A pleasing memoir and an enlightening glimpse into the Bluebell Girls experience.



In her debut memoir, Phillips recounts her time touring Italy in the 1960s with the Bluebell Girls, an international dance troupe.

Growing up as a working-class teenager in post–World War II England, the author read news reports about the glamorous Bluebell Girls, an all-female dance company founded by Irishwoman Margaret Kelly that performed around the world with “star billing in long-running cabaret shows like those at the Lido in Paris and the Stardust in Las Vegas.” A self-described underachiever from Birmingham, Phillips never imagined that she would become a Bluebell herself, but she soon found herself in the running thanks in part to her love of theater and her height (Bluebells were required to be taller than 5 feet, 8 inches). Despite minimal dance training, Phillips was awarded a nine-month contract to tour Italy with the Dapporto Spettacolo, a star-vehicle show featuring Italian actor Carlo Dapporto. Phillips chronicles the excitement, triumphs, mishaps, and hardships of being a touring dancer in a foreign country, complete with onstage and backstage drama. She describes the exacting, expensive standards that Bluebells were expected to uphold and her dramatic transformation from a “frizzy-haired shorthand typist” to a world-traveling sophisticate. Overseeing every aspect of the girls’ public image and personal lives was an overbearing dance captain, Vera, who frequently butted heads with Phillips’ fellow Bluebells, musicians, technicians, and eager Italian paramours. Throughout, the author recounts the beautiful sights and unfamiliar customs of the Italian countryside as well as the grueling aspects of her days as a dancer: “It wasn’t unusual for our daily quota of sleep to be split into two or three segments.” All the while, she narrates her story with an approachable tone of fond remembrance. She’s rarely judgmental and always seeking to contextualize the experience of being a young, female performer in Italy in the 1960s. Although Phillips’ memoir feels less like a structured narrative and more like a stream-of-consciousness yarn, her anecdotes are entertaining and will no doubt intrigue lovers of dance and theater.

A pleasing memoir and an enlightening glimpse into the Bluebell Girls experience.

Pub Date: Sept. 28, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-950385-75-1

Page Count: 221

Publisher: W. Brand Publishing

Review Posted Online: Aug. 20, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2021

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A blissfully vicarious, heartfelt glimpse into the life of a Manhattan burlesque dancer.

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A former New York City dancer reflects on her zesty heyday in the 1970s.

Discovered on a Manhattan street in 2020 and introduced on Stanton’s Humans of New York Instagram page, Johnson, then 76, shares her dynamic history as a “fiercely independent” Black burlesque dancer who used the stage name Tanqueray and became a celebrated fixture in midtown adult theaters. “I was the only black girl making white girl money,” she boasts, telling a vibrant story about sex and struggle in a bygone era. Frank and unapologetic, Johnson vividly captures aspects of her former life as a stage seductress shimmying to blues tracks during 18-minute sets or sewing lingerie for plus-sized dancers. Though her work was far from the Broadway shows she dreamed about, it eventually became all about the nightly hustle to simply survive. Her anecdotes are humorous, heartfelt, and supremely captivating, recounted with the passion of a true survivor and the acerbic wit of a weathered, street-wise New Yorker. She shares stories of growing up in an abusive household in Albany in the 1940s, a teenage pregnancy, and prison time for robbery as nonchalantly as she recalls selling rhinestone G-strings to prostitutes to make them sparkle in the headlights of passing cars. Complemented by an array of revealing personal photographs, the narrative alternates between heartfelt nostalgia about the seedier side of Manhattan’s go-go scene and funny quips about her unconventional stage performances. Encounters with a variety of hardworking dancers, drag queens, and pimps, plus an account of the complexities of a first love with a drug-addled hustler, fill out the memoir with personality and candor. With a narrative assist from Stanton, the result is a consistently titillating and often moving story of human struggle as well as an insider glimpse into the days when Times Square was considered the Big Apple’s gloriously unpolished underbelly. The book also includes Yee’s lush watercolor illustrations.

A blissfully vicarious, heartfelt glimpse into the life of a Manhattan burlesque dancer.

Pub Date: July 12, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-250-27827-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2022

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A juicy story with some truly crazy moments, yet Anderson's good heart shines through.


The iconic model tells the story of her eventful life.

According to the acknowledgments, this memoir started as "a fifty-page poem and then grew into hundreds of pages of…more poetry." Readers will be glad that Anderson eventually turned to writing prose, since the well-told anecdotes and memorable character sketches are what make it a page-turner. The poetry (more accurately described as italicized notes-to-self with line breaks) remains strewn liberally through the pages, often summarizing the takeaway or the emotional impact of the events described: "I was / and still am / an exceptionally / easy target. / And, / I'm proud of that." This way of expressing herself is part of who she is, formed partly by her passion for Anaïs Nin and other writers; she is a serious maven of literature and the arts. The narrative gets off to a good start with Anderson’s nostalgic memories of her childhood in coastal Vancouver, raised by very young, very wild, and not very competent parents. Here and throughout the book, the author displays a remarkable lack of anger. She has faced abuse and mistreatment of many kinds over the decades, but she touches on the most appalling passages lightly—though not so lightly you don't feel the torment of the media attention on the events leading up to her divorce from Tommy Lee. Her trip to the pages of Playboy, which involved an escape from a violent fiance and sneaking across the border, is one of many jaw-dropping stories. In one interesting passage, Julian Assange's mother counsels Anderson to desexualize her image in order to be taken more seriously as an activist. She decided that “it was too late to turn back now”—that sexy is an inalienable part of who she is. Throughout her account of this kooky, messed-up, enviable, and often thrilling life, her humility (her sons "are true miracles, considering the gene pool") never fails her.

A juicy story with some truly crazy moments, yet Anderson's good heart shines through.

Pub Date: Jan. 31, 2023

ISBN: 9780063226562

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Dey Street/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 6, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2023

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