Live by Night
The key question behind Live by Night isn’t so much “Why did they bother?” as “What went wrong?”
My entry in the 1959 essay contest of the United Republican Fund won me a free trip to Chicago and the chance to shake Richard Nixon's hand during a banquet at the Chicago Amphitheater. What I remember about that trip is stepping into a cab in front of the Conrad Hilton Hotel and telling the driver, "take me to the best burlesque show in town." He threw down the flag on his meter and drove me one block, to the Rialto on South State Street.
In those days both the Rialto and the Follies survived as part of the last gasp of American burlesque. The Rialto had once been owned by Harold Minsky, Broadway's legendary burlesque impresario. There I beheld striptease artistes and a team of two comedians who told bawdy jokes about body parts, pulled improbable objects out of their pockets, and slapped each other with rubber chickens.
Burlesque survived there until the theaters were booked as porn houses. It made fitful revivals here and there around town, including at the Town, now the Park West, where in a seedy dressing room I interviewed the legendary Tempest Storm and found her kind and patient. Now it is gone and almost forgotten. Once it was known as the poor man's Broadway.
A new documentary named "Behind the Burly-Q" recalls those days, but that's about all it accomplishes. It gathers an impressive series of talking head interviews with surviving stars, including Tempest Storm herself, looking pretty damned good for a redhead aged 82. In 1999 San Francisco mayor Willie Brown proclaimed a Tempest Storm Day. Catch Michael Bloomberg doing that.