Thursday, April 4, 2013

About William Daixel or, a prelude to Lili St. Cyr, Marilyn Monroe, Anton LaVey and an LA Porn Palace

From Secret Life of A Satanist:
Every couple of weeks the theme changed at the Mayan Burlesque Theater. This performance centered on Paris, so the organist played a bootlegged, handwritten arrangement of “Hymn a L’Amour,” just composed by Edith Piaf’s accompanist, not yet released in this country. The dancer? – Marilyn Monroe...

LaVey and Marilyn shared a cultural hunger as well. Paul Valentine (aka “Val Valentino”) was an exceptionally fine dancer and choreographer at the Mayan. He was at that time married to legendary stripper Lili St. Cyr, whose act Anton had played for at Zucca’s. “Paul Valentine thought I was a weird kid. Marilyn and I used to go up to the balcony together when they were running arty filler movies like Amok and Omoo, Omoo, the Shark God. One time I heard Valentine say to the straight man, ‘I think they actually watch the movies up there.’ We did. We were hungry. We wanted to learn – listen to the Bizet score or examine the sets.”
Valya Valentinoff
When 14 year-old William Daixel joined the Ballets Russe in 1933, director Léonide Massine renamed him "Vladimir Valentinoff." In September 1937 "Valia Valentinoff" danced in the premiere of Arthur Schwartz's Virginia. As "Valya Valentinoff" he played New York's Riobamba Room in 1943 alongside a young crooner named Dean Martin.  But when he headed West to try his luck in Hollywood Daixel/Valentinoff settled upon a final name: Paul Valentine. He appeared as Paul Valentine in the 1947 noir classic Out of the Past.  He is listed as Paul Valentine on the 2006 Social Security Death Index. And in August 1946, when burlesque star Lili St. Cyr tied the knot with her trainer and choreographer, he signed the Tijuana marriage license as Paul Valentine.

The couple were together in Los Angeles in late November 1947, when St. Cyr began an engagement at the Follies.  In March 1948 St. Cyr and Valentine played together at Florentine Gardens in Hollywood. By the end of June St. Cyr was back at Montreal's Gayety Theatre (where she had been a headliner since 1944), and headed north yet again in September 1948. Around the same time Paul Valentine was working in Los Angeles at the Mayan with burlesque producer (and later 3-D pioneer) Sidney Pink. According to Uno (Charles Feldheim), Variety's burlesque columnist, their show was called "French Postcards revue."

Mayan Theater, 1927
Given all this, we must wonder why Paul Valentine told Lawrence Wright in 1990 that he operated the Mayan as "legitimate theater - it was never a burlesque, never a bump and grind."  Perhaps he was still bitter about his failed marriage to St. Cyr. In 1949 he filed for divorce and was famously quoted as saying "Everybody in the country could see more of her than I did."  (His 1952 marriage to heiress Flaveen Sultana Ali Khan appears to have been more successful: they had a son in 1956 and I can find no record of their divorce).   Or perhaps we should consider his statement in the proper context.

Under Valentine's tutelage St. Cyr incorporated elements of classical ballet and modern dance into her routines. Instead of playing to the audience she presented erotic mini-dramas from behind the fourth wall. Recreating Cleopatra and Salome, playing a suicidal spurned lover, re-enacting The Portrait of Dorian Grey  -- these and other dances owed more to Martha Graham than Busty Morgan.  St. Cyr and Valentine dreamed of making burlesque an art form, of winning the kind of respect Josephine Baker received in Paris.  Her act, and his choreography, went far beyond the standard "bumping and grinding" of an average girlie show.

It is also possible that Valentine worked as a dancer or choreographer at the Mayan in earlier, less bawdy productions. Burton H. Wolfe discovered a March 8, 1948 Los Angeles Times review entitled "Mayan Offers Burlesque" which noted that "the producers have toned down luridness somewhat since the last show." The Mayan does not appear in Uno's Billboard column until April 10, 1948, when he talks about an ongoing show.  All Billboard mentions of the Mayan before that date describe big bands, operettas, musicals and theatrical productions.  It appears that burlesque was a final failed effort to bring in crowds and one which only lasted a few months. At the end of December the Mayan was sold to Frank Fouce, who in 1949 turned it into a Spanish language theater and cinema.

But Mr. Fouce was not the Mayan's last owner.  By 1990, when Valentine was interviewed, the Mayan  had been an adult theater for twenty years.  The "daring" and "torrid!!" naughtiness of postwar burlesque had long since been replaced by live sex shows and lap dances: the neo-Burlesque movement was barely a twinkle on somebody's pasties. Valentine was over 70, still healthy and vigorous but definitely at an age when one considers his legacy.  In most ways his was a typical Los Angeles life.  He was a dreamer who came west, better looking than many and more talented than most, a guy who never got to be Hamlet but who played his share of attendant lords.  Perhaps we can forgive him for downplaying the two months he spent directing a strip show at a notorious porn palace.

Which brings us back to Anton LaVey.  Not long before Valentine was interviewed, LaVey told Blanche Barton that he had, in October 1948, played the organ at the Mayan Theater for a Paris-themed burlesque show directed by Paul Valentine.  And, if Billboard is to be believed, there was indeed a "French Postcards Revue" directed by Paul Valentine playing the Mayan Theater at that time.  This says nothing about whether or not LaVey -- never mind Marilyn Monroe -- worked at that show. But it certainly does suggest a certain familiarity with the inner workings of the Los Angeles burlesque scene. Because I very strongly doubt that most of the men who just attended that show remembered who the choreographer was fifteen minutes after they left, never mind forty years later.