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Meet the ‘black Charlie Chaplin’ who devised the Moonwalk before Michael Jackson
10.18.2016
10:29 am

Topics:
Dance
Music
Pop Culture

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Johnny Hudgins is not the first name to come to mind when considering influential 20th century comic performers—but perhaps he should be.

I had never heard of Johnny Hudgins until about a week ago when his name popped up in a conversation about long forgotten vaudeville stars. An old archivist friend was telling me how there were once many African-American blackface performers—among them Johnny Hudgins who became an international star in the 1920s. Hudgins was more than a star—he was hailed as “the colored Charlie Chaplin.” Famed for his trademark dance and comedy routines, Hudgins literally spawned a host of imitators I was informed—most notably Josephine Baker who copied his act and took it to France where she became a star.

I noted my friend’s information—it was one of those useful kernels to be tucked away for later use.

Then last night while catching-up on TV, I watched a documentary called Trailblazers of Dance—one part of the excellent Trailblazers of… series narrated by Slade’s Noddy Holder no less. From what I’ve seen of this series, it’s certainly one I’d recommend. Anyhow—in this documentary Hudgins again popped up—this time being credited as the originator of the “moonwalk”—the impossible-seeming dance step Michael Jackson made famous in his video for “Billie Jean.”
 
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Johnny Hudgins with the Blackbirds.
 
This spot of serendipity led me to do a little research on Johnny Hudgins.

For someone whose career apparently influenced the iconic Josephine Baker and Michael Jackson, who had Duke Ellington serenade him at supper, whose portrait was painted by Kees van Dongen, who was even filmed by Jean Renoir and who was so famous he had a kid’s doll made after him in France—there really isn’t a heck of a lot of stuff out there on dear old Mr. Hudgins—well, other than passing mentions in academic texts like this from Choreographing Copyright: Race, Gender, and Intellectual Property Rights in American Dance:

Virtually forgotten in the early twenty-first century, Johnny Hudgins was a celebrity in his day. Born in Baltimore in 1896, Hudgins began performing as a song-and-dance man on the burlesque circuit before joining Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake’s all-black revue The Chocolate Dandies in 1924. A successor to the song-writing team Sissle and Blake’s earlier hit, Shuffle Along (1921), The Chocolate Dandies was more ambitious—it featured extravagant stage settings, including live horses running on a treadmill during a horse race scene—but ultimately less profitable, closing on Broadway after ninety-six performances.

During his run in the musical, Hudgins developed a series of comic pantomime acts that won him acclaim nationally and internationally. The most famous of these was his “Mwa, Mwa” routine, in which he opened and closed his mouth in silent mimicry of the “wah wah” sounds of an accompanying trumpet or cornet.

Branded both the successor of the celebrated blackface vaudevillian Bert Williams and “the colored Charles Chaplin,” Hudgins spawned a host of imitators, among them Josephine Baker, who appeared with him in The Chocolate Dandies.

After touring Europe for several years in the mid-1920s, Hudgins returned to the United States to star in Lew Leslie’s Blackbirds of 1928. By 1930 he was reported to be the “highest paid night club entertainer of his Race.” He continued to tour Europe, South America, Canada and the United States through the 1940s. Due in no small part to his use of blackface, Hudgins fell out of favor with a later generation of performers and critics. He died in 1990.

 
More after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Mata Hari: Sexy photographs of the original femme fatale
10.07.2016
01:01 pm

Topics:
Dance
Feminism
History

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James Bond would never have made a great spy because too many of his enemies knew his identity. Great spies are anonymous—as any fule kno. They carry out their work covertly. Only their handlers know of their existence and their stealthy actions.

At her trial for espionage in 1917, the dancer and courtesan Mata Hari was described by her accusers as “perhaps the greatest woman spy of the century.”

She was charged by the French of spying for the Germans during First World War. It was alleged her cunning double-dealing had been responsible for the deaths of at least some 50,000 soldiers. Her actions were denounced as unmitigated evil. Her liberated sexuality deemed a cover for her career as a spy and worse—a threat to the moral substance of the honorable French people.

In truth, the French were shitting themselves. Their country had been invaded by Germany. They were dependent on the Allies to defend their homeland and defeat the might of the invading German army. If this weren’t humiliating enough—after the failure of the Nivelle offensive in 1917, there was widespread mutiny among the French troops. It looked as though France was about to capitulate under the strain and surrender to the Germans. The country needed a scapegoat to distract attention. They needed someone who could be blamed for undermining morale and destroying the fantasy of French military superiority.

Step forward Mata Hari. A woman who was not so much a spy but rather the victim of weak duplicitous men determined to sacrifice her life for their government’s failings.
 
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Mata Hari was the stage name of Margaretha Geertruida Zelle who was born in Leeuwarden, Netherlands on August 7th, 1876. Margaretha’s biography is as much the story of a strong independent woman as it is about a woman dealing with the failure, stupidity and brutality of the men in her life.

Raised in an affluent household, Margaretha moved to the Dutch East Indies and married Captain Rudolf MacLeod when she was eighteen. MacLeod was a brutish drunk who regularly beat Margaretha. He kept a concubine and was riddled with syphilis.

Margaretha had two children with MacLeod. A son Norman-John who died at the age of two from complications relating to treatment for his inherited syphilis. A daughter Louise-Jeanne died at 21—again from complications from her inherited syphilis. To escape her husband’s drunken brutality, Margaretha studied traditional Indonesian dance. She adopted the name Mata Hari—meaning “eye of the day” or “sun.”

The couple separated in 1902. Mata Hari moved to Paris with her daughter where she supported herself as an artist’s model. She also worked in a circus and more importantly started performing as an exotic dancer.

Mata Hari adapted the traditional dance she had learnt in Indonesia to choreograph her own risque routines—a modern Salome discarding her veils. Mata Hari was a pioneer of modern dance—along with that other leading light Isadora Duncan—her exotic dances broke the rigid formality of ballet or even the can-can.

By 1905, Mata Hari was a dance star performing all over Europe. She sent audiences into paroxysms of ecstasy with her “feline, extremely feminine,” “thousand curves and movements,” a graceful wild animal with “blue-black” hair. Her dances almost revealed her naked form—only her breasts remained hidden as she was self-conscious about their size.

Mata Hari was courted by rich eligible men—as well as by many two-timing cads. She became a courtesan—which is a posh word for a high class hooker. It would be this access to upper echelons of politicians, high-ranking soldiers and wealthy industrialists that later led French and British authorities to think Mata Hari was a spy.

By 1915, Mata Hari felt too old to continue with her erotic dance routines and retired from performance. She was in love with a Russian pilot named Captain Vadim Maslov. When Maslov was shot down and blinded in a dogfight over the Western Front, Mata Hari asked for permission to visit him in hospital. As a Dutch national living in neutral Netherlands during the First World War, Mata Hari had to seek permission to travel to and from countries involved in the conflict. As Mata Hari had been continuing her relationships with some of her wealthy admirers in France, she had come under suspicion by British authorities due to the number of trips she made to and from the Netherlands. When she applied to the French authorities for a visa to visit her young beau, Mata Hari was coerced to become a spy for the French.

The deal went something like this—If you want to see your hot young BF then we want you to fuck some information out of a few German colonels. We especially want you to fuck the German Crown Prince Wilhelm and get all his secrets. Mata Hari was also offered a bagful of cash. It may have been the cash incentive that made her say “Okay, sure. When do I start?”

The problem with the devious French plan was that Crown Prince Wilhelm knew nothing. He was an idiot. A wastrel who liked whoring, drinking, playing soldiers and pulling his pork. How the French military intelligence (the Deuxième Bureau) thought they could learn anything useful from Clown Prince Wilhelm is utterly baffling. However, Mata Hari went off to Germany in a bid to get the inside skinny.

Unfortunately the Germans knew Mata Hari was a spy and gave her bogus information. They also exposed her as a double agent—letting the Deuxième Bureau know Mata Hari was actually their agent. Of course, she wasn’t. Mata Hari was just a useful pawn in a terrible game.

The French were suspicious. In December 1916, they gave Mata Hari some information about six agents in the field—five of whom were double agents working for the Germans. The sixth was a double agent working for the French. When the sixth agent was arrested and executed by the Germans—the French firmly beleved that Mata Hari was a spy.

On February 13th, Mata Hari was arrested and charged with espionage. She was quickly put on a show trial. It was a deeply one-sided affair—Mata Hari had literally been found guilty before questioning even began.

Captain Georges Ladoux—the man who coerced Mata Hari into working as a French spy—prepared the case against her. It was a win-win situation for Ladoux. Either Mata Hari seduced the Crown Prince and found out useful information or she took the fall as a double agent and raised the country’s morale. Hoorah! Ladoux himself was later arrested and charged as double agent, but he was eventually acquitted over a lack of evidence.

The trial of Mata Hari was given front page coverage across France. The press worked in cahoots with the French authorities to tell the accepted—or rather authorized—version of events. Maslov could have saved her—but he was embittered by his blindness and refused to testify in her defence.

Though there was never any real evidence against Mata Hari—her final script was now written. Mata Hari the world’s greatest and most evil spy was found guilty on all charges and sentenced to death. Mata Hari was executed on October 15th, 1917. She refused to be blindfolded or tied to the stake. She blew kisses at the firing squad. She was just 41.
 
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More photographs of Mata Hari, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
1980s footage from a California new wave synthpop club is mesmerizing and awesome
09.20.2016
12:47 pm

Topics:
Dance
Music

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Isabella Ibarra at the Southeast Career Technical Academy deserves a big round of applause for these excellent compilations she put together featuring the patrons of the Stratus Dance Club in the San Diego area (actually Spring Valley) in 1986 and 1987 dancing their asses off.

This was East County, and Stratus was an all-ages club that catered heavily to the new romantic and goth crowds—these videos are all labeled “The Metro Beat and Club Sanctuary Nights” which was surely a regular rendezvous for the new wavers in the area. Jane’s Addiction actually played Stratus right during this period, in the spring of 1987.

This reminds me of the footage taken at the Xclusiv nightclub in Batley in 1984 we posted a while back. So what’s on the turntable—or CD player? Well, the clips start us off with the Cult’s “She Sells Sanctuary,” there’s a good deal of Divine (I caught both “Shake It Up” and “Native Love (Step by Step)”) and Sexual Harassment (”I Need a Freak”) and Strawberry Switchblade’s version of “Jolene” and Trans-X (”Living on Video”) alongside more enduring faves like Blondie and New Order.

Spot the folks with chewing gum, it’s a sure sign of ecstasy use….

Continues after the jump, including a surprise appearance by Pee-wee Herman…...

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Vintage postcards featuring go-go dancers, beach parties and swinging sixties nightclubs
08.19.2016
10:29 am

Topics:
Amusing
Dance
Pop Culture

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Galaxie Night Club, San Francisco.
 
Going solely by these promotional postcards for hip and happening nightclubs this was where all the beautiful people hung out in the late 1950s and 1960s. Apparently. Beach parties in Miami. Go-go clubs in San Francisco and Florida. Discotheques in New York. Youngsters twisting the night away in South Fallsburg? Most of the postcards are promotional fliers for hotels, motels and restaurants hoping to lure in that lucrative youth market.

Once upon a time, I collected postcards like these. I found them more fascinating than say collecting stamps or coins. Postcards offered a touchstone for creating stories about other people’s lives. Which kinda makes me sound like that freaky kid who didn’t like to mix. Well, yes probably.

When I started underage drinking—in and around Edinburgh—it was always the small hotel bars and faded nightclubs I preferred. These once swinging sixties haunts—with their dated interiors and occasional mirrorball dance floors—were generally so desperate for customers they never checked if you were over eighteen before serving up a pint of warm, flat beer. I certainly would not have minded imbibing in a few of the venues featured below. At least the beer would have been properly chilled.
 
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‘The psychedelic dance scene’—apparently.
 
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‘Teenagers at the Twistick Lounge, Raleigh Hotel, South Fallsburg, New York.’
 
More vintage scenes of swinging fun, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Motor City is burning: A gorgeous look at the thriving queer vogueing scene in Detroit
07.28.2016
09:52 am

Topics:
Dance
Queer

Tags:


Family portrait
 
The seminal queer documentary Paris is Burning famously captured the underground NYC voguing scene while still keeping an eye on the violence and poverty its subjects endured—a difficult balance to strike. Filmmaker Mollie Mills managed the same delicate storytelling, and captures something really intimate in her little mini-doc, Vogue, Detroit. What’s startling is the similarities between the two documentaries, which have 600 miles and nearly 30 years between them.

It’s encouraging to watch progress like the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage and the mass cultural shift regarding queer people, but the majority of the country is still pretty homophobic, and the voguers Mills found have formed de facto families, just like the NYC voguers of Paris is Burning. Some things have changed, of course—Mills travels to an LGBTQ youth center, who have designated resources specifically for vogueing, but even in a post-Madonna world, vogueing is a thriving scene for a working class queer subculture, an escapist artistic outlet in the midst of urban decline.

And of course, the dancing is amazing.
 

 
Via Dazed

Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment
‘Please Don’t Hit Me’: Provocative work by ex-KLF art terrorist Jimmy Cauty for sale on eBay
07.25.2016
09:29 am

Topics:
Art
Class War
Dance
Music
Politics

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Artist Jimmy Cauty achieved international fame as “Rockman Rock” one half of The KLF (along with Bill Drummond aka “King Boy D”) in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The KLF released a series of highly successful and influential records including “Last Train to Trancentral,” “What Time Is Love?” and “3 a.m. Eternal.” Under the name The Timelords the duo had a number one hit with “Doctorin’ the Tardis” their playful mash-up of the Doctor Who theme, Gary Glitter’s “Rock and Roll (Part Two)” and “Block Buster!” by Sweet. They had a further number one (in eighteen countries no less) with “Justified and Ancient (Stand by The JAMs),” their collaboration with country and western singer Tammy Wynette in 1991.

The following year The KLF appeared with grindcore band Extreme Noise Terror at the Brit Awards when they fired blanks from a machine gun over the audience’s heads. At the end of the ceremony the duo dumped a dead sheep outside the venue, then announced the end of The KLF and deleted their entire back catalog.

But this was only a taster of what was to follow.

In August 1994 Cauty and Drummond (now under the moniker The K Foundation) burned a million pounds in cash on the Scottish island of Jura. What the fuck that was about—well, no one is really quite sure—but it has become a moment that has defined the careers of both men since.
 
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A kilted Jimmy Cauty fires blanks at the Brit Awards audience 1992, and an image from the K Foundation’s burning of one million pounds.
 
From 2000 Jimmy Cauty has been making political and provocative artwork—ranging from a limited edition series of stamps Black Smoke, Stamps of Mass Destruction (2003) which was eventually withdrawn after the Royal mail threatened legal action, to opening a “gift shop” at the Aquarium Gallery in 2004 selling “terror ware” based on the British government’s anti-terror leaflet Preparing for Emergencies.

In 2011, Cauty started producing a series called A Riot in a Jam Jar featuring miniature dioramas depicting violent confrontations between the police and the public. These jam jars contained imagined scenes including the execution of the then Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, and the execution of bankers and the execution of Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall.
 
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Cauty’s imagining of Prince Charles and Camilla about to be bludgeoned after their car was attacked during a student riot in 2010.
 
Now a limited edition of one of Cauty’s jam jars has been put up for sale on eBay. The work entitled Please Don’t Hit Me features a policeman interrogating a young boy. In a limited edition of ten—each individually numbered—Cauty’s Please Don’t Hit Me will set you back £465 (around $600). Place your order here.
 
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More of Jimmy Cauty’s provocative jam jar art, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
The Beach Boys’ eleven-minute disco atrocity from 1979 will take you straight to Hell
06.16.2016
08:24 am

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Dance
Music

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While Brian Wilson and Al Jardine are touring the world in celebration of Pet Sounds’ 50th anniversary, it might be instructive to compare the Beach Boys’ masterpiece, not with their contemporaries’ achievements, but with the band’s own creative nadir.

Of course I’m talking about 1979’s interminable disco odyssey “Here Comes the Night.” If only an actual sunset lasted so long. Not to be confused with Bert Berns’ “Here Comes the Night,” made famous by Them and covered on Bowie’s Pin Ups, the Beach Boys’ “Here Comes the Night” first appeared on 1967’s “white soul” album Wild Honey. The three-minute original remains a lovely, if minor, Brian Wilson composition, its chords marked by the uncanny stink of divinity.

For their 1979 debut on Caribou Records, the Beach Boys took a page out of their former collaborator Charles Manson’s book, dismembering the song, painting the walls with its blood and sticking a fork in its belly. If you think I’m exaggerating, go ahead and push “play” at the bottom of the post. Sure you’re tough enough? It’s real witchy.

(This shocking atrocity proves that, of all the songs in the catalog, only “Never Learn Not to Love” should have been considered for the disco treatment. The merciless beat would have lent itself to Manson’s pro-orgy, anti-person message. And imagine if the ‘X’ on the forehead had become part of the “disco lifestyle”!)
 

At the Reagan White House, 1983
 
It seemed that Brian Wilson had come back into full possession of his gifts on 1977’s The Beach Boys Love You, but he, or they, had gone fishin’ when the time came to work on L.A. (Light Album). Deprived of Brian’s genius, the Boys and producer Bob Esty had only their cruelty to guide them in the studio, and the result is the most punishing eleven minutes in the history of recorded music. Not that anyone noticed, if the book The Beach Boys FAQ is to be believed:

CBS and the Beach Boys ate dirt when the disco single not only failed to make the Top Forty, but the album failed to make the Top Ninety-Nine!

Hitmaker Esty was responsible for Andy Williams’ disco remake of “Love Story,” also released in ‘79, and he let it be known that he would only disco-fy songs by artists of real class. He sharply criticized Lawrence Welk accordionist Myron Floren’s Disco Polka in Billboard later that year, explaining that not just anyone could have a crossover hit. What I’m saying is, he really put Lawrence Welk accordionist Myron Floren in his place.

Duty compels me to suggest that you read up on the buddy system and safewords before listening to this recording. This is the exactly the kind of thing Tipper Gore and the PMRC should have been looking into—except the PMRC was funded by Beach Boy Mike Love (who I’ve heard is a super nice guy and whose own band knew a couple fuckwords). Could he have been paying them not to look into his past?

Listen to this four-on-the-floor Beach Boys atrocity after the jump…

Posted by Oliver Hall | Leave a comment
‘New Madness at the Discothèque’: Velvet Underground in LIFE magazine exposé of 1966’s groovy scene
06.03.2016
11:56 am

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Art
Dance
Music

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Issues of LIFE magazine from the mid- to late ‘60s can be a real trip, because they didn’t flinch from the changes happening in Western society during that time. True to its mandate, LIFE forthrightly addressed the rise of the drug culture, shocking new fashions, and the war in Vietnam, among many other topics that would have given the average reader in small-town America occasion for wonderment and concern.

The November 26, 1965, issue is commonly cited as a turning point—LIFE put on its cover a shocking photograph of a blindfolded Viet Cong prisoner being held by Marines, under the headline “The Blunt Reality of War in Vietnam.”

Just a few months later, in the May 27, 1966, issue, LIFE took a look at the groovalicious occurrences to be found in the discotheques across the country. The cover headline ran “New Madness at the Discothèque” but inside the story boasted the even more delightful headline “Wild New Flashy Bedlam of the Discothèque.”

I’m not 100% sure of this, but I suspect that the use of the French word discothèque would have been quite a bit weirder to U.S. audiences of that moment, than it is now—in other words its deployment represented a subtle bid to shock and discomfort the magazine’s staider readers.

The article in question was really a photo essay and therefore no writer was credited, even though the pictures are accompanied by generous captions. Since the story covered dance clubs in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, LIFE relied on a team of photographers that consisted of Steve Schapiro, T. Tanuma, Yale Joel, Declan Haun, and John Zimmerman.
 

The Exploding Plastic Inevitable play the Trip, May 1966
 
The first photo in the spread, on the top of p. 72, actually shows an unnamed Lou Reed and Co. playing a club called the Trip in Los Angeles, mentioned in the caption as the Exploding Plastic Inevitable under the aegis of Andy Warhol. The Velvet Underground actually were slated to play the Trip from May 3-18 but the sheriff’s dept. closed the joint down after the May 5 show. The article mentions none of that, interestingly.

Here’s a poster advertising that run at the Trip. Jim Morrison was apparently there on opening night. VU’s openers were the Mothers of Invention, but there was some evident friction between the two bands, and a local act called the Doors was apparently considered as a replacement for the Mothers’ slot, but it never happened.

The biggest club in the new scene, according to the piece, was called Arthur in New York, which was named after a quip from A Hard Day’s Night and was located at 154 East 54th Street. It was founded by Richard Burton’s first wife.

Other clubs mentioned in the piece were Bob Goldstein’s Lightworks lab (at the time he was going by “Bobb Goldsteinn”), which was based out of the Village; Cheetah at Broadway & 53rd, which Howie Pyro looked at for DM two years ago; the pulsating Le Bison in Chicago; and an enormous venue called The World, which was converted from an airplane hangar located in Garden City, New York.

In his book The Last Party: Studio 54, Disco, and the Culture of the Night Anthony Haden-Guest provides an interesting account of Le Bison’s signature attraction, “the Translator,” which
 

coded music into electrical pulses that activated a flashing light system. You could say that Ferri was fulfilling a project of the Decadents of the nineteenth century, who had dreamed of sense swapping. In one of Rimbaud’s poems each vowel was a color, and the Marquis d’ Esseintes, the hero of a novel by Joris-Karl Huysmans, would inhale scents as though they were a symphony. The “Translator” made ear-to-eye transactions, turning thumping sound into fractious light for the new decadence.

 
More groovy LIFE in the 1960s, after the jump…

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Satanic strippers: Vintage burlesque performers dance with the devil
05.03.2016
10:35 am

Topics:
Dance
Occult
Sex

Tags:

Actress Marian Martin and a burlesque cape featuring our pal, Satan, 1930s
Actress Marian Martin in a Satan-themed burlesque cape. Martin actually played a dancer named ‘Pinky Lee’ in the 1943 film, ‘Lady of Burlesque’ which was based on the novel ‘The G-String Murders’ written by strip tease queen Gypsy Rose Lee. Martin was not a burlesque performer, but her costume is in the satanic burlesque spirit of this post.
 
Of the many fun things that comes along with being a part of the diverse compendium that is Dangerous Minds, those rare days when my feet hit the floor, and I have no idea what I’m going to write about that day, are not among them. Which is why I try to stockpile posts concerning the guy who should have built my hotrod, Satan, for those kinds of days. Because let’s face it—Satan is a big crowd pleaser among DM’s readership.
 
Burlesque performer Diane de Lys in a publicity photo for her show
Burlesque performer Diane de Lys in a publicity photo for her show ‘The Devil and the Virgin,’ 1953.
 
I hate to admit it, but sadly I know very little about the world of burlesque despite having a few friends who actually work in the field professionally. So the discovery that dancers back in the 1920s and 1930s (and beyond) used an unusual prop—a costume that was split into two distinctly different styles that was used for a “1/2 and 1/2” style of dance performance was sort of new to me.

One side would feature a “normal” kind of stage dress, and the other could be anything from a man or a maybe a gorilla (apparently, after King Kong was released in 1933, the popularity of girl/gorilla acts skyrocketed. Go figure). Or in the case of the images in this post, Satan himself! That said, I’d personally love to see this trend return to the burlesque stage (if it hasn’t already). Many of the photos you are about to see also feature burlesque performers all dolled up like the devil dating as far back as the early 1930s. They are also slightly NSFW. YAY!
 
H/T: To the burlesque treasure trove that is Burly Q Nell.
 
Burlesque performer with satan costume/cape
 
Devil and the Dancer, 1932
Early 1930s.
 
More devilish dancers and their demonic debonair dance partner after the jump…

Posted by Cherrybomb | Leave a comment
Meet the wild child ‘Tiger Woman’ who tried to kill Aleister Crowley
03.04.2016
12:52 pm

Topics:
Books
Crime
Dance
Drugs
History
Occult

Tags:
bohemians

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The other morning here at Dangerous Minds Towers (Scotland), while I sat sifting through the mailbag looking for presents and antique snuff boxes, m’colleague Tara McGinley popped a fascinating article in front of me about a wild “Tiger Woman.”

At first I thought this tabloid tale was perhaps about the woman who had inspired Roy Wood to write his rather wonderful and grimy little number “Wild Tiger Woman” for The Move. As I read on, I realized this story of a rebellious singer, dancer and artist’s model was unlikely to have been the woman Wood had in mind when he wrote his famous song.

No, this particular “Tiger Woman” was one Betty May Golding—a drug addict, a boozer, and a dabbler in the occult. She had a string of lovers, worked as a prostitute, had been a member of a notorious criminal gang, an alleged Satanist, and had once even tried to murder Aleister Crowley. This was the kind of impressive resumé one would expect from the original “wild child.” Not that Ms. Golding would have given two hoots for any of that:

I have not cared what the world thought of me and as a result what it thought has often not been very kind… I have often lived only for pleasure and excitement.

You go girl!

Betty May was born Elizabeth Marlow Golding into a world of poverty and deprivation in Canning Town, London in 1895. The neighborhood was situated at the heart of the city’s docks—an area described by Charles Dickens as:

...already debased below the point of enmity to filth; poorer labourers live there, because they cannot afford to go farther, and there become debased.

To get an idea how deprived and “debased” this district was—Canning Town even today “remains among the 5% [of the] most deprived areas in the UK.”  Plus ca change…
 
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A typical London slum 1909.
 
When Betty was just an infant, her father left the family home, leaving her mother to support four children on a pittance of 10/- a week—roughly the equivalent of $1.50. The family home was a hovel with no furniture and no beds. The family slept on bundles of rags, cuddling together to keep warm.

Her mother was half-French with beautiful olive complexion and almond eyes. The struggle proved too much for her and Betty was sent off to live with her father who was then residing in a brothel. Her father was an engineer by trade but he preferred to spend his time drinking, fighting and thieving. He was eventually arrested and sent to jail.

In her autobiography Tiger Woman, published in 1929, Betty described herself as a “little brown-faced marmoset ... and the only quick thing in this very slow world.” She earned pennies by dancing and singing on the street.  After her father’s arrest, she was passed from relative to relative eventually staying with an aunt who described her as “a regular little savage.”

One of her earliest memories was finding the body of a pregnant neighbor hanging from a hook. The woman had caught her husband having sex with her sister.

Her face was purple and her eyes bulged like a fish’s. It was rather awful.

Eventually Betty was sent to another aunt who stayed out in the country in Somerset. Here she attended school but soon the teenager was in trouble after having an affair with one of her teachers.

I can hardly say, in the light of what I have learnt since, that we were in love. At least perhaps he was. Certainly I was fond of him.

When their illicit relationship was discovered, Betty was given an ultimatum.

There was a great deal of fuss and it was made clear to me that unless the ­friendship came to an end it would be the schoolmaster who would be made to suffer.

After a rather tearful scene with my aunt I was packed off with a few pounds.

 
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Betty in her gypsy dress.
 
Arriving in London in 1910 Betty could only afford one outfit:

...but every item of it was a different colour. Neither red nor green nor blue nor yellow nor purple was forgotten, for I loved them all equally, and if I was not rich enough to wear them separately ... I would wear them, like Joseph in the Bible, all at once! Colours to me are like children to a loving mother.

With her exotic looks and green eyes, Betty looked every part the gypsy and was later known for her song “The Raggle Taggle Gypsy.” The novelist Anthony Powell described her as looking like a seaside fortune teller. Betty also delighted in her costermonger background:

I am a true coster in my flamboyance and my love of colour, in my violence of feeling and its immediate response in speech and action. Even now I am often caught with a sudden longing regret for the streets of Limehouse as I knew them, for the girls with their gaudy shawls and heads of ostrich feathers, like clouds in a wind, and the men in their caps, silk neckerchiefs and bright yellow pointed boots in which they took such pride. I adored the swagger and the showiness of it all.

 
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The Café Royal in 1912 as painted by artist William Orpen.
 
At first, Betty worked as a prostitute before becoming a model, dancer and entertainer at the hip Café Royal.

The lights, the mirrors, the red plush seats, the eccentrically dressed people, the coffee served in glasses, the pale cloudy absinthe ... I felt as if I had strayed by accident into some miraculous Arabian palace… No duck ever took to water, no man to drink, as I to the Café Royal.

The venue was the haunt of Bohemians and artists—Augustus John, Jacob Epstein, the “Queen of Bohemia” Nina Hamnett, heiress Nancy Cunard, William Orpen, Anna Wickham, Iris Tree and Ezra Pound.

Betty’s flamboyance and gypsy attire attracted their interest and she had affairs with many of the regulars. She modelled for Augustus John and Jacob Epstein. Being an artist’s model was a grey area that often crossed into prostitution. Many of May’s contemporaries in “modelling” died in tragic circumstances—either by their own hand or at the hands of a jealous lover.
 
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The artist Augustus John looking rather pleased with himself.
 
Betty’s life then took the first a many surprising turns when she became involved with a notorious criminal gang.

In 1914, she met a man she nicknamed “Cherub” at a bar who took her to France. Their relationship was platonic but after a night of drinking absinthe Cherub attacked her:

He clasped me round the waist, pinning my arms… I struggled with all the strength fear and hate could give me.

With a supreme effort I succeeded in half-freeing my right arm so that I was enabled to dig my scissors into the fleshy part of his neck.

Betty escaped to Paris where she met up with a man known as the “White Panther” who introduced her into the one of the ciy’s L’Apache gangs. She later claimed it was this gang who nicknamed her “Tiger Woman” after she became involved in a fight with one of the gangster’s girlfriends. When separated by the gang leader she bit into his wrist like a wild animal.

Now part of gang, Betty became involved in various robberies and acts of violence—in one occasion branding a possible informer with a red hot knife. This experience led her to quit Paris.
 
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Apache gang members or hooligans fighting the police in 1904.
 
To be honest, Betty’s autobiography reads at times like a thrilling pulp novel and without corroborative evidence seems more like fiction than fact.

Returning to London, Betty resumed work as a singer and dancer. She sought a husband and found two suitors: the first died after a mysterious boating accident; the second blew his brains out one fine summer’s day. Betty eventually married a trainee doctor Miles L. Atkinson, who introduced her to the joys of cocaine.

I learnt one thing on my ­honeymoon—to take drugs.

Atkinson had an unlimited supply of cocaine via his work with the hospital. The couple embarked on a mad drug frenzy. They fell in with a den of opium smokers. May’s drug intake escalated to 150 grains of cocaine a day plus several pipes of opium. She became paranoid—on one occasion believing the world was against her after ordering a coffee at a cafe and the waiter served it black. She decided to divorce Atkinson, but he was killed in action in 1917 while serving as a soldier in the First World War.

Betty then met and married an Australian called “Roy”—not believed to be his real name—who weaned her off drugs by threatening to beat her if ever he caught her taking any. However, she divorced Roy after catching him having an affair.

Continuing with her career as an artist’s model, Betty sat for Jacob Epstein and Jacob Kramer, who she claimed painted her as the Sphinx.
 
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Jacob Kramer’s painting ‘The Sphinx’ (1918).
 
Her notoriety grew after the publication of a book Dope Darling by David “Bunny” Garnett, which was based on Betty’s life as a coke addict. The book told the story of a man called Roy who falls in love with a dancer Claire at a bohemian cafe. Claire is a drug addict and prostitute. Roy believes he can save Claire by marrying her. Once married, Roy gradually becomes a drug addict too.

In the book, Garnett described Claire as being :

...always asked to all the parties given in the flashy Bohemian world in which she moved. No dance, gambling party, or secret doping orgy was complete without her. Under the effect of cocaine which she took more and more recklessly, she became inspired by a wild frenzy, and danced like a Bacchante, drank off a bottle of champagne, and played a thousand wild antics

But all of this was by way of a warm-up to her meeting the Great Beast.
 
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‘Dope Darling’ by David Garnett.
 
In 1922, Betty met and married the poet Frederick Charles Loveday (aka Raoul Loveday). This dear boy (aged about twenty or twenty-one) was an acolyte of Aleister Crowley. With a first class degree from Oxford University and a book of published poems to his name, Loveday was utterly dedicated to Crowley and to his study of the occult.

Crowley first met Loveday at a dive in London called the Harlequin. He liked Loveday—saw his potential and claimed he was his heir apparent—but he said this about many other young man that took his fancy. He was however reticent in his praise for May—describing her as a “charming child, tender and simple of soul” but impaired by an alleged childhood accident he believed had “damaged her brain permanently so that its functions were discontinuous.” This condition was exacerbated by her drug addiction—though he was complimentary in her strength of will in curing herself.

Crowley believed he could save Loveday from the “vagabonds, squalid and obscene, who constituted the court of Queen Betty.”

In his Confessions, Crowley recounted a typical scene of Betty “at work” in the Harlequin:

In a corner was his wife, three parts drunk, on the knees of a dirty-faced loafer, pawed by a swarm of lewd hogs, breathless with lust. She gave herself greedily to their gross and bestial fingerings and was singing in an exquisite voice ... an interminable smutty song, with a ribald chorus in which they all joined.

 
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Aleister Crowley
 
Crowley moved to Sicily where he established his Abbey of Thelema at Cefalu. He wanted Loveday—and to a lesser extent May—to join him there. However, Loveday had been ill after an operation and several friends including Nina Hamnett warned him off going. But Loveday was determined and the couple traveled to the Abbey.

Arriving there in the fall of 1922, Betty and Loveday were soon party to various sex magic rituals under Crowley’s direction. On one occasion, Betty chanced upon a box filled with blood soaked neckties. When she asked Crowley what these were, he replied that they had belonged to Jack the Ripper and were stained with the blood of his victims.

Crowley may have tut-tutted about Betty’s sexual hi-jinks with other men in the club, but he didn’t seem to mind all the fucking and sucking that went on at the Abbey. Betty was unsure about Crowley. She was intrigued by the occult and her superstition kept her belief from wavering. But she never fully trusted him.

Everything came to a head after a black mass where Crowley commanded Loveday to kill a cat and drink its blood. Crowley claimed the cat was possessed by an evil spirit. Loveday beheaded the cat and greedily drank its blood. Within hours he fell ill and died, on February 16th, 1923.

Betty blamed Crowley for her husband’s death and swore revenge—deciding to kill him.
 
More on Betty May and her life of sex and drugs and the occult, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
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