Superstars of Burlesque: Zorita

This week we return to the glittering world of burlesque stardom, with our series ‘Superstars of Burlesque’. This time, we thought we’d take you back to the golden era of burlesque; the glitz and glamour of the fabulous  ‘40s with one of the original queens of burlesque. Famous for her exotic snake dance and her trademark blonde streaks in her dark hair, we are of course talking about the incredible Zorita.

Zorita 1
Zorita’s blonde streaks were part of her trademark when she had dark hair. In later years, she went blonde.

Who was Zorita?
Born in Ohio, the young Zorita (real name Katherine Boyd) had a turbulent upbringing. She married when she was just 15 years old, to the first of three husbands. She built herself an incredibly successful burlesque career, beginning in the late 1930s and continuing throughout the 1940s. She toured extensively across the USA for several years before settling in Florida where she bought a theatre and show bar. The latter, Zorita’s Show Bar did very well and ran for about a decade. When she finally quit showbiz, she began breeding Persian cats.

How did she get into burlesque?
Zorita first came across exotic dance in 1934, whilst working as a cigarette girl at the New York State Fair. Entranced by a sleeve dancer in one of the shows, she set about learning some moves and creating her own costume. She then managed to get a job at 830 Club, run by the Capones, and then went on to perform in the Nudist Colony for two years and at the California Pacific International Exposition. It was whilst working at the latter that she was introduced to snakes by one of the other exhibitors who taught her how to handle them. Following the exposition, she then got a job at a theatre in San Francisco, which is where she began performing her infamous snake dance and was christened with her stage name ‘Zorita’.

What style of burlesque did she perform?
Zorita 2
Zorita’s style offered audience members a glimpse of the exotic; a beautiful woman, whose most famous act, mentioned above, was her snake dance.
Her ‘half and half’ act was also popular and remains a source of inspiration to a number of contemporary performers. For this routine, she would play the part of two different characters; a bride and groom. The groom would slowly strip the bride throughout the number.

Some interesting facts about Zorita
*Zorita didn’t actually come up with her own stage name; it was bestowed upon her by Mr Miller, the owner of the San Franciso theatre in which she worked.

*Her first snake was a gift from the elderly gentleman who ran the snake exhibit at the CPIE. He gave it to her as the exposition finished and she took this new sidekick, named Elmer, on to become a part of her stage performances.

*She owned a number of snakes throughout her career, always named Oscar or Elmer.

*From the beginnings of her career, Zorita adopted a very DIY approach to creating costumes for her acts, learning as she went along. Once she had gained a footing as one of the lead dancers of the day however, she began commissioning custom costumes from Rex Huntington.

That brings us to the end of this week’s Superstars blog. Join us again next week, when we’ll be looking at another vintage burlesque star. In the meantime, check out some of the other amazing performers already featured in the series:

Imogen Kelly
Dirty Martini
Michelle L’Amour
Catherine D’Lish
Dita Von Teese