Striptease: From Gaslight To Spotlight

Striptease: From Gaslight To Spotlight

by Jessica Glasscock

Abrams

There’s a picture in the last chapter of this… attractively… illustrated book that symbolizes, for me, the difference between stripping and striptease. A young woman stands, her back to camera. She is what gentlemen call butt-ass naked, in the middle of a nightclub floor surrounded by peopled tables. All illusion has been lost; she is simply a naked lady. Pretty enough, one supposes, but the brain that drives the butt is unknown to us. And it didn’t use to be like that, Jessica Glasscock argues in Striptease. There was a time when women gained lasting fame not only for the fires they started south of men’s waists — which is, let’s face it, too easy to do — or their keen intelligence (Gypsy Rose Lee) and skillfully applied gimmicks (Blaze Starr) s well.

Glasscock’s appealing book treats striptease as a theatrical skill as much a part of burlesque and vaudeville as comedy or juggling, and she writes of a time when a stripteaser could become nearly as “legitimate” as Bob Hope or Bing Crosby. She’s not just applying new eyes to old ideas here — they knew it then. Glasscock offers contemporary quotes even from those censorious personalities who opposed the act but admitted it had been assimilated into Americana.

The evolution of striptease is paralleled by the attempts to stop it. Thing is, people figured if it wasn’t so sexy they wouldn’t have to stop it — which is why canny producers like Minsky made publicity gold mines out of police raids. And why, again, we don’t see many such raids today, at least not for the everyday event of a woman taking off her clothes for money, on stage, in front of men. We had to add lap dancing and then god knows what (I’m sure I don’t). Maybe we’ve peeled back too many layers; as this book reminds us, there is nothing wrong with a hot girl. But there’s even less wrong with one who can hold your attention while still holding on to at least some of her clothes.

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