Carrie Finnell: The Bad Girl Of Burlesque
From the 1870s through the 1940s, Burlesque shows were a popular form of entertainment. Staged in nightclubs, theatres, and cabarets across the country, these variety shows featured salacious comedy, lewd musical acts, and female striptease dancers. By today’s standards, the performances of the female dancers were tamed – nothing more than suggestive teasing – but it was enough to entice male audience members to return again and again to see the shows. One of the first of these dancers – and the one credited with developing the striptease format – was Carrie Finnell, the Bad Girl of Burlesque.
A Ziegfeld Girl
A former gym teacher from Kentucky, Carrie Finnell joined the Ziegfeld Follies as a Ziegfeld Girl in 1917. As a chorus girl and dancer, Finnell quickly learned how to tease the male audience members with her flirting skills and a show of her well-turned legs. She was naturally buxom and used this trait to her advantage.
The “Most Novel and Most Startling Act in Show Business”
As Finnell grew in popularity, she stepped away from being one of the chorus girls in the Burlesque shows to having her own act. It was billed as “one of the most novel and most startling acts in show business.” Finnell is credited with being the first Burlesque dancer to use strategically placed tassels on what she described as her “educated bosom.” To the amazement of the audience, Finnell could spin one tassel at a time. Later in her career, Finnell added bells and lights to her costume.
The Longest Striptease in History
During the 1920s, Carrie Finnell kept her audience wanting more. Her signature move was to remove one strap from her costume at the end of her show. She would promise to remove another strap the next week. For 54 weeks she kept her fans enthralled and they returned to her show week after week in hopes of getting a glimpse of the last strap falling.
A Confident Performer
Finnell was not shy about showing her skin. Photographs of her from the twenties show her to be a little overweight, but Finnell was comfortable in her own skin and confident in her charm. Her male audience members clamored to see more of her. When she went on tour, Finnell removed one piece of clothing per week for the duration of her contract. The clever club managers charged higher and higher ticket fees as Finnell’s wardrobe items became fewer and fewer.
Finnell and her Contemporaries
According to stories, it was Carrie Finnell who first convinced Gypsy Rose Lee to shed her clothes on stage, thus kicking off her successful Burlesque career. Finnell also once competed against the legendary Mae West in a Burlesque striptease dance contest and beat West handily.
The $100,000 Legs
Carrie Finnell’s well-endowed chest appealed to audience members just as much as her legs. Curvy and muscular, Finnell’s legs were advertised as “the $100,000 legs” by Burlesque Show promoters. She was an accomplished dancer with flexible kicks and turns.
A Performer Until the End
Carrie Finnell died in 1963. Throughout her career, she continued to entertain crowds in Burlesque shows and even performed on radio. Even as a seventy-year-old woman, she could still swing her tassels to the amazement of her fans.
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