Livin’ It Up at the Colony Club

“You might not realize this, but there was a time before television, before the Internet, before cell phones, and even before VCRs and DVDs.  Yes, once upon a time, when people wanted to be entertained, they went out.” So writes Dixie Lee Evans, the Marilyn Monroe of Burlesque, in the foreword to the terrific book “Burlesque and the New Bump-n-Grind.” She continues, “In those days, audiences didn’t just pay to see a woman take her clothes off, they came to burlesque shows to be entertained.  Every night, we performed for couples, servicemen, and women, people of all walks and backgrounds, often with only one thing in common: they had come to forget the drama of their ‘real’ lives, and lose themselves in a glittering fantasy of live music, beautiful girls, and slapstick comedy.”

Celebrating a Birthday at Los Angeles' Colony Club in 1952

Look at the people in the photo above.  Men and women in their 20s, 30s and 40s drinking, smoking and, by god, having a helluva good time at a burlesque house.  See the dancers in the background?  Think it’s a bit risque for mixed company?

Colony Club Photo Folder

Back then you didn’t have to sneak off to Las Vegas for this kind of entertainment because there were burlesque shows going on nightly in every major city in the country and everybody went to them.  These days you have to be hip to the urban bohemian underground to join the fun.

Colony Club Matchbook

In future blogs I’ll be expanding on burlesque shows and the many other options for going out on the town – every weekend and often during the week – back in the day.

She's Rubbing Her Hands with Glee

These people are having a ball!

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About Peter Moruzzi

Historian Peter Moruzzi is passionate about the middle decades of the 20th century: its nightlife, classic dining, and architecture. Born in Concord, Massachusetts and raised in Hawaii, Moruzzi graduated from the University of California at Berkeley and later attended the American Film Institute in Los Angeles. In 1999, he founded the Palm Springs Modern Committee (PS ModCom) an architectural preservation group. In 2006, Moruzzi produced "Desert Holiday," a jaunty documentary chronicling the history of the Coachella Valley as seen through vintage postcards. He is also the author of "Havana Before Castro: When Cuba Was a Tropical Playground" and "Palm Springs Holiday: A Vintage Tour From Palm Springs to the Salton Sea." Moruzzi's latest book is titled "Classic Dining: Discovering America's Finest Mid-Century Restaurants" with photography by Sven A. Kirsten. Peter Moruzzi resides with his partner in the Silver Lake district of Los Angeles and in Palm Springs.
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12 Responses to Livin’ It Up at the Colony Club

  1. Jim Vanek says:

    I have six different varieties of the Colony Club “coin”. In the collecting community these are actually known as advertising “tokens” rather than “coins”. All show the address of the club as “149TH & S. WESTERN”. Three of them each include a different phone number on the “HEADS” side. The phone numbers are: MENLO 4-5283, MENLO 4-6693, and PL 6-2680. The fourth one has the phone number FA 1-1885 on the “TAILS” side above the lady’s head. With some research, these four tokens might be able to be dated based upon their phone numbers. These four also have the words “L.A. CALIF.” on the “TAILS” side. I believe the club was in Gardena, so does anyone know why the “L.A. CALIF.” should be on the “coin”?.

    The last two tokens don’t have a phone number, and one of these is missing the word “AH!” above the lady’s left shoulder on the “TAILS” side. This could have been caused by a filled striking die as there is no indication that the word was removed after the piece was struck. These two do not have the words “L.A. CALIF.” anywhere on the token. Five of the six also include the words “DANCING” on the “HEADS”, side and “COCKTAILS” on the “TAILS” side. The piece with the FA 1-1885 phone number also includes the word “DINING” on the “HEADS” side.

    I’m aware of one additional piece which I don’t own. Apparently it is similar to the previous six tokens, with the same two figures on the obverse and reverse but the only words on the token are “OH!”, “HEADS”, “AH!”, and “TAILS”. Don’t know if this one was struck for the Colony Club or is just a novelty knock-off.

    These tokens are relatively common and often show up on eBay for under $10.00.

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  2. Cynthia Luas says:

    I have a baseball size card with a woman on the front who is near to nude with only a hat and gloves on it has the date of 1951 Colony Club Burlesk “As You Like It” Western Ave at 149Th
    PL6-2680. And the back side a calendar. The front is in color if you know any one interested.

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  3. I have 4 designs of “Business Card Sized” calendars from the ‘Colony Club – Burlesk “As you like it”‘ at Western at 149th, dated 1952, 1953, 1954. On the front are illustrations of women with flirty-revealing outfits by the artist Elvyren. I also have 6 peek-a-boo keyhole peep cocktail glasses most likely from there as well.

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  4. Darryl Spencer says:

    I have a souvenir aluminum “coin,” the size of a silver dollar, from the Colony Club when it was at 149th & Western. The “heads” side has a short guy in a double-breasted suit and tie (of course) beside a taller showgirl with a sort of drape around her LEGS but apparently nothing on, really; the man’s hand is behind her rear and she is saying “OH!” On the “Tails” side his hand is placed suggestively on her bare butt and she’s saying “AH!” Around the front (“Heads” at the bottom) of the coin it says “BURLESQUE…AS YOU LIKE IT!” My grandparents lived in LA 1923-25, when my grandfather died during a supposedly routine appendectomy. His funeral service was at Forest Lawn and my grandmother carried his ashes on the train back to Indiana in a Mason jar in her suitcase. They had 2 apartment houses on Wilshire Blvd. But she had family back east and daughters, 8 and 10, and didn’t think she could manage the properties from so far away (and back then). My grandmother took a trip back in the early ’60s and that’s the most recent date she could have acquired the coin; but I doubt that she and her sister went to the Colony together. Oh, maybe!

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    • Peter Moruzzi says:

      I have that strange coin, too, and plan on including it in my upcoming book. If you have any photos of your relatives inside some nightclubs that would fun to see.

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      • Landers says:

        I have a photo of family at the Colony Club dated about 1952.
        They look like they are having so much fun. Cigarettes and cocktails!!

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  5. Ann McGarry says:

    Hi Peter,

    I work on the PBS show History Detectives and would love to ask you a question about a photo from one of your books.

    Thank you!

    Ann

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  6. The dancers’ hats are strange feathery things that don’t have a Hawaiian connection but are still exotic. As you point out in your comment on Zombie Village, “exotic” tropical influences were blended in absurd ways to tantalize an American public that wasn’t concerned with authenticity.

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  7. DeSoto says:

    Note that the dancers in both photos are attired in hula-like garb. That was always good for showing off a female body, especially because the “grass” skirt (often, as seen here, actually made of shiny metallic cellophane) allowed even more glimpses of legs…etc. Not to mention the skimpy bra tops, too.

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  8. Kiki Lenoue says:

    Love it all!

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