I have to admit that while I love burlesque, I don't actually know all that much about it. Dita von Teese was my gateway to the art form, and from there I learned about Bettie Page and Gypsy Rose Lee, and Chicago-area neo-burlesque stars like Michelle L'Amour and Red Hot Annie. Lately I've been really interested in learning about the burlesque dancers of yesteryear; there are so many amazing women from the first half of the 20th century who did this when it was still a really shocking, rebellious thing to do. That's not to say that there isn't still an element of that today, but neo-burlesque is immensely popular, and the biggest stars, like Dita, wear couture, walk red carpets, and are generally considered fit for public consumption, at least when they have their clothes on.
Dita, front row at Paris Fashion Week with Aaron Paul and Harry Styles.
Sherry Britton might already be familiar to some of you, but she's someone that I only read about recently.
Born in New Jersey in 1918, she became a star in the 30s and 40s, performing in burlesque theaters in Times Square and mere blocks from the White House when she moved to D.C. after burlesque was banned in New York. FDR made her an honorary brigadier general for her role in entertaining the troops during WWII. After the decline in popularity of burlesque in the 50s, she moved on to doing plays, although she was banned from the 1964 World's Fair because she was still considered "too risque."
I saw this photo and literally thought, "hot damn." Can we invent time travel soon so I can meet her?
Britton was also an incredibly intelligent woman. With a MENSA level IQ, she graduated from high school early, and later in life graduated magna cum laude from Fordham University with a degree in pre-law.
With her combination of brains, beauty, and wit, she could have done just about anything. Instead of settling down and living an ordinary life, she risked censure and even arrest by bucking societal norms to become a burlesque star.