Reporter Jack Griffin went in search of the “Secrets of the Strip Tease Queens” sometime in the early 1950s. He visited Minsky’s Burlesque Theater on State and Van Buren, Chicago, to find the answer. There he met with stripper Bobbi Bruce who told him:
“Honey, I guess you can sum up this business in one sentence. You grab as much sex as the law is allowing at this time, and throw it across the footlights as hard as you can.”
Griffin described Bobbi’s answer as:
“...one of the simplest and clearest descriptions of the strip tease business ever made.”
Too true! As to what the law would permit at this time law, well according to Carnival magazine’s “Guide for Strip-teasers” the law in Illinois “means Chicago, and Chicago means let ‘er rip.” The limit on what a stripper could or could not take off was entirely “on the club owners’ discretion.” Added for emphasis: “Chicago club owners’ are hardly noted for discretion.”
But back to Griffin who notes that “Strippers are”:
...a clannish group of well-developed girls, are loath to talk with outsiders about their art or their personal lives.
That may come as a surprise to some of the gentlemen who have dropped into neon emporiums where beer is dispensed at 75 cents a bottle and entertainers mix with the customers while other girls wiggle out of their clothing on the runway behind the bar.
But if they will hark back to that expensive evening, they will discover the girl’s conversation consisted chiefly of, “Daddy, you’re cute,” and “It’s time for another drink.”
The girls from the bump and grind circuit have found from long experience that most men who ply them with personal questions, usually accompanied with a leer, are mental Peeping Toms. Besides, they have heard all the questions before and consider them very dull.
But our intrepid “perspiring” reporter asked enough questions to appreciate a stripper takes her art seriously. Sometimes performing five or six shows a night, seven days a week, which meant these women were in no mood for “much of anything except going home—alone—and going to sleep.”
Strippers, Griffin points out, are like well-trained athletes. Booze and late nights “play havoc with a person’s body, and a stripper’s body is her business.”
Bobbi Bruce (aka Bobbi Blue) worked as “a hash slinger” before making enough from her tips to quit her work, rent a studio with full-length mirror and spend seven months perfecting the sexiest way to shake off her clothes.
Burlesque performer Michelle Marshall told Griffin another secret of the stripper’s art:
“They call it strip tease and that’s what you’ve got to do. If you don’t tease, then the strip don’t mean a thing.”
When this article first appeared most strippers were members of the American Guild Variety Artists. Some were also signed-up with the Burlesque Artists Association. The minimum union salary for stripping back then varied by state but was somewhere between $90-$100 a week. The more upmarket the club, the better the money.
Those new to the business could make around $150 a week. The top dollar for burlesque stars like Lili St. Cyr went as high as $3,500 a week.
While the pay may be good, a stripper’s life is a tough one, made up of long hours. Although she may be on stage only a total of an hour or so, she has to be on call for 10 to 12 hours a day.
When the work day is over, the stripper usually heads for home, which is probably a small room in a near-by hotel where the prices aren’t too high. The strippers usually stay at the same hotel.
There, for the last time that night, she sheds her clothes, this time with no audience….
Where this fascinating little article was first published, I have not been able to ascertain but suggest it’s some Chicago mag circa early 1950s—going by the strippers and location featured. Click on the images below to get a better picture.
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Bettie Page’s vintage ‘Guide for Strip-teasers’: ‘This is as far as you can go’
Via Goodstuff’s Cyber World.