Behind the Burly Q (Zemeckis)

Behind the Burly Q:  The Story of Burlesque in America
Leslie Zemeckis, 2013
352 pp.
ISBN-13: 9781620876916

The art of burlesque is continuing its resurgence. There are thousands of performers packing venues all over the world. Yet many of the genre’s fans, and even those involved in the trade, are still in the dark when it comes to the history of the craft.

Leslie Zemeckis has decided to do something about preserving the legacy of the pioneers of burlesque with a critically acclaimed documentary Behind the Burly Q (2012). But it was just the beginning. In possession of hundreds of hours of taped interviews and rare, never-before-seen photos, Leslie knew there was more to be done. So she has documented the definitive oral history of burlesque as told by the original stars themselves in her first book.

With a foreword by burlesque’s equivalent of Lady Gaga—Blaze Starr—Behind the Burly Q: The Story of Burlesque in America (Skyhorse Publishing, June 2013) is a fascinating exploration of America’s “seediest” art form.

Given unprecedented access to the performers’ diaries, letters, albums, and memorabilia, Leslie’s book gathers their stories and personal photos here for the first time. In their own words, the performers confide their stories of being courted by King Saud of Saudi Arabia, and their encounters with famous fans, including Abbott and Costello, Jack Ruby, and JFK himself.

The history and the lore come alive with the accounts of “Stage Door Johnnies” who followed the performers from town to town; the infamous “flash” that made New York Mayor LaGuardia shut down the city’s burlesque clubs; and lighting their tassels on fire in a never-ending quest to “out-gimmick” other dancers.

Full of gossip and firsthand accounts of backstage treachery, rivalries, lawsuits, and debauchery, Behind the Burly Q is also a heartwarming and inspiring book about the women (and men) whose stories of “stripping” have never been told. (From the publisher.)

Read the article in Huff Post.

Author Bio
Leslie Zemeckis is an author, actress, and award-winning documentarian. Zemeckis wrote, directed, and produced the award-winning Bound by Flesh about Siamese twins Daisy and Violet Hilton as well as the critically acclaimed Behind the Burly Q, a definitive history of burlesque.

Book Reviews
Charming....often entertaining.... The present-day interviews with these women are a delight and also poignant, partly because of the contrast between their older and younger selves, though mostly because of the lives they lived.... It’s great that she immortalized these women.
Manohla Dargis - New York Times

[M]any creatively named burlesque stars—Tempest Storm, Candy Cotton, Blaze Starr, Candy Barr, Val Valentine, Tee Tee Red, the list goes on — interviewed at poignant, amusing and enlightening length in a new book, Behind the Burly Q: The Story of Burlesque in America.
Rick Kogan - Chicago Tribune

Leslie Zemeckis relates the tragic and uplifting tales of the forgotten stars of burlesque's golden age.
Los Angeles Times

Utterly entertaining Behind the Burly Q is a painstakingly researched love letter to the women and men who once made up the community of burlesque performers…its treasure trove of vintage photographs and performance footage is enough to make historians and fans of classic erotica swoon…insightful, fascinating.
Ernest Hardy - Village Voice

A privileged front-row seat to the history of burlesque! Glorious ladies in their heyday....their long-ago stripteases still pack a sensual, sassy, what-the-hell punch, while juicy anecdotes run from raunchy to touching to funny to flat-out incredible.
Ronnie Scheib - Variety

Entertaining, and often poignant book.
Liz Smith

[A]comprehensive history of the golden age of burlesque. Drawing from extensive interviews conducted for [her] film, Zemeckis profiles a host of colorful dancers.... Rounding out Zemeckis’s oral history are profiles of those connected to the burlesque circuit—like comedians Abbott and Costello—and examinations of the legal and social furors and fevers kicked off by the “Burly Q.” This rich history, rife with vibrant quotes and first-hand insights from burlesque’s biggest dancers, is indispensable for fans of the ribald pastime.
Publishers Weekly

Filmmaker Zemeckis...introduces readers to a wild and varied cast of characters, many of whom she interviewed herself, such as Lili St. Cyr, Zorita, and the legendary Gypsy Rose Lee, who was immortalized in the Broadway musical Gypsy. However, the author also reveals a more vulnerable side to these larger-than-life figures, discussing unstable childhoods and marital woes.... Zemeckis offers a rich, colorful narrative that provides a vivid sense of the era. —Mahnaz Dar
Library Journal

Salty reminiscences.... Zemeckis assembled an impressive number of surviving performers from roughly the 1930s through the late ’50s to recount their experiences toiling in this often misunderstood cul-de-sac in American performing arts. An evolution of vaudeville, burlesque added striptease to the program in an effort to lure audiences back from the movies.... There is much colorful ground-level showbiz detail... and the anecdotes are never less than good fun. An affectionate and historically valuable document of an intriguing, little-served corner of American entertainment.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
1. Why has burlesque been left out of the history books? Where the performers themselves reluctant to talk about performing in burlesque or is it because of our perceptions today that burlesque was no more than a strip show with second rate comedians?

2. When does the author consider the years to be the “golden age of burlesque” and why?

3. Did most of the women revere their time in burlesque or were they ashamed of it? Did their families know?

4. How often did the performers work? Could say a hand-balancer actually make a living in burlesque?

5. Why is is considered to be the premier form of entertainment in America?

6. Why did burlesque die out? And what do we owe its growing resurgence to today?

7. Where can you see burlesque today? Which performers and television shows are burlesque?

8. What happened to the men and women when burlesque died out? Could they cross over into “legitimate” show business?

9. So many of the women talked about growing up poor and coming from abusive families did this have anything to do with their choices to go into burlesque? Did it give them opportunities they might not otherwise have had?

10. Alan Alda’s father was in burlesque, who else was in burlesque that surprised you?
(Questions provided courtesy of the author.)

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