Striptease: The Untold History of the Girlie Show

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Striptease recreates the combustible mixture of license, independence, and sexual curiosity that allowed strippers to thrive for nearly a century. Rachel Shteir brings to life striptease's Golden Age, the years between the Jazz Age and the Sexual Revolution, when strippers performed around the country, in burlesque theatres, nightclubs, vaudeville houses, carnivals, fairs, and even in glorious palaces on the Great White Way. Taking us behind the scenes, Shteir introduces us to a diverse cast of characters that collided on the burlesque stage, from tight-laced political reformers and flamboyant impresarios, to drag queens, shimmy girls, cootch dancers, tit serenaders, and even girls next door, lured into the profession by big-city aspirations. Throughout the book, readers will find essential profiles of famed performers, including Gypsy Rose Lee, "the Literary Stripper"; Lili St. Cyr, the 1950s mistress of exotic striptease; and Blaze Starr, the "human heat wave," who literally set the stage on fire.
Striptease is an insightful and entertaining portrait of an art form at once reviled and embraced by the American public. Blending careful research and vivid narration, Rachel Shteir captures striptease's combination of sham and seduction while illuminating its surprisingly persistent hold on the American imagination.
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Editorial Reviews

Elaine Showalter
Shteir discovered the girlie show as an academic subject when she was a graduate student at the Yale School of Drama, and she has continued intensive research in the Sally Rand Archives in Chicago, the Harold Minsky Collection in Las Vegas and the Gypsy Rose Lee papers in New York. Her book is packed with historical detail and contemporary feminist insights.
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
"A distinctly American diversion that flourished from the Jazz Age to the era of the Sexual Revolution," striptease emerges as closer kin to vaudeville than pornography in this engaging if sometimes overly detailed survey. Shteir, head of the department of dramaturgy and dramatic criticism at DePaul University, offers fascinating details about stripper subculture, past and present, and includes numerous photographs of and quotes from stripping's famous practitioners, such as Gypsy Rose Lee. Readers will learn about "horizontal cootching" and fan dances; the use of trained animals in acts at the 1939 World's Fair ("doves peel her," wrote a Variety columnist of stripper Rosita Royce); the conflicts between big-name strippers and their "cheap" burlesque counterparts; the 1962 federal crackdown on organized crime that dealt a grave blow to striptease. Shteir reaches, throughout, for a larger cultural meaning in the girlie show, and the paradox of stripping's possibilities-it offered women a shot at independence but required them to sell themselves as spectacle to do it-is familiar but still intriguing. The gender politics and cultural theory she employs as analytical tools may limit her audience to those already well versed in such ideas, but Shteir's discussions of the ways that striptease informed American culture and her careful descriptions of the women and their milieu are bright moments. (Nov.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A mind-numbingly detailed chronicle of the rise and fall of a ribald form of popular entertainment that flourished from the 1920s through the 1940s. Shteir (Dramaturgy and Dramatic Criticism/DePaul Univ. Theatre School) begins her extensively researched study with an examination of striptease's 19th-century antecedents in tableaux vivants, which featured naked or semi-naked women posing as statues or figures from paintings. The real story, however, begins when posing undressed turned into undressing seductively in burlesque theaters, vaudeville houses, nightclubs, carnivals, and fairs across the country. Shteir ties the rise of striptease to the rise of the sexually liberated New Woman in the Jazz Age. This rebellion against the confines of Victorian prudery did not go unchallenged; the author describes struggles between theater owners and various anti-vice reformers who tried to shut them down. The text is packed with lengthy descriptions of various strippers' costumes, props, and routines, including even the lyrics to the songs they sang; the abundant illustrations include photos of such well-known artistes as Gypsy Rose Lee, Sally Rand, Lili St. Cyr, Blaze Starr, Tempest Storm, and Candy Barr, as well as many lesser-known peelers. The author also examines these women's private lives in an attempt to discover who they were and why they became strippers. She cites a variety of factors for the decline of striptease: audiences lost to TV, federal investigations into organized crime, the changing roles of women in society, the rise of the pornography industry. By 1969, which Shteir pinpoints as the year of its demise, the Sexual Revolution had so changed how Americans thought about nuditythat striptease's once-glamorous stars seemed downright old-fashioned. Its golden era may have long since ended, but the author asserts that striptease will continue to command our attention as long as the promise of sex is more alluring than the reality. Nuggets of fascinating lore lie buried in mounds of dull prose. (50 b&w illustrations)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195300765
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 12/1/2005
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 448
  • Sales rank: 850,549
  • Product dimensions: 8.70 (w) x 5.80 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Rachel Shteir is Associate Professor and Head of the Dramaturgy and Dramatic Criticism Program at the Theatre School of DePaul University.

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Customer Reviews

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 10, 2006

    Interesting Read

    I read this book and found the info to be comprehensive. I read another reviewer's comments on this book and even though some errors are evident, the overall outline is good. (Includes photographs)

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 2, 2005

    Grain of Salt

    ¿Striptease: The Untold History of the Girlie Shows,¿ is quite simply this author¿s interpretation of those things she read regarding burlesque¿things any one could read on their own, and decipher their own way. Would I consider her to be an expert on the history of burlesque? No! Reading her list of notes I¿m not sure she talked to anyone who was involved in burlesque¿there are certainly people still alive who worked the venue. My suggestion for those who like the history of burlesque, read books written by those who were there¿Gypsy Rose Lee, Georgia Sothern, Ann Corio, Morton Minsky, and even Erik Preminger. There are also excellent books available by noted historians such as David Kruh and Robert Allen as well. There are even a couple historical societies out there that are working to preserve the history of burlesque and the theatres where burlesque shows were performed. But please take this book with a grain of salt. All I did was skim it over, and I¿m listing just a few bloopers found¿ Page 235: ¿I didn¿t want to stand behind the counter and serve people, explained Rose La Rose, who before her death in 1957 owned several burlesque theaters in Toledo, Ohio.¿ However on page 241 the author writes, in 1960 Rose became a pornographer. Now if Rose died in 1957, as the author states, how can she become a pornographer in 1960? It¿s well known among burlesque historians that Rose owned two different theatres in Toledo, not SEVERAL, and that she died in the summer of 1972. Page 238: Tex Guinan? I assume the author means Texas Guinan¿ Page 240, she writes: ¿Buddy Wade¿s tap shoes caught fire, the sparks ignited her costume, and she burned to death one night at the Old Howard in Boston.¿ Curious, I emailed David Kruh, an expert who has written ¿Always Something Doing: Boston¿s Infamous Scollay Square.¿ This is his response. ¿No one I've contacted is aware of any fire at the OH that killed anyone. There were two fires of which I am aware at the OH. The first was way back in 1846 and was the original wooden structure (that house the church), which burned down. That's when the owners built the theater you and other devoted patrons knew and loved. The second fire that I know of was in 1960, seven years after the theater was closed by the city. Some homeless men that were sleeping inside got out safely, and there was one firefighter slightly injured that day. But no deaths.¿ Page 241: `In 1954 the darling of burlesque Loretta Miller watched one of her fans shoot himself at the LA Follies Theater.¿ Both the LA Herald-Express and the LA Mirror report things a bit differently¿but they both report the police shot Roger around dawn while Miller was home in bed. ¿According to Loretta Miller, as told to John Grover, ¿This is the strangest thing that¿s ever happened to me in show business. I still can¿t believe it. I¿ve been a specialty dancer and worked in chorus lines for nearly ten years, and I don¿t understand this poor kid Roger Whittier. I thought it was a gag at first when a Mirror reporter called me out of bed this morning to tell me about his death.¿ There are things in this book that are not that difficult to double-check, but I believe this author took everything she read regarding burlesque to be fact. It¿s Rozell Rowland, not ROSE ZELLE. Maybe that¿s being picky, but this is history¿so the author, a professor, has an obligation to the public to get it right!

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