Burlesque History IV: The Fabulous Zorita

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Zorita, the budding beauty in the early years.

Although many performers of the Golden Era of Burlesque had an innocent charm, one glamour girl who seemed to be the living embodiment of the "Bad Girl" was Zorita. Zorita was born Katherin Boyd, in Youngstown, Ohio, in 1915 and was adopted by a strict Methodist couple at a young age. Her physique was well developed at a tender age, and by the time she was 15 years old, Zorita was working stag parties and participating in nudist colony events at the San Diego Worlds Fair. She was discovered at a beauty pageant and by 1935 the wild child had turned to the world of burlesque.

Va va vooom!!!

Her jet black hair and vivid blonde streaks let everyone know she was born to be bad.

At times sporting jet black hair with platinum blonde streaks, photos of Zorita can remind modern viewers of Lily Munster. Her fame came as a result of her over the top and highly innovative numbers including "The Consummation of the Wedding of the Snake," in which she stripped while holding a live 8 foot boa constrictor. Her snakes, named Elmer and Oscar, and what she did with them eventually got her arrested. In another number she dances in front of a dazzling rhinestone spiderweb, where at the end, hands from an unseen spider remove her clothing one piece at a time.

Zorita had her own love affair with her Python snakes, Elmer and Oscar.

Marrying the Snake.

Another of her most famous acts was the gender-bending Half and Half "bride/groom" striptease, a dance number originally attributed to Vernon Castle (of the famed married dance duo Vernon and Irene Castle), in which Zorita dressed one side of her body as a female, the other side as male and proceeds to take his/her clothing off leading to a climactic "wedding night" of implied sex. It's highly unlikely Vernon ever took his version of the routine to that level.

A publicity still for her infamous gender bending "Half and Half" routine.

Although she dated men, Zorita admitted she only used men for what they could give her, and she certainly preferred women's company and never married. She had an unrequited crush on fellow burlesque performer Sherry Britton and pursued her relentlessly. Sherry Britton recalled that Zorita was fond of wearing merkins onstage, the faux pubic hair made of fox fur shaved down and dyed; "She had different color g-strings [for different hair colors]" made to fool the audience into thinking they saw more of her than they actually did.

Zorita wasn't afraid to let it all hang out.

After retiring in 1954, Zorita owned several burlesque clubs in both New York and Miami. She frequently passed on tips to new strippers and taught burlesque routines, but she refused to teach anyone the secrets of her signature snake striptease. Zorita is interviewed at length in the film "Pretty Things," by Liz Goldwyn, a documentary with many of the Legends of burlesque. Her fiery temper and tough-as-nails personality are clear in the film. This was a woman who was not easily pushed around, and is still an icon today for bad-ass chicks of burlesque everywhere.

A classic beauty through and through.

You can check out the video promo for one of her films, "I Married a Savage," there's a great clip of her "Sacred Snake Dance."