The most influential 50s burlesque dancers, who were successful in their decade and the genre. Effeuilleuse legends in the height of their fame, up and coming burly-Q beauties and the new bad girls of burlesque. It can only be 50s burlesque.
By the 1950s burlesque had been clamped down on in New York. It continued elsewhere in the US but was becoming less popular. Enter a new breed of showgirls and bad burlesque girls.
(Image from Wild West Burlesque)
April March was one of the innovators of the elegant striptease. After being discovered she soon moved to Dallas to train as a burlesque dancer. April March’s mix of innocence and sensuality instantly charmed audiences.
She went onto work with some of the greats in the burlesque dancing industry such as Lili St. Cyr, Blaze Starr and Ann Corio. In the following decade she even became known as ‘The First Lady of Burlesque’ due to her resemblance to Jackie O. She adopted the title as it was in-keeping with her demure stage persona.
April March took risks in her career, turning down both straight acting on Broadway, lucrative contracts and a Playboy photoshoot in favour of burlesque. She did it her way and became an international burlesque star. For that we curtsy to the First Lady of Burlesque.
Unfortunately, there’s very little surviving footage of April March burlesque dancing. You can see her at the Legends Walk of Fame in the Burlesque Hall of Fame. Of course she’s the last in the line up:
Check out two of the hottest burlesque dancers performing in Dallas: Ginger Valentine and Missy Lisa.
(Image from Vintage Gal)
When April March landed in Dallas they were also training a certain other burlesque dancer, Candy Barr. Posters advertised, “Sweet Li’l Candy Barr. If cowgirls look like candy, why do those crazy cowboys kiss their horses?”
Candy Barr really gained national success in America due to her notorious personal life. Her bad girl reputation along with her blonde innocence caught the crowd’s imaginations. She was sentenced to 15 years in prison for drug possession and was soon earning big pay packets in LA burlesque clubs and Las Vegas as a surprising consequence.
In 1959 she taught Joan Collins burlesque dancing for one of her roles, earning Miss Candy Barr a film credit. She said, “Anytime Miss Collins wants to leave the movies, she has it made in burlesque.”
Joan Collins wrote in her autobiography, Past Imperfect, “She taught me more about sensuality than I had learned in all my years under contract.” She went onto describe her as, “A down-to-earth girl with an incredibly gorgeous body and an angelic face.”
Candy Barr eventually fled across the Mexican border with the help of her gangster boyfriend, Mickey Cohen. In the end she served three years in prison.
After being released in 1963 she had another high profile relationship with Jack Ruby, the shooter of Lee Harvey Oswald. Then in 1967 she was pardoned of her previous conviction. Phew! See what all the fuss was about:
(Image from World of Wonder)
Jennie Lee is infamous for her unforgettable burlesque gimmick. She was known for her ample cleavage and spinning her nipple tassels as fast as she possibly could. Jennie Lee became known both as ‘The Bazoom Girl’ and ‘The Burlesque Version of Jayne Mansfield‘.
She went onto minor film roles even starring alongside Mamie Van Doren in 3 Nuts in Search of a Bolt (1964). Though her crowning glory was founding The Exotic Dancers’ League of North America (EDL).
The EDL slowly grew into a collection of burlesque costumes and memorabilia. Jennie Lee continued to preserve burlesque history, forming Exotic World museum in Helendale, California.
With her failing health in the late-1960s she recruited her friend Dixie Evans. Jennie Lee’s legacy has since been preserved by Dixie Evans and the burlesque resurgence into what we now know as the Burlesque Hall of Fame in Las Vegas.
As part of the annual Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend there’s even a Jennie Lee award for nipple tassel twirling. Winners of the award include Miss Dirty Martini in 2004 when she also won the Miss Exotic World title. Here’s to her legacy continuing to flourish.
(Image from Dixie’s Burlesque)
This list wouldn’t be complete without the amazing living legend that is Dixie Evans. After her successful burlesque career, she moved out to the desert to care for the pioneering burlesque dancer Jennie Lee.
To support the Exotic World museum she began the Miss Exotic World Pageant. The annual event is now known as the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend and is the most renowned burlesque event of the calendar.
According to her Facebook, this June she plans to launch The Dixie Evans Burlesque Show. It will be, “Incorporating the roots of burlesque in comedy, variety, and sexy striptease.”
Not enough can be said about this burlesque dancer’s influence on and importance in the burlesque community. Check out ‘The Marilyn Monroe of Burlesque’ at Exotic World:
(Image from The Wam Bam Club)
The vivacious burlesque dancer, Blaze Starr, was known as ‘The Hottest Blaze in Burlesque’. Alongside Tempest Storm she was also known as one of the busty bad girls of burlesque.
Blaze Starr was the queen of Baltimore burlesque for over 20 years. Though speaking of her first performance, she said she, “burned with embarrassment, not shame.”
The Washington Post said, “When she first took her brassiere off, a riot of noise rose from the audience, shaking dust from the ceiling, rattling the electric lights. All she had to do was move a little and the thunder boomed.”
Such was Blaze Starr’s stage presence and curvaceous beauty. Watch her burlesque dancing:
Learn a little more from This is How You Burlesque… Blaze Starr.
(Image from Ecce Venter)
Tempest Storm is known for having one of the longest burlesque dancing careers in history. She performed for over 50 years after making her fame through her fiery red hair and voluptuous figure. Tempest storm also starred in several burlesque movies including Teaserama alongside Bettie Page.
Tempest Storm was a featured dancer and among her many travels starred in Oakland, California, Las Vegas, Reno and Portland, Oregon. Though, she also had a few burlesque rivalries along the way. As you can see (above) Tempest Storm and Evelyn West were in competition.
Then when working in Portland, Oregon, she left the Star Theatre to work at the Capital Theatre that her then-husband John Becker had bought. The spurned Star Theatre hired her husband’s ex-wife, Arabelle Andre, to play ‘John’s Other Wife’. Scandalous. It’s Tempest Storm who we remember and celebrate so she won in the end.
Watch Tempest Storm burlesque dancing: