"She Could Make Those Tassels Sing": The Original Women Of Burlesque


Overheard in the ladies’ room last night: “I can pop them in, but I can’t pop them out.” She was talking about her boobs. And it was because of burlesque.

Before the plastic female, there were women with filler-free bodies and a range of looks wriggling in and out of their clothes. At a screening of Leslie Zemeckis‘ movie, Behind The Burly Q, one of the veterans of the burlesque scene had just bragged about those boob-wielding skills onscreen.

At the dinner that followed at the 21 Club — more than one person remarked on the oddness of the buttoned-up venue, but it did have an appropriately retro charm — Zemeckis glided around wearing a miniature crown and a silvery evening gown. She is married to Robert Zemeckis, Oscar-winning director of Forrest Gump. Sharon Stone and Michael Douglas stood squarely in the center of the room, receiving well-wishes like at some royal court.

I asked her why she thought burlesque had struck a chord with some contemporary women. “I think everyone is fascinated by women who take their clothes off,” she said.

Unfortunately, most of the women and men who appeared in the film couldn’t be there — about a dozen of them died shortly after the interviews, which were conducted mostly in 2006. I’ve compiled some notable excerpts.

Sadly not available in these clips: the sweet-looking lady who talked about how, when she stripped for the first time, she was so worried that everyone would see her “fur cap.” “So,” she said, “I took a razor and I shaved my fur cap.” There is, however, some indication here of the amazing creature that is Kitty West, aka Evangeline The Oyster Girl, as well as the famous Tempest Storm, who is still performing.

Behind The Burly Q opens this weekend in New York, and May 7 in Los Angeles.

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