Betty Rowland, aka "The Ball of Fire" is a 93-year-old retired burlesque queen. We first met in 1997 during research for my documentary film on the last generation of burlesque, Pretty Things (2005). Betty also wrote the forward to my book on the same subject, Pretty Things: The Last Generation of American Burlesque Queens (Harper Collins, 2006)
The first time we met in person she told me that she had sued my grandfather, Samuel Goldwyn, as part of a publicity stunt surrounding his film Ball of Fire (1941). In my research I found that notorious Hollywood copycat costume designer Edith Head had modified one of Betty's burlesque costumes for Barbara Stanwyck's nightclub singer character. My grandfather and grandmother, along with Head and director Howard Hawks, had all been named in a deposition as having gone down to the Follies Theater in Los Angeles to catch her act. For me, this was just another (albeit quite personal) example of how much burlesque had influenced "legitimate" entertainment.
During the 10 years I spent researching the history of Burlesque queens and their legacy, I found many examples of filmmakers, fashion designers, and artists drawing upon this art form for inspiration. However, besides Gypsy Rose Lee, most of the great American queens of burlesque did not achieve mainstream recognition for their work during their lifetimes, and many fell on difficult financial times while their (clothed) male comic counterparts went on to transition into careers in television, radio and movies.
Betty Rowland, who now lives in Los Angeles, has recently undergone serious medical trouble and is in dire financial need. I call upon all those who appreciate the art form for which she was a forebearer to assist me in supporting her medical and housing needs. There is no DGA, SAG, or like-minded organization, that has been created to aid burlesque and vaudeville performers. These entertainers deserve our help and attention for making us laugh, dream and fantasize in troubled times past and present.
Please join me on Tuesday, March 9, 2010, at 8 p.m. at the Silent Movie Theater in Los Angeles, for an evening to benefit Betty Rowland, with a double feature of Pretty Things (2005) and Ball of Fire (1941). Tickets are $20 and all monies raised go directly to THE BETTY ROWLAND TRUST which has been set up in her name. Proceeds will be used to pay for her medical/hospital bills and assisted living.
If you cannot make it in person, or do not live in Los Angeles but would like to help, you can donate via PayPal.
I thank you in advance for your consideration and encourage you to learn more about the screening at the Silent Movie Theater.
To read more about Betty Rowland, and her sisters Dian and Rozell (also Burlesque Queens, imagine! Three stripteasers in one family!) read Pretty Things: The Last Generation of American Burlesque Queens (Harper Collins, 2006). It is available via Amazon and comes out in paperback Holiday 2010.