by Megan Abbott

Saturday night, I went to an event at the New York Public Library in honor of the centennial of Gypsy Rose Lee’s birthday. A woman did pop out of a cake at the end, but you knew that already.

Along the way, we saw some great old burlesque and vaudeville footage, including a gem of snippet of a very, very young Gypsy (circa 1931), looking softer and more lovely than the streamlined, ironic version of her latter heyday.

There has been a mini-Gypsy renaissance in recent years, both within the burlesque revival and in books. Last year there was Rachel Shteir’s captivating and whip-smart Gypsy: The Art of the Tease.  And now there is Karen Abbott’s new American Rose: A Nation Laid Bare–The Life and Times of Gypsy Rose Lee, which I’m eager to read, especially after hearing Abbott share at the Centennial event some tantalizing tidbits from her interviews with June Havoc, Gypsy’s sister and child star (“Dainty June”), who has always fascinated me (her memoirs were childhood favorite of mine, for the marathon dancing sections alone).

But a special and unexpected treat Saturday night was some footage introduced by Abbott that featured one Hadji Ali, a popular vaudevillian known as, well, the Great Regurgitator (or, alternately,  The Egyptian Enigma, The Human Aquarium and The 9th Wonder of the Scientific World — what was the tenth, I ask you?).

This is a long clip but, for the intensely curious and not easily dismayed among you, it’s well worth a look. (And yes, that’s Oliver Hardy, dubbed in Spanish!)

7 Responses to “kerosene!”

  1. That’s entertainment! A minor correction, however: Ollie is NOT dubbed here. In the very early days of sound, performers like Stan and Ollie (Buster Keaton was another) who couldn’t be replaced by other actors (as Lugosi was in the Spanish language “Dracula”) would shdot two, three or even four versions of their pictures, learning their Spanish, French, German, etc., lines phonetically. Watching later Laurel and Hardys that actually were dubbed is fascinating, because the voice actors who did the dubbing had to closely imitate the by then well-known voices of the actual comics. In France at least this led to a tradition of actors being dubbed over the years by the same voice doubles, a practice that led to lifelong careers for some….

  2. Scott, I love it even better that he wasn’t dubbed!

  3. That’s so gross! Did people actually pay to be regurgitated on?!? Also interesting that his persona was Middle Eastern–funny how the stereotype was so different then.

    And didn’t Gypsy Rose Lee write a crime novel?

    But I had no idea june havoc & gypsy rose were related! Megan, what did I do before I met you?

  4. That was gross. There is a Scottish guy has has a similar act but will also swallow objects and regurgitate them by request.

  5. While I am at it, Abbott’s forthcoming was listed in a Library Journal email blurb.

  6. Hey, thanks Gerard–for both!! (I admit, I did have to watch some Stevie Starr–I couldn’t help myself! but why is it so much charming to see these stunts in old black and white?)


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