Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

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Lili St. Cyr

Lili St. Cyr, America's leading strip teaser, talks to Wallace about her attitude towards the men who come see her perform, her attitude towards her profession, show business, and flying saucers.

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Guest: Lili St. Cyr

WALLACE: Good evening. What you're about to witness is an unrehearsed, uncensored interview. My name is Mike Wallace, the cigarette is Philip Morris.


WALLACE: Tonight we go after the story of a beautiful blonde who has made a fortune by taking off her clothes in public. You see her behind me -- she is the leading strip teaser in America, Lili St. Cyr, whose uninhibited dancing is matched only by her uninhibited attitudes toward marriage, alimony, religion and politics. If you're curious to know how Lili St. Cyr and her husband feel about her act and her audience; if you'd like to hear how a girl becomes a strip teaser and if you want to know what Lili St. Cyr means when she says, "If I were a man, I'd never bother to get married," We'll go after those stories in just a moment. My guests' opinions are not necessarily mine, the station's, or my sponsor's, Philip Morris Incorporated, but whether you agree or disagree, we feel that none will deny the right of these views to be broadcast.


WALLACE: And now to our story. Lili St. Cyr, a tall, sensuous blonde, is the most famous strip teaser in America; the leader in a profession that has become something of an institution in show business. She makes more than one hundred thousand dollars a year for shedding filmy garments, taking baths and dancing provocatively on stage. Let's try to find out what attitudes, what ambitions, what needs and emotions make a strip tease artist. Lili, first of all-- and I hope that you'll be perfectly candid with me about this-- first of all I'd like to know your personal opinion of the men who sit in night clubs and burlesque houses and watch you strip.

St. CYR: I'm flattered by their attention. I can't judge them as a group because I don't like to judge any people in groups, but as individuals some men offer constructive criticism about my act.

WALLACE: Really? Criticism that you take seriously?

St. CYR: Oh, yes. If they don't like a certain dress, or a certain piece of music or something I'm doing. Other men have some other reason to come to see me. (LAUGH) Each one has a different reason.

WALLACE: Well, when you say each one, what do you think is the reason that most men come? Is it, is it for a vicarious-- let's put it a different way. I talked yesterday with Sherry Britton, who is another leading strip teaser, and she said the following. She said, ''Whenever I used to see groups of single men coming to see me strip, I'd think 'What unfortunate, what lonely people, that they have no better place to spend their time.' They have no real contact with the human race, so they come to see me for the strongest experience possible while at the same time being alone." Now she evidently feels that that is the attitude of a large share of strip teasers' audience. Do you agree with Sherry Britton?

St. CYR: No. I don't think they're necessarily lonely. Some of them come with their wives or sweethearts or friends.

WALLACE: What do you think of women, uh, Lili. What do you think of women who come to see a girl take off her clothes? What are they after? You must have thought about it.

St. CYR: I'm quite a strip tease fan myself.

WALLACE: Are you really?

St. CYR: Yes, in my time off I quite often go to see shows that have strip tease dancers.

WALLACE: Why do you go? Do you go to see what the competition is doing or do you get a lift out of it. Do you get some kind of a vicarious thrill out of it?

St. CYR: I enjoy seeing a beautiful woman dancing and, and, uh--

WALLACE: And taking off her clothes. Does that add to your enjoyment?

St. CYR: Yes, I suppose it does. I've never really analyzed it enough to...

WALLACE: Well, suppose there were a male equivalent of the strip tease. A kind of, uh, I think they call it "beef cake" performance, in which a man got up on stage the way you do and started to take off his clothes. Would you approve of that kind of thing?

St. CYR: No, because I don't particularly like men to be in show business. I think it's rather a panty waist provision for a man.

WALLACE: Actors are panty waist?

St. CYR: Well, it's sort of a feminine thing to do, to get up on the stage and act and cavort around.

WALLACE: Well, now, we're talking, you're talking, about actors generally. I'm talking about men who would do the equivalent of the female strip tease. Do you think that this is... just not a good idea?

St. CYR: No, not when it's calculated. If you see a good-looking man walking along the beach, it's casual and fascinating. But on the stage it's planned and then it loses its intrigue.

WALLACE: I'm sure that you've, that you've heard this question before. What do you think about while you go through the gyrations, which are calculated to arouse the most basic emotions in people who watch you? What do you actually think?

St. CYR: On the stage one usually has to think about one's next movement, and I'm thinking what I'm going to do next. I have no personal --

WALLACE: Involvement.

St. CYR: No.

WALLACE: You don't think about any human being or group of human beings, anything of that sort, a man or a woman. You're just thinking about, about doing the dance.

St. CYR: Yes, my next action. I, I have no feeling to the audience at all.

WALLACE: Tell me this. I know that you've been arrested, I gather from time to time for indecent exposure, maybe three or four times. What do you think of the public officials, the civic and religious groups, the private citizens who charge that the strip tease is lewd and immoral, that its sole function is to arouse lust in an audience?

St. CYR: Naturally I don't believe that I'm arousing any lust in the audience. I'm never do anything that I believe is wrong.

WALLACE: Well when you say "you don't do anything you believe is wrong," you know that-- let's be perfectly sensible. I dare say that ninety-eight percent of your audience goes not to watch a beautiful dance but, but they go to see the act and the implications in the act. Isn't that so?

St. CYR: I can't answer for the audience, I can only answer for myself.

WALLACE: Well, yesterday you told our reporter-- you said, "If I do demoralize an audience, as same people might say, then I'm glad I do it." You said, "People need some loosening up. Most of the people in this country are too hypocritical. Underneath, we're all the same," you said, "only too many put on a front of being shocked by certain kinds of behavior." Now, what did you mean by that, Lili?

St. CYR: Well, it's a joke to think I could demoralize anyone with this little act. (LAUGH) If one has morals then they can't be taken away by me or anyone else.

WALLACE: Well, when you say that most people in this country are too hypocritical, underneath we're all the same, except too many put on a front of being shocked by certain kinds of behavior-- why do you think that certain civic groups, certain religious groups, and certain private citizens make these representations against you and the kind of work that you do?

St. CYR: Well, for commercial reasons.

WALLACE: For commercial reasons. What do you mean?

St. CYR: Well, if one is head of a group and gets paid for it, they have to prove that they're earning their money some way, and I'm certainly an easy victim to pick on.

WALLACE: And you think that there's just pure hypocrisy involved and they're just trying to make a dollar by going after you?

St. CYR: Certainly. Otherwise they would go after things that are of more importance but more difficult.

WALLACE: Like for instance?

St. CYR: We have many crimes (LAUGH) that should be taken care of.

WALLACE: And you feel as though you're committing certainly no crime.

St. CYR: No.

WALLACE: Lili, have you ever done anything that you're ashamed of?

St. CYR: Yes.


St. CYR:: He was so handsome I couldn't resist. (LAUGH)

WALLACE: (LAUGH) Let's find out -- uh, what you try to do for your audience. Well, when a writer writes a book, Lili, he tries to tell us something. Isn't that so? When a performer plays the piano or a violin he tries to give us beautiful music. What do you think that you are trying to do for your audience?

St. CYR: I'm trying to amuse them for a few minutes.

WALLACE: That's all!

St. CYR: Uhmm.

WALLACE: Not art? We hear so many strippers say, "Well my act isn't just a strip, it's beautiful, it's art. It's a dance that means something." Do you feel that you're an artist?

St. CYR: No.

WALLACE: You think the talk of art in burlesque is nonsense?

St. CYR: Yes.

WALLACE: Have you, have you ever felt that you would like to do more than you do in show business? Have you ever felt as though-- let's put it this way. Are you proud of what you're doing?

St. CYR: No.

WALLACE: You're not?

St. CYR: No. No, I'm not.

WALLACE: Are you ashamed of what you do?

St. CYR: I would rather be doing something else.

WALLACE: Like for instance?

St. CYR: I would rather be in a legitimate business of some kind.

WALLACE: Well, why do you do what you do under those circumstances, Lili?

St. CYR: I must make money, and it's the only thing I'm trained for. I don't know how to do anything else.

WALLACE: Why must you make money? You're, you're married, uh, you could have your husband support you. Why, why this necessity?

St. CYR: Well, I haven't always been married. I've had to work all my life.

WALLACE: How did you get into the business?

St. CYR: By accident. I went with my sister to-- for an interview with MPG, and my mother sent me along to watch out for her. She was very young. And--

WALLACE: How old were you at the time?

St. CYR: Eighteen.

WALLACE: And how old--

St. CYR: She was sixteen.

WALLACE: And she was going to dance at MPG' s Club?

St. CYR: Yes. And then he offered me a job as well. So I took it because I was being a waitress at the time, and I thought it would be easier than being a waitress, which it is.

WALLACE: We mentioned Sherry Britton, the stripper, a moment ago. We asked her how she felt the first time that she did this act in public. And she told us, "I was horribly embarrassed with all those eyes peering at me. After it was over, I was terribly upset, but after a while I got over my embarrassment. I got numb to it." How did you feel the first time?

St. CYR: I'm never conscious of the audience because I'm always so frightened. (LAUGH) Stage fright. That I don't ...

WALLACE: You were what?

St. CYR:: I had stage fright, always. I've never gotten over that.

WALLACE: Well, is it, is it a kind of-- are you being perfectly sincere? You really are frightened when you perform in front of these people?

St. CYR: Yes. I don' t like having people look at me.

WALLACE: Well naturally now, I'll-- when you say you don't, you don't like people to look at you, and yet you let people look at all of you in the most exhibitionist kind of poses and so forth, it seems a little difficult to reconcile your agony at appearing in public and the fact that you appear in public in the most exposed kind of fashion.

St. CYR: It's just as difficult for me to walk into a cocktail party as it is to be on a stage, because when people are looking at me, it makes me nervous. On the stage I'm just a little more terrified than if I were to walk into a, a room full of people I didn't know.

WALLACE: Why? Why does this terrify you so -- do you know? Have you ever tried to analyze it for yourself or have somebody else try to analyze it for you?

St. CYR: No.

WALLACE: So many people in your business, my business, succumb or go to psychoanalysts. Have you ever thought about that? Have you ever thought about spending some time trying to find out who you are, why you feel the way that you do?

St. CYR: Yes, I've thought about it, but I don't think I'll go to one.

WALLACE: Why not?

St. CYR: Well, I think I'll get out of this business very soon and then my problem will be finished.

WALLACE: You've been in it for how many years?

St. CYR: Fifteen or sixteen now.

WALLACE: And you say you're going to get out of it pretty soon.

St. CYR: Yes. My husband is going into business and uh, have a restaurant and I'll stay home and forget about it.

WALLACE: Uh, you're a married woman, as you and I have both pointed out. How does your husband feel about his wife disrobing and dancing provocatively in public? Last night I went to see you at the Crescendo, where you're dancing here in Hollywood, and I must say that it's a very effective, uh, really kind of a beautiful act. But I thought to myself, I wonder how I would feel if my wife were up there performing in that fashion, taking off her clothes, in front of a bunch of people who are vaguely intoxicated in any case. Fairly noisy, except at the crucial time, when you, you could suddenly hear a pin drop in the club. How does your husband feel about this?

St. CYR: My husband is very anxious to go into business and to have me stop it.

WALLACE: How long have you been married?

St. CYR: Two years.

WALLACE: And was this never discussed ahead of time? In other words, when you and your husband were courting, did he never say to you, "Lili look, please, let's not do this."

St. CYR: Yes, but I was in no financial position to stop. I'm always one year behind in my debts. (LAUGH)

WALLACE: I guess we all are.

St. CYR: And I always have to make money to pay for things and, uh, now I'm caught up and I'll be stopping.

WALLACE: What kind of a business do you think that you and your-- you're going into business with your husband-- or, or, are you just trying to be a housewife, forget the bright lights?

St. CYR: I'll be the housewife and forget the bright lights, gladly, and he'll go into the business. And forget the bright lights gladly too, I think. (LAUGH)


St. CYR: Hmm.

WALLACE: I gather from what you say you don't like show business really at all and you don't like show business people very much either.

St. CYR: Well, it's a false sort of business. It, uh, when you are acting in any form you must be false because you're acting, you're not being yourself, you're not contributing anything really to -- to anything.

WALLACE: You're entertaining, isn't that just enough all by itself? You're helping people to forget their troubles momentarily, you're taking them out of themselves, certainly there should be some pride in that kind of performance and that kind of contribution.

St. CYR: I think doctors and nurses and people who build houses, and people who, who work constructively contribute much more and I'd be much more proud of myself if I could do that.

WALLACE: You don't like yourself very much.

St. CYR: No.

WALLACE: Do you know why?

St. CYR: Maybe because of what I'm doing.

WALLACE: When you quit, do you intend to raise a family?

St. CYR: No.

WALLACE: You're very definite about that, why?

St. CYR: I feel the world is over-populated as it is. I have no obligation to contribute any more babies.

WALLACE: So many psycholo- I guess every psychologist since Freud has said that child bearing is as important and fulfilling to a normal woman as love and marriage. You, you don't feel the least bit unfulfilled or incomplete without a child of your own?

St. CYR: No, I don't. If I did I would try to adopt a child who needs a good home.

WALLACE: Mmm-hmmm. Do you think that you would be a fit mother?

St. CYR: Yes.

WALLACE: But you don't want children. Why-- why do you think that most women do want children?

St. CYR: There are many reasons. Quite often women who have no other interest certainly need children.

WALLACE: Well, when you quit, and you're out of the business, what will be your interest?

St. CYR: I don't know.

WALLACE: Do you consider marriage itself important? I understand that you said, "I don't believe in marriage as an institution. I see no need to formally legalize such relationships."

St. CYR: No. If you love someone and you want to live with them, the moment you decide that you're married, without any law to say so -

WALLACE: Under those circumstances, why did you marry again, two years ago?

St. CYR: I live in this culture-- it's illegal to live with anyone without being married.

WALLACE: What do you think of our alimony laws, which generally force a man divorcing his wife, or when she divorces him-- let us say that there are no children-- to support her with as much money as his own income can bear?

St. CYR: I think it's very unfair. It's a result of marriage, of course. If there were no marriage, there would be no alimony and no divorce.

WALLACE: (LAUGHS.) Apropos of this, Lili, in a moment I would like to ask you about something that you once said that you may or may not remember. You said, I, you said this to me. "I believe in flying saucers. I think there is life on Venus and that among the men on the planet Venus there will be less lust and less greed." I'd like to know what you meant by that. And we'll get the answer to that question in just a minute.


WALLACE: Now then Lili, you said "I believe in flying saucers," you said this about five years ago, to me, at the Park Avenue Club in New York on Fifty-Second street. I don't think that you remember that you met me then. You said, "I believe in flying saucers, I think there's life on Venus, and that among the men on the planet Venus, there will be less lust, less greed." What did you mean?

St. CYR: These people are obviously more advanced than we are.

So they must be more advanced in their emotions and more civilized than we are.

WALLACE: You really believe in the fact of flying saucers and the fact that they originate, not here on earth, in Russia, or in the United States, or any place, but rather in other planets?

St. CYR: They can be born on their own planet, of course. But I believe they exist and that they are seen, there have been many sightings and their manner of flying indicates that they're many, many years ahead of us.

WALLACE: Tell me, what kind of religious upbringing did you have, if I may ask. Briefly, what are your religious beliefs?

St. CYR: I have my own religion.


St. CYR: I believe in doing the right thing, never hurting anyone. Helping anyone if I possibly can.

WALLACE: Did you have any formal religious training?

St. CYR: By that you mean the religions that are generally accepted.


St. CYR: No.

WALLACE: And your family-- you did not. What about politics, do you have any interest in that at all?

St. CYR: No.

WALLACE: Out of your field?

St. CYR: I'm not interested in it.

WALLACE: Why not?

St. CYR: I can't tell you why, except perhaps I've always been so busy with my own little world that I haven't had time to read and --

WALLACE: What, what are -- What would you say is your most consuming interest? Is it possible that your most consuming interest is yourself? I'm sure that's probably true of all of us, that our most consuming interest, but aside from yourself, what interests you most? What excites you? What, what moves you?

St. CYR: I'm always so busy working in the things that it involves I have no one helping me and I must answer all the letters and make all the arrangements and do so many things all day long, that I never seem to have time to have a hobby or anything. I like to read.

WALLACE: Uh - hum. What kind of things do you read?

St. CYR: Everything.

WALLACE: Is it possible-- do you think that with your preoccupation, with your business, your body, your beauty, ah, are you afraid of growing old or growing ugly?

St. CYR: Yes.

WALLACE: That does worry you.

St. CYR: Yes.

WALLACE: And do you have anything in your emotional or your spiritual bank, so to speak, uh, to keep you when you have lost your beauty? When I say lost your beauty, I mean lost the flush of young beauty?

St. CYR: I don't know.

WALLACE: Lili, you don't respect marriage particularly as such, legal marriage; you have no particular interest in children, politics, formal religion as we know it. What kind of a world do you think this would be if everyone were like you?

St. CYR: Well, since I don't hurt anyone and since I have my own little kind of religion, uh, then no one would ever hurt anyone else.

WALLACE: Lili, I thank you for taking this half hour and talking to us here in Hollywood. The average strip-teaser in burlesque paints a rather sightly picture of herself. Most of them claim to lead conventional lives and think conventional thoughts. I think especially for that reason, Lili St. Cyr is intriguingly different. Her unconventional social attitudes seem somehow to befit her unconventional profession. I bring you a run-down on next week's interview with a great prize fighter who has become a legend in his own time, in just a moment.


WALLACE: Next week we go after the story of a prize fighter who has been probably the greatest fighter of our time. You see him behind me. He's Sugar Ray Robinson, only last month lost his middleweight championship to Carmen Basillio, in one of the most savage fights of his brilliant ring career. If you're curious to know how it feels to be hit mercilessly for fifteen rounds; if you'd like to hear why Sugar Ray has to fight for a living, although he's made more than a million dollars in the ring; and if you want to hear the opinions of a champion who is as fearless outside the ring as in it, we'll go after those stories next Saturday. 'Til then, for Philip Morris, Mike Wallace. Good night.

ANNCR: The Mike Wallace interview is brought to you by Philip Morris Incorporated, the Quality house.