Date: 2017-11-15 14:14
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There were times when I was little - rainy Saturdays or days off sick from school - that my mum would brew a pot of camomile tea and we'd stay in our pyjamas and watch old movies in "the Pink Room". Mum would ultimately go off to work, but I was delighted to stay all day watching old MGM Technicolor movies.
"Miss", as she was known, was born Jeanne Marie Florentine Bourgeois, an aptly named member of the new petite bourgeoisie. But her transformation occurred in more than just name. She was not a beauty and so, as she herself said, "the rest had to be created. I had to invent something. my legs [were called] 'the loveliest legs in the world', [an idea that] came out of my head." And she was convincing. Mistinguett, with her playful personality (once, when she was singing, an audience member yelled "higher!" To which she lifted her skirt!), transcended looks and bourgeois life to become one of the greatest showgirls of all time.
I'm not talking merely about the blue-collar clientele. In an exchange that became known as "the silk hat trade", uptown New Yorkers started to haunt downtown speakeasies, following the pack into the National Winter Garden, Billy Minsky's Prohibition-era theatre, where burlesque got its real start. In fact, "slumming" became so much the thing to do that Minsky's saw an assortment of uptown regulars, including the magazine publisher Condé Nast, writers like John Dos Passos and Walter Winchell, and the poet Hart Crane, who wrote a ditty called "National Winter Garden":
"People’s responses to Gypsy say more about them than it does the show," Rubin tells Newsweek. "Viewers are having very real interpretations of Naomi’s character, who shows that women have the same sort of hidden dimensions as men… Women have dark impulses, women have dark thoughts, and with Jean, one moment she’s relatable, the other she’s messy and flawed. But that just means she’s human."
I have no idea whether the tale is true - after all, illusion is the nature of burlesque. However, stories like these so inflamed the men in America that they all seemed willing to die for Lydia - if only she would be kind enough to dash their hearts out herself. Suddenly, men were behaving as if they had never seen ladies' lower limbs in their lives, which was a curious thing since opera houses had been serving up "leg shows" since the Civil War. Was it Lydia herself who inspired such fervour, or the cheapie tickets and a frisson of sex? Whatever the reason, for the rest of the century, burlesque flourished, developing into a full-night's entertainment that included chorus girls, comedy routines, and song and dance.
The Victorian era was not so kind to flesh - the softer and lovelier the skin, the more fabric they dumped on top of it. Thus, when a group of Englishwomen bleached their hair and donned flesh-coloured tights for the stage, they scandalised - and thrilled - Britain. The tights were an ingenious coup, giving the impression of naked flesh while remaining covered. What was the Queen to say? Who cared? Aristophanes was hooting from his grave.
All models were 68 years of age or older at the time of depiction. has a zero-tolerance policy against illegal pornography.
Indeed, as a teenage girl makes clear: 'Gypsy girls may show cleavage and skin, but you don't see us all over the boys, unless you're a dirty girl.'