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)
From the Publisher

"The first serious history of the form...could prove to be a landmark work.... Meticulous."-- Francine Du Plessix Gray, The New Yorker

"Fascinating and well-researched.... Rachel Shteir's accomplished book leaves one longing for the mystery of a white mink merkin from Harry Bosen's New York Costume Shop in Chicago, or the charm of Lili St. Cyr's roaming radium gadget.... Striptease is a genuine contribution to the history of American culture."--Toni Bentley, The New Republic

"Packed with historical detail and contemporary feminist insights.... Happily, Shteir's book provides a record of the golden age of American striptease, and she gives a persuasive account of its democratic verve and feminist appeal. Striptease, Shteir argues, 'gave women a chance to realize the American dream' and a way to 'overcome their working-class origins and make it.' Both flaunting sexuality and making fun of it, the girlie show found an irreverent way to educate Americans about sex. Shteir's scholarly and very entertaining book is part of that great tradition."--Elaine Showalter, Washington Post Book World

"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.... Shteir's discussions of the ways that striptease informed American culture and her careful descriptions of the women and their milieu are bright moments."--Publishers Weekly

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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: 1,505,329
  • 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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