MINSKY'S BURLESQUE by Morton & Milt Machlin Minsky


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The story of the four Minsky brothers--Herbert, Abe, Billy and Mort--who introduced burlesque to Manhattan, as told by the last brother still alive. It all began in 1917 in a sixth-floor theater known as the National Winter Garden, at Second Avenue and Houston Street--a building owned by Minsky's father. Minsky senior never attended the burlesque and thought the chorines his sons had hired were prostitutes. But despite the raunchy humor and comics hitting each other with penis-like inflated pig bladders, Minsky's earliest chorines were modestly incarnate compared with the stark-naked girls riding elephants and posed in artistic groupings at Ziegfeld's and Billy Rose's uptown shows. Minsky's girls suggested a lot in their dancing tights, and the comics' humor was so bawdy that the police were forever threatening to raid Minsky's for its indecencies. And when a raid did happen, the Minskys were delighted with the free publicity--although the family was embarrassed by having its name as a synonym for cheap display. Business got so good that the Minskys opened a second theater uptown with a classier show. To drive patrons out between stage shows, the entrepreneurs showed the most boring movies--Old Andy Clyde comedies and moldy travelogues--they could find. The day came, though, when the strippers arrived and got down to business, including some muscularly gifted girls who could twirl their tassles in counter directions. As the strippers became more famous--Gypsy Rose Lee, Margie Hart, Georgia Sothern, Ann Corio--they became more competitive, with Margie Hart giving Morton Minsky gray hair by flashing her red pubic hair at the end of a dance. Well, had she dyed her pubic hair along with her head hair--everybody backstage agreed she was the same color both places--or did she have a fake thatch attached to her G-string for legal purposes? It was a burning question. Minsky quotes a ton of raw bits and gags developed by such then-unknown Minsky comics as Jackie Gleason, Bert Lahr, Abbott and Costello, Phil Silvers, Sid Caesar, and Robert Alda. It's all great fun, no worse than Aristophanes with his stage dildos, and oddly innocent.

Pub Date: March 25th, 1986
Publisher: Arbor House