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Ten Pioneers of Striptease

Jennie Lee03
Long before instant access to internet pornography, in a world where people still used the phrase “stag film”, a group of ladies pioneered the art of striptease on stages in clubs across the world. Now, as Burlesque makes a comeback in hot clubs from NYC to Vegas, YesButNoButYes salutes those strippers who took the first groundbreaking, bare-assed steps towards creating an artform.

Grl4-Sized Gypsybw-Thumb Gypsy8
Gypsy Rose Lee
37-23-36
Possibly the most famous stripper of all time (and the only one I couldn't find pictures of in a state of undress), Gypsy got her start at Minsky's Burlesque in New York, where she became the talk of the town. Progressing to the Ziegfeld Follies, and later be a movie & TV star, as well as a detective novel author, Gypsy only stripped until the age of 23, retiring to concentrate on more mainstream entertainment. Much admired by men around the world (she had a son with director Otto Preminger), she died of lung cancer in 1970. At that time, according to Wikipedia, the walls of her LA home were covered with art, gifts from artists such as Picasso, Chagall and Ernst.

Dixie01-1 Dixie05 Dixie03
Dixie Evans
40-26-34
Dixie was billed as “The Marilyn Monroe of Burlesque” and looking at the photos, it's not hard to see why. Starting in the El Ray Theater in Oakland, CA in 1952, she worked what was known as the Kane Circuit, covering Cleveland, Chicago and Boston, showing on stage what Marilyn would have looked like if she had stripped. Even Marilyn's death didn't put a crimp in Dixie's act - she just renamed it a “tribute act” - but the decline of burlesque came, and she retired in 1967. Today, she runs Exotic World: The Strippers Hall of Fame & Museum, which she took over from friend and fellow stripper Jennie Lee (see below)

Tempest01 Stormy Temp63-1
Tempest Storm
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One of the real legends of the golden age of striptease, Tempest got her start as a chorus girl, but soon made her debut at the El Ray as a stripper. She was to go on to achieve fame as a pinup girl, and appear (under the legendary lens of Russ Meyer and in some of the earlier strip-tease movies, most notably Teasarama, in which she starred with Bettie Page. Romantically linked with JFK, Sammy Davis Jr and Elvis, she was once asked if she was ever embarrassed by her ample breasts - she replied “They don't make 'em too big for this business”. Tempest continued to strip until the age of 65, when she retired. She currently lives in Las Vegas.

Lsc004 P-Burlesque Lili St Cyr03 P-Burlesque Lili St Cyr04
Lili St Cyr
34-24-34
Lili first performed at the Gayety Theater in Montreal in 1944, and developed an act that was to become famous for her taking a bubble bath on the stage, and for “The Flying G”, where her G-String was attached to a fishing rod and flew off into the balcony at the end of her act. Romatically linked with Orson Welles,Victor Mature and - enticingly - Marilyn Monroe, Lili's wild life included six marriages, very public brawls and suicide attempts. Lili is credited by many for elevating bump-n-grind into an art form, and she became the striptease queen of Las Vegas. In her later years, she ran a lingerie business before she died in 1999, aged 81.

Blaze+Starr2-1 Blaze+Starr3-1 Blaze6
Blaze Starr
38D-28-37
Blaze rose to fame at the Two O' Clock Club in Baltimore, and achieved national notoriety when featured in Esquire magazine in 1954. Her act included a panther that she trained to undress her, and a prop couch that was rigged to smolder and burst into flames when she sat on it and undressed. But Blaze is perhaps best known for her long affair with Earl Long, the Govenor of Louisiana, which was dramatized in the 1989 movie, Blaze, starring Paul Newman. Blaze retired and ended up buying the Two O' Clock club, which she still owns and manages today.

Cb19 Candy Barr2 Candy Barr7 Candy6
Candy Barr
38-22-36
Candy Barr's career actually started with an unsavory incident where she was forced (at gunpoint) to appear in one of the 50s most famous stag films, Smart Alec. She would go on to become one of the country's top strippers, earning over $100,000 a year (close to $1m today allowing for inflation). In a notorious (for the time) case, she was to serve three years in prison for marijuana possession. Yet perhaps the most bizarre piece of trivia about Candy is that she was required to make a statement to the FBI about her relationship to Jack Ruby prior to the JFK assasination. She was also to have a brief affair with Hugh Hefner. Candy retired to Texas, where she lived until her recent death, aged 70. Here's a link to her obituary in the LA Times. RIP Candy, you were one of the greats. Watch rare footage of Candy doing what she did best.

Ritagrable01 Rita Grable10 Ritagrable
Rita Grable
Known as The Girl In Black Stockings, Rita was originally a legitimate dancer, having trained in ballet and tap, before hard times pushed her into burlesque. She continued to try and make a splash in mainstream theater, and once appeared in the Jayne Mansfield role in the touring version of Will success spoil Rock Hunter? However, her sole screen appearance is in Buxom Beautease (1956)

Lilly Christine11 Lilly Christine12 Lilly Christine06
Lilly Christine
37-22-35
Lilly's nickname was “The Cat Girl”, and she first appeared on the stages of New Orleans before making the jump to Broadway. She always insisted she was a dancer and not a stripper, even though during her act all of her clothes came off. Here's a report from one reviewer: “Performing her classic original routines like the 'cat dance,' 'voodoo dance' and 'harem heat', Lilly appeared on stage in a jewel encrusted bikini bra and panties and black net stockings, hurling her long blonde hair back and forth while sensuously weaving across the floor and shredding most of her attire to the hypnotic beat of jungle drums”. Lilly died in Florida in 1965 of peritonitis.

Evelyn West11 Evelyn West03 Evelyn West09
Evelyn West
39-26-36
Evelyn was known as “The Girl with the $50,000 Treasure Chest” after famously insuring her breasts for that amount with Lloyds of London. Oh, to be an Insurance assessor. This was only the first of a long string of gimmicks and stunts that she was to use over the years to keep her in the headlines - appearing at nudist weddings, sueing other strippers, throwing tomatoes at Anita Ekberg... in fact she seemed to take aim at anyone who competed in the “Battle of the Bosom”.

Jennie Lee09 Jennie Lee07 Jennielee4
Jennie Lee
42-28-40
Jennie Lee - The Bazoom Girl - stripped the world over, becoming a favorite with the GIs during WWII. Her amazing muscle control allowed her to whirl her tassles together, in alternate directions, and individually. What a talent. Jennie even had her own fan club where 25 cents got you a handwritten letter. She was the founded of the Exotic Dancer's League of North America, and also the Exotic World Hall of Fame, before her death, in a cruel twist of irony, of breast cancer.

Finally, some vintage striptease video clips, care of archive.org: 1 2 3 4 5

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32 Comments

No Bettie Page?

said Matt on October 27, 2005 9:41 AM.

great list. would love to see a part two: history of the pinup/centerfold.

said DaniMc on October 27, 2005 9:42 AM.

Matt: I debated about Bettie for a while, and came down on the side of "pinup girl/model" rather than "stripper".

Dani: Great idea, and that one would DEFINITELY include Bettie Page.

said Scaramouch on October 27, 2005 9:50 AM.

Miért szívattad meg???

said Megcsaltad a Haveromat on November 14, 2005 2:32 PM.

Miért szívattad meg???

said Megcsaltad aHaveromat on November 14, 2005 2:32 PM.

Candy Barr had the best proportioned figure of them all. Natural. No implants back then.. tiny waist and good legs.

said John Wills on December 16, 2005 1:53 AM.

Rest in peace, Texas legend. You were the best of them all.

said John Wills on January 2, 2006 1:45 PM.

There's also a good Candy Barr retrospective with video at Blushing Vintage (NSFW)

What a beauty she was.

said Todd Jennings on January 16, 2006 12:30 AM.

THERE IS A GUY HERE IN ST AUGUSTINE,FLORIDA NAMED RON ASNER THAT CLAIMS HE OWNED THE TWO O CLOCK CLUB AND SOLD IT TO BLAZE STAR.I CAN FIND NO EVIDENCE TO SUPPORT HIS CLAIM,CAN ANYONE HELP ME OUT?

said GLORIA on April 3, 2006 9:33 PM.

What about Josephine Baker? The greatest stripper ever? She worked in the twenties in Europe and there used to be European tours centered around her.

said Caractacus on April 14, 2006 11:17 AM.

I am responding to Glorias'post. Are we talking about the creepy guy on the corner Ron Asner? I
wouldn't believe a word that guy says!If there was ever a picture of the word liar in the dictionary his face would be next to it!Though if
he said he was a Drag Queen I would believe it!I
think he's a little AC/DC.

said donna on May 16, 2006 12:14 PM.

Weird how they all had puntastic stripper names... I wonder if there's something in the pathology of unusually named women that drives them to the poll.

Somebody should conduct some sort of survey into the phenomona - a better use of tax dollars I could not imagine

said Soren on June 4, 2006 5:58 PM.

I meant 'Pole' not 'Poll'

Seems the very thought of a 'stripper survey' is enough to divert the blood from my brain to where it's more immediately needed

said Soren on June 4, 2006 6:00 PM.

I meant 'Pole' not 'Poll'

Seems the very thought of a 'stripper survey' is enough to divert the blood from my brain to where it's more immediately needed

said Soren on June 4, 2006 6:03 PM.

my mother claimed to have been friends with candy barr, she said her real named was jaunita (moore?) or something. does anybody know what her real name was?

said Diane on July 30, 2006 1:03 AM.

Love Gypsy Rose Lee and beautiful Lili St. Cyr. Dang, what a bod on her!

said Jennifer on August 21, 2006 6:04 PM.

I AM RESPONDING TO GLORIAS'POST. I DON"T BELIEVE
THE RON ASNER TWO O' CLOCK CLUB STORY MYSELF. I'VE
HEARD THE STORIES FOR OVER TWENTY YEARS AND HAVE
COME TO THE CONCLUSION THAT HE PROBABLY NEVER EVEN
KNEW BLAZE STAR!THE ONLY WAY I WOULD BELIEVE THE STORY IS IF I SAW PICTURES OF THE TWO O' CLOCK CLUB WITH GARBAGE,TRASH,BROKEN DOWN BICYCLES,AND
A BIG JUNKY BROKEN DOWN MOTORHOME OUT FRONT!THUS
LOOKING LIKE HIS HOUSE DOES, WHAT AN EYE SORE TO
OUR BEAUTIFUL NEIGHBORHOOD!FUNNY THING IS HE SHOWS
UP AT EVERY CITY COMMISSIONERS MEETING FIGHTING FOR THE INTEGRITY OF LIGHTHOUSE PARK,BUT IF REALLY
CARED ABOUT THE NEIGHBORHOOD HE WOULD CLEAN HIS
FILTHY YARD UP!

said s.s. on November 11, 2006 9:53 AM.

I just had to relate this story. Cant give the exact yr, but am going to say the mid 50's. I lived in a small steel mill town in Western NY, my dad was stationed at NAS Niagra, I grew up with a bunch of WW2 Marines who were dad's friends.

One night we were rushed to bed early, as one of the guy's was bringing a date to the house. It was Tempest Storm who was appearing in Buffalo. I am sure it was kept hush hush but I remember peeking out to see her, as I was old enough to be interested in seeing her.

She was just a really nice lady, besides being very beautiful. I remember my Mother apologizing to my dad for thinking badly of her. The Marine that Tempest was dating was a very decorated vet.

Another burlesque star I had occasion to meet during those same years was Bubbles Darlene. Dad was a Navy recruiter who traveled to large Fairs all over NY, New England. The Carnival show had several girlie shows, one of which was Bubbles Darlene.

Dad moonlighted at night as a Barker for the Show, and we got to eat at their cafeteria tent during the day, the cook's name was Otis. When dad would go back to the base for a day, I always checked in with Bubbles.

I can remember her with her hair in Curlers and a bathrobe hanging up her costumes to dry. It kind of took off the imaginative edge of a young boy, but I learned a lot about people. She was a real nice lady. Wish I could have sneaked in and saw her dance. Oh well I remember her.

Really fun site, some beautiful ladies no matter what era.

Peter

said Peter on February 18, 2007 11:06 PM.

i love to watch

said sufian yousef on April 7, 2007 3:23 PM.

Any one ever know what happened to a local stripper (Wash., DC area) named Julia Gibson? She had a wedding night routine. This was about 40 plus years ago.

said R.A.Wilson on April 12, 2007 5:36 PM.

Any one ever know what happened to a local stripper (Wash., DC area) named Julia Gibson? She had a wedding night routine. This was about 40 plus years ago.

said R.A.Wilson on April 12, 2007 5:37 PM.

Recently my father has come clean about his mothers career before he was born. I have found out more over the past few months.
The man peter was actually talking about her, and that's how i found this site.
My grandma was Bubbles Darlene, and unfortunatly she passed away quite a few years ago. I was wondering if be any chance i could ask peter a few questions about my grandma as a dancer. i am very fascinated by the whole "burlesque movement" that is coming back around. I wish there was more links about her. But most that I have found were not very close to the whole truth. Hmm, but what can you expet, I am sure she didnt want people knowing a lot of her child hood stories and things. My grandma lived a very rough life after my father was born. It was really sad, especially now i am finding out who she really was.
Alicia

said alicia on April 13, 2007 8:43 AM.

Recently my father has come clean about his mothers career before he was born. I have found out more over the past few months.
The man peter was actually talking about her, and that's how i found this site.
My grandma was Bubbles Darlene, and unfortunatly she passed away quite a few years ago. I was wondering if be any chance i could ask peter a few questions about my grandma as a dancer. i am very fascinated by the whole "burlesque movement" that is coming back around. I wish there was more links about her. But most that I have found were not very close to the whole truth. Hmm, but what can you expet, I am sure she didnt want people knowing a lot of her child hood stories and things. My grandma lived a very rough life after my father was born. It was really sad, especially now i am finding out who she really was.
Alicia

said alicia on April 13, 2007 8:44 AM.

Ok Alicia, the editor forwarded your request and I have sent you an email, what a neat connection, I hope I can fill in some blanks for you. It was a long time ago, but I have a good memory.

Thanks Steve that was a nice thing to do.


Peter

said Peter on April 15, 2007 8:43 AM.

these burlesque Dancers are so Beautiful and i love their photos. there great

said Amanda Harry on May 23, 2007 11:42 AM.

Bettie Page was NOT a stripper! She was a model.

All the women listed starred in Burlesque theatre. A definate art form to teasingly remove their clothes in time with the music! Back then the women really danced!!!

I was fortunate to be part of Evelyn West's stage act seven times at her Stardust Club in Saint Louis. WOW!! She became my friend as I talked with her frequently about Burlesque in the 1940s and 1950s. She did not seem to mind me running my hand down her brassiere counting how many hooks she had (4).

I corresponded with her for several months before her death in the fall of 2004. I purchased several autographed photos from her on E-Bay too.

I tried to locate her when she would not answer any e-mails, and wrote a letter to the Saint Louis Post Dispatch wondering why a person so famous here could pass away in annonymity? They responded by doing a full page feature! That was 13 March 2005, and Evelyn got a royal sendoff! Too bad they had to stick my photo on the article as she was breathtakingly enough!

I will gladly mail the e-text of the article to any who requests it from me at taklasek@sbcglobal.net

Thanks for the site!

Terry

said Terry Klasek on May 27, 2007 4:22 PM.

hey peter, i never got the e-mail, can you mark it with something about bubles darlene?? I found some more pictures of her recently. I have compared them to the ones from when i was born in '86. its sad to se the difference...When my father was 17 she was hit by a car, and dragged three blucks.. needless to say she was never the same.. sad but the truth..

said alicia on June 13, 2007 3:44 AM.

hey peter, i never got the e-mail, can you mark it with something about bubles darlene?? I found some more pictures of her recently. I have compared them to the ones from when i was born in '86. its sad to se the difference...When my father was 17 she was hit by a car, and dragged three blucks.. needless to say she was never the same.. sad but the truth..

said alicia on June 13, 2007 3:46 AM.

If I am correct, I think that Jan and Dean had their first hit called "Jenny Lee" and it was named after the stripper Jenny Lee.

said Don on March 23, 2008 12:44 PM.

Grave diggin'... I was reading the beginner's guide and stopped by to take a look...

But I just love those times when women used to have curves and meat, to have a real body... not these chopsticks with boobs we see around these days as beauty standards.
God damn anorexia!!!

said Leonardo Carvalho on September 23, 2008 9:06 AM.

Can anyone help me find info about my Aunt Deborah Durkin ("lolita") she danced for the Marks Show's, I've also heard mentioned the World of Mirth Shows. My Mother was her understudy, I know they did shows at military bases and carnivals in the South, and New Orleans...? My Aunt was from NJ, worked out of Florida, I would love to know more about my namesake, she danced in the 40's early 50's. thanks , Debbie

said Deborah on October 26, 2010 10:45 AM.

Deborah - ask and ye shall receive:)

http://www.yesbutnobutyes.com/durkin.jpg

This is from "Girl show: into the canvas world of bump and grind" by A. W. Stencell. There's nothing more in the book but that picture and caption, but at least you know that her stage name was Dorita, not Lolita.

the only other thing I could find was her on the 1930 census, which at least gives you her birth year as 1927.

http://www.yesbutnobutyes.com/durkin_census.jpg

From that you may be able to track down her social security and death record and find out a bit more about her life that way.

happy hunting

Scaramouch aka The Dark Knight Detective

said Scaramouch on October 29, 2010 12:14 PM.
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