Lili St. Cyr and a side of El Rancho undressing.
These three very nice promotional postcards featuring legendary burlesque dancer Lili St. Cyr were put out by the El Rancho Vegas casino-hotel in Las Vegas, an establishment that was one of the city's first, predating iconic places like the Flamingo and the Last Frontier. St. Cyr peeled at El Rancho Vegas beginning in 1951, and these items were issued over the next several years as she returned to showcase there often. The rear of these are basically identical, which is why we've uploaded only one image below. You can see it has impresario Tom Douglas's signature on it, and management offers to shell out a few pennies by mailing it for you. Class acts all the way. And speaking of class acts, you can see plenty more of St. Cyr in the website. Just click her keywords below.
St. Cyr tells all for the cheapie tabloid Midnight.
This Midnight published today in 1964 has the usual clickbait on the front cover—I Ripped My Baby To Pieces. Why? Because she hated her husband. Very interesting, but today we're drawn to the banner and Lili St. Cyr's “Torrid Life Story,” in which, for the most part, she talks about her sexual attitudes. The interior header screams that she seduced a 14-year-old boy, and that's again the equivalent of today's internet clickbait. St. Cyr was sixteen herself, which is an age difference we'd hardly call scandalous. The clickbait worked, though. It made us quite eager to read the story. It's written in first person and touted as a Midnight exclusive.
Ordinarily we'd be skeptical a cheapie tabloid could score an exclusive with a world famous celebrity, but in this case we think Midnight is telling the truth. We have a few reasons: Midnight was a Canadian rag, headquartered in Montreal; St. Cyr was from Minnesota, but spent her early years dancing in Montreal; and Midnight was too well known a publication to get away with lying about the source of the story. Thus we can be sure St. Cyr wrote the piece. She eventually authored an autobiography in French, which makes us suspect she wrote this article for the Canadian Midnight—which was called Minuit—and it was translated and printed in the U.S. later. Just a guess. It was apparently part of a series, by the way, but we don't have the other issues of Midnight. Now on to the juicy stuff.
On virginity: “When you have it you try like hell to keep it. You lose it with an unconscious sigh of relief, and once you've lost it you wonder why you tried so hard to keep it in the first place.”
On her first: “Right now, as I write these lines, [all I] can recall about him is that he was blonde and his first name began with an R. As a matter of fact, I don't remember any of my first intimate boyfriends.”
On her others: “I've been called a child snatcher dozens of times because that is the way I like my men. I can't help it.”
On Hollywood star Victor Mature: “One bad thing about Vic though. Liquor and sex just don't mix for him. If he makes love, he's got to be cold sober or he can't perform.”
On Las Vegas: “There is something dead and decadent about the town. It builds to nowhere. It accomplishes nothing. And the people in it are infected with this live-for-today attitude.”
Those are the highlights. Except that readers also get three photos with the article. We already shared a much better version of one of those way back in 2009. The other two are in this post—the shot of St. Cyr as a child, when she was still Willis Marie Van Schaack, and the one below of her in goddess mode. Midnight was printed on cheap-ass paper, but the scans still look pretty good. Willis Marie's tale is interesting too. She was ahead of her time. What she writes could have been written by a character on Girls. It's impossible for us to not respect her boldness and determination to have exactly the life she wanted, particularly during the age in which she lived. We have plenty on St. Cyr in the website. Just click her keywords below.
Who needs an entire bouquet when you already have a Lili?
We've talked before about Horwitz Publications' habit of using celebrities on its Carter Brown paperback covers. Previous examples include Elke Sommer, Joan Collins, and Senta Berger. Above you see another borrowed celeb—none other than Lili St. Cyr—fronting Brown's 1965 thriller Homicide Harem in a cone bra outfit that brings to mind the fashion of Jean Paul Gaultier. There's no doubt it's her. We've spent a lot of time on her and recognized her high arching eyebrows and cleft chin immediately. But just to assuage any doubts you may have, we found a photo of her wearing the same outfit (though with different shoes), which you see below. We think Horwitz used unlicensed handout photos of moderately famous stars to create their covers. Lili was pretty famous by 1955, but perhaps not in Australia, since she wasn't really in movies to the extent that anything she'd done would have played there. Possibly 1955's Son of Sinbad made it there, but we have no data on that. Anyway, we're still a bit baffled why Horwitz didn't just use local models. It isn't as if there has ever been a shortage of beautiful women down under. This will remain a mystery, we suspect.
It's the single life for St. Cyr... again.
This photo shows burlesque icon Lili St. Cyr today in 1964, leaving the Los Angeles courthouse where she had just divorced her sixth and final husband, Joseph Zomar, a special effects technician who had worked on such films as Space Probe Taurus and The Addams Family. The grounds for the split? St. Cyr said her man was drunk every night and always angry. Once knowledge leaked out to American women that drunkenness and anger were legit grounds for a split, the divorce rate shot up 50%. It's totally true—look it up.
It's a hard job but they make it look easy.
What better way to complement the collection of paperback covers above than with photos of actual dancers doing what they do best—making their strenuous and often unglamorous work look easy and fun? We present assorted burlesque dancers, showgirls, and strippers from the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, both onstage and off, photographed in such hot spots as London, Paris, Tokyo, Rome, New Orleans, and of course New York City. Among the performers: La Savona, Lilly Christine, Lynne O'Neill, the gorgeous Misty Ayres, Patti Cross, Tina Marshall, Carol Doda, Nejla Ates, Lili St. Cyr, Wildcat Frenchie, and more. If you like these, check out our previous set of dancers here.
Confidential climbs the stairs and creeps down the bedroom hall.
This January 1958 issue of Confidential, with Anita Ekberg and Gary Cooper starring on the cover, was released in the magazine’s prime, during the heyday of its special brand of slash and burn journalism. You can really see why Hollywood focused its efforts on neutralizing the publication—celebs and important figures get knocked down like ducks in a shooting gallery. Examples: Tita Purdom is caught cheating by her husband, Kim Novak got into movies with the help of a sugar daddy, Lili St. Cyr tried suicide twice and both times was saved by her husband Paul Valentine, and millionaire Bobby Goelet is dropped from the Social Register for dating a non-white woman. We'd like to get into each of those stories, but while we do have time to read them all, sadly we don't have time to write about them all.
Because we have to pick and choose, we're limiting ourselves today to Confidential's domestic violence stories. This was a regular focus of the magazine, and a very good example of just how untouchablepublisher Robert Harrison thought he was. First up is Rita Hayworth, who allegedly walked out on husband Dick Haymes because he beat her. Here's scribe Alfred Garvey: “Haymes' favorite form of assault was to grab Rita by her world-famed tresses and slam her head against a wall until her sense reeled. And the brutal beatings were part and parcel of their schedule wherever they went.” We should note here that Confidential was in no way a defender of women—the magazine published anything that made a celebrity look bad. It didn't publish this story to expose Haymes, but to expose Hayworth. She's the star—the reader must be left asking what's wrong with her.
For evidence consider the story that appears a bit later in which Confidential accuses actor Jack Palance of beating women. “You can't win all your fights, though, even with dames. One talked, and squawked, after a bruising evening with the ungentlemanly Jack and the result has been a tide of whispers [snip] literally a blow-by-blow report of how he conducted at least one romance.” The text goes on to describe theassault in first-hand detail, but even though the writer seems to know every word spoken in that closed room, he never names the victim. This is not because Confidential cares about protecting her identity—if editors can name Hayworth they certainly can name a random aspiring actress—but because she doesn't matter. Her identity would distract the reader.
The point to absorb is merely that Confidential had no compass, no aim at all except to generate terrible publicity for the famous. Some may have deserved it, but moral justice was never the goal. If the two previous stories weren't enough, Confidential hits the trifecta with yet another domestic violence story about Bob Calhoun and big band singer Ginny Simms. In this one Calhoun gets a co-starring role—he was rich, thus worthy of mention. “Grabbing his shrieking bride by her pretty unmentionables, Calhoun yanked her off their nuptial bed and, in the same swift movement, uncorked a right that spun Ginny across the room like a rag doll.”
As far as we know nobody mentioned in any these stories sued. Confidential was impervious—at least for the moment. Celebrities just hunkered down and hoped the stories would fade. But Confidential'scirculation kept growing. Soon it would be one of the most widely read magazines in America, the indisputable king of tabloids. Hmm… king of tabloids has a nice ring to it. We’re going to use that—Pulp Intl. is the king of tabloid websites. You can work your way through more than three-hundred individual tabloid entries here.
Lili shows L.A. County who's boss.
We decided to come full circle with Lili St. Cyr. We talked about her famed court case here, showed her on the witness stand here, and mentioned that she beat the rap. You see her above celebrating the not-guilty verdict at the courthouse along with husband Orlando Orsini and mouthpiece Jerry Giesler. Lili walked today in 1951.
This is what I was wearing. Actually, I'm wearing it under my suit right now, if you want a better look.
The Lili St. Cyr saga continued today in 1951, as her trial/media circus for obscenity began at the Beverly Hills Courthouse. You already know the details. Today we just thought we'd share a couple more rare photos. These show St. Cyr on the witness stand displaying a defense exhibit—a photo showing her standard costume when performing “An Interlude Before Evening,” not really a négligée, but more of a bra and skirt combo. Of course, it wasn't what St. Cyr wore at the beginning of the dance that got her in hot water, but what she allegedly wore at the end—i.e. nothing.
Did she or didn’t she?
These two photos showing burlesque dancer Lili St. Cyr were shot today in 1951 for a Los Angeles Examiner story about St. Cyr’s legal difficulties. On 23 February of that year she had begun performing at Ciro’s supper club in Hollywood. It was a different type of club for her—it lacked the intimacy of her normal venues, and would sap some of the heat from her act, but the place was world famous and considered by the smart set to be classy. It had hosted Edith Piaf, Marlene Dietrich, Duke Ellington, and Dinah Washington. Of late it was facing stiff competition from Macambo’s, a Brazilian themed joint across the street, and owner Herman Hover wanted to make a splash with St. Cyr. He spent thousands refurbishing the stage just for her, and she would be the first burlesque dancer to transition from men’s clubs to L.A.’s most famous supper club.
On premier night celebs such as Ronald Reagan, Nancy Davis, Franchot Tone, Barbara Payton, Lex Barker, Mickey Rooney, and Los Angeles mayor Fletcher Bowron watched her strip down to toned perfection as they ate dinner and sipped drinks. Other celebs that visited that summer included Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart, and Clark Gable. During St. Cyr’s residency she varied her act, but a standard bit wasentitled "An Interlude Before Evening," and involved being helped from her clothing by her maid Sadie before slipping nude into a bathtub. But the nudity was an illusion, the cleverest part of her act, achieved through a combination of lighting, positioning, flesh-colored underwear, and sheer athleticism as she slipped quickly from behind a towel and into the sudsy tub.
On 18 October a group of Los Angeles sheriff’s deputies, who were trying to enforce a countywide ban against stripping, arrested St. Cyr and Herman Hover. The charges were the usual slate. St. Cyr called upon celebrity lawyer Jerry Giesler—an event the two Examiner photos at top are supposed to be illustrating—and Giesler proceeded to help turn what was already a media boon for St. Cyr into a full bonanza. Giesler was a showman, and he loved cases that had the potential to increase his fame. He made assorted sensational statements to the press, including one in which he promised to have his client perform her bath routine in the courtroom, and another in which he opined that putting together a jury of peers required empaneling a dozen strippers. He described St. Cyr as merely trying to improve her station in life, just an industrious woman trying to carve herself a piece of American pie. The press ate it up.
The trial was scheduled for early December in the Beverly Hills Courthouse. Giesler kept the jury—which wasn’t all strippers, but at least was mostly female—laughing with his continual antics. He introduced St. Cyr’s rhinestone encrusted bra and g-string as people’s exhibits A and B. He drew diagrams on a blackboard illustrating how different observers' vantage points toward the stage were blocked by St. Cyr's maid. He flustered police officials by making them discuss in detail such such terms as “bump,” “grind,” and “half-bump,” and followed that up by putting Herman Hover on the witness stand and having him demonstrate those moves. The sight of the portly Hover attempting burlesque sent ripples of laughter through the courtroom. Years later Giesler wrote: “I can honestly say I succeeded in having her case laughed into a not-guilty verdict.”
That may have been true, but St Cyr’s icy demeanor was also an important factor. The women found her elegant and remote—the opposite of what they had expected. And the cops did their part for St. Cyr's defense by being terrible witnesses. One claimed that she emerged from the tub completely nude (the normal conclusion to her Interlude, and just as illusory). Another said she wore undies but that he couldsee the outline of her “private parts,” which he discerned in enough detail to determine “were shaven.” The inconsistencies were epic. Some said she caressed herself, others weren’t sure. Another described her towel as “about twenty, twenty-four inches.” In reality it was three times that size. It was as if St. Cyr's dance had dumbfounded the cops.
The confusion has extended even to the present day. For a performance that lasted barely fifteen minutes, it has had an amazing amount of conflicting information attached to it. Columnist Army Archerd claimed St. Cyr was indeed nude that night (clearly wrong, according to multiple testimonies); Sheila Weller’s book Dancing at Ciro’s claims an “all-male” jury (it was mostly female) was taken to Ciro’s to see the act (Giesler tried, but the judge said no); some sources claim St. Cyr performed a reverse strip, beginning nude in the tub and emerging to be slowly dressed by her maid (indeed, that was an oft-performed variation, so it is certainly possible it happened that night). Who's right, and who's wrong? Short of using a time machine to return to October 1951 there's no way to tell.
At the end of the six-day trial the jury acquitted St. Cyr following a mere seventy-eight minutes of deliberations. There had been no indecent exposure. At least not that night. All St. Cyr’s biographers agree on this much—she was shy and regal offstage, but her performancesfreed her to inhabit different characters. Despite her assertions that she always wore at least a g-string and bra, she definitely performed topless on occasion, as shown by the above photo taken at Ciro’s during early 1951.
Sheriff’s deputies had gone to the club already intent upon arresting her based on what they had heard about the act, which may have influenced their testimony—i.e., they didn’t see her nude, but knew she had done it before. St. Cyr admitted in court she knew police were in the audience, thus she was especially careful that night. But what of other nights? Maybe Army Archerd did what columnists do—took an event he witnessed on one night and pretended it happened on a more useful one. Maybe St. Cyr, on occasions when she knew the cops were far away, flashed her audience to generate buzz. It’s likely we’ll never know what really happened, but that merely adds to the St. Cyr mystique. Did she or didn’t she? Only her maid knew for sure. |
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1911—Team Reaches South Pole
Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, along with his team Olav Bjaaland, Helmer Hanssen, Sverre Hassel, and Oscar Wisting, becomes the first person to reach the South Pole. After a celebrated career, Amundsen eventually disappears in 1928 while returning from a search and rescue flight at the North Pole. His body is never found.
1944—Velez Commits Suicide
Mexican actress Lupe Velez, who was considered one of the great beauties
of her day, commits suicide by taking an overdose of sleeping pills. In her note, Velez says she did it to avoid bringing shame on her unborn child by giving birth to him out of wedlock, but many Hollywood historians believe bipolar disorder was the actual cause. The event inspired a 1965 Andy Warhol film entitled Lupe
1958—Gordo the Monkey Lost After Space Flight
After a fifteen minute flight into space on a Jupiter AM-13 rocket, a monkey named Gordo splashes down in the South Pacific but is lost after his capsule sinks. The incident sparks angry protests from the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, but NASA says animals are needed for such tests.
1968—Tallulah Bankhead Dies
American actress, talk show host, and party girl
Tallulah Bankhead, who was fond of turning cartwheels in a dress without underwear and once made an entrance to a party without a stitch of clothing on, dies in St. Luke's Hospital in New York City of double pneumonia complicated by emphysema.
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