You might say that The Golden Days of Burlesque Historical Society was created over lunch at the home of Tanayo, once billed as The Costa Rican Dream Girl, in December of 1994. Handing me an old address book, with scratched out faded names, many of which were stage names, she asked if I could help find old friends from her days on the burlesque stage. Three weeks later I accepted her challenge and the Burlesque Historical Society began to take shape.
When the search began Tanayo and I combined what addresses we had between us, which numbered close to twenty-five. But many of them were no longer good. People had moved, remarried or died. Several of the letters I sent out were returned. However some people we were looking for were found and they were very helpful. They were also interested in finding friends they had worked with in burlesque. So the group was beginning to form, even though at that time I am sure we didnt realize we were about to become a group. What also helped in the beginning was the fact that Jennie Lee, known as The Bazoom Girl during her career, did everything in her power to keep the dancers connected over the years. Jennie passed away in 1990, long before this group was created, but her interest in burlesque, its history and its people, has been a great help and inspiration to me over the years.
The growth of the Burlesque Historical Society was slow at first, and it still comes and goes in spurts. I suspect it may always be hard for me to comprehend how many thousands of people worked the various stages of burlesque, whether it was in theaters, clubs or carnivals. It took so many people to put on a show. Now stop and multiply that by all the shows that were playing simultaneously not only in the United States, but Mexico, Canada, Europe and the Far East. These shows all required: performers, whether they be strip-tease dancers, specialty dancers, comics, straight men, talking women, MCs, chorus line dancers or house singers; directors and producers; agents; musicians; stagehands; costume designers; choreographers; candy butchers; theater managers and owners; ushers and cashiers and even still I may have left someone out. That leaves us with a lot of people to find! So we ask, WHERE ARE ALL THE PEOPLE WHO WORKED IN OLD TIME BURLESQUE?
As weeks progressed to months, and months to years, people were slowly being found. The list grew to 45, then 75, and we now know where over 200 people are all having worked in burlesque in one way or another. But there has to be even more people out there somewhere where are they? Can you help us locate them? If you know of anyone who worked in the burlesque theaters or clubs By or BEFORE 1965, (date negotiable)... please send me their information. Everybody is looking for somebody!
People continue to be found, and as long as they worked in old time burlesque in any fashion, they are a welcome part of this group. The group works well together, and they help find others. At this stage in the game from what I can tell, however, most of the men involved in burlesque are gone. They were usually older than the dancers. But the search continues, as it continues for all involved in the golden days of burlesque.
What The Golden Days of Burlesque Historical Society is all about is quite simple. We re-connect old friends who worked in burlesque with one another, and share information. In the past, several Reunions have been held in both California and Las Vegas. Will there be more Reunions? I cant say for sure. What seems to be most important to the people in the group is that they receive the newsletters that are put out four times a year and that they can reconnect and stay in touch with old friends. What is most important to the Burlesque Historical Society is that the history of old time Burlesque is preserved.
We should never forget our past. Many of the names of people who were involved in burlesque are names you are probably not familiar with. Thats because of all the thousands who worked the various burlesque stages. I feel as though I have barely scratched the surface as far as learning names or about the various performers themselves. But I have help. I have learned so much from his group of individuals, not only about burlesque, but also about life. Their stories, and their histories, must be preserved before its too late. The stigma surrounding burlesque must finally be put to rest. These people are and were performers of many talents. They all worked on a stage, out of reach of the audience. These performers put on a show with comedy, musical numbers, dancing, costumes, scenery and lights. I only hope that we can continue finding others who performed on the many stages of burlesque before its too late.
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Jane Briggeman, 532 Chase Blvd. #1 Sun Prairie, WI 53590
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