A Pictorial History of Burlesque

(scan by Rev. Byrd | cited edition)

Author: Bernard Sobel

Edition Cited in The Compleat Witch

Publisher: Bonanza Books
City: New York
Year: 1956

additional information

Pages: 194
Binding: hardcover
Size: 10″ x 8″

Front/Back Dust Jacket Flap Copy
(from the cited edition)

Here in lively text and a wealth of pictures is the history of burlesque from Aristophanes to Minsky. For all practical purposes, however, burlesque in America began with the leg show when Lydia Thompson and her British Blondes, all of whom wore tights, delightfully shocked New York audiences in the 1860’s.

When it reached its peak in the early years of this century, burlesque was a composite entertainment that took its components from the minstrel show, variety, extravaganza, comedy “bits,” and Extra Added Attractions like boxing bouts and the can-can. It owed its demise to Prohibition, the cinema, and the advent of short skirts when the sight of a woman’s legs ceased to be a rarity.

Target for periodic attacks by press and public, burlesque fell into I’ll repute with the inauguration of such refinements as the striptease, but Mr. Sobel maintains that it fulfilled a useful function for many years as the poor man’s clubhouse when, for an amount within the means of almost anyone, men could escape from nagging wives and business worries. Not that the audience was confined to the poverty-stricken, for men from every class of society were constant, though often surreptitious, habitués. For many also it was the ideal school for a vicarious sowing of wild oats and for learning the facts of life by way of glamour and merriment.

The influence of burlesque can be clearly traced in the modern entertainment world. Many of today’s stars of stage, screen, TV and night clubs owe their start to burlesque. Gypsy Rose Lee, Bobby Clark, Phil Silvers, Joe E. Brown, and Sophie Tucker first flaunted their wares in honky-Tonkin and burlesque olio; Eddie Cantor, W. C. Fields and Fanny Brice cut their teeth as comedians in the hurly-burly of wisecracking burlesque audiences.


Bernard Sobel is the outstanding expert on American burlesque history. Variety states that his Burleycue, published in 1931, is “the only authoritative book on the subject.” He has contributed to the Oxford Companion to the Stage, Collier’s Encyclopedia, the Saturday Review, American Mercury, Theatre Arts, etc. His Theatre Handbook has been selling consistency for sixteen years. Mr. Sobel was for many years press agent for Florenz Ziegfeld, Earl Carroll, the Messrs. Shubert, M-G-M, Paramount, United Artists, etc.

Table of Contents
(from the cited edition)

1. As It Was in the Beginning
2. Lydia Thompson and Her British Blondes
3. The Origins of American Burlesque
4. Michael Leavitt and his Rentz-Santley Shows
5. The Complete Show
6. Sam T. Jack — A Foot in Each Camp
7. Honky-Tonk
8. The School for Comics
9. The Wheels
10. The Nineties
11. A Manager’s Lot
12. The Golden Era — 1900-1910
13. Striptease
14. Books and Music
15. Burlesque Stars on Broadway
16. Minsky
17. Decline and Fall

Online Resources
Archive.org GoodReads Google Books LibraryThing
OpenLibrary Project Gutenberg Wikipedia WorldCat

(arranged by year)

(Scan by Rev. Byrd)

Title: (if different)
Subtitle: (if different)
Year: 1956
Publisher: Bonanza Books; New York 
Pages: 194
Binding: Hardback
Size: 8″ x 10″
Cover Price: $5.95
LoC: 56-10246

Title: (if different)
Subtitle: (if different)
Year: 1956
Publisher: Putnam; New York 
Pages: 194
Binding: Hardback
Size: 8″ x 10″
Cover Price:

Additional Photos/Images

“Mia Lynn”

“Georgia Sothern” 

“W.C. Fields, bulbous-nosed in typical comic costume”

“Honey Michel”

Misc. Quotes
“The various steps were known in succession as the ‘flash’ or entrance, the ‘parade,’ or the march across the stage in full costume; the ‘tease,’ or increasing removal of wearing apparel while the audience, lusting for bed and body, shouted, ‘Take’em off.  Take’em off.  More.  More”; and the climactic strip or denuding down to the G-string, followed by a speedy retreat into the obscuring draperies before the police could move in.”

Due to the obscurity of some titles, the contents of The Compleat Witch Illustrated Bibliography Project may contain information that is inaccurate or incomplete. We encourage readers to submit corrections and pertinent addenda like images, quotes, or other information, either as a Comment on the appropriate post or via The Compleat Witch Illustrated Bibliography Facebook page.


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