"Gilded Lili: Lili St.
Cyr and the Striptease Mystique"
By Kelly DiNardo
Back Stage Books, 2007
St. Cyr is, without a doubt, one of burlesque’s most important
figures. In the history of burlesque, there have only been a select few
who have been able to elevate bump and grind to an art form. St.
Cyr is up there with other greats such as Gypsy Rose Lee
Sally Rand. These women were able to take striptease
to the masses and garnered wide appeal. But this created a tension. Sure,
striptease could be seen as a high-class art form but it could never extricate
itself from it down-and-dirty grind house roots.
Gilded Lili: Lili
St. Cyr and the Striptease Mystique explores not only the tension
Cyr felt as a performer but also the tension she had a women whose
life fell outside the norm.
From the start, St.
Cyr has dreams of living in a world of elegance and sophistications.
The key, she found out early on, was her statuesque good looks and her
ability to cast a spell over men. She quickly found out fame and fortune
awaited her on the burlesque stage.
Where other dancers
made a name for themselves for over-heated gyrations, St. Cyr
was always cool and aloof. Her acts included elaborate plots and stagings.
It was this distance, the book argues, that made people want her more.
She was more unattainable—more goddess-like—than anyone else out there.
It was her signature
act, her famous bath routine—where she takes a bath and gets ready for
an evening out—that paved the way for her to take her act from bawdy theaters
to posh night clubs.
During her height in
the 50’s, St. Cyr made a sensation wherever she went. She
was on top of the world, but as Gilded Lili explores, her
life was fill with failed marriages and off-stage unhappiness. All this
eventually led to heroin addiction and complete seclusion at the end of
is more than just a look at this woman’s life. It’s also an examination
of the history of striptease and 20th century feminism. The book takes
time to trace burlesque from its early days until it was pushed off the
stage by topless dancing. It also traces how society looked at a successful,
sensual women through the decades. It’s showbiz history, social history,
and personal history all rolled into one.
Author Kelly DiNardo
runs an amazing burlesque blog called The
Candy Pitch) digs deep into St. Cyr history with
exhaustive research and personal interviews. Cyr’s life was
filled with larger-than-life legends, rumors and whispers. DiNardo does
her best to find the truth in all of it. In particular, she tackles the
long-standing rumor that Marilyn Monroe
based her sex goddess persona on St. Cyr.
Even though Gilded
Lili shows all the human faults and failings that St. Cyr
had, it never makes you forget this woman was one of burlesque’s true goddesses.
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