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.
O'Neill does her famous bump and grind for her New Jersey neighbors.
Above, a little something we found at an auction page, a promo poster for burlesque performer Lynne O'Neill, who according to this appeared for a week at the Hudson Theatre in Union City, New Jersey. O'Neill was known as “The Original Garter Girl,” and at whatever venue she performed would sell branded garters in the lobby the way bands sell t-shirts. She worked mostly around the New York area because she resided most of her life on Long Island. Like many mid-century peelers she was well known, then mostly forgotten, and finally brought back somewhat into popular culture by an internet fueled revival of interest in burlesque. She died in 2010, but her place in the pantheon of burlesque dancers seems assured, thanks to new photos and artifacts that occasionally turn up. This poster is a good example. It's undated but we're sure it's from 1953 or 1954.
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.
Paul Derval and the pleasure factory.
Is it pulp? Technically no. But then technically most of what we share isn't pulp, if you want to be doctrinaire about it. But this cover for Paul Derval's The Folies Bergère has pin-up style art, so that's good enough for us. This is from Digit Books, 1956, an English version of a book originally published by Methuen & Co. in France, and is a behind-the-scenes rundown of the famed burlesque theater written by the guy who managed the place from 1918 to 1956. It was under Derval that the Folies achieved arguably its greatest fame. In addition to his story, you also get eight photo pages inside, including the one you see below. If that image looks familiar, it may be because we showed it to you back in 2015, but a much sharper version scanned from a glossy photo. She's none other than the talented and beautiful Yvonne Ménard, and you can learn a bit about her, and see more of her, at this link.
There's a major front coming in.
And speaking of repeating ourselves, above you see a poster for the documentary The French Peep Show, which on this promo is called Peep Shows of Paris. Same movie though, and it starred Tempest Storm, a young exotic dancer trying to make it big with her fifty inch bust (see below). We talked about the movie last year and shared a killer poster made for its run in Japan in 1954. We suggest having a look at that. As far as the release date goes, most sources say the film first played in 1952, but IMDB says it was today in 1949 in Oakland, California. Why the discrepancy? We don't know. Meyer shot the footage at the El Rey Theater, which was in in Oakland, so perhaps IMDB knows something about the footage being projected back in ’49 before he packaged it for a wider run.
Desire is easy. It's fulfillment that's hard.
This unusual promo pamphlet was made for the Australian release of May Britt's romantic drama The Blue Angel, which opened Down Under today in 1959. 20th Century Fox's publicity department was calling it “one of the great classic films of all times,” though it had only been out a few months. The lesson here is never believe the publicity department. In the film, which is a remake of Marlene Dietrich's 1930 classic of the same name, Swedish bombshell May Britt plays a burlesque performer named Lola-Lola who dances and sings nightly at a smalltown cabaret called the Blue Angel. She draws the romantic attention of a prudish, perhaps even virginal, high school professor, and all kinds of complications follow, ranging from the good (love and romance) to the bad (scorn and unemployment).
It's been said that Britt was chosen over Marilyn Monroe for this role, but if that's true, we're looking at a remarkably different movie than Monroe would have made. For one thing, while financed by 20th Century Fox, the movie is set in Germany and everyone in it hails from somewhere in Europe. We can't imagine that was the plan if Monroe had starred, but as a remake of a German classic, we suppose it's possible. Anotherbig difference is that Britt is not in any way Monroesque. While both are blonde and beautiful, Britt has a knowing, grown-up, real-woman demeanor, her voice a throaty contralto, while Monroe played wiggly-hipped high-pitched kittenish to the hilt. We can only assume the role was intended as a departure for Monroe, and a major departure it would have been.
But this is Britt's film and one thing is sure—she has talent. This isn't a surprise. She had already been in thirteen movies by this point. The Blue Angel came out the year before she met and married Sammy Davis, Jr. She made one more movie then was out of show business until after she and Davis divorced eight years later. These would have been her prime moviemaking years, but she chose to be a wife and mother,has said she chose correctly, and more power to her. Yet The Blue Angel gives a strong indication what sort of star she might have been. 20th Century Fox may have jumped the gun calling the film one of the great classics of all times, but now that it's actually an old film, and it's undoubtedly good thanks to May Britt and the very capable Curd Jürgens, maybe that description isn't so far off after all.
What's good for the hair is good for the derrière.
We're sure everyone remembers the folk wisdom that women needed to brush their hair one hundred times each night to make it shine, right? Well, once the prone woman on the punishment themed cover of 1957's Burlesque Jungle gets one hundred brush strokes of a different kind her butt will be shining too, bright red presumably. This is a republication of 1956's hardback Blonde Flames, about a Miami Beach burlesque queen known as Silver Venus and her rivalry with an upstart dancer. Considering Boyer got both a hardback and a republication out of this, we're surprised it's her only output. A sequel where Silver Venus bobby pins her rival's nipples seems like a no-brainer.
Sometimes in show business you need to make sure to cover your ass.
This lovely photo shows Doris Mitchell, a New York City showgirl and singer who was a member of Nils Thor Granlund's NTG Revue, a chorus line that was the first of its kind in Las Vegas, originating in 1943 at the El Rancho Hotel and Casino. The NTG Revue eventually came to New York City, where Mitchell presumably joined. But reviews were mixed, with some critics liking it, but a Variety scribe noting Granlund's habit of slapping the chorus girls on their asses, to which they rolled their eyes and drawled scripted quips like, “Ain't he a card?” Granlund was uncouth, but he was also famous and wealthy, so he got away with it. Sound like anyone you know? As far as Mitchell herself, this photo seems to be the only evidence of her career that exists.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1930—Chrysler Building Opens
In New York City, after a mere eighteen months of construction, the Chrysler Building opens to the public. At 1,046 feet, 319 meters, it is the tallest building in the world at the time, but more significantly, William Van Alen's design is a landmark in art deco that is celebrated to this day as an example of skyscraper architecture at its most elegant.
1969—Jeffrey Hunter Dies
American actor Jeffrey Hunter dies of a cerebral hemorrhage after falling down a flight of stairs and sustaining a skull fracture, a mishap precipitated by his suffering a stroke seconds earlier. Hunter played many roles, including Jesus in the 1961 film King of Kings, but is perhaps best known for portraying Captain Christopher Pike in the original Star Trek pilot episode "The Cage".
1938—Alicante Is Bombed
During the Spanish Civil War, a squadron of Italian bombers sent by fascist dictator Benito Mussolini to support the insurgent Spanish Nationalists, bombs the town of Alicante, killing more than three-hundred people. Although less remembered internationally than the infamous Nazi bombing of Guernica the previous year, the death toll in Alicante is similar, if not higher.
1977—Star Wars Opens
George Lucas's sci-fi epic Star Wars premiers in the Unites States to rave reviews and packed movie houses. Produced on a budget of $11 million, the film goes on to earn $460 million in the U.S. and $337 million overseas, while spawning a franchise that would eventually earn billions and make Lucas a Hollywood icon.
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