duminică, 29 octombrie 2017

American burlesque

Liz Goldwyn - Pretty Things (The Last Generation of American Burlesque Queens), Regan, 2006

This is an excellent resource for anyone with an interest in burlesque as an art form, though unfortunately it falls short of being a great book in itself as the author hesitates between publishing a coffee table book, a costume note archive or a history of the movement.

I'm not a big fan or consumer of coffee table books, but I can understand their purpose. Pretty Things checks all the boxes of the definition of one such book, though it is larger in scope, aiming to document an entire cultural sub-genre. In the process of documenting the book, Liz Goldwyn stumbled upon a real treasure: Rex Huntington's books, notes and ledgers. Rex Huntington was one of the most prominent costume designers of the burlesque era, so his archive documents a lot of the burlesque dancers' measurements and designs. Therefore, for any burlesque scholar, this is an invaluable resource and publishing it in its entirety would have been an excellent idea, even if the appeal would have been a lot narrower. As it is, there are a lot more of Rex Huntington's notes being left out than there are included, which can be frustrating for the meticulous researcher.

Same goes for documenting the stories of burlesque dancers: due to editorial space limitations only a small number of pictures are included and the approach towards individual stories of the dancers is journalistic in style, too shallow and too brief to do them justice. 

This is still a great book and a must-read for anyone with a degree of involvement in the art, but IMHO it fails to engross the wider public. 

The book is divided in two sections, the first one documenting the craft of what was generally called burlesque in early 20th century America (with chapters dedicated to costumes, staging, dance, gimmicks, backstage life and a generic profiling of the burlesque dancer), whilst the second part is dedicated to individual stories (Betty & Dian Rowland, June St. Clair, Lois de Fee and Zorita).

To me, the second part is a lot more interesting, and the piecing together of the lives of these ladies from the elite of the craft provides a real insight into burlesque as it was 100 or so years ago. Each of their stories is interesting, each of them makes me want to know more about them. Would Miss Goldwyn venture to write full biographies for these ladies I wonder?


'What is there to like? Hairy chests? A limp joint? You like them because they're customers, because they admire you, because they applaud, because they spend their money to see you.'
In the early 1950s, Zorita had a child with her second husband, Pete Petillo ('the wop'). The marriage didn't last long, as Zorita wanted to get back to work. She took her daughter to the theater with her, adjusting her routine to include a new baby.

Zorita spoke of her career in burlesque with pride but was not particularly nostalgic for days long past. She kept many scrapbooks on the shelf and told me that until I asked her to pull them out, she hadn't looked at them in years. She said 'Wouldn't you hate to live with somebody that was so hung up on oneself that they were busy looking at scrapbooks all day long and telling you what a great act they were? I know I was good.'

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