Saturday, July 30, 2011

Hero In A Half Shell

In American burlesque of the forties and fifties, competition was fierce among dancers constantly trying to outdo each other. It became the age of the prop, with sights like Rosita Royce and her bikini of trained doves that would fly away on her command, Linda "Cupid Doll" Brigitte who would swirl about in a giant champagne glass and Lili St. Cyr who playfully splashed around in a transparent bathtub all performing to packed houses. My favourite story from this age of extravagant props and imaginative dancers concerns Kitty West, who performed an act as Evangeline The Oyster Girl in New Orleans.

Kitty West aka Evangeline The Oyster Girl

In 1949, Evangeline was the headliner of the Casino Royale burlesque house on Bourbon Street, with a routine that involved her rising up out of a giant oyster shell, stripping to a jazz soundtrack and dancing with a giant pearl. She even dyed her hair green for a while, to evoke the idea of seaweed. However, a rival water-themed act soon came swishing into town in the shape of Divena and her 300 gallon water tank in which she performed an underwater striptease.

Divena "The Aqua Tease"


Evangeline mid-performance. (Note Divena's tank on the right. Not only was she trying to muscle in on The Oyster Girl's claim to aquatic fame, she was encroaching on her stage space! The WAGON!)

The management at the Casino Royale immediately gave Divena top billing, a move which Evangeline was having absolutely none of. One night, while Divena was doing her nautical thing, Evangeline had decided "balls to this" (possibly not in those exact words, however) and marched onstage wielding an axe.

"I just wanted to break the tank into a million pieces, and I did. I went out there and I just started pounding away at the bottom. I didn’t want to hurt her, but I was just in such a rage that I didn’t want her to take all the spotlight."

The furious stripper smashed the tank open, sending water crashing over the edge of the stage, drenching the audience and leaving a bewildered Divena spluttering at the bottom of it. Apparently, before the startled performer even had a chance to crawl out of the destroyed tank, Evangeline reached in and pulled her hair, as if she hadn't already gotten the message loud and clear.

Take that, you soggy bitch!

Yeah. You better recognise.

Conveniently, a photographer from Life magazine was in the attending crowd and managed to capture the entire incident, making it headline news the next day. Evangeline has always denied that it was a publicity stunt and insists that she had no idea that there was a photographer in the audience. Saying that though, cameras in 1949 weren't exactly the most discreet of apparatus, so he can't exactly have been Mr. Inconspicuous.

A look that seems to suggest that one should not fuck with The Oyster Girl unless one wants their head caved in from a sudden change in water pressure.

Evangeline was promptly hauled off to prison where she was photographed again and fined $10, which, considering the nationwide publicity and cover of Life she got out of it, was a total bargain.


Incidentally, I've been rambling on about the sexy publicity stunts pulled by the brazen ladies of the 30s, 40s and 50s over on, most of which involved their boobs. So that particular post contains pictures of boobs, just so's you're warned. Boobs.


  1. Bahahaha 'Take that, you soggy bitch'. I have actual face ache from guffawing, smiling & rereading that.
    Hilarious! :D

  2. Harlot DeVille30 July 2011 at 21:07


  3. Boobs, you say? Would be rude not to investigate...

  4. Oh and also: could this post title be any cooler?! I think not

  5. @ CherrySue & Harlot - It's such a brilliant story, I was just delighted to discover that there were photos to go along with it too!

    @ Emma - I was pretty happy with that post title, it has to be said. Might be one of my favourites, in fact. And yes, boobs I DO say!


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