Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Beats a Family Trip to the Zoo

On a weekend afternoon in the bland, uptight nineteen-fifties, shortly after I’d finished college, my parents persuaded my boyfriend, who was always eager to please them, to take us to New Jersey to attend a burlesque and striptease show...So we piled into the car, mother, stepfather, boyfriend, and I, and went to Union City’s Hudson Theatre, where the pie-throwing episodes and lewd dialogues of classical burlesque alternated with a succession of gorgeously clad women who, to the strains of such numbers as “Blues in the Night,” very slowly and majestically disrobed.

One stripper that I remember particularly well was attired in a sumptuous black sequinned evening gown, with a huge feather boa draped across her shoulders. As a raucous male chorus of “Take it off! Take it off!” rang out through the theatre, she lingered for a good five minutes over the disposal of her gloves alone, strutting about the stage with an expression of smoldering aloofness...

Up to now, there has been curiously little satisfying literature about this venerable American genre. A number of entertainers have published their reminiscences in the past few years, but, with one or two exceptions, these have tended to be tedious. So the first serious history of the form, Rachel Shteir’s “Striptease: The Untold History of the Girlie Show” (Oxford; $30), could prove to be a landmark work.

From a review of Stiptease: The Untold History of the Girlie Show, by Rachel Shteir, in the New Yorker.

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