New Exhibit Celebrates the Glory Days of Boston’s Burlesque Era
On Tuesday, April 10, the West End Museum will present Vintage Costumes of Burlesque in partnership with The Great Burlesque Exposition. The exhibit, which runs through May 12 in the Museum’s Members Gallery, commemorates Boston’s burlesque era and “The Old Howard” through displays of vintage costumes, ephemera and memorabilia. Mina Murray, New England’s leading burlesque performer and headmistress of The Boston Academy of Burlesque Education, curates the show. Concurrent programs include a ladies-only burlesque dancing workshop and a fundraising event featuring live music from the John Licata Sextet and performances by neo-vaudevillian Kristen Minsky. (Program details appear on the following pages; download exhibit images here.)
“Burlesque was an important part of the entertainment in the Old West End and Scollay Square dating back to the transition from 1920s vaudeville and playhouses like The Old Howard, so we definitely wanted to capture and incorporate that entertainment component into this show,” said West End Museum Executive Director Duane Lucia.
Other highlights of the exhibit include:
- Several costumes worn by Ann Corio, the burlesque star most closely associated with The Old Howard. A favorite of Harvard students, legend has it that it was said in Boston, “You can't graduate from Harvard until you've seen Ann Corio.”
- A costume from the wardrobe of the international queen of burlesque, Dita Von Teese, who is world renowned for her elaborate costumes and lavish set pieces. Her “Burlesque: Strip Strip Hooray!” tour launches in the US in early May.
- A costume worn by young dancer Lily Ann Rose at the Casino in Scollay Square. Rose was arrested and “Banned in Boston” in her teen years for accidentally baring her breasts on stage.
- A gown owned and worn by April March, “The First Lady of Burlesque,” and a reproduction of it made and worn by Mina Murray in her tribute to Miss March.
The Old Howard (officially known as The Howard Athenaeum) was one of Boston’s most famous theaters between 1845 and 1953. Located in Scollay Square, the playhouse featured performances of opera, ballet, dramas, comedy, vaudeville and burlesque. By the end of the 19th century, the theatre switched over entirely to burlesque and featured such performers as Sally Rand, Fanny Brice, Gypsy Rose Lee and Sophie Tucker. The city of Boston denied the theater’s license renewal in 1953 due to claims of indecency, and the playhouse closed. A 1960 push for the renovation and reopening of the theater was quashed by a small fire which, while not devastating to the entire structure, led the city to tear down the building.