Millie De Leon: America's first Burlesque Queen

Hello Dazzlers and Dazzler-ettes!

While it's been frightfully horribly wet and windy for Summer starting in a matter of days, after wrangling the power, I've finally had time to write out my next lesson about Victoria Era Burlesque. While this falls into Edwardian as well, it was still in those early days, and this time it's America's turn for the spotlight with their first "Queen of Burlesque" Millie DeLeon.

Millie, born Millie Lawrence, however she also went under names Elizabeth and Maud/Maude in 1873. While it doesn't seem clear when she started Burlesque dancing, her most scandalous acts started making headlines from 1903 onwards. Around the same time she got a manger by the name of Lew Rose, whom she married in 1907 and both set about not just making her the best Burlesque dancer but "the most famous".

Millie was regularly described as having "above average looks" with brunette hair and "odalesque" brown eyes. She was regularly called "The girl in Blue" for her costumes and also for her sometimes "blue movie" actions (what stag/porn films were called in the day). Millie was considered not only someone who changed the game for Burlesque dancers, but someone who "lowered the bar" according to some critics.

Her routine was to perform a "cootch" routine that revolved around her not only bellydancing, but gyrating, hip-thrusting, hair grabing and scandalous of all, she actually made noises during this! hooting, hollering and the sounds leading up to an orgasm, before doing a final yelp at the end of the cootch dance. During this as part of her finale as well, she would take off her garters and then throw them into the crowd, something considered quite scandalous by society at the time, to actually take off clothes during the burlesque dance was still unheard of at this time, and this is just over 100 years ago! My favourite story was that there was one man who one evening in 1904, actually threw a garter back filled with cash! The interesting thing was, he disappeared after being caught embezzling cash not long after the incident. One of the first instances of tipping your strippers I think!

The one thing she did that got her in the most trouble though was that she would sometimes perform on stage not only showing her legs Lydia style but she would do it sans-tights, and apparently a few times sans-bloomers, both of these actions were considered indecent exposure at the time and she got arrested more than once when she did this. These arrests funnily enough, while scared producers off at first, made her a booking dynamite and adored by the public. When performing in Brooklyn one night, as the police dragged her off, audience crowded around the policemen and spat at him as she was dragged off.

Millie, also like Lydia, was not without her over-zealous admirers. She wasn't afraid to give them a left hook though, as in one case when one man followed her and tried to attack her, she turned around and nearly broke his jaw from the punch she gave him. What endeared her to the public again was that she didn't lay charges, saying "He's gone through enough now". The general public loved it, her hyper-sexualised image she gave to the public with a "working-class attitude"made her more popular and soon, without even looking for work, she was a starring act in Vaudeville and Burlesque, without even needing to do any of the actual skits or "Burlesque" shows people came to see.

As the years went on, she got more raunchy with the routine, allowing men to come and take the garter off, or throwing multiple at once into the crowd, and also letting men come and kiss her garters as well at the end of the routine. The Daly Theatre New York was raided in 1915 solely because of this routine. At this point, it seems she disappeared off the face of history, with dates for her death in between 1922 -1940, which is a wide speculation area.

In short, she really upped the raunch in Burlesque for everyone, without even touring the world, in fact, without even leaving America! A lot of what we now see as the golden age of Burlesque starting in the 1920's up to the late 1950's was thanks to Millie's garter teasing shenanigans!


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