Before Dita Von Teese ever splashed around in an oversized martini glass, before Madonna ever donned her cone bra for the “Blond Ambition” tour, even before Norma Jean Mortensen became Marilyn Monroe, there was Lili St. Cyr. This glamorous, platinum blond queen of burlesque influenced these 20th century sex symbols as well as popular culture itself for decades, yet her story has remained largely untold.
Gilded Lili: Lili St. Cyr and the Striptease Mystique details the life and times of the woman who helped cultivate the modern day impression of burlesque and inspired future femme fatales with her alluring and inventive routines. Drawing elements from history, fantasy and literature for her performances, the woman who transformed herself from Marie Van Schaack to Lili St. Cyr scandalized and seduced fans and celebrities alike from L.A. and Las Vegas to New York and Montreal.
Blond and beautiful, Lili St. Cyr shimmied across the nation’s nightclubs as one of this century’s great sirens. In this pre-sexual revolution era, her routines shocked audiences and earned her four arrests, while at the same time raising her profile and boosting her career. She amassed legions of famous fans, including Betty Grable, Humphrey Bogart, and Ronald Reagan, and her notoriety and fame brought both financial and commercial successes with movie roles in Howard Hughes’ Son of Sinbad and Norman Mailer's The Naked and the Dead. During her reign, one reporter called her “the rich man’s Gypsy Rose Lee” and Marilyn Monroe took cues from her acts. After she retired, Mike Wallace wrote that his television interview with her over twenty years earlier remained one of the most fascinating ones he had ever conducted.
Lili’s sex appeal rivaled that of Lana Turner and Ava Gardner and enchanted men from around the world, She was married six times and was rumored to have had romantic trysts with admirers such as Orson Welles, Yul Brynner and Anthony Quinn. Off stage, Lili struggled with the conflicting pressures of the era. Despite her romances, she found love elusive. She had as many ten abortions, attempted suicide several times and became reliant on sleeping pills and ultimately heroin.
Gilded Lili explores the life of the last great burlesque queen, and a woman who impacted American popular culture long after she retired.