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Writers heralded New Orleans in the forties and fifties as “The Most Interesting City in America.” Bourbon Street was its epicenter, and became world famous for its concentration of nightclub shows featuring exotic dancers, comics, risqué singers, and contortionists, backed by live house bands. Along a five-block stretch, club goers could see over fifty acts on any given night. The street gleamed with neon lights as barkers enticed tourists and locals into the clubs, the images of the featured attractions prominently displayed in the large outside kiosks. Clubs included the 500 Club, the Sho Bar, and the Casino Royale. It was a glamorous street where men and women dressed in their finest to take in a show.

New Orleans has a history of appealing to the carnal senses. Storyville, the famed red-light district at the turn of the last century, was known for its many houses of prostitution as well as being the birthplace of jazz until it was closed down in 1917. After vaudeville and the success of burlesque, striptease acts became a mainstay on the nightclub stages. In the Forties, strip teasers were in it for the money, as servicemen passed in and out of town looking for a good time. As “Stormy,” one of the most popular Bourbon Street dancers told in Cabaret magazine, “Anything you dono matter what it isif you do it well enough, can be lifted to an art.”

Girls competed with each other by creating acts based upon elaborate themes. Imagination was always the key even as props and they incorporated beautiful costumes, mood lighting, and original music into their acts. The production values only enhanced the natural beauty and talents of the girls. There were a bevy of exotic dancers like Lilly Christine, the Cat Girl, Evangeline, the Oyster Girl, Alouette Leblanc, the Tassel Twirler, Kalantan the Heavenly Body, Rita Alexander, the Champagne Girl, Blaze Starr, Linda Brigette, the Cupid Doll, and Tee Tee Red.

The young beauties of Bourbon Street gained star status. They had their own hairstylists, maids, assistants, agents, and managers. They mingled with visiting celebrities and producers gave some exotic dancers small roles in films. Lilly Christine, the Cat Girl, graced the covers of dozens of national magazines, and appeared in a few movies. Considered the top attraction on Bourbon Street, she performed at Leon Prima’s 500 Club. Musician Sam Butera, who worked with “the Cat Girl,” recalls her popularity, “One time they had a hurricane threatening. People were standing outside the 500 Club a block long waiting to get in. That’s how popular she was, even with a hurricane warning!”

The French Quarter had a seamier side. Pimps, prostitutes, criminals, and mob figures inhabited the Quarter and B-drinking, in which strippers tempted men to buy them drinks for a cut of the profit, was rampant–and illegal. Since everyone dressed up to attend a show, the girls often didn’t know if they were sitting next to a wealthy oilman, or a thug.

Politicians courted their own doom by enjoying themselves in the clubs and ultimately, brought down the final curtain on girlie burlesque. During the 1960s, New Orleans district attorney, Jim Garrison, “cleaned up” Bourbon Street. The New Orleans police raided nightclubs up and down Bourbon Street and arrested numerous young women on charges of B-drinking and obscenity. In order to cut costs, club owners replaced the bands with records. The sexual revolution of the sixties eventually brought in go-go dancers, porn films, and strippers whose acts focused on flesh more than flash. Top musicians like Al Hirt and Pete Fountain survived, but the great burlesque queens of the 1950s did not.

Article courtesy of  Bustout Burlesque

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