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By Robert C. The publication of this work was made possible in part through a grant from the Division of Research Programs of the National Endowment for the Humanities, an independent federal agency whose mission is to award grants to support education, scholarship, media programming, libraries, and museums, in order to bring the results of cultural activities to a broad, general public. Burlesque Theater —United States—History. United States—Popular culture—19th century. United States—Popular culture—20th century.
Horrible Prettiness: Burlesque and American Culture
By Robert C. The publication of this work was made possible in part through a grant from the Division of Research Programs of the National Endowment for the Humanities, an independent federal agency whose mission is to award grants to support education, scholarship, media programming, libraries, and museums, in order to bring the results of cultural activities to a broad, general public.
Burlesque Theater —United States—History. United States—Popular culture—19th century. United States—Popular culture—20th century. The paper in this book meets the guidelines for permanence and durability of the Committee on Production Guidelines for Book Longevity of the Council on Library Resources. Pauline Markham, the most beautifully formed woman who had ever appeared on the stage 9.
Among the hazards of submitting popular entertainments to scholarly study are the twin dangers of holding the subject in too low or too high a regard. Because topics like burlesque, or the television soap operas about which Robert Allen has written so knowingly in a previous book, still seem exotic and transgressive in academic settings, scholars are often tempted to cover themselves in elaborate apologies, by defensive condescension or over-celebration of their low subject matter.
The book represents its popular subject as a significant historical subject in its own right, not restricted to the segregated field of popular culture, a category that often serves to quarantine the transgressive and routinize the scandalous. There is no special pleading in Horrible Prettiness, only a subtle, richly documented, and provocative argument with ramifications far beyond its explicit subject.
What it shows about burlesque sheds light on modern popular forms in general. Allen reveals the subversive character of early burlesque, its calculated efforts to wring a wildly ironic humor by playing off against high cultural values, particularly regarding women. Half the book treats the original burlesque troupe of the Englishwoman Lydia Thompson, which stormed American cities starting in Initially dominated by women writers and producers as well as performers, burlesque took wicked fun in reversing roles, shattering polite expectations, brazenly challenging notions of the approved ways women might display their bodies and speak in public.
Then, as American society in the later Gilded Age underwent increasing professionalization and cultural stratification, men took over. Controlled now by male theatrical proprietors and impressarios and booking agents, the once-sparkling wit, daring eroticism, and shuddering assault on all forms of respectability of original burlesque devolved into an increasingly disreputable vehicle for display of the voiceless female body in stylized erotic gyrating motion, starting with the cooch dance in the s and the shimmy and striptease dances of the early twentieth century.
Speech was taken from women performers, and sexuality in the debased form of the stylized erotic dance was separated from the insubordination that had given early burlesque its threatening electrical charge. Denied their voice and the chance to talk back, and placed onstage by profiteering male handlers as forbidden objects of gazing male audiences, female performers lost their power to unsettle and subvert. In rich detail Horrible Prettiness traces and interprets this transformation by placing it in relation to social, demographic, and cultural changes in post — Civil War and early twentieth-century America.
It shows the intertwined cultural valences of class distinction and gender role and how hierarchies in the form of gender stereotypes ignore class boundaries. We see how displays of the female body in other media legitimate theater, photography, and early cinema especially provided a cultural setting in which burlesque became increasingly the very definition of the low.
Cultural definitions of low and high, the book argues throughout, project broader conceptions of power, of domination and subordination, of the cultural process of ordination as such.
Early burlesque attacked the stereotype of the independent woman as a low other and through its inversions onstage enacted alternative values; it reordinated according to implicitly freer, unrepressed, and thus oppositional standards of value.
The threat of cultural inversion and reordination, Allen argues provocatively, helps explain the devolution of burlesque into illicit salacious sexuality, with a strong working-class aura. It was a way of controlling by quarantine a potential contagion. The book is partly a narrative history, fascinating in its accounts of performance styles, scripts, costumes, music and dance, of commercial and legal arrangements, and of the furor of conflicted response in the popular and genteel press.
Allen shows how burlesque developed by assimilating elements of earlier commercial theater in America and other entertainment forms that arose during the antebellum years of rapid urbanization, such as dime museums, concert saloons, minstrel shows, and circuses.
He shows, too, in a brilliant concluding chapter on the twentieth century, how the original vitality of burlesque survived and reappeared in the figure of the unruly woman into which Sophie Tucker and Mae West breathed new creative life.
Treating these women of extraordinary and extraordinarily subverting talent in proximity with the Ziegfeld Follies and other bowdlerized and defanged revisions of original burlesque, Allen extends the range of his study beyond burlesque itself into the domain of the female popular performer as such.
An original chronicle of popular cultural history, the book makes its most powerful mark as an interpretation. Never losing sight of the irreducible complexity of burlesque embodied in the irrecoverable chemic elements of performance like gesture, color, inflection, rapport between performers and audience, Allen argues at once for the necessity of interpretation and for its final limits.
Yet only the act of interpretation brings that surfeit of irrecoverable meaning into play. The book provides a much-needed demonstration of how a scholarly work on a popular theme can avoid the hazard of overkill.
Allen explains only as much as necessary. Horrible Prettiness turns an important corner in recent cultural studies, for it shows how entertainment subjects can at once give pleasure and serve the serious interests of cultural history and criticism. The book brings its more or less ephemeral subject of entertainment performances to a par, as a subject of critical and historical interest, with the closed and determinant written texts of traditional literary or theatrical subjects.
It shows that the ephemerality of improvised performance can indeed be captured and reconstructed into significant cultural texts without depleting the special meanings that attach to improvisatory performance itself.
And most memorably, in its analysis of the social dynamics that shaped the meaning of popular entertainment forms, Horrible Prettiness gives us a prime lesson in the dialectical reading of cultural texts.
The book recovers a lost but revealing component of American cultural life and teaches a way of listening to and watching the popular voices, images, and moving bodies of contemporary life. A number of institutions and individuals provided invaluable assistance to me during the research and writing of this book.
A year at the National Humanities Center, supported by a fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies and research leave from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, gave me the time to think about what I wanted this book to be.
Any scholarly project that takes four years to gestate almost inevitably is shaped by the comments, insights, and ideas of colleagues and friends. That is certainly the case with this book. I was greatly aided in the revision of the manuscript by the insightful critiques and helpful suggestions of Alan Trachtenberg, Peter Buckley, and Kathy Peiss.
Professor Buckley also generously shared with me his own important work in this area and put me on the trail of several important, fugitive sources. Over the past several years I have learned much — about gender representation, the study of culture, ballet, and lobsters — from discussions with Jane Desmond, John Fiske, and Jane Gaines. Comments and questions from faculty and students helped to sharpen my thinking and strengthen my arguments.
On a more personal level, my wife Allison not only persevered but also actively supported me during the long process of seeing this book to completion. Finally, in a strange way, some of the credit for this book goes to my mother. She is the least likely person I know to have given birth to a burlesque scholar, but had it not been for her hard work, encouragement, and example, I would not have become a scholar at all. Crowd of Red Republicans, unread republicans, avengers, scavengers, Greeks, sneaks, and female furies.
Applications for engagements to be made to Mr. To the theater managers, actors, and aficionados who constituted the primary readership of the Clipper, this notice was not the first they had read of Lydia Thompson and certainly not the first they had heard of burlesque. But the ad was confirmation of reports circulated over the past eighteen months that the talk of the London theater scene would be coming to the United States. Her debut in New York had already been arranged: in the summer of George Wood, owner of several Manhattan theaters, had asked Thompson to appear at his 1,seat Broadway Theater near Broome Street in lower Manhattan.
But before she received the invitation, Thompson had already signed to appear at the Prince of Wales Theater in London. The renovated museum would boast a theater seating over 2, and, beneath it, an seat lecture room for the display of living curiosities.
When she made her first of several trips to America in August , Lydia Thompson was thirty-two and had been on the stage for sixteen years. Her Quaker father died when she was three, but her mother remarried a fairly well-to-do businessman, enabling Thompson to take dancing lessons from one of the most popular teachers in London. Her first parts were in pantomimes and extravaganzas. In a Spanish dancer, billed as the most accomplished in Europe, played London. Thompson, then at the St. James Theater, proved that she could match her step for step, making Thompson something of a national cultural hero and a popular sensation.
On the basis of her success at the St. James, Thompson toured Europe and Russia for three years — the tour coming to a premature conclusion in August with the death of her mother. Over the next five years Thompson starred in a series of successful extravaganzas in London. She married a prosperous businessman and, in May , gave birth to a daughter.
With the death of her husband in a riding accident in June, however, Thompson once again found herself in financial straits. After two seasons in Liverpool, she returned to London. Henderson went with her, and they were married in February Members of the New York press received an eight-page biography, which claimed that Thompson provoked such adulation among her male fans that her European tour had resulted in suicides and duels:.
At Helsingfors [Helsinki] her pathway was strewn with flowers and the streets illuminated with torches carried by her ardent admirers. At Cologne, the students insisted on sending the horses about their business and drawing the carriage that contained the object of their devotions themselves.
At Riga and other Russian towns in the Baltic, it became an almost universal custom to exhibit her portrait on one side of the stove to correspond with that of the Czar on the other side. At Lemberg, a Captain Ludoc Baumbarten of the Russian dragoons, took some flowers and a glove belonging to Miss Thompson, placed them on his breast; then shot himself through the heart, leaving on his table a note stating that his love for her brought on the fatal act.
The Season, tongue-in-cheek, warned on August "She has become really quite dangerous. We are [ sic ] an old stager, and have a heart not at all susceptible of female charms, but we are positively becoming quite afraid of Miss Lydia Thompson, and, judging from the newspaper reports of her exploits in Russia and Germany, we should imagine it will become a very grave question with the governments of these respective countries, whether her presence there again can be permitted without endangering the sanity of the whole nation.
The poster for Ixion, preserved by the New York Public Library, shows a demure head-and-shoulders engraving of Thompson in street clothes, which, as her biographer puts it, resembles more a finishing school portrait than a theatrical advertisement. Similar images of Thompson and Markham appeared in newspaper accounts, among them the New York Clipper. However, there is little in the contemporaneous pictures or renderings of Thompson to suggest that she was a woman perceived to be of such extraordinary beauty by most that the very sight of her was enough to prompt adoration amounting almost to mania.
Pauline Markham was the Blonde whom some would regard as the most attractive of the troupe. Charles Burnham, writing in , remembered Markham as the most beautifully formed woman who had ever appeared on the stage. In its generally favorable review of Ixion, the Clipper critic called Thompson well proportioned.
A few months later, the Clipper complained that the reputation of the British Blondes rested on their allure below the waist, not above the neck: If you would seek for corresponding features of beauty in their faces, the disappointment is great. A more disastrous set of ballet girls, according to their facial index, it has not entered the hearts of men to conceive. In vain do we look for those touches of loveliness which make men fall down and worship the sex; scan them with a lenient eye, the result is the same.
But the renderings of Thompson accompanying these accounts gave no clue as to the source of this sexual magnetism. To reach the theater, the audience entered on the ground floor of the building, which contained wax figures, statuary, an aquarium, and other displays, and passed by the seat lecture room, where the living attractions were exhibited.
Among the latter that day were a dwarf named General Grant, a giantess, and a precocious three-year-old named Sophia Gantz, billed as the Baby Woman.
The theater critic for the Clipper penned this telling poem about the attraction with whom Thompson shared billing that evening:. The entertainment in the theater on the second floor began at eight p. Then came Ixion. The play was a general lampoon of classical culture and mythological allusion composed in punning rhymed pentameter. Because no script of the version of the play presented on the New York stage survives, it is impossible to know how much of F. He kills his father-in-law, which prompts his wife to lead a revolt against him.
Fearing that she will succeed, Ixion calls upon Jupiter for help. Jupiter suggests that Ixion come to live among the gods. Jupiter discovers them and sentences Ixion to be bound eternally to a giant celestial wheel.
Pdf online Horrible Prettiness: Burlesque and American Culture (Cultural Studies of the United
Skip to search form Skip to main content You are currently offline. Some features of the site may not work correctly. DOI: Allen Published Sociology. Robert Allen's compelling book examines burlesque not only as popular entertainment but also as a complex and transforming cultural phenomenon. When Lydia Thompson and her controversial female troupe of "British Blondes" brought modern burlesque to the United States in , the result was electric.
American burlesque is a genre of variety show derived from elements of Victorian burlesque , music hall and minstrel shows. Burlesque became popular in America in the late s and slowly evolved to feature ribald comedy and female nudity. By the late s the striptease element overshadowed the comedy and subjected burlesque to extensive local legislation.
While I will admit that this has made for a more scintillating graduate school experience than many students seem to enjoy, burlesque performance is — as I hope to demonstrate — really about much more than just gorgeous naked ladies. After spending over a year immersed in the stimulating world of burlesque, I am proud to count myself as both a scholar and a fan of this sexy, exciting, and challenging performance medium. My official introduction to the world of burlesque came courtesy of the Charles H. Lee Theatre Research Institute. This collection, donated to the university by Bowling Green State University professor emeritus of sociology, Dr.
Understanding Blackness through Performance pp Cite as. Reacting to American racist policies and post-World War I access to international travel, a flourish of African Americans migrated to Paris and London in the early s. As a form of popular entertainment, vaudeville had a long history in the United States and Europe.
Выслушай меня внимательно, - попросил Стратмор. Сьюзан была ошеломлена. ТРАНСТЕКСТ еще никогда не сталкивался с шифром, который не мог бы взломать менее чем за один час. Обычно же открытый текст поступал на принтер Стратмора за считанные минуты.
Звонивший некоторое время молчал. - О… понимаю. Прошу прощения. Кто-то записал его, и я подумал, что это гостиница.
В этой встрече было что-то нереальное - нечто, заставившее снова напрячься все его нервные клетки. Он поймал себя на том, что непроизвольно пятится от незнакомцев.