Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Georgia Sothern, H.L.Mencken, Gypsy Rose Lee, and Ecdysiasm
'One of the most influential critics of the 1920s and 1930s was H.L. Mencken. He created the expression Bible Belt to refer to the ultra conservative South and while bootleggers reached auspicious heights as booticians, the middle class was reduced to the booboisie. So in 1940 it was a Baltimore stripper that asked him to come up with a unique word to raise the tenor of her profession. Georgia Sothern wrote to Meneken, "I am a practitioner of the art of strip-teasing...there has been a great deal of...criticism leveled against my profession. Most of it...arises from the unfortunate word strip-teasing, which creates the wrong connotation...if you could coin a new and more palatable word to describe this art, I and my colleagues would have easier going. I hope...(you) can find time to help the...members of my profession."
'Ms Sothern was already a phenomenon all her own. Ann Corio describes her performances in the book This was Burlesque(1968):
'Georgia stripped and teased, but that was only a minor part of her act. Her music Hold That Tiger was played by the orchestra at full blast... and Georgia came on stage in full flight ... and she'd work up momentum. Faster and faster the music would roar, and Georgia would be at the front of the stage, one hand cascading her long red hair over her face, the other outstretched to keep her balance as her hips blurred back and forth at a fantastic tempo...The mere sight of this red hot red-headed temptress tossing her hips in fantastic abandon to the wild music of the band caught up everybody in its spell...By the time she was finished, the whole theatre seemed to explode in a sigh. The audience was almost as exhausted watching as Georgia was performing.
'Mencken replied to Ms Sothern, "I sympathize with you in your affliction. It might be a good idea to relate strip-teasing in some way to the...zoological phenomenon of molting,...which is ecdysis. This word produces...ecdysiast."
'Charmed by his reply Georgia Sothern the stripper became Georgia Sothern the ecdysiast and she promoted both the profession, as well as the word. In almost no time at all a union arose called the Society of Ecdysiasts. Nevertheless, it was more than guns and roses for the Empress of Ecdysiasts, Gypsie Rose Lee who was not enamored at all with the new word to describe her profession. In a May interview of that same year, she took aim at Mencken and fired off an angry reply, "Ecdysiast, he calls me! Why, the man...has been reading books! Dictionaries! We don't wear feathers and molt them off...What does he know about stripping?" Despite her scathing review the humorous term continues today.'
Video from Archive.org