The Anatomic Bomb
Lili St. Cyr came into the world as Willis Marie Van Schaack in Minneapolis. Her parents moved to Pasadena, California when she was 7 years old. The entertainer’s early life is somewhat of a mystery. She had a sister, Rosemary Van Schaack Minsky. Her grandparents, the Klarquists, reared her and her show business siblings, Dardy Orlando and Barbara Moffett. Busty, tall, painted and blonde, Lili St. Cyr became the most notorious striptease artist of the 1940s and 1950s. She replaced Gypsy Rose Lee and Ann Corio on the burlesque throne by taking the stripper out of burlesque and putting her on the Las Vegas stage. In 1951 Lili was arrested for putting on a lewd and lascivious act. The Beverly Hills Court trial attracted a great deal of press and she was acquitted. Lili was interviewed by Mike Wallace the same year. She made quite an impression and told the future 60 minutes reporter she had no interest in politics, religion and felt no “obligation to contribute any more babies” to our already “over-populated” world. She also told Wallace that she believed in UFO’s and life Venus.
Stripping wasn’t St. Cyr’s only gig. She is remembered by millions for a series of pin-up photos taken by Bernard of Hollywood. Lili starred in several movies, but her acting career never took off. In 1955, with the help of Howard Hughes, St. Cyr landed her first acting job in the Son of Sinbad. The film was a voyeur’s delight. Lili played the principal member of a Baghdad harem populated with dozens of starlets. By the mid-1950s she was reportedly earning $200,000 a year. St. Cyr also had a role in the movie version of Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead in 1958. Lili was married and divorced six times, her husbands included small-time actors Paul Valentine and Ted Jordan and well-known restaurateur Armando Orsini. She is rumored to have had affairs with Nicky Hilton, Orson Welles, Vic Damone and Howard Hughes to name just a few.
In 1965, Lili published an autobiography “And Men My Fuel”. Forthright as usual, she claimed to despise children and confessed to seven abortions. St. Cyr retired from the stage in 1967 after she was arrested for indecency in Montreal. She began a lingerie business in which she retained an interest until her death. Like Frederick’s of Hollywood, the “Undie World of Lili St. Cyr” designs offered costuming for strippers, and excitement for ordinary women. Her catalogs featured photos or drawings of her modeling “Scantie-Panties” and “hip-length opera hose”, lavishly detailed descriptions, and hand-selected fabrics. Her marketing for “Scantie-Panties” advertised them as “perfect for street wear, stage or photography.” In the 1970s, she sold her lingerie business. In the 1980s, St. Cyr wrote a French autobiography, “Ma Vie de Stripteaseuse.” Lili St. Cyr died in 1999 at the age of 80. She spent her final years in a lovely little Hollywood apartment tending to her cats. In 2007 a new biography, “Gilded Lili: Lili St. Cyr and the Striptease Mystique” by Kelly Dinardo was published by Backstage Books