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.
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.
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
Magnificent photo essay. Thanks for saving this amazing history.
Any idea who the person is in the big orange head dress is at the end of the piece?
Wonder what happened to the wall with the scribbles?
Beautiful job as always.
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.
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!
Museum, print, and bookworthy!
Seconded on the Lysa Thatcher interview; would be great to hear her story.
I think I was the only non employee male allowed back stage. Married to one of the dancers
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.
For somebody who has never been to the Melody, it is an excellent look into what it must have been like.
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.
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.
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.
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
What are the major differences working as a prostitute and as a porn actress? I believe you have both experiences.
Frankly kinda depressing, but still fascinating. What a find, RR!
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.
Can someone please ID these ladies?
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?
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.
I don’t recognize any of these women as Chantal.
She had beautiful long frizzy hair.
Saw her many times.
Oui magazine in the background is from Dec. 1979…
This is amazing. Thank you so much for sharing this with the world.
It’s funny I just bought that very same copy of OUI from Amazon online and part of my huge project of collecting everything 1970s related. (Don’t ask). These photos are extraordinary: beautiful, personal, human humane, document of an era now completely gone forever. Fascinating to see these after so many years and to hear from notable people who were part of it on this thread, Thank you!
I only met Joey Karson after she got her breasts supersized and headlining at clubs such as NY Dolls in Manhattan. Very nice girl.
The images are so stake and harsh. My memory is of a softer mysterious but thrilling atmosphere. It was always a shock to leave and go out into the light.
I don’t think that was Anna Turner in the first pic. I am sure the single pic of the tall brunette was Suki who later danced as Lady Jane after Dominique assumed control and reopened as Harmony Theatre.
I also certainly remember Francine. She had so a sweet innocent look but swept everyone up in her sensuality. I remember how everyone lined up for her…
Yes, that is Chantel, so the photos had to be taken prior to 1980 sometime. I agree regarding the identity of the other ladies. I think the dark girl wearing the dark jacket is Jackie. Great photos, wonderful memories. Very satisfying to have been a part of it. Farewell my friends.
I think the woman in red with the long frizzy black hair is Chantal.
In one photo there is a TV Guide on the counter from December 8th, 1979.
That looks like Chantal to me.
Certainly not the one with the shorter hair you refer to.
WOW! what a beautiful collection. Lysa Thatcher and all the ladies immortalized. Thanks again folks. I’m blown away.
Superb photographs–incredible capture of life at that time and place…