A burlesque is a literary, dramatic or musical work intended to cause laughter by caricaturing the manner or spirit of serious works, or by ludicrous treatment of their subjects. The word derives from the Italian burlesco, which, in turn, is derived from the Italian burla – a joke, ridicule or mockery.
Left to Right actresses and burlesque entertainers Margie Hart, Lili St. Cyr, and Gypsy Rose Lee were all were showcased at Boston’s Old Howard Theater on November 25, 1953. (AP Photo)
Burlesque has historic roots in America’s minstrel culture, dating as far back as the 1840s. However, the version we know today — a marriage of vaudevillian humor and striptease — became popular in the early 1900s, when (mostly women) performers took to clubs and Broadway venues with their own brand of music, dance and provocative nudity.
The era of Prohibition took a toll on the burlesque industry, as teetotaling politicians and authority figures took issue with both the performers and club owners that made burlesque possible. Thankfully, the genre bit back in the 1950s, as women like Sally Rand, Gypsy Rose Lee, Tempest Storm, Lili St. Cyr, and Blaze Starr emerged as boundary-pushing icons.
We dove into the photographic archives to showcase a visual taste of burlesque in the 1950s.
Bikini-clad burlesque dancer Brenda Conde shows some moves backstage at the Tivoli Theatre, Mexico City circa 1950. (Photo by Three Lions/Getty Images)
Burlesque dancer Gloria Knight in a two-piece stage outfit, circa 1950. (Photo by Diaz & Rogers/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Burlesque dancer Lonnie Young in a bikini decorated with flowers, circa 1950. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Burlesque dancer Mary Mack reclining on a chaise longue, circa 1950. (Photo by Bruno/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
American actress and burlesque entertainer Gypsy Rose Lee (1914-1970), circa 1950. (Photo by Pictorial Parade/Archive Photos/Getty Images)