Behind the Burly-Q with Leslie Zemeckis

I used to do a monthly event (now on an irregular basis) called "Behind the Crimson Curtain" where my students would do readings from the autobiographies of burlesque performers. Among the many burlesque stars who've produced autobiographies--Honey Harlow, Blaze Starr, and Gypsy Rose Lee, to name a few--we included Alan Alda, whose autobiography includes descriptions of his life as a child when his father was a "tit singer" in burlesque shows. These kinds of behind-the-scenes stories are at the heart of a new film, "Behind the Burly-Q," produced by Leslie Zemeckis. I've already got my tickets for the NYC premiere! Leslie was kind enough to take some time from her busy schedule to answer a few questions exclusively for this blog.

All images used with permission.
Check out the film trailer!

Jo Weldon: What do you hope your movie has to offer people who know very little about burlesque? People who know a lot about burlesque?
Leslie Zemeckis: I hope people come away with an understanding of what a "true" burlesque show was. Not just the strippers, but the musicians, the singers, the novelty acts. I want to put a face to the thousands of anonymous performers who worked their entire professional lives on the circuit. I didn't want the documentary to be just about the "stars," but all the performers. I want the audience to know what it felt like backstage. I wanted to give these long-lost performers dignity and respect for the art they performed.

JW: Do you think knowing more about the history of burlesque benefits people who are interested in women's studies or women's cultural history? If so, how?
LZ: I think we have to look at these women not through the filter of nowadays but from their time - many had no other options for work, and did the absolute best they could to provide for their families.


JW: Can you tell us one of your favorite moments that almost made it into the movie, but had to be edited out for one reason or another?
LZ: All my favorite moments are in the film; but I do have over 100 hours of interviews.

JW: Who would you most like to have interviewed for your movie who was unavailable or deceased?
LZ: Lili St. Cyr, Georgia Sothern, and Rose LaRose.

JW: Do you intend to continue your research and interviews now that the movie is released?
LZ: Yes; I am working on a book version.


From the Press Release:
The art of Burlesque has experienced a new renaissance, but for years it was vilified and misunderstood, and for the most part left out of our cultural history. Now comes the feature documentary Behind the Burly Q, a thrilling yet affectionate look back at the golden age of Burlesque - America's most popular form of live entertainment in the first half of the 20th century.

Directed by Leslie Zemeckis, Behind the Burly Q will have its world premiere at the Dublin International Film Festival on February 27, 2010 and then come to American theatres via First Run Features beginning on April 23, 2010, with a New York Premiere at the Quad Cinema.

Behind the Burly Q reveals the true story of burlesque by telling the intimate and surprising stories from its golden age through the women (and men!) who lived it. Featuring dozens of interviews with performers, musicians and authors including actor Alan Alda, whose father Robert Alda was a handsome “tit singer” and a straight man; Nat Bodian, journalist who wrote and saw burlesque at the Empire in Newark in the 1930’s; Lorraine Lee, who used to dance for Bonnie and Clyde and Pretty Boy Floyd and “earned a quarter”; Tempest Storm, who still performs today and claims to have been lovers with Elvis and JFK; the notorious Blaze Starr, who escaped a life of poverty to rise to the heights of fame, and became involved with Governor Long; Kitty West, aka Evangelina the Oyster Girl, the Bourbon Street star, who entertained busloads of tourists as she “came out of her oyster”; Taffy O’Neill, who performed at night, and spent the days taking her young son, stricken with polio to treatment; Mike Iannucci, star stripper Ann Corio’s husband and producer of “This Was Burlesque”; Rachel Schteir who wrote the book Striptease, a comprehensive history of the art of striptease; and Janet Davis, author of the extensively researched book on Tiny Kline, who Walt Disney himself discovered and made her the first Tinker Bell when she was in her 60s.

Filmmaker Leslie Zemeckis is a veteran of stage and film. She is the creator of the one-woman burlesque-inspired show, "Staar: She's Back and Mistresser Than Ever!" that has been performed at various clubs throughout Los Angeles garnering audience acclaim. Zemeckis recently produced the feature "Staar" starring Carrie Fisher and Jeffrey Tambor and also produced the short film "Enfants Terribles," which she stars in opposite Peter Facineli and Christopher Lloyd and which was an official selection of the Palm Springs, Santa Barbara and Chicago Film Festivals in 2005 – 2006. Her acting credits include "Deterrence" for director Rod Lurie, “Sacrifice” with Michael Madsen, “Blowback” with Mario Van Peebles, and “Polar Express” opposite Tom Hanks. She co-starred in “Beowulf”, directed by her husband Robert Zemeckis, starring Ray Winstone, Anthony Hopkins and Angelina Jolie.

Showing Beginning April 23, 2010, at
Quad Cinema
34 West 13th Street, NYC · (212) 255-2243
Showtimes: 1:00; 3:00; 5:05; 7:05*; 9:45
*Q&A following the 7:05 screening on Fri & Sat
Visit the film's website for more information!

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Posted by Jo Weldon, Headmistress of The New York School of Burlesque, for


akh said…
i cant find honey harlow's autobiography for sale online anywhere. do you know how to track it down?

Her author name is Honey Bruce.
akh said…
awesome! thanks.

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