Queen of the Tassels
If you’re going to make a name in this business,
you’d better have an act. Mine was the titty tassels,
twirling them like tops in opposite directions,
from my chest and my butt both at once,
painted with radium so they glowed in the dark.
The papers advertised my “electrified tassel dance,”
and the crowds packed in like cod fish in a net.
I took my act all around the world,
but it was the Crawford House in Scollay Square
I called home, performing there from the Thirties
through the Fifties, my picture on the cover
of the Crawford House restaurant menu,
customers promised “3 Sparkling Floor Shows Nightly.”
I was born Sally Katz in Cicero but changed
my name to Sally Keith
to play down the Jewishness but also a nod
to the great B.F. Keith vaudeville circuit,
the Washington Street theater where Houdini performed.
Ann Corio once said I was the best tassel-twirler she ever saw –
Ann headlined over at the Old Howard –
next to Carrie Finnel, but Carrie had bigger bosoms than mine.
She could use her pectoral muscles to make them spin,
but me, I weighted down my tassels with buckshot.
I remember the M.I.T. kid
who showed up at my dressing room
asking for a tassel or a g-string,
part of a fraternity initiation rite.
So I invited him and his buddies
to see my show, telling them,
“I’m just so tired of Harvard men.”
Double Agent 73
With my 73-inch bust (Double P cups),
you might think burlesque was my first career choice,
but I only took it up as a necessity to feed my kids.
Born Jewish in Poland in 1937, orphaned
when the Nazis killed my parents,
I moved to Israel after the war,
even served in the Israeli army,
but when I met Joe Wilczkowski,
another Holocaust survivor,
it was love at first sight.
We married ten days after we met,
moved to Brooklyn – Bedford-Stuyvesant.
I used to joke I left Israel because
I couldn’t make enough money to pay for my bras.
We had two daughters when Joe was murdered –
the “icebox murders” made national headlines.
Joe’d owned two meat markets, but when money got tight,
I had to find a way to support my family.
So at 35 I took a job as an exotic dancer.
By 1975 I was going by the name Chesty Morgan.
The ads blared: “The world’s chestiest! She defies medical science!”
I never did strip below the waist,
but I let patrons touch my breasts
to confirm they were real, no implants.
My boobs belonged to the world,
even if they were attached to my body.
When I walked on stage, two midgets came with me,
each supporting one of my mammaries.
Both one of my daughters and my second husband,
the baseball umpire, killed by cars,
my life has been one tragedy after the next,
but I did star in a couple of exploitation films,
including Double Agent 73, and Fellini filmed me
in a scene with Donald Sutherland for Fellini’s Casanova,
me as a big-breasted maid, but the scene was cut.
John Waters used some clips from Double Agent 73
and Deadly Weapons for his comedy, Serial Mom,
a teenage boy getting off on me.
These days I live in Tampa,
take aspirin for chronic back pain,
but I did make it into the Exotic Dancers Hall of Fame.
Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for BrickHouse Books in Baltimore. His latest poetry collection, A Magician Among the Spirits, poems about Harry Houdini, is a 2022 Blue Light Press Poetry winner and has just been published.Another poetry collection entitled Transcendence has also just been published by BlazeVOX Books. A collection of flash fiction, Presto!, will be published in 2023 by Bamboo Dart Press.