Variety Arts and the Mutoscope

 

by Lee Kolozsy

 

My Mom (eighty three years young) just told me an interesting story about playing a night club in Baltimore in the sixties…

 

 

My Mom and Dad performed an illusion act at the time which involved Mentalism and some big stage illusions including a seldom seen European version of the Temple of Benares which actually predates the standard girl production routine…

 

 

My folks played a lot of top notch Burlesque houses and my Mom made some costumes for these venues that the Burly-Q girls really drooled over…

 

These were a little more racy than what you would find in a Circus show or at a vaude type variety show…

 

When they played this Burly House in Baltimore, the owner had a deal where the strippers who played the date had it included in the contract that the house photographer would take pictures of their routines for “promotion”…

 

These photos were taken from a camera which looked more like a cine camera than a still camera, My Dad had commented that it was a Bolex according to what my Mom tells me…

 

Turns out that this Burlesque house owner in Baltimore also operated arcades along the Jersey Shore and placed vending machines in bars in the harbor district in Baltimore…

 

Some of the bars had countertop versions of machines that were popular in arcades known as mutoscopes or kineographs, sort of hand cranked coin operated mechanical flip books of sequential still photos which created the illusion of a motion picture 

 

Turns out that the “promotion” pictures of the strippers taken in the burlesque house were the photos in the mutoscope machines in the bars, they would rotate the shows from bar to bar, and the regulars at the bars would keep dropping coins in the slots as the flip pictures “toured” from machine to machine…

 

 

 Well, the windup is that my Mom and Dad were dealt the same hand as the dancers and their act was photographed and the flip show was seen all over the Jersey Shore in the sixties in arcade mutoscopes…

 

Performers and people they met along the show trail were always commenting that they had seen the act in coin machines…

 

Somewhere on E-Bay or in some dusty arcade graveyard or private collection…

 


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