Lili St. Cyr
Lili St. Cyr
|Born:||June 3, 1918|
|Died:||January 29, 1999 (aged 80)|
Los Angeles, California
|Height:||5 ft 9 in (1.75 m)|
|Weight:||119 lb (54 kg)|
Lili St. Cyr is a former American stripper and burlesque star. Her innovations in denying expectations, multiple arrests, attempted suicides, failed film career, and failed marriages mark her as one of the most infamous and well-known burlesque performers of the 1940s and 1950s.
Lili St. Cyr was born Willis Marie Van Schaack was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota on June 3, 1918. Much of her early life is shrouded in some mystery, as she was raised by her grandparents along with her two sisters Rosemary Minksy and Barbara Moffett, both of whom would also become burlesque dancers. In 1920, her grandparents would move to Pasadena, California where she began work as a ballet dancer. After dropping out of high school in the ninth grade, St. Cyr began working in a Chinese restaurant and was spotted by a photographer named Jack Powell who suggested she become a chorus line dancer. Along with her younger sister, she heads to Hollywood to work as a chorus girl. St. Cyr struggled to make ends meet as a dancer, eventually ending up in San Francisco working the chorus line at swanky clubs. She and her sister would audtion and fail for producer Nils T. Granlund.In 1936, she followed her then-boyfriend, famous motorcyclist Cordy Milne and married him. The marriage would be short-lived as St. Cyr would soon evolve into her on-stage persona. She returned to San Francisco and began a solo act, dancing in clubs. It is here that St. Cyr would meet her second husband, head waiter Richard Hubert at the Florentine Gardens. Her solo act would catch the attention of New York Talent Agent Miles Ingalls who would sign her to a promotional contract and put her as one of the headlining acts at the upscale Music Box nightclub with a group called the Duncan Sisters. The act would be the first major act in which St. Cyr would perform as a burlesque stripper.
Lili St. Cyr would first be Lili Marie in 1940, given the name by burlesque producer Ivan Fehnova. Fehnova had cast St. Cyr for his act at the Hollywood Theatre rumored to be based on her looks alone. The act was a disaster. Fehnova with the help of millionaire interior decorator Tom Douglas re-thought her act and began incorporating various characters and actions into her performance that hand not been seen in burlesque before, including the famous "Flying G" act in which a stage hand would pull her g-string off her body with a fishing line just as the stage went black. These innovations and the various characters that she would play on the stage would go on to become her signature as a performer for the next three decades. During the 1940s, St. Cyr was the most popular performer in Montreal, Quebec much to the chagrin of the Catholic clergy and the censors of the local government. Her residence at the Gayety Theatre earned her the reputation as one of the top burlesque performers in the world. In 1951, during a stay at Ciro's Night Club in Hollywood, St. Cyr would be arrested and tried for public lewd and lascivious acts for performing her famous bathtub scene at the club. Represented by famous Hollywood attorney Jerry Geisler, St. Cyr was asked to perform the act in the courtroom to prove that her act was indeed refined, elegant, and classy. After just 80 minutes of deliberation, St. Cyr was acquitted and became one of the top names in the tabloids and news in the country. The trial courted the fancies of famous directors Howard Hughes and Orson Welles. Hughes immediately began lobbying for her for acting parts. In 1955, St. Cyr appeared in her first film role as a harem girl in Son of Sinbad. By this time, St. Cyr was on her fifth husband, fellow actor Ted Jordan. After a tumultuous relationship, it ends after three years. Jordan would later go on to write that St. Cyr had a lesbian love affair with Marilyn Monroe in a tell all book in 1989. The statement is later discredited by the book's publisher saying that Monroe was an early devotee to St. Cyr's shows and fashioned her Hollywood persona after the burlesque dancer to be more marketable to Hollywood. The tumultuous marriage would also give St. Cyr her first mental breakdown, as police were called to her residence on Halloweeen Night 1958 after an attempted suicide by overdose. St. Cyr would be reported receiving over $200,000 a year for her performances by the end of the 1950s. She would also spend the end of the 1959 getting married to Hollywood special effects engineer Joseph Zomar, husband number six. The couple would be together the longest of all of her marriages, divorcing in 1964. St. Cyr would continue to perform throughout the 1960s all over North America. In 1965, she would have her last film role in the crime drama Runaway Girl as Edella. The movie bombed. In 1967, St. Cyr would come under fire for indecency again. This time the City of Montreal, in hopes of keeping the World's Fair Expo a clean engagement, arrested St. Cyr for her bathtub tease show. By 1970, her home base of Las Vegas had cancelled her shows and she began to retreat away from the public eye. A famous tell-all book ...And Men My Fuel... along with her own lingerie line that she had designed and worked on since 1955 took up most of her time and energy.
By the mid 70s, St. Cyr had given up on public life entirely. She sold most of her rights to her lingerie business to a shop on Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood remaining only silent interest. The 1975 musical Rocky Horror Picture Show would pay tribute to her success in burlesque. Various other pop culture references and music lyrics would follow in the coming years as a renewed interest in burlesque began to happen in the 2000s, especially upon the heels of the success of modern-day performer Dita von Teese and renewed interest in Bettie Page. St. Cyr died in Los Angeles on January 29, 1999 at the age of 80.
- Love Moods (1952)
- Bedroom Fantasy (1953)
- Striporama (1953)
- Varietease (1954)
- Teaserama (1955)
- Son of Sinbad (1955)
- Buxom Beautease (1956)
- The Naked and the Dead (1958)
- I, Mobster (1958)
- Runaway Girl (1962)
- DiNardo, Kelly. Gilded Lili. New York: Argo-Navis, 2013.
- Glamour Girls of the Silver Screen Bio & Timeline
- Video of Mike Wallace Interview from October 5, 1957
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