Burlesque and the Fifth Freedom

In the spring a young man's fancy usually turns him to the Old Howard, the Globe or others of Boston's dispensers of diaphramic devilment. No spring chicken itself, the gentle art of burlesque has been laying them in the aisles since 1865 or thereabouts. Women in tights were the big attraction after the Civil War, and peeling women have been the burley's big draw ever since.

In 1937 the strippers, always eager to warm the cockles of their audience's heart, had reached such daring extremes in New York that the law interfered and shut down all Manhattan's burlesque houses, including Minsky's. But true to the tradition that "You can't keep a good thing down," the operators re-opened their theatres a few years later as Girly Shows and Follies and continued in their merry, immodest way. Last month, however, a more serious black-out threatened burlesque and the entertainment world in general when License Commissioner Moss of New York refused to renew operating permits for the Gaiety, Eltinge, and Republic Theatres, present purveyors of mid-town burlesque.

Whether the Commissioner was within his right remains to be seen for the Gaiety Theatre's lawyers say that Moss was exercising one-man censorship, without any legal claim. Nearly all the bigwigs on Broadway are siding with the burlesque houses in their fight for freedom, for, as producer Herman Schumlin says, it "smacks of censorship" without legitimate grounds. And it definitely shows that "Variety," trade paper of show business, is right in insisting that we maintain our Fifth Freedom, that of free expression in entertainment.

If Commissioner Moss has his way, the burley houses may not be the only ones to suffer. Already he is planning to clamp down on the night-clubs that allow their entertainers to circulate among the paying customers and drink with them. Closing the burleys implies far more than a question of decency or morality in show business; Moss's unfair censorship strikes at the principles of unimpeded entertainment production.

Burlesque is a true American from of entertainment. Its techniques, particularly in comedy, have penetrated and influenced all other fields of entertainment. Driven from burlesque because the strip teasers were making more lucre, such comedians as Abbott and Costello, Bobby Clark, Bert Lahr, and W. C. Fields have introduced their alma mater's well-timed slap-stick comedy technique to musical comedy, the movies, and radio. With such a record to its credit, it is easy to see that there's more to burlesque than meets the eye. We hope the Gaiety Theatre wins a hearing and defeats Commissioner Moss's ill-timed desire to shut down such solid senders of entertainment.