Monday, March 19th, 2012...3:43 pm

Burlesque beauties

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Photographs of female erotic and burlesque performers, ca. 1927-1943, MS Thr 824 (15).

Bunny Ware. MS Thr 824 (15).

What makes a good burlesque striptease dancer?  As former performer Jane Woods aka “Shawna St. Clair” from the Golden Days of Burlesque Historical Society would say one who “…learned the art of removing her costume, inch by inch, slowly and sensuously, with smoothness and grace.  She never lost the beat of the music, nor forgot for a moment that she must appear seductive and completely feminine from every angle, to every viewer’s eye.”  Clearly the lovely Bunny Ware who is pictured understood the every angle idea.  What is often forgotten is that early burlesque in America had little to do with striptease, it was a mixture of circus and minstrel shows combined with a little bit of dance hall.  This gradually changed as American burlesque evolved from bawdy songs with a flash of ruffled drawers to a more scandalous G-string and pasties.   

Photographs of female erotic and burlesque performers, ca. 1927-1943, MS Thr 824 (120).

Sally Keith. MS Thr 824 (120).

One of Boston’s most famous burlesque dancers in the 1940s was Sally Keith known as the “Queen of the Tassel Tossers!”  Keith headlined in the infamous Scollay Square at the Crawford House’s Theatrical Bar and was legendary for being able to move her tassels in different directions at the same time.  Sally was so popular that when she was attacked and robbed in her hotel room at the Crawford it made the papers in Boston.  Sally was also once quoted in a Harvard Crimson article saying that she can “spot” a Harvard man from afar, because he is clean-cut and appears to have much practical intelligence.  “Harvardians know a good thing when they see it, and I do try to let them see it.

To find more information about photographs of other female burlesque performers go to our online finding aid.  Photographs of Female Erotic and Burlesque Performers, ca. 1927-1943 (MS Thr 824): Guide.  This has been recently cataloged from the Fredric Woodbridge Wilson Collection of Theatre, Dance and Music (Harvard Theatre Collection).

[post contributed by Alison Harris, Archival Processor]