The collection measures about 3 cubic feet, dates from 1917 to 1999, and documents the life and career of the prominent burlesque stripteaser Lili St. Cyr. Found within the papers are personal financial documents; photographs of her family; her personal passport holder; publicity shots of Dardy Orlando and herself; correspondence with family and friends; business contracts; newspaper clippings and magazine articles, featuring and advertising her work; and biographical materials, including notes, drafts, contracts, photographs, a couple audio reels, a recorded interview with St. Cyr on 18 audio cassette tapes, and two biographies. The papers reflect Lili St. Cyr's personality as a performer and as a person.
The papers document the personal and professional life of the burlesque dancer Lili St. Cyr. They include collection includes photographs, publicity materials, correspondence, greeting cards, manuscript versions of a biography of St. Cyr co-authored by St. Cyr and Mathew Tombers, open reel audiotapes, audiocassettes of oral history interviews with St. Cyr, clippings, magazines, two biographies, financial records, legal records, business records, and her personal passport holder.
Materials are arranged in chronological order. Artifacts are housed in boxes 6 and 7. Audio cassette tapes are housed in box 9.
The collection is arranged into 4 series:
Series 1: Publicity, 1941-1999
Series 2: Personal Papers, 1917-1980
Subseries 2.1: Financial RecordsPapers, 1954-1979
Subseries 2.2: Correspondence, 1956-1978
Subseries 2.3: Photographs of Family, 1917-1967
Subseries 2.4: Miscellaneous Materials, 1980
Series 3: Professional, 1963-1970
Series 4: Biographical Materials, 1968-2015
Biographical / Historical:
Lili St. Cyr was a prominent burlesque stripteaser of the 1940s and 1950s, deemed the most famous woman in Montreal during that period and billed as the "Anatomic Bomb" while performing at Ciro's Nightclub in Hollywood, in 1947. Accused of indecent, immoral, and offensive performances, St. Cyr was arrested several times throughout her career, most famously in 1951, during her act at Ciro's. The arrest made front pages of newspapers, and her case went to trial. She performed her act in the courtroom for the jury, and the charges were dropped, marking "a real victory for the profession."
St. Cyr was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1917. Her birth certificate read "Marie Klarquist." Lili was named after the woman she believed to be her mother (although actually her grandmother), Mariah Marie Curry Klarquist (aka "Maud"). Lili's biological parents were Maud's daughter Idella and a Dutchman who left shortly after Marie's birth, Edward Van Schaack. Upon realization of her true family tree, Marie Klarquist changed her last name to Van Schaack (occasionally respelt as "Van Schaak," "Van Chaack," or "Van Schaacht"), and she periodically added the first name "Willis," Lili St. Cyr also started referring to her biological grandmother as "Alice" and her biological mother as "Adelaide" or "Mom."
By the time Lili St. Cyr learned the truth about her family, her mother Idella had already remarried twice. In 1919, Idella married Louis Sherman Cornett, Jr., and together they had Betta Lee (or Bettie Lue, aka "Betty") and Louis "Jack" Cornett. In 1923, Idella married John Alfred "Ian" Blackadder, and they raised Idella Ruth Blackadder and Rosemary Blackadder. Both Blackadder daughters had successful careers in burlesque, going by the stage names Barbara Moffett (Idella) and Dardy Orlando (Rosemary). Barbara married the American toy maker and businessman Louis Marx in 1982, changing her name back to Idella, and they had five children--the eldest named Spencer. Dardy married the adopted son of the eldest Minsky's Burlesque brother Harold Minsky, and together they raised Danny and Ava.
St. Cyr never had children, but she did marry six times, and had numerous affairs throughout (particularly with a man named Jimmy Orlando in Montreal). She first married the racer Cordy Milne in 1937. Her second marriage was to Richard Hubert in 1941. She then married the actor Paul Valentine (aka "Val Valentinoff") in 1946, followed by her marriage to restauranteur Armando Orsini in 1950. She then married actor Ted Jordan in 1955 and special effects man Joseph Albert Zomar in 1959. Every marriage ended in divorce, the last having ended in 1964. It was around this time she met Donald Andrew Markick, a man seventeen years her junior who had served as a paratrooper toward the end of the Korean War. He dreamed of becoming a magician, so she took him under her wing, renaming him "Lorenzo Holmes." His family refused to call him by that name, and they disapproved of his relationship with Lili St. Cyr. Thus, he was kicked out of his house, and he moved in with Lili. He was with her for nearly thirty years. They never married, but she often introduced him as her husband, calling herself "Mrs. (Lili or Marie) Holmes."
By the 1970s, St. Cyr had retired, and she had opened her own lingerie line "The Undie World of Lili St. Cyr," selling garments similar to what she wore onstage. In her later years she was determined to keep herself hidden away with Lorenzo and her cats--Tiny, Bootsie, Tiger, Baby Bear, Little Two Shoes, Max, Big Boss, and Lee-Enze. In 1978, Lili, going by the name Marie Garrelick (the last name of her one-time neighbor, with whom she was staying), applied to rent an apartment from Mathew Tombers. After getting to know her, Tombers began helping Lili write her autobiography.
Lili St. Cyr died at the age of 80, on January 29, 1999, in Los Angeles, California.
Collection donated in 2017 by Mathew Tombers.
The collection is open for research use. Gloves must be worn when handling unprotected photographs and negatives.
Collection items available for reproduction, but the Archives Center makes no guarantees concerning copyright restrictions. Other intellectual property rights may apply. Archives Center cost-recovery and use fees may apply when requesting reproductions.