Behind the Scenes at the Melody Burlesk:
Unpublished Photos

Behind the Scenes at the Melody Burlesk:<br />Unpublished Photos

The Rialto Report has always been interested in the Melody Burlesk, the legendary New York theater that featured headline appearances by many adult film stars, such as Annie Sprinkle, Sue Nero, Tina Russell and Tiffany Clark.

In 2014, we told the remarkable story behind the legendary establishment and featured the first interview with Melody dancer-turned-manager-turned-owner, Dominique.

We also featured a rare selection of Polaroids from the legendary fan Uncle Lou taken in the theater’s foyer.

But what was it like to work at the Melody Burlesk?

Backstage was like a second home to many of the girls. It was where they would hang out, get dressed, apply make-up, eat, sleep, and get to know each other.

It was a strictly female world. Fans, journalists, and the curious were kept out. Photography was not allowed. This was their safe place.

As a result we never saw any pictures of what it was like to work there. We’d almost given up trying to find out what it looked like behind the scenes, when we came across a selection of photographs taken by James Hamilton.

James had been a staff photographer at the Village Voice since 1974, and on one day in 1979 he was given a rare opportunity: he was allowed free rein to photograph the girls at the Melody over the course of a day as they prepared to go onstage.

This is the first time this photographic essay has been seen, and it captures the life of regular dancers as well as adult film performers such as Lysa Thatcher and Susaye London.

Special thanks to James Hamilton for allowing us to showcase his photos here.

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23 Comments

  1. EE · November 6, 2016 Reply

    As a Melody veteran, this is a complete pleasure. Familiar faces and the same happy, playful spirit that I remember so well. This has taken me right back to the happiest time of my life. Thank you for this.

  2. Alan C. · November 6, 2016 Reply

    I’ve seen a number of photo essays that purport to show what goes ‘behind the curtain’ but this must be the best of the bunch.

    A time before AIDS, before video, before the industrialization and downfall of porn flicks.

    These pictures seem sad, happy, poignant, and innocent. Susaye and Lysa are two of the most iconic figures from the era and it is a pleasure to seem them immortalized in youthfulness forever. Perhaps they would be future interviews? I’d LOVE to hear about their lives and the Rialto is the ONLY place capable of doing it probably it sensitively

  3. Anon · November 6, 2016 Reply

    Magnificent photo essay. Thanks for saving this amazing history.

  4. Rex · November 6, 2016 Reply

    Any idea who the person is in the big orange head dress is at the end of the piece?

  5. JJ · November 6, 2016 Reply

    Wonder what happened to the wall with the scribbles?

    Beautiful job as always.

  6. Steph/aka Tanqueray · November 6, 2016 Reply

    Loved this article. Brought back great memories of this place. I made big bucks designing costumes for some of these ladies. Bob Anthony allowed me to go back stage ans sell. These ladies made hundreds in tips. On Saturday there was a guy named Frenchie who would come with $500 in singles and stay and tip the ladies until the money was all gone. You could leave on your break and go across the street to a bar named Bernard’s and hang out. Often your fans would come there and buy you food or drinks. Just because they were your fan. Every dancer had fans who would always follow you when you worked there. Also no one would let the public know their personal business, gay straight, married, what ever. Why? So you could build up your fan base. Also guys could tip you while you were performing. Today they do not allow you to tip while you are performing WTK!!! Why block someones tips? These ladies got PAID!!!! I think I only worked there once because I did mostly private parties, Also I managed another place and booked the dancer at the Blue Garter that was owned by Elliot Pierce. That was funny because Elliot was a known racist but hired me to manage the dancers and they all respected be.

    • Robert Cohen · November 13, 2016 Reply

      Thanks for the memories Steph!

      I’d like to hear more of your memories. Why don’t you get interviewed by The Rialto Report? These stories need to be told!

  7. Charles Tatum · November 6, 2016 Reply

    Museum, print, and bookworthy!

  8. Mark Penny · November 6, 2016 Reply

    Seconded on the Lysa Thatcher interview; would be great to hear her story.

  9. Michael · November 6, 2016 Reply

    I think I was the only non employee male allowed back stage. Married to one of the dancers

  10. Gentle P · November 6, 2016 Reply

    What a wonderful working environment for these woman, the floors in the dressing room were so nice and clean. Instead of walking bare foot back there it looks like you would need a hazmat suit, that place looked filthy.

  11. tm · November 6, 2016 Reply

    For somebody who has never been to the Melody, it is an excellent look into what it must have been like.
    Wonderful collection!

  12. Cathy Brown · November 6, 2016 Reply

    Lovely photo retrospective. I was never there but I did go down to Dominique’s Harmony a few times. I even convinced Dominique to hire back Sue Nero after Sue punched her.

    • Anonymous · November 6, 2016 Reply

      Really?! Wow – That sounds really ballsy of Sue!!! What a character!!

      I would So love to hear an interview with Sue on the Rialto Report. She’s like a super – hero character from an R. Crumb book.

  13. John · November 6, 2016 Reply

    James Hamilton is a fine photographer. I remember seeing his work in the Voice and then other publications like the Observer and Rolling Stone.

    Here’s hoping there are more where these came from.

    Truly a wonderful time machine.

  14. annie sprinkle · November 7, 2016 Reply

    Nice to see Joey Carson. And before the boob job that eventually killed her far too young. I worked at the Harmony in the day, and these photos capture the atmosphere really nicely. So different then than today’s very neoliberal take on stripping where uniformity trumps individuality. Sadly. I hope you will come look through my photos one day. I have a lot of photos from when it became the Harmony. Dominique let me shoot there a lot. In fact, I have some photos of the same women in this shoot. A lot of the dancers worked there for years. Nice to see this herstory captured. xxx

  15. J. Walter Puppybreath · November 7, 2016 Reply

    Frankly kinda depressing, but still fascinating. What a find, RR!

  16. James Brummel · November 7, 2016 Reply

    Is it possible the short haired brunette in the shot with PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE poster on upper left is the girl who sat on my head in summer 1979? Around middle of page, 2 shots of her, making faces. Sat on my head,, not my face. I was 15 and she knew it and totally ragged on me and my friend. Asked if we were doing a report for school. She kept throwing match books at us and at one point was on the row above us and sat on my head. Which at the time had so much hair (think peter frampton) I barely felt it. Youth is wasted.

  17. Avatar610 · November 8, 2016 Reply

    Can someone please ID these ladies?

    • JJ · November 13, 2016 Reply

      Here are the ones I recognize:

      Susaye London – light blue top, blue jeans, and then in a light blue garter belt
      Lysa Thatcher – blonde in white stockings, white garter belt, waiting in the back stage corridor
      Joey Karson – busty blonde gal with banknotes under her breasts

      But who is the striking redhead in the first group of photos?

      • Anon · November 27, 2016 Reply

        I believe the redhead was called Anna Turner – I remember her from back in the day.

        Also that looks Francine – the brunette with the red g-string bikini.

        According to a discussion board, Chantal is the brunette with short brown hair sitting next to the mirror.

  18. tim · November 11, 2016 Reply

    Oui magazine in the background is from Dec. 1979…

  19. Ambidextrously Erotic · November 14, 2016 Reply

    This is amazing. Thank you so much for sharing this with the world.

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