How I “Got Into” Burlesque.
I’m always asked, “How did you get into burlesque?” Which I find so funny, as I think, am I “in” burlesque?
For several years I had been producing, writing and staring in a one-woman show “Staar.” I had based her on Gypsy Rose Lee and Mae West. I knew of the word “burlesque” but I didn’t actually know what it meant. So, I started researching. What I quickly learned was there was nothing from the performer’s point of view. Especially the women. No one had asked them how they got into burlesque, what their families thought, what happened to them after their heyday.
I distinctly remember the moment sitting on the couch and saying to my husband “I’m going to do a documentary.” I called a dear friend, Sheri Hellard, who shared a love of women’s stories and the arts, and she had a camera. “Wanna go make a documentary?” And off we went. We spent over two years criss-crossing America looking forever burlesque performer we could find that was still alive. We concentrated on the golden age of the art form, the 1920s through the 1950s. We spoke to men and women who had played in burlesque bands, theatre owners, wardrobe people, comedians, and the strippers.
The ultimate film Behind the Burly Q, debuted on Showtime in 2010 and has played, and continues to play. The problem was I had so many stories, too many. They couldn’t all make the film, so I decided to write my first book, “Behind the Burly Q.”
A few months later, Dardy Minsky, who had been married to one of the biggest impresario’s of burlesque Harold Minsky (of the family fame of “A Night at Minsky’s”) approached me with a bunch of audio tapes and boxes of information on her sister, a legendary stripper, Lili St. Cyr and told me “You have to do her story.” I had no interested in revisiting the subject of burlesque. I had done it. However, my curiosity got the better of me and then I began researching Lili and once again discovered no one had told her story. Five years later my bestseller “Goddess of Love Incarnate” came out.
Since “Behind the Burly Q,” and then “Goddess of Love Incarnate” the name Faith Bacon had been floating around in my head. I knew a little about her Fan Dancer in the 1930s, tragic life, crowned the “most beautiful girl in the world” by both producer Earl Carroll and Flo Ziegfeld, Jr. And of course, I had already interviewed Sally Rand’s son, Sean. Their stories fascinated me and you really could not have one without the other. Both had been fan dancers, both blonde beauties. Both worked several of the same world’s fairs. They had had a nasty fight in the press, each claiming to be the original fan dancer.
More showgirls than burlesque both Sally and Faith were the epitome of what at the time was considered the idealized version of the American woman.
What’s next for me? You’ll have to wait and see.
Zemeckis current book, Feuding Fan Dancers will be published October 2nd, 2018 about Sally Rand, Faith Bacon and the golden age of the showgirl. @Lesliezemeckis, www.lesliezemeckis.com Follow Leslie Zemeckis on IG and Twitter.