"That's it boys. You're not getting' any more from me."
Busty, highly painted blonde Lili St. Cyr was a notorious striptease artist of the 1940s and 1950s who replaced Gypsy Rose Lee and Ann Corio on the burlesque queen pedestal. Lili actually took the stripper out of burlesque and put her squarely on the Las Vegas stage. She was also noted for her pin-up photography, especially for photos taken by Bernard of Hollywood. She was married and divorced six times, including small-time actors Paul Valentine and Ted Jordan and well-known restaurateur Armando Orsini.
She was born as Willis Marie Van Schaack in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1918. She had a sister, Rosemary Van Schaack Minsky. Her grandparents, the Klarquists, reared her and her two show business sisters, Dardy Orlando and Barbara Moffett.
Having taken ballet lessons throughout her youth, she began to dance professionally as a chorus line girl in Hollywood. Unlike other women who have stroke-of-luck stories about being plucked from the chorus line and selected for a feature role, St. Cyr had to beg her manager at the club to let her do a solo act. From her self-choreographed act she eventually landed a bit part at a club called the Music Box in San Francisco, with an act called the Duncan Sisters. It was here that she found a dancer's salary was only a small fraction of what the featured star's salary was. The difference was that the featured star was nude.
From the 1940s and most of the 1950s, St. Cyr with Gypsy Rose Lee and Ann Corio were the most recognized acts in striptease. St. Cyr's stage name is a patronymic of the French aristocracy, which she first used when booked as a nude performer in Las Vegas. Although more obscure toward the end of her life, her name popped-up regularly in 1950s tabloids: stories of her many husbands, brawls over her, and her attempted suicides. St. Cyr was married six times.
Her best-known husbands were the motorcycle speedway rider Cordy Milne, musical-comedy actor and former ballet dancer Paul Valentine, restaurateur Armando Orsini, and actor Ted Jordan.
Trained in ballet, Lili started out as a chorine at such notable places as the Florentine Gardens. She went on to develop and choreograph her own solo act while featuring herself in the nude. Lili's bare-all debut, at the Music Box, proved disastrous, so she put together a new act. She first became famous performing at the Gaiety Theater in Montreal in 1944. Her club acts quickly became the talk of the town as she would be seen taking a bath on stage or doing the reverse strip. One famous gimmick involved having her G-string, which was attached to a fishing rod, fly off into the balcony as the lights dimmed. This gimmick was known as the "Flying G," and other such novelty bits of business became trademarks as well.
She eventually conquered Las Vegas, and it was there that she created her "bubble bath" bit on stage while being dressed by a maid for the crowd. Her notoriety eventually extended outside the U.S.; she was especially well received in Montreal. While Lili was featured in a couple of mainstream acting roles in movies, including The Miami Story (1954) and The Naked and the Dead (1958), she usually played a stripper or appeared as herself.
Some short soft-core films which featured her dancing are more interesting today, such as the Irving Klaw film Varietease (1954). Lili's private life was a feast for the tabloids: six marriages, highly publicized brawls, and attempted suicides. She eventually tired of it all and retreated, starting up a Frederick's of Hollywood-like lingerie business. Her last decades were spent in virtual seclusion until her death on January 29, 1999.