The most influential 40s burlesque dancers, who were successful in their decade and the genre. Effeuilleuse legends in the height of their fame, up and coming burly-Q beauties and the threat of censorship. It can only be 40s burlesque.
By the 1940s burlesque shows had lost many of their variety acts and began focusing on striptease. In New York, Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia clamped down on burlesque. By the early 40s burlesque in the city had practically been put out of business. Thus began the slow decline of the genre before its revival with neo-burlesque.
During the 1940s, 30s burlesque legends Sally Rand (above), Gypsy Rose Lee and Ann Corio were established dancers. The latter two were the most recognisable burlesque dancers of the decade.
Sally Rand was part of the fight against censorship in the decade. In 1946 she was arrested twice when performing at the Club Savoy. She was granted immunity after the first arrest but it didn’t prevent the second, on the night of the trial.
To add to the theatrics, the latter happened when Sally Rand was wearing long underwear that stated, “CENSORED. S.F.P.D.” After going to see her perform the judge let her off. Go go girlfriend.
Both Gypsy Rose Lee and Ann Corio attempted to crack Hollywood during the 40s. Unfortunately, they were both left disappointed.
Gypsy Rose Lee returned to burlesque and in 1941 penned the novel, The G-String Murders. By 1943 the book was adapted into The Lady of Burlesque which itself was subject to censorship.
Lili St. Cyr
(Image from Andrea Hausmann)
Burlesque dancer, Lili St. Cyr was another of the most recognisable faces in the art form during the 1940s. She originally trained as a ballet dancer and began her life on stage as a chorus girl.
Eventually Lili St. Cyr scraped her way up to performing solo acts, only to realise that featured acts got paid more. Featured acts performed nude and so began Lili St. Cyr’s burlesque career.
She was renowned for her beauty, curves and creative burlesque acts. Watch Lili St. Cyr give a more classic burlesque dance in this sultry bedroom scene:
(Image from Playful Promises)
American burlesque dancer, Noel Toy, was known as the first Chinese fan dancer. The petite performer hailed from San Francisco and also did the famous bubble dance act.
Noel Toy was offered a slot at Forbidden City, the first Chinese nightclub in America. She was instantly a huge success as the club’s profits tripled. Soon after she was labelled the ‘Chinese Sally Rand’. Enjoy Noel toy’s famous fan dance:
(Image from Flickr)
The UK burlesque dancer, Phyllis Dixey, created the first striptease show put on in London’s West End. She formed the burlesque troupe, The Whitehall Follies. Renting the Whitehall Theatre, she put on the Peek-a-Boo revue for five more years.
Known as the ‘Queen of Striptease’ and heralded burlesque as an art form. Though during the 1940s, London’s tastes began to change and Phyllis Dixey was unable to adapt, eventually retiring, penniless in the 50s.
Like many burlesque performers of the era, Phyllis Dixey also featured in films. Catch her in the 1946 movie, Dual Alibi:
(Image from Bad Penny Blues)
Evelyn West was a 40s burlesque star known for her stage humour, penchant for drama and allegedly insuring her ample bust for $50,000.
Her only film credit was for the 1947 film A Night at the Follies but that didn’t stop her making headlines. She attempted to change her name to Evelyn ‘$50,000 Treasure Chest’ West, threatened Tempest Storm with legal action and openly criticised Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield.
See Evelyn West perform striptease and deliver one of her most famous lines, “I know you’re looking at my… shoes.”