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.”
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|
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.
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 naughtiness of postwar burlesque had long since been replaced by live sex shows and lap dances: the neo-Burlesque movement was barely a twinkle on somebody's pasties.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.