1920s, actors, culture, history, In My Opinion

The Burly Q

From the 1870s to 1920s, American entertainment included Vaudeville shows featuring families who danced and sang, who partnered as acrobats and jugglers, and who performed at circuses and theaters across the country. They were talented individuals who entertained Americans before the rise of film, radio, and television. Interested in the history? Try this site: University of Arizona Vaudeville Museum Special Collection  Dancing acts by women became popular like the Ziegfeld Follies in the 1910s and 20s. Burlesque performers were racier and included stripping onstage or tease acts with flowing gauze, swinging tassels, and creative patches placed on  private parts. In the early years, most girls were background transitions to male comedians in a 90 minute show performed several times a day. Top exotic dancers earned upward to $1,500 a week.

Leslie Zemeckis wrote and directed the documentary Behind the Burly-Q (2010) revealing the sub-culture of the exotic dancer during the first half of the twentieth century. Interviewing the grand dames long retired, their recollections show a complicated life representing the “improper” side of feminine identity. On the upside, the women share stories of camaraderie of ensemble traveling, the lucrative possibilities money brought them, self-sufficiency, adoration from fans, in short, it was the best years of their lives. On the downside, exotic dancers dealt with derogatory reputations which conflicted with their roles as daughter, mother, and wife. They were a big part of a mafia-driven industry. Leslie Zemeckis juggles these two sides with sensitivity.  As grandmothers, they shared “war stories” and there was nothing of which to be ashamed.

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From straight man/silly man partnerships like Abbott and Costello, the Marx Brothers, or acts starring James Cagney, W.C. Fields, Red Buttons, and Milton Beryl, their talent was cultivated as Vaudeville and Burlesque performers. They became icons which influenced all later generations in entertainment. Consider the great Alan Alda, for example, who starred in Behind the Burly Q.  Alda grew up surrounded by topless show girls because his father was a Vaudeville and Burlesque entertainer. Robert Alda was a talented singer and dancer. He starred on Broadway and won the 1951 Tony Award for Best Actor in Guys and Dolls.  If you’ve seen the 70s television series M*A*S*H, Alan Alda starred in every episode (1972-1983) and wrote and directed several of them. The slap-stick, puns, goofy antics, and burlesque-stripping nurses reflects the large influence Vaudeville/Burlesque had on Alda’s creative genius.

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Explaining the sub-culture of exotic dancing included former stars Tempest Storm, Blaze Starr, Dixie Evans, among others who shared similar motivations. They were pretty young girls with blossoming bodies. They were poor and they were hungry.  Exotic dancing was a means to earn fast cash, and they liked being a celebrity. This “hush-hush” but prevalent part of American culture affected the entertainment industry for the rest of the century. Enjoy the following trailer:

Post 1950

A woman’s identity is a conflicted one. In the Western tradition, she vacillates from Eve the corrupter to holy mother, the Virgin Mary. Fast forward to the 1920s and 30s. Because of Mass Consumerism, women were expected to buy time-saving appliances. She was expected to maintain a clean home, support her husband, and raise the children. However, we are a visual society and many men prefer their women beautiful, childless, and preferably naked. Conflicting expectations escalated when Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique in 1963 and sparked a resurgence in the women’s movement for a voice without a man’s interference. The dueling expectation of sex object vs. virtuous female feels neverending.

Today, homemakers are not defined by gender and that is great. Also, I am not suggesting a woman who prefers to stay at home and raise her child and manage a home is “letting down” feminists any more than exotic dancers are. It’s no fun being Super Woman, either, who merges traditional male and female roles and feels utterly exhausted.  Defining gender roles is rarely representative and frequently confining.

What are your thoughts about the Burly Q?

culture, education, inspiration, love, writing

Four Life Principles: Thanks, Eleanor Roosevelt


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At the request of my school, I gave a speech today. My audience included parents, students, and community members at an assembly, and Eleanor Roosevelt stood by my side and helped me through it. Are you are feeling lowly today? Maybe a reminder is all you need. Let her wisdom lift you. Here was what I said:

Thank you, school board members, administrators, students, and the faculty for whom I represent for allowing me to address you today. I’d like to begin with a quote given by First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, who advocated for human rights and became an essential advisor for her husband, President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

She said, “Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people.”

Whenever I face an anxious situation, like speaking on this stage in front of you, I like to pretend Eleanor is standing next to me. Her maxims are great ideas, life principles to follow, and there are four I’d like to share.

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1. Goal Oriented 

“I am what I am today because of the choices I made yesterday.”

Come up with a strategy. Then try it. Students, today you are commended for improving your grade point average over the course of a semester or a year. You are here today because you tried. Creating a goal is the first step. To execute the strategy requires focus. Remember, you are not competing against the person next to you. You are in a marathon race with yourself and your success first depends on a course of action.

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2. Self-Reflection

“Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t possibly make them all yourself.”

How did your strategy work? What can I do differently to achieve a better result? Life is about tweaking, modifying, and scheduling your time. If you manage your time well, efficiency will catapult your goals and results easier to achieve. Ever notice how true experts, athletes, and artists make it look so easy? It’s because they are efficient, focused, and tweaked their “performance” over time.

You change. Don’t be passive. Don’t wait for someone to suggest what you should do. This is your education, your life. Decide what worked and what didn’t; create a new strategy and try again. It is all about you.

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3. Be Positive

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”

This is the hardest principle to live by and it truly makes all the difference, for it is a choice, happiness, and it starts with positive thinking.

Insecurity. Fear. Labels others give you. Mountains to climb, Hardships. Loneliness. These are your companions for the rest of your life. What helps you achieve your goals, your dreams, is your attitude. Avoid succumbing to the negative by discovering strategies for dealing with these sap-sucking companions. People surround you who want to help you bypass your obstacles. Seek out the advice from those who have succeeded. You are never alone. A positive attitude takes practice, it is akin to hope, and worth the effort.

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“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

How do you acquire strong self-esteem? How do you become confident? Self-reliant? Surround yourself with people who are positive. Allow them to fill the hours of your day and you will gain courage to face all those who only see the negative–the whiners, the complainers–those who want you to be miserable with them. Can’t find anyone positive? Then be your own best friend. Let the positive people from the past be your inspiration and your friends. Like Eleanor Roosevelt. They will give you courage. Let them be your teachers.

4. Reinvent Yourself

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 There’s an old film I’ve made a personal connection with and that’s Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray. Here was a story about a negative, obnoxious man who, stuck in a time glitch, relived his day over and over. He disgusts the girl of his dreams and can’t figure out why she doesn’t like him. Every day he learned something new. He discarded selfishness and cultivated a positive attitude. He became philanthropic. He became a leader in the community and devoted his time to learn something new, motivated to win the love of his dream girl. What if every day was the same day and you chose to reinvent yourself? What an opportunity! What would you do? What if you were the leader and positive role model for someone else? What do you think would happen to you? Give it a try.

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Practice. Try. Read all about it. Imitate. and remember a Cindy Bruchman adage: “Follow the Good, and lead yourself.” Thank you. No, thank you, Eleanor. It’s easy to be wise when you adopt the wisdom of others.

actors, culture, movies

Hollywood Stereotypes

I read an amusing, interesting article about stereotypes in Hollywood by Juan Arteaga. You can read it HERE 

Some of my favorite films included them. Would you agree the film industry is a powerful influence and molder of the mind? How one perceives another as a group is often created and affirmed in films? Without personal experiences to counter-act the image, you could very well adopt that perception and it becomes your own? Or worse, girls and boys witness in films, billboards, magazines or television shows a female perpetually poised in a sexual position, should we be surprised another girl grows up looking and acting like a sex-object and boys grow up into men who search for them?

How serious should we be as viewers? Identifying the stereotype first and recognizing what we see could be potentially damaging is a step. But then what? Boycott the film? Considering the article by Juan Artega, the pictures throughout this post feature films which portray common stereotypes.  Can you match them?

1. The Magic Negro (God-like powers and saves the whites)

2. The Gay/Effeminate psychopath (nurturing homophobia by attributing sexuality to a decrepid behavior)

3. The Latino Maid (cleaning is all they know how to do. Ugh!)

4. The Mighty Whitey (white protagonist enters foreign culture and saves the day)

5. The Mighty Non-Whitey (black man or non-white jives, dances, and with a laid back attitude, saves the day)

6. The Wise, Old Asian Jerk (convoluted wisdom; a pain-in-the-neck)

7. The Cowardly Incompetent Black Side-Kick (an idiot; cheap shots come easy)

8. Women:  A. androgynous male-killers  B. the naïve child C. One dimensional–let’s talk only about men D. The femme fatale.

If you think stereotypes are bad, how do you combat them? In films, characters shouldn’t display a single image. They should contain complexity. Thinking about womens’ roles my favorites characters followed no stereotype, and they possessed strong personalities.  Clever and amusing, their self-confidence makes them attractive. Complicated and compassionate is a fine mix. Their loyalty to their mate and devotion to others is true sex-appeal. Simply being a sex object is boring.

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8D The great temptress

No person possesses a singular attribute or foible. The best films for me are those with characters who are like a kaleidoscope. Those flawed characters who rise above their predicament and attempt to do the right thing are the best–and those roles are usually written for men. Every once in a while a female role stands out.

So what do I do about the fact that I still love The Green Mile, Fifth Element, and Bulworth?