Farewell to Gilda and Her Crowning Glory…

Gilda and Her Crowning Glory, a burlesque dancer who started in show business as a child actress in Hollywood for the “Our Gang” comedies in the early 1930s, passed away on February 6th. Although I’ve seen a lot of strippers in old videos, as I am a retro burlesque fan (I like Neo Burlesque too), I don’t recall seeing Gilda do her act. Still, I’ve been familiar with her photos for years.

Her real name was Shirley Jean Rickert.

Her real name was Shirley Jean Rickert.

I probably saw her in the “Our Gang” shorts back in the 1950s when they were popular on tv, but once again, I have no specific memories. Somebody on the Web described her look as something like that of a “flapper,” and her bobbed hair does recall Louise Brooks.

I don’t know who the “Thomas” or “Don” are in the autographs on these Our Gang publicity photos. I found them around the Web…

There were a lot of entries about her on the Internet and in blogs yesterday. One interesting site had this publicity image from a burlesque film she made; I have to check if it’s out there somewhere on video.

I imagine a world where women dress like this all the time...

I imagine a world where women dress like this all the time...

After her stints in the “Our Gang” and the Mickey Rooney “Mickey McGuire” comedies, her film career became a series of bit parts and uncredited dancing numbers in the 30s and 40s. Wisely sensing another outlet for her talents, she became a burlesque performer. Ironically, as reported in the L.A. Times obit, in cities like Detroit in the 50s she would be on tv as “Shirley Jean” introducing to kids the revivals of the “Our Gang” shorts, and at night peeling for adults in nightclubs as “Gilda.” People now look back on the 50s as uptight, but it’s our era that’s really judgmental, because I can’t imagine any television station in 2009 hiring a known stripper to introduce films to children. With all our supposed lack of inhibitions, our society is more condemning and Puritanical than ever. One proof of this is how few of her obits showed her as Gilda, opting instead for pictures of her in Our Gang.

After retiring from stripping in 1959 at age 33, Gilda went back to being Shirley full-time and had different jobs such as bartender, secretary, sales director for a regional theater, and saleswoman for industrial hardware. From what I’ve read, she had a good attitude about life and took her career changes in stride. Although I am not a graphologist, I sense that her unpretentious, straightforward signature on those autographed photos shows a friendly, down-to-earth personality who was appreciative of her fans.

Let’s close with one last shot of Shirley as Gilda, which I found on a great site called Burlesque Babes. I also discovered that Shirley Jean also had her own site. Well, it looks like I gotta track down The ABCs of Love! I wanna see her show.

A rare publicity shot for a stripper—usually, they're much less clothed!

A rare type of publicity shot for a stripper—usually, they're much less clothed. But I like it a lot!

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