What are you staring at, chérie? Have you never seen a hat before?
French burlesque dancer Yvonne Ménard is all smiles, and why not? That thing she wears between her legs probably tickles. Ménard also may be smiling because when these photos were taken she was about as famous as a dancer could be. She had started as a nude mannequin at La Cigale, then joined the cast of Folies Bergère as a replacement for a departing Josephine Baker after understudying the great American star during the 1949 season. Ménard was twenty when she took the lead role—the photos above were made backstage at the Folies shortly afterward. One of the acts Ménard developed showed her struggling against the lure of opium. She wore only her famous glittering leaf, and battled dark male figures only to be eventually carried by them into a smoking pit.
Ménard’s performances were a bit different from Baker’s—she couldn’t sing as well, and her dancing was a work in progress, but she would eventually master various flips and aerial maneuvers, which she once demonstrated for a photo feature in Life magazine. She toured the U.S. numerous times, making stops in New York, Miami Beach, and Las Vegas, and also performed in South America. Somewhere in there she made time to appear on the cover of the third issue of Playboy, in February 1954, and writer Georges Tabet said inside the issue, “Yvonne is the crystallization of Paris. She’s got a petit quelque chose—a little something—that you have to be born with. Chevalier, he has it in his smile. Edith Piaf has it in her voice. This one—she has it all over.”
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 was entitled “An InterludeBefore 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 could "see 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 performances freed her toinhabit 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. Los Angeles
, Beverly Hills
, Los Angeles Examiner
, Dancing at Ciro’s
, Lili St. Cyr
, Bette Davis
, Ronald Reagan
, Nancy Davis
, Franchot Tone
, Barbara Payton
, Lex Barker
, Mickey Rooney
, Fletcher Bowron
, Herman Hover
, Humphrey Bogart
, Clark Gable
, Sheila Weller
, Army Archerd
Virginity wasn’t against the law, but topless dancing was—until she came along.
Burlesque dancer Yvonne D’Angers graces the cover of this Midnight published today in 1967. She was born in Teheran, Iran and reached the height of her fame after a 1965 obscenity trial, a government threat to deport her, a publicity stunt where she chained herself to San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, and a 1966 appearance in Playboy. There’s surprisingly little about her online—not even a measly Wikipedia page. But she was important within her milieu—she was one of four defendants in the aforementioned obscenity trial, along with Carol Doda, Kay Star, and Euraine Heimberg, and the acquittal legalized topless dancing and waitressing in San Francisco. That decision made San Fran the first city in the U.S. where this was the case.
D’Angers’ main haunt was the Off Broadway on Kearney Street, but she also danced at Gigi’s, which was located on Broadway, and she worked in Las Vegas, in addition to touring the U.S. She was married to Off Broadway owner Voss Boreta, and he was her manager, making her part a client list that included Doda and the topless girl-band The Ladybirds. She was also—though this is not often noted—a college graduate anda painter. She billed herself as being naturally endowed, but both she and Doda were said by people who knew them early in their careers to have been worked on by cosmetic surgeons. The above shots of D’Angers, pre-fame, pre-blonde, versus post-fame, 44D, hanging out with Trini Lopez, seem to confirm those stories. Well have more on D’Angers (and Doda) later. Iran
, San Francisco
, Las Vegas
, Yvonne D’angers
, Carol Doda
, Kay Star
, Euraine Heimberg
, Voss Boreta
, Trini Lopez
These two things are called eyes, and if you don’t want to be offended you can do something incredible—close them.
Studio nudes of Susanne Haines have been floating around the web for a while now, and they made us curious who she is. No info was readily available, but after some digging it turns out this obscure dancer has a very interesting story. She born and raised around Sacramento, California, and spent some time in Utah, before winning the Miss Placer County beauty contest in 1963 when she was sixteen. Several years later, as an unhappily married college student, she saw an ad asking for a go-go waitress and took the job to get away from her husband. She was soon earning $72.50 a week serving drinks in a nightclub. From there it was a short leap to the stage—and a bump in earnings to $450 a week as she peeled for male customers. In May 1969 she was performing at the Pink Pussy Kat in the Sacramento suburb of Orangevale when two sheriff’s deputies entered and found Haines and two other women serving drinks topless. When Haines took the stage and performed a dance number that ended with her completely naked, the cops arrested her along with fellow dancer Sheila Brendenson for indecent exposure and lewd and dissolute conduct. Club owner Leonard Glancy was arrested for soliciting.
That case didn’t reach court until late summer, when it landed before the bench of Judge Earl Warren, Jr., son of Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren, who had just retired in June. Glancy had kept the Pink Pussy Kat open by featuring only bikini dancing, and he also cooked up an ingenious scheme of having patrons pay to watch nude dances on closed circuit television, as in the photo just below, since it was only “live” nudity that was legally dangerous. Early in the trial, Judge Warren Jr. agreed with defense attorney Ronald Sypnicki and D.A. Kenneth Hake that, since there was no film or photos of the offending performance, the only fair thing was to allow the jurors to see it for themselves. That couldn’t happen in the courthouse, so Warren had the jury conducted to the Pink Pussy Kat, where Haines performed nude under psychedelic illumination to songs such as “Israelites” and Jimi Hendrix’s hip shaker “Foxy Lady.” Because the bar was open to regular patrons in an attempt to recreate the normal atmosphere of a nude performance, Haines received raucous applause after each of her numbers. Asked for comment by reporters afterward, Warren deemed his decision a sound one, saying, “[They] got a better look than we could have given them with just plain oral testimony or by trying to re-create some of these things in the courtroom.” Five days later Warren proved his faith in x-rated field trips by taking another panel to another nudie club during a trial involving stripper Carol Doda. The Haines case lasted for five weeks total.The jury was finally sent to their chambers the second day of October, and after ten hours of deliberation returned with a verdict of guilty on the indecent exposure charge, but innocent on lewd conduct. Warren explained that it had to be guilty on both or innocent on both—if the exposure was indecent the conduct was obviously lewd, or conversely neither was true—and the jury was sent back into their chambers. After another hour of deliberation, Haines and Brendenson won acquittals, as did club owner Glancy on his soliciting charge.
Brendenson quit dancing after the trial, but Haines was ready to get naked again, and Glancy was more than willing to provide a stage. The county sheriff had said he’d continue to jail dancers despite the jury’s verdict, and Haines racked up seven arrests at the Pink Pussy Kat—plus about fifteen others at various venues over the years. But she also was nationally known thanks to the trial and won the title of Miss Nude Universe in 1972, which in turn pushed her earnings as high as $1,000—about $5,700 in today’s money. Fame didn’t deter the morals squads, though. She was arrested for indecent exposure in Oklahoma and this time lost a $5,000 judgment. Later she was arrested for larceny. Not long after, realizing her life was going in a direction she couldn’t control, she quit show business and became an evangelical Christian. In 1978, under her married name Susanne Haines Register, she wrote an autobiography, a cautionary tale of life in the fast lane entitled—what else?—Take It All Off. She does just that in the three shots below. They were made, like the one at top, around 1969.
, Pink Pussy Kat
, Take It All Off
, Susanne Haines
, Susanne Haines Register
, Sheila Brendenson
, Judge Earl Warren Jr. Ronald Sypnicki
, Kenneth Hake
, Leonard Glancy
They didn’t think it was funny in Oklahoma.
This issue of Laff from this month in 1949 contains a rather amusing story about burlesque queen Lilly Christine being censored from University of Oklahoma campus newspaper Covered Wagon by scandalized administrators. Seems members of the newspaper staff had been in New Orleans the previous year for the Sugar Bowl and had caught Christine in residency at the 500 Club. When later she toured through Oklahoma City the newspaper staff arranged a trip to see her, and that led to the quite logical idea of working up a story about her—which was when administrators stepped in to nix the plan. Christine saw a chance for free publicity and proceeded to appear at the campus health clinic seeking a chest x-ray. You couldn’t make this stuff up. After a bit of runaround she was refused. Meanwhile newspaper staff were seething over their unceremonious shackling—they saw it as a free speech issue, while the greyhairs saw it as a morals issue. The editor declared that there would be no more issues of Covered Wagon, but that’s when one of OU’s frats quickly ran off a scab issue of the paper to prove the point that Covered Wagon staffers were replaceable. Leave it to a bunch of entitled Greeks to side with the establishment, right? Checkmated, the editor and several loyalists quit. Meanwhile, Lilly Christine had long since minced on her merry way, no doubt accustomed to leaving a bit of chaos in her wake. See more Christine at this link (and elsewhere in the site if you search). Oklahoma
, Oklahoma City
, New Orleans
, University of Oklahoma
, 500 Club
, Lilly Christine
, Martha Theresa Pompender
, Jerry Noonan
, Winnie Garrett
, Bette Sherry
, Bette Guthrie
, magazine art
Patachou starts with a little patch of Paris and conquers the planet.
1954’s Montmartre nocturne was a twenty-five minute exposé of the Parisian cabaret Patachou, which Jean Billon and his wife Henriette Ragon opened on famed Montmartre hill in 1948. Ragon went on to release numerous records, and soon became so famous she evolved into a one-name star. The name? Patachou, the same as the name of her club. Montmartre nocturne somehow, despite its brevity, made it to Japan, resulting in the classic promo poster you see above. That isn’t Patachou on the art—she was already thirty-five in 1953 and rocking mom hair, which was considered hip back then (see below). In 2009 at the venerable age of 90 she was made Officier of France’s Légion d'honneur, and she just died a couple of months ago at age ninety-six.
I call this move “the giraffe.” Nice, right?
Judging by all available evidence, burlesque dancer Miriam Kartis spent her entire life in this position. Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but she must have really liked it at least, because look—there she is below striking a similar pose. She’s one of the thousands of burlesque dancers who don’t have an online presence today, so we can’t tell you anything about her except that most of her surviving photos were shot by famed Austrian lensman James Kriegsmann. We’re guessing around 1960 on these.
It must be jelly ’cuz jam don’t shake like that.
We got curious about Nai Bonet, who we’d never heard of until last week, and after taking a stroll around the internet discovered she was pretty famous in her day and even released a 1966 single for which you see the sleeve above. The song is called “Jelly Belly,” with “The Seventh Veil” on the flipside. Bonet teaches fans to do her trademark Jelly Belly dance, which we can only imagine led to many sprained backs in mid-century America. But maybe you want to try. The instructions are in like Danish, but here’s the gist:
1: Clap your hands together and gently bow…
2: Put your hands over your head and I’ll show you how…
3: First you inhale (pull your tummy in)
4: Then you exhale (push your tummy out)
5: Hips go up…
6: …and down
7: Tummy round and round…
8: Shoulders shivering…
9: Everything a-quivering.
And presumably it's rinse and repeat at that point. For extra inspiration you can hear "Jelly Belly" here. Just remember—if you pull something, rest it, apply ice, and dream up a much better story about your injury than you were trying to get everything a-quivering.
Everybody wanted a piece of Candy.
She was born Juanita Dale Slusher, but danced under the much more palatable name Candy Barr. This shot dates from the mid-1950s, when she was beginning to enjoy success on the nationwide dance circuit after a dubious beginning as a teen hooker and star of a porno film at age sixteen. Along with recognition on the dance circuit came trouble, and she would have numerous legal run-ins, including drug charges, an arrest for shooting her abusive husband, and time as a fugitive in Mexico. She was involved with West Coast mobster Mickey Cohen, and became friends with Texas gangster wannabe Jack Ruby. Barr really deserves a more detailed treatment, considering how quintessentially pulp her life was, so we’ll try to get back to her very interesting story a bit later.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1942—Nightclub Fire Kills Hundreds
In Boston, Massachusetts, a fire
in the fashionable Cocoanut Grove nightclub kills 492 people. Patrons were unable to escape when the fire began because the exits immediately became blocked with panicked people, and other possible exits were welded shut or boarded up. The fire led to a reform of fire codes and safety standards across the country, and the club's owner, Barney Welansky, who had boasted of his ties to the Mafia and to Boston Mayor Maurice J. Tobin, was eventually found guilty of involuntary manslaughter.
1934—Baby Face Nelson Killed
In the U.S., killer and bank robber Baby Face Nelson, aka Lester Joseph Gillis, dies in a shoot-out with the FBI in Barrington, Illinois. Nelson is shot nine times, but by walking directly into a barrage of gunfire manages to kill both of his FBI pursuers before dying himself.
1922—Egyptologists Enter Tut's Tomb
British Egyptologists Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon become the first people to enter the tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamun in over 3000 years. Though sometimes characterized as scholars, Carter and Carnarvon were primarily interested in riches, and cut up Tut's mummy to more easily obtain the jewels and gold affixed to him.
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