Mayor LaGuardia's Campaign during the 1930s
against burlesque performances in New York City
What is obscenity? According to Webster's New World Dictionary, obscenity is the state or quality of being obscene which means that is offensive to modesty and or decency. During the 1930s and 1940s, New York City was infected with burlesque shows. During these times this shows were considered indecent and immoral by Mayor LaGuardia, his license commissioner Paul Moss, and John Sumner. Women were used as objects of entertainment. In 1934 Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia took office. Fiorello LaGuardia was a decisive and objective man. Mayor LaGuardia saw a very problematic situation for New York City when it came to this kind of performances. The targets of LaGuardia s wrath were burlesque houses, where strippers had alternated turns with stand-up comics and the other acts since at least the turn of the century (Newyorkmetro.com). Clearly, LaGuardia was focused on stopping these displays of female degradation. It is important to mention that were two kinds of entertainments displays during this time. One group was the burlesque shows, which degraded females by displaying them as sexual objects. These shows were targeted towards the low income and illiterated people. The other group was called Ziegfeld Follies, which was aimed for the high elite people. This form of entertainment was a very refine and elaborated, but also did contain degrading displays. Regardless, Fiorello LaGuardia's campaign unfairly opposed Burlesque performances instead of the Ziegfeld Follies, since it was politically easier to take action against shows that were supported by the lower class.
What actually was Burlesque? It was a popular and inexpensive form of entertainment whose basic ingredients were girls, gags, and music (Minsky's Burlesque,26). These shows where aimed for mostly low income and illiterate people. One of the most controversial facts that Burlesque performances confronted was when one of their actresses had an accident on stage. She had a detachable collar that as soon the audience saw her pulled off they started applauding for an encore. As Mae (the actresses) came back to bowed they clapped like crazy. For a moment Mae lost her head and decided to came back to the stage and unbuttoned her bodice as she left the stage again (Minsky's Burlesque,34). The audience couldn't believe what just happened that night. It is possible that the Mae's came back fact was one of the first nudity displays at that time. After this period Burlesque performances change their entertainment perspective so that they will become more popular. What were the owners thinking about this issue? As Billy Minsky one of the co-owner of the enterprise said "If people want it, we'll give it to them. When a court finds that I've broken some law, I'll stop. Until then, we'll sell tickets"(Minsky's Burlesque,34). Obviously, Billy Minsky didn't care anything else than the money. They started changing the scenario because they knew that at a some point the authorities like John Sumner will appear. They even set a light warned to prevent the actors of doing any suspicious movement when the bluenoses arrived to the scene (Minsky's Burlesque,35). What was the real purpose of eliminating this shows?
Burlesque performances showed evidence that they were not only coarse and vulgar, but also indecent, immoral and lewd (Court Refuses Writing Burlesque Pleas,21). Indeed, the essence of these displays of vulgarity were considered a very sensitive topic during those times. Burlesque shows were vulgar and displayed women as an object of entertainment. Burlesque performances were more spontaneous acts that showed unprofessionalism. These performances also displayed a lack of variety and creativity since their costumes were very basic. Kathleen Spies describes how burlesque displayed women at the stage "On the burlesque stage, striptease acts alternated with comedy skits that often...
Cited: 8. Tomasky, Michael. www.newyorktimes.com. August 24, 1998
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