Blast From the Past

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Blast From the Past: The San Francisco Stripper Wars

Hustler August 1997

This isn’t so much a blast from the past (although, I was shocked to learn that 1997 was fourteen years ago) as it is déjà vu (no, not the place with the three ugly girls). I randomly came across an old issue of Hustler last week because I had a part in an indie movie that takes place in the nineties and it was a prop. It contains an article written during the first round of stripper employee-status and back wages lawsuits that started in San Francisco, focusing on the legendary Mitchell Brothers O’Farrell Theater.

It was an interesting read despite the opening sentences: “Six nude nymphs rise into the air. Writhing together, they kiss and giggle, licking one anothers’ perfect pussies, nibbling nipples, tickling and fondling pert breasts.” What else do you expect when you have to sandwich something substantial in between a photo editorial of a woman whose “favorite pastimes” are “tanning, exhibitionism, and masturbating” (not that there’s anything wrong with that) and an illustration of Abe Lincoln with a raging boner? I learned a few things, most notably that very little has changed. The independent contractor vs. employee debate is just as relevant as ever.

Klute (1971)

You guys, this was my first time seeing Klute and I am totally sold on it. I was into it pretty much from the first few seconds because I am one of those people who decides whether they will like a film based on the colors and whether they feel “good” to me or not. I’ve been having a green moment of late, and there is so much green in that opening scene! There seems to have been (from what I have gleaned from interior design books from the 70’s) a lot of that happening, the garden in the house thing. It reminded me of this post at Desire To Inspire. I love it. If I didn’t kill plants I’d start a garden!

But I do.

So let’s get into this film, shall we?

Annie Sprinkle and the Founding of December 17th

photo by Julian Cash

Sex work activist Annie Sprinkle was the mind behind the original International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. After the conviction of “Green River Killer” Gary Ridgway, Sprinkle and activists from SWOP decided that a holiday was necessary to commemorate people in our community who have been the victims of violence, and to draw the public’s attention to the danger of working without legal protection and under harsh societal stigma.

Eight years later, the holiday is unfortunately as poignant as ever, as the Long Island serial killer has been occupying headlines for the past year. Annie spoke with me about the origins of December 17th, and the most memorable moments in her several decades of activism.

Blast From The Past: Striptease (1996)

Until several days ago, Striptease was a glaring oversight in my otherwise comprehensive history of sex work film viewing. I thought I should rectify that problem in light of my grousing about Demi Moore’s ham-handed anti-trafficking efforts, so I did. Sort-of. (Halfway through, I had to turn it off. It is unwatchably, un-fun-ly bad.)

Here are the highlights of what I saw before then. They should tell you everything you need to know:

Historical Wardrobe Malfunction

This is kind of neato—The Star Tribune has a blog called “Yesterday’s News” where it digs up old-timey newspaper articles, photos and ads. This week’s feature made the front page of the Minneapolis Tribune on May 9, 1953: Darlene LaBette Varallo, an “esoteric dancer”, was jailed for disorderly conduct. Two follow-up articles detail the handling of the evidence (“two little rhinestone-studded cones, a few lengths of gauze, a fringe and a pair of black net tights”) and the trial, which was complete with a lie detector test and testimony where the defendant explains that she was only guilty of a wardrobe malfunction:

SHE DESCRIBED her dance as a “can-can” plus a mixture of “a shuffle, ball hop, kick, twirls.” She denied Sullivan’s charge that she had bent over and shaken parts of her anatomy at the audience.
“You can’t bend over when you dance or you lose your equilibrium,” said Darlene, who testified she has danced since the age of 3 and was an Arthur Murray instructor for two years.
She said she certainly was wearing state’s exhibit F (the brassiere) when she began to dance but had to discard it because a strap broke. She also denied removing the state’s exhibit E (a tasseled fringe) from its original position around her – ah – middle.