Monday, November 10, 2008

The Bare Economy: Burlesque during the Depression Era

The feathers, the glitter and the G-string. These were the tools of the semi-clad girls who performed Vaudeville inspired dances and short comedy skits that sometimes ended with a striptease.

Burlesque became one of the most popular forms of entertainment during the Depression era.

Men were unemployed and idle and burlesque was cheap. It was even affordable for blue-collar workers who had been laid off from factories throughout the U.S.

But, by 1937, it had been banned in New York by
Mayor Fiorello La Guardia who linked burlesque to prostitution. The Catholic Church agreed and burlesque mostly died out --until now.


The Minsky Brothers' Theater -Times Square

Gypsy Rose Lee (1911- 1970):

Blaze Starr (b. 1932 - ):

or Zorita (1915 - 2001):
The old hangouts and stars of New York's depression era have given way to neo-burlesque at "hipster" bars in Williamsburg like The Galapagos and Public Assembly.

Burlesque in BillyBurg

By: Madiha Tahir & Ethan Phillips


The word burlesque comes from the Italian (and Spanish) burla for 'joke' or 'comic.' The genre is inspired by everything from performance art to opera and vaudeville.

Burlesque arrived to the US in the 1860s. Lydia Thompson's British burlesque troupe shocked New York audiences. Women performed as men wearing tights. The show, called, Ixion, became an instant hit.

Burlesque reached its peak with shows like Anatomy and Cleopatra during the Depression, performed at the Minsky Brothers’ Eltinge Theater on 42nd Street.

Between the 1900-1930's, more than 200
opened throughout the U.S.
Burlesque performers would usually tour on a 40-week season with a troupe.

But it wasn't just about the girls, the pasties or the skin. Like it's name, burlesque was about comedy and it even included men. Performers like Abbott and Costello, Andy Rooney and Bob Hope would perform routines that involved throwing pies in their faces or dousing themselves with water or simply word repetition:

Abbot and Costello's Who's on first?

The Burlesque Museum, New York Times, New World Encyclopedia, wikipedia,,

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