Zemeckis (Behind the Burly Q: The Story of Burlesque in America, 2013) chronicles the life of Lili St. Cyr (1918-1999), by all accounts the queen of the strippers.
St. Cyr, like so many in her business, scrabbled to break out of poverty. Luckily, her grandmother Alice remained a stabilizing influence in her childhood. She taught St. Cyr and her sisters to sew, an art they used in making costumes for the burlesque acts. What Alice also taught her was to go after what she wanted and forget whatever didn’t work. Unfortunately, St. Cyr never learned how to say no. She accepted every job offered to her, which kept her in the limelight. She also accepted marriage proposals, six of them. She didn't have the nerve to break up, though, waiting for her husbands to tire of being Mr. St. Cyr. Her work, her body, and her beauty were all she ever cared about. She was private, enigmatic, even shy, always emulating Greta Garbo. She never played to the audience, maintaining her air of mystery. The author has difficulty showing the inner St. Cyr because feelings were the one thing she never exposed. There were loves along the way, but an ex–hockey player was the only one she kept going back to, and he never proposed. St. Cyr loved meeting gangsters and marveling at their swagger; they adored and adorned her, and she ate it up. Friends were few, certainly no women (she never trusted them). Her dance routines played to packed houses, and it was her bathtub scene, using a well-placed towel held by her maid, that brought her lasting fame.
The book is well-written and loaded with photos but tends to be repetitive—for which the author receives only partial blame: St. Cyr’s life was one gig, one man, and one marriage/divorce after another.