(originally posted on my Tumblr Sept 2011)
I’ll start with this: Lili St Cyr is the second burlesque artist I ever heard of.
When I was knee high my sister was a massive fan of the Rocky Horror and we’d listen to it in her Austin A35 when either she was driving me about or we were all on long road trips in my Dad’s car. (Not the most suitable material for a 10 year old but a lot of it went over my head, plus after my other sister taught me to shimmy when I was 8 there really was only one way this was all going to go….)
And there was the line Janet belts out: “God bless, Lili St. Cyr”
I remember that I couldn’t quite make the words out but upon discovery of what they were I assumed that Lili St Cyr was a B movie actress, it was only years later with the arrival of the internet (and dial up at that) that I found out who she was.
The photos I did see showed a statuesque beauty, long legs, blonde hair, a regal stance and a body to die for. I learned about her glass bath routine which got her into hot water (ba boom tissssssh) amongst others, her marriages and of her long lasting career, which I assumed was due to her being at the top of her game.
It conflicted my thoughts of her when I learnt of another side to LSC, from the Mike Wallace interview (1957) in which she appeared not to be proud of herself and what she had accomplished.
I really couldn’t get to grips with this stunning beauty who smiles straight at you through the lens of a camera being completely at odds with the image I had construed from the limited information I had.
And so when compiling my burlesque based Amazon wish list (or homework as I like to call it) I was thrilled to come across as book that would hopefully clear up some of the mystery that surrounded LSC.
Gilded Lili: Lili St. Cyr and the Striptease Mystique
– Kelly DiNardo
DiNardo has done a superb job in her research, the amount of work and time that must have gone into finding the golden nuggets of information, especially with LSC being recluse in the later years of her life, is astounding.
Exhaustive yet not exhausting, DiNardo presents a clear image of the facts of LSC’s life whilst placing them in the cultural and social revolutions through which she lived. It’s also commentary on women’s place in society, through the changes in the ways women were perceived and the expectations put upon women through the years that she spent performing, which no doubt troubled her and would have led (in all probability) to the loss of any pride in her profession.
It paints a picture of an independent woman who loved and was loved, a free thinker and spirit who felt the pressure of society moulding her into what they thought as right for a woman in their time but was certainly not right for LSC.
It is sad to know that for someone of such stature, and known so broadly for so long, that ultimately her reclusiveness and unwillingness to let the world into her life in her later years has made her fall to the wayside somewhat in people’s memories when her life should be celebrated. That someone who influenced the style of Marilyn Monroe, Madonna and many more is no longer a household name is wretched to say the least.
I truly hope we can one day see the heydays of her performing life on the sliver screen, I’m sure she would have approved on some level.
Thanks to Kelly DiNardo for this wonderful, insightful book and thanks to Lili St Cyr for being the inspiring woman that she is.