There was a time when New Orleans was more famous for burlesque on Bourbon Street than for its music or food.
From the late 1930s until the early 1960s, as many as 50 burlesque shows could be seen on a single night at Bourbon Street clubs including Leon Prima’s 500 Club, the Sho-Bar and the Casino Royale.
In the early years, shows featured not only the artful removal of clothing, but also comedians, music and other vaudeville-type entertainment. Performers such as Evangeline the Oyster Girl, Wild Cherry and Blaze Starr drew attention to New Orleans with their suggestive strip-tease acts on stage, and their drama off stage. Blaze Starr, who started working on Bourbon in the 1940s, infamously had an affair with Louisiana Gov. Earl Long.
Other entertainers were often in the newspaper for their fights — staged or real — that brought them even more customers. Evangeline the Oyster Girl took an ax to a water tank where rival Divena, the Aqua Tease performed. A photographer from Life magazine captured the act on film and photos were published in the magazine. The clubs also gained attention as tolerance for the acts, which became increasingly more risqué over the years, waned.
The push to clean up Bourbon came to a head under District Attorney Jim Garrison who staged several raids and inspections on the clubs beginning in 1960. Burlesque acts largely disappeared in the 1960s — more from the onset of the sexual freedoms than Garrison’s efforts. Chris Owens was the lone holdout on the street and still performs today. Burlesque made a comeback in the late 1990s as more of an art form than a club act. There is a burlesque show almost every night in the city, and the city hosts an annual burlesque festival.