Sex Files May 5 2018
WHEN THE FIRE GOES OUT
L.A. burlesque dancer sentenced to cool off in jail.


Today in 1952 thirty-six-year-old burlesque dancer Betty Rowland, known as the Ball of Fire because of her red hair and diminutive stature, was convicted of lewd behavior for a dance she performed at the Follies Theatre in downtown Los Angeles. Being arrested was an occupational hazard, but this was an unusual case. Two cops had ventured into the Follies and, as cops are wont to do, demanded special treatment—i.e. free entrance. The ticket girl was not with the program so the cops busted the show and hauled Rowland and her manager into court. Rowland was eventually sentenced to three months in jail for a lewd performance and hit with a $5,000 fine—a tremendous amount back then, about $46,000 in today's money.

Rowland is putting on a brave face in the Los Angeles Examiner photos you see here, but she was stunned by the sentence, and the situation was all the more frustrating because the conviction hinged on the lies of two angry cops. Rowland had been performing her act for years with no hint of problems from the morals squad, and certainly wouldn't have started pushing the envelope after being so well established for so long. But that explanation held no water with Judge Byron J. Walters, who we can assume issued an unusually harsh sentence at the behest of those same crooked cops. Rowland wasn't the first dancer railroaded by the law and she wouldn't be the last.

Several weeks after being hauled off to the cooler, the Ball of Fire's sentence was commuted by Walters, who had been told Rowland planned to quit the burlesque business to open a perfume store in Beverly Hills with her sister. Walters: “The value of incarceration seems to have made its effective marks.” Some time after Rowland's release—we don't know if it was days, months, or years—she claimed it was actually a bribe that secured her freedom, paid out of pocket by her and shunted into the appropriate coffers. We've seen no reports that she opened a perfume store. Instead she danced into the 1960s before retiring. At last count she had reached age 102 in a rest home, and we bet she's still plenty steamed about that jail sentence. The photo below shows a young Rowland, probably around 1945.

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Intl. Notebook Jun 28 2010
INFINITE JEST
The vertical expression of horizontal desires.

Nobody really knows where the word burlesque came from—some claim its roots are the Italian and Spanish words “burla," which mean “hoax” and “deception” respectively. We’ve also seen burla translated as “jest.” Whatever its etymological roots, the much loved art of burlesque began in Victorian England as a type of musical variety show that satirized highbrow art forms such as opera, ballet, and costumed drama. On U.S. soil burlesque took similar shape, but also began to incorporate semi-clad dancers. Soon, these sexually suggestive dances became the focus of the performances, and the word burlesque became a synonym for striptease.

Stars such as Sally Rand, Amy Fong and Dixie Evans became celebrity practitioners of the art. The dancers generally didn’t strip totally nude on stage, but a few, like Bettie Page, did take it all off in short burlesque films. Above is a shot of Betty Blue Eyes Howard, and below we have more assorted burlesque photos featuring some of the biggest stars of yesteryear’s striptease firmament. Of special note are Betty Rowland dancing in panel 12, and being escorted into court to face obscenity charges in panel 13, Bettie Page from one of her nude shorts in panel 20, Lilly Christine in panel 21, Lili St. Cyr in panel 22, two shots from one of Nazi Germany’s legendarily decadent mid-1930s burlesque shows in panels 23 and 24, and finally Tempest Storm in the last panel. We hope these images take the edge off those Monday blahs. 

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
September 21
1937—The Hobbit is Published
J. R. R. Tolkien publishes his seminal fantasy novel The Hobbit, aka The Hobbit: There and Back Again. Marketed as a children's book, it is a hit with adults as well, and sells millions of copies, is translated into multiple languages, and spawns the sequel trilogy The Lord of Rings.
September 20
1946—Cannes Launches Film Festival
The first Cannes Film Festival is held in 1946, in the old Casino of Cannes, financed by the French Foreign Affairs Ministry and the City of Cannes.
September 19
1934—Arrest Made in Lindbergh Baby Case
Bruno Hauptmann is arrested for the kidnap and murder of Charles Lindbergh Jr., son of the famous American aviator. The infant child had been abducted from the Lindbergh home in March 1932, and found decomposed two months later in the woods nearby. He had suffered a fatal skull fracture. Hauptmann was tried, convicted, sentenced to death, and finally executed by electric chair in April 1936. He proclaimed his innocence to the end
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