Burlesque has received a revival in recent times, stunning modern audiences with its combination of glamor and the forbidden, and though it might seem tame by modern standards, it was considered the height of controversy back in the day. Ask your grandpa, and we bet he’ll need double his blood pressure pills. With a controversial and racy genre came controversial and racy babes, and here we gush compliments on them and honor their memory in a list of the top ten hottest burlesque performers of all time.
10. Gypsy Rose Lee
One of the more witty and pointed acts doing the burlesque scene at the time, Gypsy Rose Lee – born Rose Louise Hovick – was renowned for her intelligent and cutting satire whilst delivering the goods on stage. Like many burlesque performers, she started her career in vaudeville, entertaining working class audiences with song and dance. After her sister – and stage partner – decided to quit the scene and eloped, Hovick found she needed a new niche in order to remain successful. Luckily for the male population of war-era America, that niche was taking her clothes off.
9. Sally Rand
Pictured here with a presumably content swan, Sally Rand was named after a Rand McNally atlas by movie director Cecil B. DeMille at the beginning of her career in silent films. Little did she know that it would be an entirely different idea of globes that would make her a – nearly – household name in the years to come. Sally is best remembered by people of your grandpa’s generation for a saucy routine involving a bubble, and of course the classic ostrich feather dance.
8. Blaze Starr
Like many burlesque performers and strippers, Blaze Starr adopted her name upon entering the business. However, in her case, we reckon she would have been just fine keeping the name she was born with. Yes, there can’t be many people in the world whose chosen occupation reflects so aptly the name they were christened with than Fannie Belle Fleming. Maybe it was a self-fulfilling prophecy. Either way, Fannie also lived up to her stage name, incorporating a couch – rigged to burst into flames upon her recline – into her striptease.
7. Sherry Britton
Another recurring characteristic of the sultry genre that is burlesque performance is the ripe old age all the dancing beauties seem to live to. Case in point is Sherry Britton, who saw out her days gracefully until kicking it at the impressive age of 89. By the time she died she had a fairly decent resume, including being made an honorary Brigadier General by Eisenhower, a pre-law diploma and a career in movies. Not to mention boasting the kind of boner-prompting body that women the world over would climb over their own mother to have.
6. Margie Hart
Another early beauty with a decidedly quiet yet impressive twilight was New York strip artist Margie Hart. Hart started her tumultuous and lively career performing at the legendary burlesque joint Minsky’s. Years later, as the political wife of the Los Angeles City Council president, it would have been hard to imagine that Margie was one of a handful of strippers who spent time in police cells on indecency charges following raids on New York’s clubs.
5. Tempest Storm
She may be a little more susceptible to the cruel hand of gravity in her silver years, but you gotta give it to Tempest Storm, who – despite being at the fragile age of 83 – is still performing to this very day. The feisty red-haired temptress was so renowned for her assets back in the day that she reportedly had her breasts insured in the ’50s to the value of a cool million dollars. Suffice to say they’re probably worth a little less nowadays, but Tempest deserves maximum reverence for her sheer tenacity.
4. Candy Barr
Utilizing a textbook pun for her performing name (let’s face it, parents in the early 20th century were way too austere to give their kids humorous titles, at least intentionally), obscenely curvaceous beauty Candy was a dab hand at sending male audiences wild with her strategic employment of nipple tassels. She also had one of the craziest private lives of all time. Amongst the veritable cornucopia of mad episodes in her life were the following peaches: she befriended Jack Ruby, who would later go on to murder Lee Harvey Oswald; she spent time in prison, publishing a book of poems written during her stretch; she trained Joan Collins; and dated mobster Mickey Cohen. And got naked. A lot.
3. Ann Corio
Another graduate of New York’s Minsky’s, and another ex-tease to survive for close to a century, the dark and delightful Ann Corio was best known to many Americans thanks to her work in numerous Hollywood B-movies, usually clad scantily in items of underwear seemingly intent on hiding in the darkest places they could find. Her heart was clearly set on burlesque, however, which culminated in her utilizing her experiences in order to write a semi-successful Broadway show based on the business, which had a varied run in the late ’60s.
2. Lili St. Cyr
A legend of the genre to whom later life dealt a rather sad hand, Lili St. Cyr has been referenced in popular culture a number of times, proving that her ambiguous twilight hasn’t dampened her appeal as burlesque enjoys a newfound popularity. In truth, smokin’ hot Lili was known as one of the biggest names in the business back in the ’50s, and rightly so. After stripping became something that age – and gravity – prevented her from continuing, she set up a popular underwear company catering for the stripping industry and domestic markets alike. However, as mentioned, times turned tough, and Lili died a crazy old cat lady aged (somewhat inevitably) a ripe 80 years old.
1. Betty Page
Surely the most famous stripteasing grandpa-pleaser of all time, Betty Page truly is a pop cultural icon; she even had a movie made of her life (starring the equally alluring Gretchen Mol). Her fetish and pin-up modeling defined a whole new genre of sexual allure, and she even appeared as one of the first ever Playboy models. Betty was reputedly scouted by a saucy cop while walking along Coney Island beach, claiming he just innocently liked taking photographs. Give that guy a medal, ’cause without his B.S. we’d never have gotten to see the super-hot, dark-haired babe in her underclothing, and a legend like Betty would never have graced the fine genre of semi-pornography.
Bonus Entry: Dita Von Teese
We couldn’t compile a list of burlesque legends without including Dita Von Teese. She may be contemporary, but the likes of Dita have done wonders for giving burlesque performance a new lease of life and providing us with sultry gothic hotties. The ex-partner of musician Marilyn Manson, Von Teese has a finger in every dark chocolate pudding, having been a lingerie model, an actress, and even performed alongside an Italian rock noir band. Did we mention that we definitely would?