By Jim Linderman
There were thousands of anonymous women working in the smut business. Here is just one of many, and her tale represents all. An unfinished portrait of Lily Lamont, slightly gap-toothed Half-Native American stripper, prostitute, model and B-girl from the 1950s. A heavy drinker with mystery nicknames who “packed them into a Greenwich Village nightclub for not for long…” A woman I hope to put a real name to, and representing a many hard-working young women in a far from glamorous industry. Despite the retro resurgence of “pin-up culture” and so-called “glamour” photography, these sexual pioneers and independent women would have a few things to say about glamour. Living out of trunks, at the mercy of crooked theater owners, working for pennies in smoke and alcohol-drenched spaces in front of drunken, hormonal, often desperate men? Show business.
Lily is today a cypher and ghost pinup, but one who was the first muse for Faster, Pussycat! Kill Kill filmmaker Russ Meyer, who found, lost and never quite got over her. All the model left behind is a few stag films, some portrait fragments, a publicity still or two, several magazine covers (one which inspired a tattoo artist 50 years later) and the scarce mail-order brochures shown here.
Lily Lamont, real name unknown, was referred to as “The Alaskan Heat Wave” in Time Magazine, yet whether she ever stepped foot in the 49th state is unknown. Show girls often had a few more pasts than those not in the business. She did perform with a dead polar bear on stage. Peep Show Magazine once called her a “Honey from Alaska” and traced her birth to Seward. One source claims she started stripping in Fairbanks.
The biographical material that accompanies photographs of strippers is usually as accurate as the patter of a carnival barker.
Alaska was untamed, like Lily, and not yet a state. She worked her way south. At one time, as she was stripping in a Portland, Oregon club called Bill’s Star Theater (where she turned tricks on the side.) Lily would put on a regular private show for a wealthy patron who had her dance nude as he lay in a coffin watching, a story she shared with Russ Meyer who used it as the opening for his film Beneath the Valley of the Ultra Vixens 25 years later.
Lily appeared in the legendary “lost” film Meyer made for the owner of the El Ray Burlesque Theater in 1950, a pseudo-documentary known variously as French Peep Show or French Postcards which preceded what is generally understood as Meyer’s first proper (improper) film The Immoral Mr. Teas. Lamont was described by Meyer as having “a socko twin pair of casabas with corralling-cleavage capable of hiding Johnny Bench’s catcher’s mitt.” The phrase appears in Meyer’s massive autobiography A Clean Breast, still in print ten years after the master’s death and still giving the FedEx man a hernia. The 1213 page, three volume series of books is worth every penny.
French Peep Show was a vehicle for bombshell burlesque queen Tempest Storm, but Lily played a bit part showing her parts. Her name follows Tempest’s on the poster, and the original program guide for the lost film (from which the photograph of Lily leaning on Mr. Meyer’s back here is found) is now as scarce as the film.
A year after Meyer filmed Lily the “pneumatic terper” he found her again and convinced her to pose for some nude shots. One suspects it wasn’t too difficult, as she immediately asked for lotion to shine up her breasts and later posed for a splendid self-portrait (with timer) of the two. Meyer rests his head on her breasts. It is one of the few self-portraits Meyer put in his book. He also commissioned cartoonist Bill Ward to illustrate her coffin story.
A few years earlier… (or later?) Lily somehow landed a continuing role on a CBS radio show called Hollywood Madness where she met George Tirebiter, B-movie film director. She married him for a short time, but the divorce came after he supposedly dated Marilyn Monroe. In 1950 it is reported she turned him in during the communist witch hunt to save her own lovely skin, and appeared in the film Yesterday’s Sunset as Baby Heather, a former dancer. No stretch. The film was a moderate success, earning a nomination or two for Academy awards but certainly none for Lily.
Dancer Dixie Evans remembers finding Lily years later in Providence, Rhode Island. In Jimmy McDonough’s Big Bosoms and Square Jaws she laments LaMont’s disappearance. “She was staying at this cheap broken-down hotel…” and recalls both on their way to “entertain” the governor of New York and his friends. They had requested Lily after seeing her on a burlesque poster. Evans says Lily could hardly drive ten miles without stopping for a drink.
Later Lily was reported living in a bungalow at the El Encanto Hotel, where she may have spent her remaining days in a drunken haze.
Some sources have Lily dancing as early as the 1930s, but this surely cannot be. She appeared on the cover of the French “Follies De Paris Hollywood” pictorial pinup magazine in 1952, and our phantom beauty is referred to as “the most explosive girl in Canada” at the time. This image of Lily was turned into a piece of contemporary art 40 years later by Mexican tattoo artist Jeronimo Lopez Ramirez, who works under the name of Dr. Lakra. In a striking piece (and inadvertent tribute to a woman who was likely anonymous to the artist) Dr. Lakra covered a pinup of Lamont with intricate ink designs, a piece which was exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art.
Here the story ends. One internet site desperately asks for more information.
We can only hope Miss Lily Lamont did not end up like another of Meyer’s prominent models, the lovely Yvette Vickers, whose mummified body was found a year after her death in 2011 by a woman who found cobwebs across her front door. Vickers was one of Meyer’s three Playboy centerfolds in 1959.
NOTES: Photograph of Lily Lamont and Russ Meyer from “The French Peep Show” program guide 1952 Copyright P. A. DeCenzie All rights reserved by the copyright holder. Peter DeCenzie was owner of the El Rey Burlesque Theater and an early Russ Meyer business partner. Publicity glossies from various sources. Russ Meyer’s autobiography A Clean Breast is available from his estate here. It weighs nearly twenty pounds. See also Big Bosoms Square Jaw by Jimmy McDonough. Folies de Paris et de Hollywood (the curtains cover) Peep Show Magazine Covers and “Lady Bountiful” brochures Collection Jim Linderman
Jim Linderman is a Grammy-nominated collector, popular culture historian and author. His network of blogs is approaching 4 million page views, and his VINTAGE SLEAZE BLOG which tells a true story from the golden age of smut every day has over 300,000 Facebook followers. For several years he has been working on TIMES SQUARE SMUT which will tell the story of several long forgotten writers, illustrators and mob-connected publishers from the 1950s who ultimately influenced contemporary culture.