Los Angeles Burlesque Theatres – The Follies

Los Angeles Burlesque Theatres – The Follies

Los Angeles had two important burlesque theatres: the Follies Theatre, located at 337 S. Main Street in the downtown area, and the Burbank Theatre, located two blocks south at 548 S. Main St.

The Follies

Built in 1904 as the Belasco Theatre, by Frederick Belasco, brother of the renowned theatrical producer David Belasco, it housed a repertory theatre company, the Belasco Stock Company.  When the theatre district moved farther downtown, the theatre began its long reign as burlesque house  In 1915 it was listed as the Republic Theatre and by 1919 it had been renamed the Follies.


An early view of the Follies Theatre, Los Angeles.
Photo source: http://1947project.com/tags/burlesque#.UgJ216zKfdw

The “Hot Mamma” Case

On October 27, 1927, a pair of radio evangelists – Dr. Gustav Briegleb and the Rev. Robert P. “Fighting Bob” Shuler – took in the show at the Follies, and called in the police to shut it down the following night.

On month later, the two men were called to testify as to the show’s indecency.  Rev. Shuler read from his copious notes, which recounted a lewd performance between two girls playing the parts of deserted wives looking for their husbands in the barroom of a ship.

And Shuler’s dead-on imitation of a “licentious smile” which he asserted to be part of the dancers’ repertoire brought an outburst from the crowd of spectators (and the Hot Mamma girls) that the bailiff threatened to clear the courtroom.

The all-male jury, set the Hot Mammas free, although four male defendants—Tom B. Dalton, Robert Whalen, Harry Graves and Charles B. Dameron—who were found guilty based on their admitted connection with the management of the show and their writing of the dialogue.  These Hot Papas were sentenced by Municipal Judge Frederickson to serve 150 days in the City and pay fines of $500 each.

The Follies continued to serve the burlesque afficianados.  It was remodeled in the 1930s by S. Charles Lee, and thereafter saw many decades of strip-tease by all the leading strippers of the era, including Lili St. Cyr, Ann Corio, Betty “Ball of Fire” Rowland, and Evelyn West.  Dixie Evans reported that her first strip-tease performance was at the Follies.

In 1942, the Follies was ordered closed by city officials, but it was back in business two years later.  The Follies was raided, closed and then reopened half a dozen times.

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Three ads for the Follies Theatre from (left to right) 1939, 1942 and 1966
Photo source: https://sites.google.com/site/downtownlosangelestheatres/follies

The 1937 film, Every Day’s A Holiday, starring Mae West, was filmed at the Follies Theatre, as was the 1952 burlesque feature, B-Girl Rhapsody.


The photo is a promotional still for the 1937 film “Every Day’s a Holiday” starring Mae West.  Courtesy of the L.A. Conservancy. Photo source: http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10150130969756684&set=pu.53273011683&theater


An undated view of a chorus line at the Follies Theatre.  From the Wesselmann Collection / Williams Partnership. Photo source: https://sites.google.com/site/downtownlosangelestheatres/follies

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Two views of the exterior of the Follies Theatre in the 1940s, uncovered by Ken McIntyre.  Photo Source: https://sites.google.com/site/downtownlosangelestheatres/follies

Eventually the Follies turned to film becoming a skin-flick house.   In 1968 Eleanor Chambers, executive assistant to Mayor Yorty, led the fight to have the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Board add the Follies to its list of culturally significant buildings.  The board vetoed that idea as beneath them.  The Follies was eventually razed in 1974.


Photo source: http://1947project.com/tags/burlesque#.UgJ216zKfdw

About the Author:

Andy Davis is one half of the burlesque comedy team of Doc and Stumpy, which performs regularly at the Monday Night Tease and other venues.  He comes by his nickname “Doc” legitimately, for he has an actual Ph.D. in Performance Studies from NYU, where he specialized in the history of American popular entertainments, and wrote his dissertation on burlesque comedy.  The dissertation has since been published by Palgrave-Macmillan as Baggy Pants Comedy: Burlesque and the Oral Tradition, and won the prestigious CHOICE Award from the American Library Association as one of the outstanding academic titles of 2012.  His work builds on over thirty years experience in comedy and improvisation, doing meet-and-greet entertainment at the Renaissance Faire and various corporate events, and working with a number of comedy troupes.  He earns his bread and butter by teaching in the Interdisciplinary General Education Department at Cal Poly Pomona.

Miss Spent Youth
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