An absolutely stunning exotic dancer, Amalia Aguilar, stars in Afro Mood Burlesque (c.1947) distributed by the shortlived "movie of the month" subscription film club of Joe Bonica.
Though no director is noted, it is widely reported to have had Russ Meyer as cinematographer & defacto director, though I don't know that this is at all likely even though Meyer did begin his career photographing burlesque acts before heading on to bigger sexploitation projects with his name proudly attached.
The date of her two short-short dance films seem to be unknown, but she first appeared on film as an exotic dancer in 1946, & there's a good chance these two under-three-minute films were created for adults-only soundie exhibition in a panoram jukebox, which would date the films around 1947, when she was in the United States performing the burlesque circuit.
By 1949 she was developing a legitimate film career & getting to be a serious star in Carribean, Central, & South American countries, & less apt to have agreed to these short-shorts.
However, they found their way into the possession of Joe Bonica in the mid-1950s & were distributed as a single film for the home-projection market in 16 mm. One website claims these were made in Harlem in 1960, but that doesn't seem substantiated at all, & would more likely be on a Hollywood soundstage somewhere, when she was performing in a Los Angels niteclub.
She begins her dance performance in a "fallen" position on the floor & slowly rises to a Carribean beat, presenting a tray of tropical deli items. She then proceeds to perform a hot bellydance which is pretty fast moving. Halfway through the performance she gives an almost creepy cackle & bursts into an even swifter dance.
Amalia Aguilar appeared in a number of Spanish language musicals of the 1950s. She seems in the United States to have been categorized or even dismissed as "only" an exotic dancer as early as 1947 when she appeared in A Night in the Follies documenting a stage show at a Los Angeles burlesque house called the Follies Theater.
She would certainly have aroused customers who wanted to be aroused but really it's just a fine performance, & even if it is of the burlesque type, it is a high end example, derived from Cuban-Yoruba tradition.
It doesn't descend into a striptease, but more a throwback to jazz dance of the Harlem Renaissance. She could easily have danced at the Cotton Club with Duke Ellington during his "jungle" period or with Cab Calloway anytime at all.
The five minute film starring Amalia Aguilar is actually made up of a pair of two & a half minute films, the second being Rhumba Amalia (c1947). In panoram peepshows, after each two to three minute mini-film, the customer had to put in another coin to see the next two to three minute mini-film. There were on average seven films per loop.
Rhumba Amalia heightens the Exotica sense, rhumba mixed with the shimmy-shimmy-shakes & standard bellydance. At some points she rushes about at such speed that it becomes unintentionally comical, talented though she obviously is.
The exotic dancer "Kalantan" (i.e., Mary Ellen Tillotson) introduces her number as "This is my interpretation of the Exotic Fire Dance," & to a jungle beat performs in the three-minute color short The Exotic Fire Dance (early 1950s).
Although Kalantan was promoted as an "interpreter of Afro-Cuban dance," she's no Amalia Aguilar, & this is actually a pretty straightforward koochie-koochie dance in altered bikini costume. Kalantan has a strong body & is pretty skillful at this sort of thing.
by her stage name Kalantan she was a major burlesque dancer & pin-up girl of the early 1950s, popular especially in Bourbon Street clubs of New Orleans, but also in Mexico City, Vegas, & Atlanta. She'd performed in the late 1940s under the name Aleene Dupree in her native California.
The recording she is dancing to eventually introduces a lyricist who is obviously Cuban but otherwise unidentified, someone who never knew his record was thus used I bet. The song is unusual & really quite good exotica. I wish I knew who it was.
Wearing pretty much the same costome (bikini with dangly cloth added front & back plus arm-length gloves) she stars in Kalantan: Exotic Buddha Dance, a cheezier stag film than Exotic Fire Dance.
With the choice of the "exotica" instrumental "Miserlou" she is clearly attempting to play into the notion of exotica inclusive of exotic dancing.
Even her stage name is borrowed from a jungle region of Malaysia, though for some odd reason she claimed the name was given to her in Mexico because it meant "heater" & she was hot.
Again she introduces her number, "the exotic Buddha dance." She is not nearly so expressive with her face this time, but rather dour of expression, as though she wishes this were treated like an art form but the audience it attracts argues against it.
She dances slowly & well as if for the statue of a Buddha. At five minutes it's a bit longer than most peepshow or stag films. I'm rather fond of the kitschy tune "Miserlou" & its slow jungly beat, & Kalantan wiggling her tush as beautifully as she can manage has a sweetness & sadness about it, which she may actually have intended.
In Kalantan's heyday she was billed as "the heavenly body." Those heydays were brief, as they tends to be for exotic dancers.
She strove always to stick to popular if seedy nightclubs, avoiding the lower type of strip joints that were fronts for prostitution. She really could dance. She appeared in Son of Sinbad (1955) as the pole dancer, which was as close as she came to a film career outside of the short-short stags. Her star soon faded with the final days of burlesque & she retired to marry.
Not a strip act at all, but a campy performance by Sheree North before she became a legit actress, & much, much later Lou Grant's girlfriend on the Mary Tyler Show.
Not many burlesque girls had the luck of Gypsy Rose Lee in breaking out into real stardom. Sheree North gave hope to lesser talents who quite naturally never did make it beyond stag films or burlesques.
But Sheree was never a stripper & oughtn't be on the list of burlesque gals who "broke out" into films & television. Her first public performance was at age eleven in a USO show, & at age thirteen she joined a choras line by lying that she was not a minor.
She was in somewhat seedy stage shows before being discovered & brought to Broadway in 1953, but never as a stripper, & a couple of peepshow films was probably as low as she dipped.
Here she's starring in a minute & a half b/w peepshow film Tiger Dance (c1951) wearing a one-piece jungle-girl swimsuit with matching cat-ears cap, dancing like a crazy spazoid on a patio.
A trained dancer, now & then you can see she could do better than this if she wanted. But she's not trying to show her dance skills, she's conveying a mood of delight.
She hops out of camera range & reappears instantly in the jump-cut in a two-piece, leaping & bounding, no more cat-ears alas, cuz that was funny.
A two & a half minute panoram beepshow film which also found its way into the 8 & 16 mm home viewing market, Sensational Sandra Storm in Action (1940s) has Sandra with a wacky 1930s hairstyle & a lot of clothes to come off bit by bit.
It's sleezy & amusing, & Sandra really does look like she has fun doing this. As a dancer she doesn't seem that great, but she does have a way of peeling that exudes sensuality.
She's down to her long gloves, bikini costume, & a tail of cloth on her fanny when the music changes halfway through & she changes her dance style a bit, & seems a better dancer in the second half.
At a minute & three-quarters in, the music changes again & she speeds up to a bit of a rhumba as the top comes off. She looks positively giddy by this time, & some facial close-ups indicate she's a lot older than the body movements have been conveying, but still with a certain seedy beauty with stage cosmetics.
It's rare in these striptease films that women's facial expressions get this much focus by the cinematographers who're trying to capture booty & booby for the most part, & often have only one camera angle from about the seventh row of a theater. Someone liked Sandra Storm's face, & wanted to capture it. The humanity of it makes this a sweeter than average wee stripper film.
The self-titled panoram filmette Cherry Knight (1940s) features a popular pin-up gal of the late '40s & early '50s. As a burlesque performer she was sometimes billed as Cherie Knight or Sherie Knight, probably only because regional promoters didn't care if they spelled it right or not.
In this stripper soundie she is shown in an evening gown in front of a Japanese paper window doing a lowkey dance to mediocre piano music.
Very soon she begins to undress not so much like a dancer but like a woman in her boudoire. Now in black corsette & panties, she lets her enormous boobies out of the coresett, "tastefully" pastied.
She's voluptuous, a bit worn-out looking like she stayed in the business a couple years too long, & slightly talented. Frankly her big boobs are the stars, not her dance skills, & she makes the most of them. The panties stay on, which together with the pasties assured the film would barely be legal. She looked a lot nicer in the evening gown than out of it.
The narrator opens this under-three-minute peepshow soundie with, "Once again, the bazoom girl!" It's Jenny Lee in Red Hot Mama (made by "Vanity Productions" probably late in the 1940s) in a wildly excessive hat & tight gaudy gown. Mae West is in the costume's influence.
To a hard-drum beat for a terrible instrumental of "Oh My Beautiful Gal," Jenny peels & struts & falls to the floor & shakes her booty & wobbles her pastied bazooms which are enormous.
Except for the tasseled pasties & the tiniest g-string, she gets as close to naked as was legal at the time. And looking just about naked, she takes a lot of pretty fantastic pin-up poses.
It looks like she's doing this routine on the floor of the nastiest little club that didn't even have a stage, so I'd say Jennie's career wasn't allowing her to break out of the lower depths, if no one even cared to film her against a backdrop or curtain instead of a tavern's clutter.
Her chief asset gave her her headliner title "bazoom girl." Shew as credited with having perfected the pastie-tassel bolo twirl. She's no young thang in this undated film, so no longer able to do the truly acrobatic stuff that made her famous when she started out.
Jennie & her second husband (burlesque singer Charlie Arroyo) owned a strip club in San Pedro, California, called the Sassy Lassy.
As Jenny aged she became increasingly an activist for her field, founding of the League of Exotic Dancers in 1954, & founding the Exotic World Burlesque Museum & Striptease Hall of Fame in 1981, later curated by Dixie Evens the Marilyn impersonator. Jenny also did a stint as president of the American Guild of Variety Artists.
So whatever the level of her talents, she had staying power, & clearly cared about her field, which may surprise some who know nothing about burlesque in its waning years. As if God were playing a joke against her, she died of breast cancer in 1990. See www.burlesquehall.com for more about the Burlesque Hall of Fame & memorabilia collecton.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl