“Margaret Hart Ferraro, Burlesque Queen, Dies
Published: January 30, 2000
Margaret Hart Ferraro, a New York stripteaser who went on to become a savvy real estate investor, political wife and society matron in Los Angeles, died on Wednesday after a long illness. She had habitually refused to give her age, but friends said 84 might be close.
She was married to John Ferraro, the Los Angeles City Council president, and had become a zestful participant in the city’s life. ”Margaret was one of the funniest, most outrageous and loving women I ever met,” Mayor Richard Riordan said.
Mrs. Ferraro won fame under the name Margie Hart, and was billed as ”the poor man’s Garbo.” A line in the song ”Zip!” in Lorenz Hart’s ”Pal Joey” refers to her: ”Who the hell is Margie Hart?” Danny Kaye immortalized her in a song that talked about farmers who ”used to utterly utter when Margie Hart churned her butter.”
Although in 1985 Mrs. Ferraro told The Los Angeles Times that her costumes were less revealing than modern bikinis, a contemporaneous burlesque dancer and rival, Sherry Britton, disagreed. ”She was the reason that Mayor La Guardia closed up burlesque here,” she said in an interview. ”She was the first one to go without her G-string.”
Ms. Britton said that in 1939, she was working at Minsky’s Gaiety, then a theater at 46th Street and Broadway, with Margie Hart, and Miss Hart was dating a detective who warned her when the censors were coming to give her time to slip on a G-string. When she started dating someone else, the warnings stopped and Miss Hart was arrested.
In 1942, Miss Hart, who was known for her flaming red hair and statuesque figure, married Seaman Block Jacobs, a comedy writer for Bob Hope, Lucille Ball, George Burns and others, and switched to legitimate theater. She appeared in two traveling productions of Broadway shows, ”Light Up the Sky” and ”Cry Havoc,” and received good reviews.
The couple moved to Los Angeles in 1947 and divorced in 1955. She joined the Los Angeles social circuit, holding large parties in her Bel-Air house. She met John Ferraro, a former All-American football player at the University of Southern California and a City Council member, in the 1970’s. They married in 1982.
”She loved people and they loved her,” Mr. Ferraro said in a prepared statement. ”She was very intelligent, enjoyed her own unique views of Los Angeles and the world of politics, and didn’t mind sharing those views.”
Mrs. Ferraro was born on a farm in Edgerton, Mo., and was raised with seven sisters and one brother. She ran away from home and joined a chorus line in Chicago, Mr. Jacobs said. Soon, she was on the burlesque circuit, traveling the Eastern and Midwestern United States.
”She had a very great stage presence,” Ms. Britton said. ”Very sexy, gorgeous body.”
But she also liked to show off her mind. At a time when the first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, was writing a column titled ”My Day,” Miss Hart was writing one with a significantly different slant called ”My Night,” published sporadically in show business publications.
In Los Angeles, she demonstrated a keen intelligence, fixing up old buildings in the Hancock Park area and selling them at a profit. She was president of Screen Smart Set, a support group for the Motion Picture and Television Home in Woodland Hills, Calif.
She suffered an aneurysm and a stroke that left her partially paralyzed shortly after she married Mr. Ferraro, but continued to attend charity events in elegant, sometimes flamboyant fashions. She insisted on leaving her wheelchair at home, relying instead on a fashionable cane.
Her death is another mark of a closing era. Last year, two famous ecdysiasts, the word Mencken coined for striptease artists, Lili St. Cyr and Ann Corio, died. Neither revealed her age, but most people thought they were in their 80’s.
Mrs. Ferraro is also survived by a son, Thomas Jacobs of Salem, Mass.; a daughter, Morgan Most of Agoura Hills, Calif.; and five grandchildren.
Eddie Jaffee, Mrs. Ferraro’s publicist for many decades, once asked the membership requirements of a women’s luncheon group called Great Old Broads that she attended. Mrs. Ferraro laughed and said it took years to qualify. ”First, you have to be a great young broad.””