Chapter 2b: The Strip Show Audience
Fashion Shows, Strip Shows and BeautyPageants: The Theatre of The Feminine Ideal
Chapter II: The Audience
Part b: The Audience of the Strip show
An almost diametrically opposing audience attitude has brought about acompletely different performer image in strip shows. Strip shows, largely attended by amale audience, have progressively become more sex-oriented as the art form has developed.Applause and increased ticket sales, in effect, bribed performers to "take off alittle bit more" and so the strip tease developed into the shape it is known bytoday.
But who was this audience? Why was it shaped in that way? Who was outthere clapping their hands when strippers sang "Clap your hands and I'll take off alittle bit more"?
The burlesque audience, in contrast to the fashion show audience, wasalmost entirely composed of men. Descriptions of the audience are common in the 1930'swhen the striptease had finally become the main drawing feature of burlesque and assortedwriters became obsessed with explaining why such an openly pornographic form of theatreshould be both permitted and popular in the supposedly puritan United States.
The Irving Palace Theatre, the most "uptown" (and expensive)of the burlesque houses catered to the best economic class of audience, but their audiencebehavior, as described in H.M. Alexander's Striptease; The Vanished Art of Burlesque(1938) indicates shame at their own attendance:
There are many people in line. They avoid your eyes when you look at them. They are embarrassed at being there. You get the first whiff of something not exactly healthy which will later be easier to define. In spite of the prices which are top in burlesque, you see quite a few sweaters and caps. There is a salesman with his zipper notebook and a crowd of engineers from Steven's Tech in Hoboken. There are a few women. Not the forty percent that the boys would have you believe, but a few.
The usher...points out your seat...People have to get up to let you by, and again you intercept a feeling of shame in the averted looks and elaborate indifference....You understand them, their embarrassment, the air of tension. Onanists come to refresh their store of erotic images. The heavy bosom is encored greedily so not a curve will go unremembered."
Morton Minsky in Minsky's Burlesque (1986), usually one to claim thathis burlesque audience was a "family" audience from the neighborhood of thetheatre despite considerable evidence to the contrary, reported a conversation in the1930's between Gypsy Rose Lee and her sister, June Havoc:
Have you ever heard of any other public who sit with a newspaper covering their lap? You see, the reason for that paper is simple--It's because they're masturbating...and I guess they'd rather not be seen by the other Johns. God! All the stuff they bring in with them---It's an education! Milk bottles and raw liver and---You don't believe me? Check the alley. See what they sweep out of here at night...let me tell you, June, my audience is no scabbier, no sicker than yours, but my audience is more useful. Oh, yes---While they sit out there jerking off, I'm the one using them. Because there's another audience coming to watch my audience watch me!
According to Bernard Sobel in Burleycue: An Underground History ofBurlesque Days (1931) the audience could get pretty rowdy once the show started:
"Take that dame off," somebody shouts. "She can't sleep with me." And then everyone laughs sufficiently until the next wisecrack.
"Shake 'em up! Shake 'em up!" comes from this place and that as one of the strip dancers comes down the runway and archly shakes her finger at the insubordinate ones. Somebody flings a coin from the gallery. There are cat calls and howls.
"Look at those 'tits'!" exclaims a young fellow transported away by the proportions of the chorus lady's breasts.
Backstage the performers discuss the night's audience:
"They're fresh tonight," complains one of the strip dancers, a buxom young woman with bare breast, [sic] a jeweled decoration across her hip and a flimsy yellow robe in her hand. "Wise guys in the gallery."
"There's an old guy out in the front row, a linotyper on some big paper. He's seen the show about six times. Can you imagine that? Grey- haired, old guy. Sends me presents of fruit, and sometimes a dirty picture---"
"Say," said the girl with black curls, "That fellow's out there again tonight--The one who shows you his 'sex'."
While obviously this exhibitionist was unusual enough an audience memberto be remarked upon by the performers, he was clearly not so unusual to warrant ejectionfrom the house. Forty years later, "Misty," another stripper, mentioned withannoyance the exhibitionists in the audiences of the early 1970's: "Some of the youngdancers, who had the brains of a radish, thought it was a form of flattery and that thepoor guy probably couldn't help himself."
44 Thepersistence of this form of audience behavior would indicate that what Geoffrey Gorer, in HotStrip Tease: And Other Notes on American Culture (1937) said about burlesque was (andis) true, that strip shows catered, fairly openly, to the sexual gratification of menunable to afford or acquire "more solid satisfaction."
I think it may be taken for granted that the greater number of men who go to burlesque theaters week after week, year after year--do not go there for purely aesthetic reasons, or for simple entertainment; The extra-ordinary [sic] monotony of the performances would exclude both possibilities. They almost certainly go there for sexual stimulation...this is their only dream, and they go by themselves, shut in, intent, determined to exclude the life they know; If they concentrate hard enough maybe they will get the physical illusion of reality.
The furtive nature of the strip show audience had not changed when JohnElsome reported in Erotic Theatre (1974) that strip clubs in England before 1960 wereplaces that made ordinary normal men feel like sexual perverts:
This sleaziness mirrored social attitudes towards male sexual fantasies: That they were sordid, things to be kept to oneself, the product of dirty minds and dissatisfied bodies. The myth predominated that strip clubs were for lonely old men, who could not receive satisfaction any other way. The audiences in fact belonged to a wide cross-section of age and class groups, though nearly all men. But the legend was so forcibly maintained that people seemed almost physically to change as they sidled through the doorways. The young well-dressed man, full of self-confidence in Oxford Street, would hunch his shoulders, turn his collar up and seem physically smaller when he paid for his ticket to a strip club in Brewer Street.
Once in the theatre, however, with the house lights down, mob psychologykicks in and makes these embarrassed, frightened individuals into a group with somethingintimate in common, and the audience reacts to the performances with an enthusiasm thatmost performers would kill for:
She turns around and bumps...The pants come off and she takes her bow in a G-string. There is applause, mostly from the first four rows. The white lights go up and the tramp comic and his straight man are on the stage hollering. But the first four rows won't let them go on. They keep applauding for Sylvie. The band gives her the last few bars of her song, she takes another bow, there is a blackout, but the first four rows continue to applaud...This time she comes out in only her G-string and little red hat. She pulls the curtain across her middle with one hand, undoes her G-string with another, and just before the blackout, she whirls it round and round in the spot to show that (underneath the curtain) she really hasn't a thing on...still the audience applauds. The show is being delayed. Suddenly the house lights flash on and there is an instant and shocked silence...It's the tip-off on people who come to see a burlesque show. They were all frightened into quiet because no one wanted the others to see how excited he was."
The sometimes pathetic nature of the men in the dark is further exploredby feminist writer Deirdre English in "The Politics of Porn: Can Feminists Walk theLine?" who asks the obvious question: Who exactly is really being exploited bypornography? On a tour of New York's pornography district in Times Square, she comes tothe conclusion that the consumer is more exploited than the performer:
We proceeded upstairs, to a line of antiseptic-smelling booths, where men watched a nude woman dance and give little touches and tastes of herself through slots in the booth's glass fronts. It was like seeing people at the zoo feeding bits of junk food to the bears, only the other way around. It was truly sad.
I felt overcome by the presence of so many layers of exploitation. The men are here to exploit the women; The women, too, are here to exploit the men. Actually since there are so few women (but hundreds of thousands of pictures of them), the overwhelming feeling is one of the commercial exploitation of male sexual desire. There it is, embarrassingly desperate, tormented, demeaning itself, begging for relief, taking any substitute, and paying for it. Men who live for this are suckers, and their uncomfortable demeanor shows they know it. If, as a woman, you can detach yourself...you see how totally tragic they appear.
While English is talking about all sorts of pornography consumersbesides those that attend strip shows, her conclusions could just as accurately describethe figures depicted by Reginald Marsh in his famous paintings and drawings of burlesqueshows in the 1930's and 1940's. While his strippers look lively, sensuous, andaggressively healthy and plump, his spectators, for the most part are hollow-cheeked,frowning, slumped over, with collars turned up, looking sour and depressed.
50 Some are even wearing dark glasses indoors.
51 Most seem to look at their shoes. Not only did the audienceshow self-contempt when they slunk into a burlesque show alone, with collar turned up andhead bowed down, but the performers frequently expressed contempt for their audience. H.M.Alexander asked a stripper in 1938:
"Does the audience ever embarrass you?"
"Them?" asks the stripper incredulously. "I should say not! I make more money, twice as much, as any of them. I'm better than they are."
"How was today's audience?" you ask. "Cheap or decent?"
"I never give much of a damn," says the stripper. "I just do anything to get them to applaud. If they give me a good hand, they're O.K.. If they don't, they're nothing but a bunch of bums."
The advent of the sexual revolution in the late Twentieth Century hascaused some strippers to have a more benevolent attitude towards their audience. Forinstance a stripper speaking in the 1986 documentary Stripper, about the 1983 FirstAnnual Strippers's Convention, saw her job as fulfilling a useful function in the sexlives of the audience outside the theatre:
I think it must be difficult for men to--to maintain a decent amount of erections in a lifetime--I mean, you just don't get it, that just doesn't happen--You have to be stimulated and they like to be. They like to be places where other men are, they like to talk, and they like to have drinks and they like to watch women (pause) take their clothes off, and then I think it could be really healthy for a man to get stimulated by a dancer and then to go home and give his energy to someone he loves. (Pause) Procreate.
Strippers often justify the ethics of their work in terms of providingsexual therapy for the exhibitionists in the audience and sexual education for the others.According to Miller in "Entertainment as Deviant Work":
Based in part on their experiences with the men who can be seen from the stage, many strippers claim that such shows are necessary in order to protect the society from the sexual assaults that would undoubtably occur if these men had no place to act out their sexual desires. Some strippers claim to provide an educational service for... adolescents and young men who are ignorant of the female body and sexuality.
While many of the audience members shown in the film Stripperseemed to behave in the traditional manner of the old burlesque audience, i.e. ashamed tobe seen but excited in the dark, the sexual revolution would seem to have also had animpact on the self image of certain audience groups.
For example, the audience in the tiny Western cowboy town of Nanton,Alberta, stood up, howled and hollered in the full glare of the neon lights of the town'scoffee shop, where the normally dressed coffee shop waitresses disapprovingly served thembeer and little boys on the street pressed their noses to the large plate glass cafewindows watching. One cowboy went so far as to join one of the strippers on stage andstripped himself down to his underwear, all the while being encouraged by the other men inthe audience. This is doubly intriguing behavior in a town so small, that everyone mostlikely knows everyone else.
Also, audiences accustomed to the more graphic sexual images ofpornographic films are sometimes seemingly shocked at not being shocked. A Los Angelesstrip club is also shown in Stripper, where the men are transformed, not into ahowling mob, but into a group of rapt worshippers as a nude dancer does an ethereal"Loie Fuller"-style dance with a chiffon cape. They sit, silent, motionless andserene with expressions of astonishment and joy, at the cleanness and beauty of theperformance.
However, most of the audiences depicted in Stripper conform, atleast in part, to the traditional type. The shame is less and the lusty noise is more thanthat seen in theaters earlier, but the two main ingredients evidently are still importantparts of audience behavior in most modern strip clubs. And as the "positive feedback'of the audience response increases, so does the competition between performers to createthe most sexually exciting performance. As a result, strip performances becomeincreasingly graphic and aggressive depictions of stylized sex, and the strip which"started with dropping a shoulder strap...and ended up in a G-string" becomes amore openly sexual performance with each passing year.
The burlesque strip show grew out of the American version of theclassical burlesque tradition. Burlesques were originally staged parodies of famousclassical and popular literary works. Ancient history (Greek and Roman), Shakespeare andboth popular plays and novels were all parodied in Nineteenth Century burlesques inEngland and America. Typically, the productions of these burlesques included not onlyliterary parody but "low" comedy, topical comedy, cross-dressing, and lavishsets and costumes.
55 The most popular cross-dressing in theVictorian Era naturally was the portrayal of "boy" roles by women, since itafforded a "legitimate" excuse for putting Victorian actresses in short tunicsand tights, without arousing the outrage of censors.
In burlesque, however, the public taste pushed the censor's tolerancesto their limits. Tunics were shorter, tights were often flesh-toned and the comic"bits" within the show occasionally skated towards ribald humor and doubleentendre. According to Irving Zeidman in The American Burlesque Show (1967)"Burlesque has always featured soubrettes and chorines who uncovered themselves tothe limit the law would permit." Zeidman then cites several proto-strip performers ofthe early 20th Century to back his claim, among them Truly Shattuck who did an"instantaneous change from full costume to tights," "Dainty Marie" whomade a hit in 1912 by distributing her cast-off clothing to the audience, Millie De Leonwhose 1915 act in St. Louis included stripping the ruffles off her gown one at a time, andEdna Maze who in the 1919 "Patriotic Revue" Cheer Up America sang "I TakeOff A Little Bit," and suiting the action to the words, "discarded her outergarments until she finally stood revealed in black lace trunks."
According to Zeidman no single person "invented" the striptease although many different people have been credited with being the sole inventor invarious theatrical myths about the "birth" of striptease.
However literal truth is not the substantive truth to be found in anymythology. The myths (about the origin of striptease) show, not the literal, individualtruth (of who started stripping where and when), but the larger, generalised truth of howstripping developed over time. Comparing the common elements of these myths reveals theessential role that the burlesque audience played in encouraging, through the force ofapplause and improved ticket sales, the development of strip-tease from early proto-stripnumbers to full stripping.
For instance, H.M. Alexander interviewed people backstage at the IrvingPalace Theatre just before the 1938 closing of New York burlesque houses and asked thequestion, "What started all this?"
"An accident"...Miss Vivian tells you that someone in the show was...in the chorus when her shoulder strap broke. The audience riotously approved. The girl liked the applause. At the next performance she broke the strap herself."
Later Alexander confronted the stage manager in the same theatre withthe producer's story and asked:
"How did the strip get so naked? Did the bosses give more money to the girls who took off more clothes?"
"The girls who drew the most customers got the most dough...The girls knew the crowds came to see flesh. Little by little they showed more."
Ann Corio, a stripper who some quite inaccurately claim originated thestrip, related one of the most popular "origin" myths in her 1968 book ThisWas Burlesque: This was another reported "accident" at the State-CongressTheatre in 1928 where Hinda Wassau was wearing one costume on top of another.
Under the frantic vibrations of her anatomy, the outer costume started to come loose...The audience howled...At the climax of her number the costume came completely loose and she removed it. The applause at the end of her number was thunderous.
Morton Minsky in Minsky's Burlesque (1986) claimed that stripteaseoriginated in 1917 at the Minsky Theatre, The National Winter Garden, also due to an"accident" that thrilled the audience: "They wouldn't let her go. Theyclapped like crazy...Between the heat and the applause, Mae lost her head, and unbuttonedher bodice as she left the stage again."
The element most common in these origin myths, apart from the supposedly"accidental" nature of the dancers's participation, is the contention thatoverwhelming audience approval led to the continuance and further development of thestrip. In other words, the audience reaction to the "accidents" was sooverwhelming, that the audience, in effect was to blame for the origin ofstripping.
While the particulars of the origin myths of stripping cannot be takentoo literally, it is verifiable that the audience support of burlesque was strongest whenand where stripping formed a large part of the show. Burlesque's ticket sales increased inthe period between the two world wars in direct proportion to the rise of the strip act.As Variety put it:
With stripping still the basis of all burlesque layouts, business was best when conditions... permitted more stripping. When there was no stripping, there was no business, and usually no burlesque. A few stout-hearted gents attempted to buck the dry spots anyway with "clean" shows, but they didn't last.
And if audience disfavor of "clean" burlesque wasn't enough ofan inducement for producers to encourage stripping, the self-sabotaging efforts of censorsto harass "dirty" shows were. Every time a theatre was raided for publicindecency, ticket sales went up. Billy Minsky even used out oftown censors to boost his New York ticket sales by deliberately hiring strippers whoseacts were closed by the censor in other towns, and then billing them as "the act thatwas too hot for name of town ." Much of Georgia Sothern's advance publicity in NewYork was about her "escort by police" out of Philadelphia.
62 It was this open advertisement of the supposed indecency ofher performance which led to a huge advance ticket sale. In short, the audience wanted an"indecent" performance and was eager to pay for it, which in essence is whatcaused the progressive nudity of the strip even if it didn't actually originate the stripitself.
Nancy Friday observed in Men in Love, Men's Sexual Fantasies: TheTriumph of Love Over Rage that men respond to the stimulation of seeing an actualnaked woman in person or in photographs in the same way that women respond to thedeliberately vague images of men conjured up by romantic literature--with potent eroticfantasies. This is why men generally turn to "picture-books" like Playboy andHustler, for masturbatory images, while their wives resort to "women'sliterature" ranging from Wuthering Heights to The Story of O. Whilewomen like to imagine fantasy men, men like to fantasize about real women:
In women's fantasies the men do not seem real, but actors sent from M-G-M. They are usually not friends or lovers from her present or past, but amorous strangers...Depriving the fantasy partner of a familiar face, making him wear a mask, or having everything happen in the dark are some of the most popular methods women use to handle guilt in fantasy. The definition of the demon lover for women is that he is never seen with photographic clarity.
Men react in just the opposite way---hence the great popularity of the nude in girlie magazines. The more a man can see, the closer the dream is to reality, the more specific, the more real the woman---the more exciting. Most of the fantasies in this book are built upon memories of real women. It is the boyhood neighbor next door who lights up man's imagination, the first woman with whom he ever had oral sex...The faceless stranger may be the prime feminine sex object, but a man likes to identify whom he is in bed with.
And he likes to see her in as much physical detail as possible, whichhas encouraged strippers in recent years even to display their genital area during thefloor show in response to the male interest in visual erotic stimulation. Female eroticfiction in its sex scenes tends to gloss over or omit entirely a description of the malemember. (Anne Rice prides herself on being one of the "leading femalepornographers" in America under an assumed name; but in her most famous works underher own name, The Vampire Chronicles, she has made the most erotic, sexuallycharged male figures in her fiction, vampires, completely sexually impotent.)In contrast, many men, Friday notes, love to dwell on the sight and smell of femalegenitalia, and in fantasies like this one, offer a worshipful admiration of the femalesexual organs:
If I had been a child of more primitive times, I would have been---literally (as I am now figuratively)---a worshiper of the Glorious Female Cunt. If a painter or sculptor, I am sure I would be spending all my time painting or sculpting heroic-sized copies of that most beautiful and most awe-inspiring creation of a benevolent deity.
However, Friday observes that among those men who fantasize about womenoffering up their sexual organs for view "how often they happen to have chosen tomarry women who will not permit oral sex."
This sexual double standard has also had a profound influence on stripshow audience expectations. Male audience members who would be horrified and disgusted tofind their mothers, sisters, daughters and wives behaving in an overtly sexual manner inpublic, nonetheless enjoy watching comparatively anonymous women doing so, as part of afantasy sexual ideal. That is to say that the average American male enjoys looking atcenterfolds, but probably would be shocked and dismayed at his daughter showing up as"Miss April" in all her airbrushed glory. As Warren Jamison put it in a letterto Dear Abby on March 12, 1990:
Men like to look. Some enjoy looking at horses, paintings, football and cars. But they are all genetically programmed to enjoy looking at women.
It's in our hormones; It hits us when they heat up about age 14 and stays with us for the rest of our lives.
You feel threatened because your man isn't content to confine his looking only at you. Lighten up. All this looking doesn't mean a thing--except that he's human. Your man doesn't compare you to the topless bar girls, because he loves you. He loves you for a thousand reasons, one of which is because you don't get up on a stage and prance around bare-bosomed, where anyone with the price of a cup of coffee can look at you.
This kind of Madonna/whore conflict in the expectations of male audiencemembers leads to a kind of exaggerated image of sexuality in strip performances (whichhave openly avowed their sexual content since the 1920's) because they are seen as thetheatrical equivalent of whorishness.
"Misty" a middle-aged housewife and mother, forced to stripfor a living after divorcing an abusive husband, found nearly everyone, including heraudience, automatically assumed she was a "not nice" because she stripped:
Why do men come to watch the strippers since it is not nice? Is it because they want to be titillated, and then be able to shift their guilt feelings to the dancer by blaming her for the way she makes them feel? I think so. I think strippers are considered not nice because they reflect emotions that other people, mainly men, do not like to admit.
Given this general attitude that stripping placed women in a special"not nice" category, the ideal image of strippers has generally not been that ofman's ideal of womanhood in the sense of mother, wife or daughter, but man's ideal ofpurely sexualized womanhood, the "Seductress." Obviously, every individual manhas his own personal fantasy in this direction, but there are several points upon whichmost men seem to concur, one being the importance of breasts as part of an eroticizedfemale. Susan Brownmiller in her book Femininity describes this fixation.
It is [men] who invent and refine the myths, who discuss breasts publicly, who criticize their failings as they extol their wonders, and who claim to have more need and intimate knowledge of them than a woman herself. Without doubt it was men who created the fetish of size and shape, for the ability to breast-feed has nothing to do with external dimensions, and pleasurable sensation resides in the erectile tissue of the nipples, not in the bulk. But the otherness of breasts, their service in the scheme of male erotic satisfaction, long ago promoted the myth that a flat chested woman is non-sexual or ungiving. At the other extreme, a woman with large breasts is usually assumed to be flaunting her sex or inviting attention.
Frequently successful strippers indicate that their careers were"made" by an ample set of breasts. "Susan" a topless dancerinterviewed in Breasts: Women Speak About Their Breasts and Their Lives (1979), claimedthat large breasts were an advantage in stripping: "The size of your breasts alwaysdetermined how many bookings you got."
68 And Fanny BelleFleming, better known as the stripper Blaze Starr popular in the 1950's and 1960's,attributed her success with audiences to "big boobs."
69 TempestStorm, her contemporary from Georgia, also claimed she was encouraged to become a stripperbecause she was told her abnormally large bosom would ensure audience approval.
Large breasts also were a plus in the life of Carol Doda in the 1960'sand 70's, who transformed a lackluster job as a minor stripper into an acclaimed career asthe queen of the San Francisco strip scene by getting one of the first silicone implantoperations to augment her from an A cup to a double D.
Perhaps the most famous set of breasts in the strip trade was that of avery early stripper, Carrie Finnell. Finnell, while having a frankly fat figure(occasionally described as bovine) in the lean 1920's, as well as being fairly old for astripper, had such extraordinary control over her mammary muscles that she could do"tricks" with her bosom including pointing them in any direction and tasseltwirling, male audience fascination with breasts having encouraged these rather baroqueperformances into further marvels of muscle control. (The particulars of Finnell'sperformances will receive further attention in Chapter III part b.)
Another basic male fantasy about the ideal "Seductress" orsexualized female is that she is always "ready for action." Esquire magazine, inits first year of publication, pointed out why Mae West was so popular with men while notnecessarily being as beautiful or glamorous or talented as other female film stars:
"Miss West breaks down the law...That women must take no pleasure in sex and must only with reluctance and distaste, gratify the rude desires of men...exposing the awful secret that women may desire men as much, or nearly as much as men desire women."
Later when Playboy had taken Esquire's place as theleading magazine devoted to men's sex interests, letters to "The Playboy Forum"by readers indicate that men are still pleased with and attracted to sexually aggressivewomen: In one issue a male reader was outraged at an article in which Adrienne Burnettedeplored "dominant women" and liked a man to make all the moves so she could"lie back and enjoy it." The male reader countered that "I and my friendshate that routine and would love nothing better than to see more women take the lead, paytheir fair share and make their share of the moves. I don't feel the least bit threatenedby aggressive women."
73 In the same issue another manreported with delight on the action of a female co-worker in aggressively initiating a sexact in his car.
In addition, while passive females are the staple of women's"bodice ripper" pornography, the longtime staple of men's literary porn is thesexually aggressive female (the exception being certain Sadomasochistic literature). NancyFriday noted that contrary to the stereotypical "macho" image of men as sexualaggressors, men are more likely to fantasize themselves as the seduced than the seducers:
At the heart of even the most shocking S&M fantasy we find...men...turn their fury not against women but against themselves. Any call girl will tell you that more clients pay to play the victim at a woman's hands than the other way around.
In my books on women's sexual fantasies [My Secret Garden, Forbidden Flowers] the single greatest theme that emerged was that of "weak" women being sexually dominated, "forced" by male strength to do this deliciously awful thing... guiltlessly "raped" again and again.
Rape or force may be the most popular theme in female fantasy (though I've yet to meet a woman who wouldn't run a mile from a real rapist), but men's fantasies of overpowering women against their will are the exception. A closer reading will usually reveal that the woman is a volunteer or has given her consent first...pain or humiliation of the woman is usually not the goal. They are means toward an end: forcing her to admit the transports of sexual joy she has never known before.
The majority of male sexual fantasies described in Friday's work, incontrast, go even further, and feature women who either take the lead, or respond easilyand willingly to a tentative sexual advance.
This desire for an idealized seductress figure who would seem to becheerfully sexually aggressive did much to separate the most successful strip performersfrom the lesser ones. Strippers at the very bottom of the stripping profession, weredescribed by Gorer as showing clearly that they did not enjoy performing:
Her face is frozen into a smile, a smile without gaiety, without amusement, without friendliness, a hieratic distortion; A parody so empty that one wonders that one can ever have thought that a smile could have either charm or significance.
Gorer goes on to point out that strippers who convey enjoyment in theiract are better paid:
The one or two women who can convey some feeling of humanity to this act are well known and receive large salaries; Gypsy Rose Lee, who acts as though she enjoyed it, is said to earn a thousand dollars a week.
Morton Minsky pointed out that Lee, despite a thin flatchested figure,enchanted the audience with a lewd flirtatious patter in double entendre and"suggestive and seductive" costuming: "She used black silk stockings, lacepanties, red garters, and mesh netting."
Margie Hart, the next most famous stripper of the l930's and 40's alsoconveyed the impression of relaxed sexuality by performing without a discernable G-string.
79 Hinda Wassau, the leading star of the 1920's, and one of thefirst girls to be arrested for stripping (1927), made an act of "running the handsover her body slowly and lingeringly," panting, and otherwise imitating aself-induced orgasm.
Each of these performers was at the top of her profession makinghundreds of dollars a week in the midst of the Depression because they were able to givethe audience the impression of an aggressive rather than a passive sexuality. Thisnon-passive sexuality was still preferred when "Misty" in the 1970's asked themen at her day job in an office what they thought was most desirable in a strip performer:"The consensus seemed to be that girl who smiles and seems to enjoy what she is doingmakes the biggest hit."
81 By degrees this ability to seemto enjoy the sexual nature of the strip act went from the most-prized talent in strippingto becoming the minimum qualification, and now even mediocre strippers are expected toconvey an image of aggressive sexuality.
The audience by rewarding those performers who most closely imitated themasculine notions of an eroticized woman encouraged the performers to develop theironstage personas in line with male audience fantasies. This has fostered the image offemale burlesque performers as aggressively sexual women with abnormally large breasts whoenjoy exhibitionism in its sexual sense. This has also encouraged the development of striproutines which best display these apparent attributes.
Dissertation Index/Continueon to