mix of performers playing to every element of burlesque -- from the hilarious to the classic -- that it really stands out.

Do you travel to attend shows?
I travel to watch different shows. I've been to MEW both in Helendale and Vegas. And I've seen shows in L.A., Vegas, NY, and of course, DC. And when I was doing working on my book I traveled to L.A., Vegas, NY and Montreal to do research and interviews. I've taken burlesque workshops because I wanted to get a feel for what it would be like even at the most basic level, but I've never performed.


Who inspires you most, and why?
Lili St. Cyr. She's the reason I know about burlesque and got involved with it. Writing the book has been an amazing experience and I've gotten to know a lot of really fun, interesting people.

What is your favorite aspect of burlesque as it is now?
I love that the performers are putting the tease back into the strip. Lili believed that the imagination was more powerful, more titillating than the actual reveal. Performances like Vivian Velvet's fan number at MEW was really wonderful for just that reason. At the same time I love the humor in a lot of the new burlesque. And I like that there's room for all of it.

Can you show me one of your favorite photos of Lili?
I have a couple of favorites in the book that I don't believe I can send yet. They're ones that haven't been seen or haven't been seen much. One of them is actually a contact sheet from a photo shoot of Bernard of Hollywood. Lili is dancing around a swan. Since they were nice enough to let us publish the whole contact sheet you really get a visual sense of her movement. I also have a picture of one of her mug shots. She looks unbelievably beautiful and glamorous especially considering what our celebrities today seem to look like when they get "mugged." And there are also some fun personal, private photos of her in the book from when she was child and then throughout her adult life.
There's also a photo, which sometimes pops up on Ebay, of Lili performing on a swing. Ronald Regan is in the crowd. It's not in the book, but I do love it. That one and another one of Lili with Eleanor Roosevelt are great.
So, all of that is not answering your question about my favorite photo in terms of one you could use ... I love this one:

She looks so beautiful and glamorous. There's something so private about her being on the bed, but she looks so untouchable. Definitely captures that look but don't touch aspect of burlesque. She's exuding sexuality and it's easy to see why Marilyn Monroe would have been inspired by her.

I also love this one:

Thanks to Kelly for the interview and for her blog! Until we can satiate some of our appetite for Lili through Kelly's book, I recommend reading the interview with her that comes with the "Best of Burlesque" DVD.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Burlesque In Galway

'When bellydance teacher Lisa Collins called a few venues in the city for a burlesque dance workshop for her students and the general public, given by a guest teacher, one establishment told her straight out on the telephone that they “didn’t facilitate stripping”.'

The Art of Burlesque

I facilitate stripping, happily.

Friday, August 17, 2007

A Few Flyers

I love flyers and I collect them--they're all over my house. You can expect a few more posts of flyers! I have some from all over the world, but I'm starting with a few favorites from New York:

I love this image of Lady Ace, Julie Atlas Muz, Amber Ray, and Ms. Tickle! I think this flyer is about five years old.

Paperback Burlesque 6


Filthy Gorgeous Flyer

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Burlesque in Charlotte, NC!

Big Mamma D. Photo by Angus Lamond.

'With less than three hours until the curtain goes up, Big Mamma has a lot on her mind; so much in fact, that she's forgotten her music and has had to send someone home to fetch it. It's a minor snafu, which the chanteuse takes in stride, but there's a lot riding on tonight's performance. In addition to attending to all the last-minute details of the show for which she functions as producer, director, press agent, seamstress and wardrobe mistress, Big Mamma has planned a very special finale in which she will wed long-time beau and fellow cast member, emcee Johnny Anonymous (David Pendragon) in a real-life, onstage ceremony. "I got so fed up with, 'We'll do it later.' And it was me putting it off. It finally hit me that I'd never have time to plan a wedding when I was planning a show, so it only made sense to do it as part of the show," she says.'

Kitsch 'N' Confidential

Interview: Margaret Cho

Burlesque performers are my superheroes. The legends with their wild pasts and graceful moves, the newbies gathering their nerves to fling themselves onto a stage for the first time, the performers of my generation who have been christened neo-burlesque, all my heroes. When I see them get onstage I'm starstruck by their beauty and abandon and skill.

When I first learned that Margaret Cho was MCing the Miss Exotic World Pageant in 2006, it made perfect sense. She has every quality I want in a hero: nerve, honesty, gender inquisitiveness, sexiness, talent, and a brilliant sense of humor. That she has achieved fame and success just goes to show that the world in general is going my way.

Margaret in Headdress
Gorgeous Margaret in burlesque regalia. Photo by Austin Young.

When I met her backstage she had the qualities that always, for me, cement hero status: she was gracious, friendly, and warm. I couldn't have been more starstruck.

I was even more grateful and stricken when, not long after MEW, she invited me to perform in her show "The Sensuous Woman" in Fire Island. I'm lucky and I know it!

Having been a part of that, I felt I could make bold to ask to interview her for my blog. She was, again, gracious and warm, as well as quick with the emails. I bring you, ladies and gentlemen, the burlesque interview stylings of Miss Margaret Cho, superhero of striptease, comedy, and genderfuckery.

How and when did you get interested in burlesque?
I saw a Velvet Hammer show a few years ago, and I was hooked... I was obsessed with Pleasant Gehman, still am. She is my bellydance teacher and a creative collaborator on The Sensuous Woman, and my good friend. She invited me to the show and I was just floored... I loved it! That show was the first time I had heard about live burlesque shows going on and it really blew my mind!

What does burlesque mean to you?
For me it is about seeing beautiful women, real women, being sexy, coy, funny, transgressive. It helps me to feel beautiful in my own body, to feel sexy and free.

Margaret Cho with Beth DItto
Margaret with another one of my heroes, Beth Ditto. Photo courtesy Margaret Cho.

When did you decide to start doing burlesque yourself?
About a year ago... I actually made my debut at Exotic World. I hosted and then on the Sunday night show I did my snake striptease! It felt awesome.

Margaret performing at Exotic World in 2006. Photo by Jo Weldon.

Who inspires you most, and why?
Every dancer inspires me, but my favorites are Pleasant, Dirty Martini, Julie Atlas Muz, Tigger and you! (I told Margaret that if she didn't say something nice about me and my friends she'd never work in this town again --JBW)

What is your favorite aspect of burlesque as it is now?
It's hard to say...I love how it can be so political but also really sexy. I just love the erotic charge in the air, the catcalls, the costumes - everything.

Would you like to describe one of your acts?
My favorite act to do right now is my big drag number. I was having a Louise Brooks moment when I conceived it, but it was more along the lines of "What if Louise Brooks was a drag queen?" I chose a beautiful aria from "Tristan and Isolde" for the music. I had a white flapper dress that I never ever wore but loved, so I put that on and made that my costume - after finding some glorious and EXPENSIVE pasties and matching panties to go with it. I realized I needed fans too so I splurged on a set of giant red ones - remember you taught me how to do fans!!! Then I went to a special effects specialist who is a friend of my husband's, who made a very light, yet very realistic flaccid latex penis. It was very hard to find a dildo that was like a flaccid penis! I needed one that would fit into panties and still look like something when I stripped them off, so it had to be collapsible, and it is - fully collapsible and will stick onto my crotch with double stick tape! The choreography is simple, just a classic fan dance really, but with a big surprise ending. The audience really doesn't know what to do. At first I try to seduce them, being very feminine and coy with myself, a very shy, teasing kind of dance. But then at the end, when I reveal I have this very real looking and startlingly plain penis, people really freak out. I almost cried the first few times that I performed it because the audience reacted so strongly - screaming! People were literally screaming. I love that. So that is my most exciting number right now.

Margaret with Fans
Margaret with her fans. Photo by Pixie Vision.

What would you like to see next in burlesque?
I would love to just see more more more!!! I would love to see people incorporate more of themselves too. To see them be more honest and exciting and real. When you did the "International Lover" number at The Sensuous Woman on Fire Island, it was probably my favorite burlesque moment ever, because what you were doing was so sexy and intimate, yet at the same time very clever and really fun. I love when I am really moved by burlesque and you really did it for me that night...the purple rope and blindfold! I even found that exact purple shade of nail polish so that I could be reminded of your performance!

What is one of your favorite experiences so far?
I had a blast when we all did Fire Island together for The Sensuous Woman, and every time I get to do a burlesque show I just fall in love all over again. Every time is my favorite time.

You must visit Margaret's website! She has a wicked awesome blog.

Margaret's Legs
I love this photo of Margaret reading! Photo courtesy Margaret Cho.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Texas Burlesque Festival!

The Texas Burlesque Festival is a two-day hoedown and showdown celebrating the raucous revival of burlesque, vaudeville and the accompanying et cetera.

Aimed at (but not exclusive to) the growing Southern community of ecdysiasts, this weekend overflows with opportunities to refine your bump and grind including parties, a panel discussion, and performances. So pack your pistols and your pasties—it's gonna be wild ride!

This post was contributed by Susan Wayward.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

You're Never Too Old to Bump It With A Trumpet!

' Former exotic dancer, champion of the arts and seven-time D.C. mayoral candidate Faith is recovering at George Washington Hospital from a case of pneumonia -- brought on, says her husband, when the 83-year-old performer was denied her chance for a Broadway comeback. Faith Dane was 36 years old when she landed the role of Mazeppa in the legendary 1959 Broadway musical "Gypsy," starring Ethel Merman....Last month, Faith filed an age discrimination complaint against the theater and casting company with New York State's Division of Human Rights. '
Faith: Broadway Has No You-Know-What in Me.

I have to say, if she was in the production, I would certainly be more determined to see the show!

Sugar Baby blows it Mazeppa Style at Fisherman and Bambi's Love Luau at Coney Island.

I found this article in Kelly DiNardo's Candy Pitch.

Book Review: The American Burlesque Show

The American Burlesque Show
Irving Zeidman
Hawthorne Books, New York, Ny 1967

"The trouble with the American burlesque show, from beginning to end, is either that is has been too dirty--or else that it hasn't been dirty enough."

The first sentence of Irving Zeidman's history of burlesque in the United States (primarily New York) cites a dilemma that continues to haunt burlesque even now, when burlesque is serving in most venues as a couples' or women's alternative to the more commercial, more directly sexual environment of strip clubs (although in New York we have a few venues that are decidedly more hardcore than any burlesque shows of the past--and my story on that is upcoming). Zeidman quotes Sime Silverman saying, "Were there no women in burlesque, how many men would attend?" in 1909. He descibes the history of American burlesque as "the history of its producers' endless efforts to please both the censors and the audience."

The American Burlesque Show Irving Zeidman

This book offers so much detail in less than 250 pages that anyone can count themselves a scholar in a matter of days. It is a seminal reference on American burlesque, and is a significant source in the bibliography of almost every book written about burlesque since its publication. While the history of burlesque is longer than the history of American burlesque, this book is invaluable for those who are primarily interested in the burlesque standard that began with the arrival of British burlesque in the United States in the 19th century. Zeidman describes the path of burlesque from the Black Crook to the Great White Way. He calls the Black Crook "the acknowledged forerunner of modern burlesque because here, for the first time in the history of the American stage, female nudity was exhibited not as an integral part of the plot, but frankly and with bravado for its own crass and pleasant appeal."

If the reader sets Zeidman's commentary aside, the history presented is a story of broad comedians and saucy wenches owning the stage for nearly a century. The arrival of Lydia Thompson and Her Imported British Blondes in 1868 in New York set the standard for shows that mocked politics and popular culture while including women who put themselves shamelessly on display. The shamelessness of the women presented a visual metaphor for the shameless attitude taken in the skits, taunting the pretenses of upstanding citizens and authorities--particularly those who worked to close the burlesque houses down, and succeeded in doing so in New York in 1937 by editing out the strippers.

As with any history, it's hard to know how much of it is biased, but Zeidman's facts are always backed by sources. For all of its thorough documention, it maintains an easy and enjoyable read with plenty of photos, including many of the comics and variety artists as well as of the female dancers he describes as being central to burlesque's appeal. Zeidman has a a dry and companiable tone as he describes the Irving Place Theatre, the Columbia Wheel, the Minksys, and the development of the striptease. He gives details about burlesque in Brooklyn, on the Bowery, in Harlem, and in a chapter titled"Beyond New York" he describes show producers' battles with censors taking the same shape in other cities.

Carrie Finnell

He devotes chapters to the candy butchers, the comics, and of course to the strippers, all with photos to illustrate his quotes from the entertainment media of the eras. He also includes photos of the theatres and neighborhoods.

The history of burlesque via secondary sources can be hard to verify, since so much of the material offered by the burlesque producers is colored by their desires to promote, and so much of what remained in the news media was the result of publicity stunts and press releases offered by those same producers. However, Zeidman makes the most of this and analyzes all of it with an eye to informing and entertaining the reader while taking every claim burlesque has made about itself with a grain of salt--just as burlesque has historically taken the authorities and moral standards of every era with a grain of salt. He studies an irreverent art form irreverently, which is as it should be.

Zeidman says, "Burlesque, unfortunately, has never been any of the fancy or sentimental things ascribed to it--neither now nor then. It has never been a lusty form of folk expression or a national forum for satire or a showplace for knockabout hilarious slapstick. If burlesque ever became too talented, it ceased to be burlesque. It became vaudeville or musical comedy and even...light opera." He often seems to have a quite low opinion of burlesque, albeit with affection for its shortcomings. He never admits how he came to be interested enough in burlesque to do the enormous amount of research labor this book represents. I wonder what he would make of burlesque as it is today.

Out of Print. Available Used.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

The Girl Who Touches My Underwear (And My Heart)

True Confessions of a Pick-Up Artist!

Beginning burlesque performer Fleur de Lis talks about what it takes to help burlesque performers keep track of their unmentionables.

What does a pickup artist/stage kitten do?
It's pretty simple. You basically show up looking cute and help out the producer, emcee, and dancers. You introduce yourself to each dancer and find out if they have any special needs for their act such as props that need to be set or special pieces to look for. After they come off the stage you pick up all of their costume elements from the stage. You may have some time to interact with the emcee but mostly you just want to make sure that the dancers don't have anything to worry about except what they do on stage. It's not a difficult job but an important one and if you do it right they will call you back.

How did you come to be a pickup artist?
I came to NYC a year ago this week from New Orleans. I had lost a whole lot in the storm and spent a year trying to rebuild my business and life. After a year of that I got a wild hair and came to NYC with a suitcase, a one way ticket and $85. I knew no one, had no job and no apartment. I had done costuming in New Orleans for theater, burlesque, and vaudeville but it wasn't a terribly supportive community and assumed it would be worse in NYC so I didn't really look into it. After being in NYC for about 9 months I went on a blind date who took me to the Sweet and Nasty show where I saw you perform. I loved the show. I had always wanted to be on stage and hadn't really been "allowed" to since high school and I felt like I had found my home. I immediately went home and starting Googling the hell out of every name I could remember from the show. I found your site and started taking classes at the School of Burlesque. During a class you mentioned that being a stage kitten would be a good way to see a show and meet some people so I harrassed you until I got a spot. And the rest is history! Incidentally, I can't remember the name of the guy who took me to that show but I'd love to thank him!


Where do you do it?
So far I have worked only at Corio for Filthy Gorgeous Burlesque and the show producer, Jen, and the performers and venue have been amazing. I have met so many great performers that I admire and seen some brilliant acts. I am hoping to get involved in as many shows as possible so if anyone needs me....


What has it been like being a pickup artist for the shows?
It's great! The hottest women in NYC throwing their underwear at you all night!!! It has been a lot of fun. I've been able to go to incredible shows that I may not otherwise be able to see on a regular basis. The performers are open and friendly and really appreciate when you do a good job. It's like being a groupie and getting a job with the show. The first time I did it I was extremely body concious and so nervous I was sick. I found out just hours before getting there that Dirty Martini and Angie Pontani would be there. I was nervous that when I met them I might make an ass of myself by falling to the floor and kissing thier feet or grabbing onto a leg and not letting go. Fortunately, I held my composure and the night was amazing. They were both absolutely fantastic and put me right at ease. I was talking to Dirty about my nerves on wanting to perform and she actually said to me that I had a great body and would be great at it. I was speechless. I was standing there with Angie Pontani, Miss Astrid, and Dirty Martini and I was being complimented. That's when I knew what an extremely unusual and special community the burlesque scene is. For the most part, in my experience it has been one great big happy love in.


Would you say you've learned anything from it?
I have learned a whole lot from it. By just going to shows you do learn a lot about what is accepted in burlesque (ie everything!) and about how to put an act together. You get a lot of ideas. However, when you do pickup you learn a lot more about what happens back stage. Little things like the fact that back stage everyone is usually crammed into a bathroom stall with one mirror and bad lighting. When they get on stage they look like they have been in an enourmous and glamourous dressing room but the truth is that took a whole lot of planning ahead. I have actually come to enjoy the stares I get on the train at 6 pm with my wigs, lashes, and day-glo shadow. Also, you get to learn about costuming. I have been a costume designer for nearly 15 years. The only time I have ever had to worry about how pieces came off on stage was when I costumed "Hedwig and the Angry Inch". In burlesque, costume construction is almost more important as costume appearance. Seeing first hand the issues other performers have with their costumes has helped me in designing my own costumes. Another great benefit, is learning the different styles that each performer has. You get a chance to see so many different approaches and it can really help you build on your own style and approach.

Fleur de Lis

Do you intend to continue to be a pickup artist?
I will continue you to do it until I don't have one free night to do it! You can never see too many shows, meet too many people, or stop learning new things from doing pickup. Every time you meet another performer or see a new act it is a whole new experience. Plus, after you get to know a lot of the performers it's like hanging out with your friends and helping them out. I can't imagine a day that it will ever get boring.

What would you say to aspiring pickup artists?
I think the best way to get involved to go to a lot of shows and introduce yourself. Make sure that they know who you, how to contact you, and that you are interested and available. At some point, someone is going to need you. If you do get a chance just be responsible about it. It is a really easy job with invaluable benefits if you want to be in burlesque. Just show up on time and be there to insure that no one has to worry about their costume pieces being lost on stage. Watch each performance, not just for your own benefit but to see where the pieces go so that you can be quick and efficient and nothing gets misplaced. Respect the amount of work that went into making those pieces and treat them like they belonged to Madonna!!! You make the performers' lives a little easier and they will appreciate it. And they will remember you when it's your turn to be on stage.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Torchy Taboo in the News!

This article is a couple of months old, but Torchy just now told me about it, and I have to share it. Torchy and I went to school together--we were in the same film classes in college, and we also worked together at the Cheetah. I'll spare you the photos of us in the 80s!

' She's armed with a host of other facial expressions that play perfectly into the campy element of burlesque. One is pure elation — somewhere between cheerleader enthusiasm and porn star orgasmic — and it accompanies some of the simplest moves, like a sharp thrust of the hip. Sheer joy plays out in her Cupid's-bow lips as Torchy slowly plucks each finger of an elbow-length glove, then drags the satin garment off her arm and slaps it in the air to the beat of "New Orleans," which Elvis crooned for the black-and-white movie King Creole. Another look is conspiratorial, like when Torchy glances over a shoulder, her back to the crowd, as she slips down a shirtsleeve. '

Torchy's on Fire!

Backstage at Coney Island
Torchy Backstage with Me at Coney Island

Torchy Taboo in the Window at Chashama
Torchy in the Window at Chashama, Just Before a Show with the Bindlestiff Family Circus

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Interview with Burlesque Legend Toni Elling

Toni Elling made quite a splash at the Exotic World Striptease Reunion in 2006 when she was interviewed by Lottie the Body, and another strong impression when she performed at the 2007 Reunion. She is a wonderful, graceful, energetic performer, and I can listen to her stories endlessly. She was good enough to give me a full two hours of her time, which is very generous--I have yet to interview one of these ladies who wasn't incredibly busy. I couldn't use all the material here. I certainly hope she writes a book!

When did you get into burlesque?

Photo courtesy Toni Elling.

How did you begin?
My friend Rita Revere was a stripper here in Detroit and would talk to me about it. I was working for the telephone company. I had an idea, though--I wanted to buy a four family flat so that my brother, sister, parents and I could each have one of the apartments. Rita said I could do it if I went on the road and I knew I'd never get that far ahead at the telephone company. I was disenchanted there because they wouldn't promote me because they didn't promote blacks. I was actually terribly modest, however. I had a friend Bettie Taylor who was a producer and choreographer and had created chorus lines that worked all over the country. I told her I didn't want anybody to give me an act because I wanted to to do myself, not anybody else. She suggested that I work my way up. There were two bars, Alvito's which was a dive, and The Flame Showbar which was the creme de la creme. I just didn't want to work in the dive first! I knew the owner of the Flame and he was happy to present me, with Jackie Wilson. I had seen my friend Rita and Virginia Bell, only those two strippers in all my life. I just did what I thought you do, and it worked!

Photo courtesy Toni Elling.

Did you tour?
I did. I had a booking agent when I got to California in 1962. His name was Rollo Vest. At first he said he didn't think I could do it because I was so shy and hadn't danced. But he booked me in a club and it went beautifully. I traveled around using him as my agent. I also worked with other agents because I didn't want to be exclusive. I also sang--the first time I did it the bandleader asked me what I wanted to sing and in what key, and I said "Squeeze Me" in A Flat, because my mother always told me I sang flat. By pure chance it was the right key!

How did you come up with your burlesque name?
My stage name is based on the name of my friend Duke Ellington. I just put the "ton" at the beginning with an "i" at the end! Duke is a friend and one of my favorite people. I got his permission and his blessing--he told me to use his music, his name, anything I needed. I wanted to make it on my own so I never said anything about the ellington relationship until a few years later when I anddecided to have flyers made; I put on there that he was my mentor. He loved it!

Photo courtesy Toni Elling.

How did you get to know Duke Ellington?
In high school I knew a lot about musicians and a lot about music. I knew some of the musicians because I went to the Michigan Theatre, where the stage would be at audience level and I would get to talk to them. In Detroit we had a disk jockey named Jack the Bellboy, the greatest dj in the country. When I was 16 he was on the radio and he played the best music, but most of it was by black artists and he would get letters from people telling him to quit playing all that black music! He didn't play requests and he would get on the radio and say he played what he considered good music and would continue to go his own way; I admired that stance. One day he said someone had written him a letter asking him to play "Old Man River" by Frank Sinatra. He said Sinatra had never recorded that song. Now, I knew who recorded what and on what label, and I wrote him--I told him how much I enjoyed his program and how happy I was that he stood up for his black artists, and I said Frank did record "Old Man River."
I came home from school shortly after that and my mother told me Jack read my letter on the radio and asked me to bring in the record! I took it to the studio, my mother with me, and I gave it to him we stayed and talked. I said to him, "Why don't you have these artists come on your show and interview them?" Nobody did that back then.
The first performer I brought on Jack's show was Ella Fitzgerald, who Jack practically worshipped and was dying to meet. I had brought her to the station, and when we pulled up when she got out he hugged her so hard and she melted. That's how I got started interviewing. Over time I got to know a lot of performers, including, obviously, Duke Ellington. I did it for a couple of years until the studio got sold, and then they didn't want me and my friends there because we were black. Jack was going to quit over it, but I told him it was foolish, and it would be better for those artists to keep being played. So he went on doing his great work. We got reacquainted in 1971 and stayed friends till be died in 2001.

Where (what towns, clubs, countries) did you perform most?
Well, all over the East: Boston, New York, Baltimore, Philadelpia. I worked at resort in Eerie. Bobby Clarke, who wife wasa singer, had had me recommended to him, and he booked me into a club sight unseen. The club owner called him and told him how much he liked me over and over, so one night he came in. Our agents never came to see us! I joined him in his booth and asked what brought him there. He said that Phil the owner had called him telling him how great I was, and he wanted to see what he was raving about, so I asked him what he saw and he said, "Not a damn thing!" I didn't expect that! I was speechless for once.
Jack Girard's agency had me teach the girls what to do onstage, and I got paid for that. I had a beautiful studio in Hollywood. I ad one girl whose money I didn't want to take, she was clumsier than anybody I ever saw, but Jack told me to jsut take her money and teach her, and she became a success. A dancer could make some money in the 60s being big busted. I thought about breast implants to make more money. One night I was laying there thinking to myself about it and I realized, "You fool, if you do it you'll still be black!" They would not pay black girls the same as others. Hispanic and Asian girls were considered white for bookings, everybody but black girls got paid well--there were only the three of us in Portland, and Anita looked white. Black girls weren't allowed to feature.
At a club called The Pink Pussycat the owner always gave the strippers their names after movie stars, and black girls were always Samia Davis Junior. I knew Sammy and loved him, but I didn't want to be called Samia Davis Junior!

What is your fondest memory?
Japan. When I went to Exotic World for the first time and was treated so well, I said the only time I've been treated like a queen like this was in Japan. I was there in 1967. To them, I wasn't black. I was booked for ten weeks and ended up staying there for six months but I had problems with my breasts. I had to have surgery while I was there and then I had to come home to let my parents know I was all right.

What was your most scandalous moment?
Coralee Junior once booked me into a theater I hated! I called her on thethird day and told her get me out of there. I saw these dirty old men and what I saw made me sick, coats over their laps and jerking off. I had never seen anything like that in my life and I'd been performing for two years. She said you have a contract! When you wrote to me that you wanted to perform in Holly wood I didn't know where to put you so I got you the only job I could at the time. I had to finish the week!

What were some of your signature performances?
I did different things like a bride act, a Spanish act in a mambo gown, and a street walker number where I peeled my stockings. I did a Carmen Miranda number in a costume that I still have, and I'd like to donate that to the Burlesque Museum. I think the most distinctive number I did was my Afro number. People were so surprised by it, because I was always known as the Elegant Miss Toni Elling, and there was nothing elegant about this act. I wore an Afro wig and flourescent face paint. The music I used was Miriam Makeba, and my mother bought me a drum you could hold in your arm and play. I'd beat it and mouth the words. i painted my toenails a flourescent color that would show up in the black light, and I'd stick one foot around the curtain and then one hand around, and they'd see my flourescent nails and then I came out with the drum and the singing. I wasn't fooling around! Everybody was shocked that I would do such a number. I did it because everybody was copying me. I said, I'll fix 'em, I'll do something they can't do. And then some white girl did it! But it didn't go over. There were only two other black dancers in the area and one of them looked white, so they couldn't do it. I wore 40 bracelets, leopard bands around my ankles, barefoot obviously. Leopard panties and cape. My dog ate that cape, though.

Did you have close friends in burlesque, and do you still have them?
I'm still friends with Beatrice, who went to meet Jack the Bellboy with me. When I came to Exotic World and saw April March and Marie Annette I was so excited--they didn't remember me, but I remembered them. The girls in the business are a different breed. So loving, kind, and considerate. People put strippers down but they just don't know--they buoy you up. I've met very few that were nasty; they really aren't like that.

How did you come to be in the article in the Metro Times?
Sparkly Devil was looking for local former strippers for her article, and somebody told her about Lottie the Body. Through her and a few other contacts someone got hold of my friend Beatrice, who is a writer. Sparkly is the most wonderful young lady! I call her my daughter. If I ever needed an agent she would be it.

Sparkly and Toni backstage at Exotic World. Photo courtesy Sparkly Devil.

How did you come to perform at Exotic World and at Teaseorama?
Sparkly got in touch with Dixie about me and I went to Exotic World for the first time in 2006. It's a very special outfit and Laura and Dixie are special people. You see, I knew Jennie Lee because she wrote an article about me back when I was in Hollywood, when she had her newsletter. When I spoke to Dixie she said please think about dancing! You'll have all year to prepare. So this year I did. It was the first time since 1974. It was as they say, just like riding a bicycle. I was concerned about letting you guys down, and I had never done such a short two minute show, and I would really like to have more time. But it felt great. I felt very comfortable like I had never gotten off the stage, and my body cooperated. Next year I'll be 80, and I want to do it again--I'm already planning my outfit!

Toni performing at The Burlesque Hall of Fame Striptease Reunion(Exotic World), 2007. Photo by Michael Albov.

Anything you want to say to the newest performers?
I understand that some of the new performers want to do the kind of acts that we did. I taught my girls the three P's: Parade, Pose, and Peel. Everything must flow Just stop along the way and pose, you don't have to be walking when you take off your gloves. We did a lot of panel work and we didn't twirl our gloves.
Last year when Lottie interviewed me when I went onstage at EW, people said I strutted that stage. I said that's just me walking! I learned one thing from a chorus dancer, Juanita--she said to me, "You are a beautiful girl with a beautiful act but you keep your head down. You've got to put your head up! The way to do this is when you're announced, before you walk on, throw your head up and keep it up!" I never forgot that. I still throw my head up just before I go on!
I love Dirty Martini--she's a great girl and she's a verrry good performer. I really enjoyed seeing her.

You walked the walk in 2006 and danced the dance in 2007--you worked it! Your walk caused quite a lot of talk. You should teach it!
Maybe I will!

I'd love to have you teach my students here in New York. They would go crazy for you. I'd definitely take that class right along with them.
[Laughing] Well, I do love New York!

Did you ever buy that four-unit building for your family?
[Laughs again] No, we all bought our own houses.

Special thanks to Sparkly Devil for her assistance!

See also: Two old-school Detroit dames worshipped for a weekend in Vegas

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Burlesque in Salt Lake City!

More Burlesque in the hometown of Burlesque Legend Dee Milo!

' Since their inception last year, response to the Slippery Kittens has been phenomenal, including a November fund-raiser at Club Suede. Most interesting has been the audience it has drawn to their shows. “Over half our audience has been women coming to our shows,”Mona Moore says, “and the response to our shows has been extremely positive.” '

From the Salt Lake City Weekly.

Photo Courtesy Slippery Kittens.