Girls A-Poppin’: Behind the Burly Q film preview
Behind The Burly Q isn’t so much a documentary as a thoroughly researched, jam-packed collection of vintage footage coupled with an oral history of burlesque theater from some of the last remaining grand dames and comics of that era. Director Leslie Zemeckis (wife of director Robert Zemeckis) was doing a show that touched on elements of burlesque; finding herself drawn to this largely undocumented part of history, she set out to make a comprehensive film as told by the performers who were there.
And she succeeded. Burly Q features back to back clips and extensive stories from spitfires like Dixie Evans (retired dancer and curator of the Burlesque Hall of Fame), Tempest Storm, Joan Arline (The Russian Wolfhound toting “Sexsquire Girl”), Betty Rowland, Kitty West, and Lily Ann Rose. Alan Alda makes an appearance, musing on being raised backstage when his father performed for a time as a “titsinger”. Early aerialists, acrobats, and musicians are also interviewed.
Stories range from the amusingly historic to the heartwrenching. April March recounts how in Dallas, girls ducked offstage to remove each layer of clothing so the act could pass as a costume change instead of a strip. Lily Ann Rose talks about being so afraid her “fur cat” might show that she shaved it off. Tempest Storm- who started out picking cotton and was brutally raped at 14- talks the semantics of name selection (“I didn’t feel like a Sunny Day”). Beverly Arlynne, whose crippling arthritis kept her from becoming a secretary, talks about the oft-misunderstood motivations for getting into the business. Some performers earned $1,500-$1,800 a week- more than most neo-burlesquers command today- while big names like Lili St. Cyr raked in $3,000-$5,000 in their prime.
Despite extensive travel, failed marriages, and the unexpected decline of the business, the prevailing memory of those interviewed is that the days on the burlesque circuit were the happiest of their lives. For a brief window of time when they were young, the stage families, adoration, and glamour transformed their lives into the remarkable. Leslie Zemeckis has done burlesque fans a favor in capturing some of these ladies’ last interviews on film.
*Behind the Burly Q runs from Aug 6-12 at The Grand Illusion. A possible mini-performance by a few ladies from Sinner Saint Burlesque is being talked about for opening night; details to follow next week.
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