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The Jewish Matriarchs of Striptease

According to the recent obituaries of Alice Schiller, co-owner of Los Angeles’ legendary burlesque nightclub the Pink Pussycat, was a prudish Midwestern gal who cried when her husband told her he was turning his Hollywood club into a strip club.

The Orthodox Jewish-reared Schiller, the daughter of a deli manager, eventually came to terms with her husband’s vision, and was instrumental in turning the Pink Pussycat into most high-profile burlesque spots around. The club attracted such regulars as the Rat Pack and other members of Los Angeles glitterati. It was also the kind of spot where husbands where often joined by their wives — certainly not the norm for today’s strip clubs. Schiller, who had apparently never smoked, drank, or cursed, had a reputation for treating her workers with respect, and designed a show that was sexy and suggestive, rather than vulgar.

The club — now called Club 7969 — also gained notoriety for its College of Strip Tease, run by fellow Jewess Sally Marr (née Sadie Kitchenberg), mother of comic Lenny Bruce, who died in 1997. Marr taught classes such as “The Psychology of Inhibitions,” “The History and Theory of the Striptease,” and “Applied Sensual Communication.”

The legacy of these Jewish matriarchs of striptease certainly seems to live on in the playful attitudes of the modern burlesque movement (as written about by The New York Times here), which includes the evolution of the pop group Pussycat Dolls from a Los Angeles lounge of the same name, and even Jewish groups like the Schlep Sisters and Nice Jewish Girls Gone Bad (written about in the Forward here).

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