Apes, Men, and Morons

Sherry Britton, burlesque performer and subject of a great Weegee photo, and subject of a series of photos that begin with Sherry Britton performing, then backstage, then outside the theater, then she drives away in the back of a taxi, has died, aged 89.

Here is most of an obituary from the Daily News:
http://www.nydailynews.com/ny_local/2008/04/02/2008-04-02_burlesque_legend_sherry_britton_dies.html
Burlesque legend Sherry Britton dies
BY OWEN MORITZ
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER
Wednesday, April 2nd 2008, 7:03 PM
Sherry Britton, a brainy, sexy stripper who was the queen of Broadway burlesque in her 20s, was barred from the World’s Fair in her 40s and graduated from college in her 60s, has died.
“She had an IQ of 165, lived on Gramercy Park and aged gracefully,” said a cousin, Karen Britton.
Britton, dubbed Great Britton and once made an honorary brigadier general by President Roosevelt for her work entertaining World War II troops, died Tuesday in Beth Israel Hospital of natural causes. She was 89.
The irrepressible Britton was singled out in a recent HBO documentary as “among the most stunning of yesterday’s burlesque stars….”She had ‘jet black hair and an hourglass figure to die for.’ “
The documentary said Britton “had her share of rich admirers” and lived in Manhattan with her poodle, Miss Rich Bitch.
In a succession of foster homes after her parents divorced when she was 2 1/2, the precocious and photogenic Britton became a stripper in early teens.
Some newspaper stories claim she graduated from Tilden High School in Brooklyn at 13, but she told interviewers that was just some press agent hyperbole.
She did, however, enroll in Fordham University Law School late in life and graduate pre-law magna cum laude at age 63.
In her prime, she starred in Minksy’s Gaiety Theater on Broadway and became a national celebrity.
She was quotable and controversial.
“I strip but I don’t tease,” she once said.

And the New York Times obit.:
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/03/arts/dance/03britton.html
April 3, 2008
Sherry Britton, 89, a Star of the Burlesque Stage, Dies
By DENNIS HEVESI
Sherry Britton, whose hour-glass figure, jet-black hair and rambunctious presence made her one of the queens of the burlesque stage in the 1930s and ’40s, died Tuesday in Manhattan. She was 89 and lived in Manhattan.
She died of natural causes, her cousin Melaine Britton said.
Along with Lois de Fee, “Queen of the Glamazons,” Betty Rowland, known as the “Ball of Fire,” and Zorita, known for her sensuous snake dances, Ms. Britton was one of the last stars of a once-thriving sprinkling of theaters in Times Square (and other spots in Manhattan) where ostrich-feathered fans fell away to reveal sequined pasties, G-strings and sometimes more. Sometimes Ms. Britton — at 5 feet 3 inches tall with an 18-inch waist — peeled off chiffon evening gowns to the strains of Tchaikovsky; sometimes she balanced glasses of water on her breasts.
In the 1940s, after burlesque was effectively banned from New York City by the administration of Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, Ms. Britton — sometimes called “Great Britton, a stripteuse with brains” — went on to an acting career that took her to theaters around the country. She performed in 39 plays, including 14 musicals, sang in nightclubs and made numerous television appearances. Ms. Britton entertained troops during World War II and, in 1944, was named an honorary brigadier general by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. She was most proud, her cousin said, of her role as Adelaide in the national touring company production of “Guys and Dolls.”
Ms. Britton played on Broadway in 1958, as Princess Alexandria, an accomplished belly dancer, in the comedy “Drink to Me Only.” A program note pointed out that at the time she was the only guest on Mike Wallace’s television talk show who had been “called back for a second interview by popular demand.”
To which The New York Times drama critic Brook Atkinson wrote in his review of her performance as Princess Alexandria, “If Mike invited her to carry this rippling belly dance over to his studio and put it on the air, she would be invited back every week on schedule.”
A year earlier, Ms. Britton was the onstage narrator of “Best of Burlesque,” a two-hour show at the Carnegie Hall Playhouse, which also starred an eye-rolling Tom Poston as the top banana, or star comedian. With poker-faced chorus girls singing off-key and rhythmically chewing gum, the show spoofed what was by then a lost art form.
Born Edith Zack in New Brunswick, N.J., Ms. Britton was the daughter of Charles and Esther Dansky Zack; the family name was later changed to Britton.
It was a difficult childhood. Her father beat her mother, Ms. Britton said in a 1998 New York Times interview. Her mother left when she was a small child, and she lived in foster homes or with her aunt and uncle, who were vaudeville performers. She never attended high school.
When Ms. Britton was 15, she started living with a man who later became abusive. To escape what she called a “fake marriage,” she began stripping. Her first job was at the People’s Theater, on the Bowery, where admission was 10 cents. Right after that first performance, she said, she fainted.
In an unpublished memoir that she titled “The Stripper, by the Hon. Brigadier General Sherry Britton,” Ms. Britton wrote: “There seemed to be two of me. One, onstage, undressing. The other saying, ‘What are you doing, taking your clothes off for those morons?’ “
Ms. Britton said she had been “engaged” to 14 men, including several famous actors. In 1971 she married Robert Gross, a wealthy businessman. At his urging, she enrolled at Fordham University, from which she graduated in 1982. Mr. Gross died in 1990. Ms. Britton is survived by a half-sister, Emily Gendelman of Brooklyn.
Although she had qualms about her early career, Ms. Britton pungently regretted the demise of burlesque in New York City. She was working at Minsky’s Gaiety, a theater at 46th Street and Broadway, when the La Guardia crackdown began. One of the dancers, Margie Hart, had assets which she often displayed more than the law allowed.
“She had a detective friend who would warn her when the censors were coming around, and she would wear a G-string,” Ms. Britton recalled in the 1998 Times interview. “Then she started seeing somebody else and he got jealous and didn’t warn her and they closed us down.
“That little” — expletive deleted — “shut down burlesque in New York.”

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