Mara Gaye and Tana Louise Burlesque and Bizarre Fashion True Burlesque Leonard Burtman
"Tana & Mara" was Tana Louise, one of Leonard Burtman's many wives, and Mara Gaye, a spicy dancer with a Radio City Rockette background.
Gaye worked in legitimate theater, burlesque and pin up circles for decades. She REALLY knocked around. This dame worked with Lawrence Welk for god's sake! The only woman to have worked with both Irving Klaw and the polka playing bubble-master. Her wiki page mentions a fight at Minsky's over who gets to wear an eye patch during a burlesque act...one eyed strippers apparently being the next big thing.
Mara was a former Miss Dallas (what is it with tough women and Dallas...did every woman with a bend move there?) Mara was Marjorie Helen Ginsberg from the Bronx. It is a LONG way from the Bronx to Dallas, especially in 1935. Mara is a movie waiting to happen. She MAY have even jumped out of a cake for Hall of Famer "Scooter" Rizzuto. Holy Cow! At least wiki says she was a "birthday surprise" for him.
Tana, while not having as impressive a resume on paper, is by far the better known today...even though it seems she vanished. Her fetish photographs were widely distributed in certain underground circles. Tana did some photos with Klaw too, and percolated in the pin up and dress up fetish underground quite prominently...some have even said she was the Bettie Page before there was a Bettie Page.
Tana is best known for the extraordinary material she generated for the Exotique Series of books and pamphlets which were reprinted by publishing behemoth Taschen back in 1998. You can browse their catalog HERE. The material is truly demented and deviant in a harmless way...and I can not imagine any fashion historian not owning the complete set. I wonder if they keep it behind the checkout counter at the F.I.T library?
Just for the record, I haven't cribbed any of these images from the Taschen volumes.
SIX DOLLARS FOR A CATALOG? THE SEARS CATALOG IS FREE!
Their contributions appear to me, as an outsider with vanilla taste, increasingly influential, so bizarre or not, the whole bunch of them were artistically and culturally important, to say the least. The Museum of Sex in New York City recently exhibited some of Mara's memorabilia.
Do NOT confuse Tana Louise with Tina Louise, the one who was stuck on an island with Gilligan. That Louise sued Tana for swiping her name (sorta) according to gossip columnist Walter Winchell in his March 23, 1959 column.
The Tana, Mara, Lenny collaboration in the fashion business is pretty funny, as it appears while they went into business, it was really only to sell catalogs! According to ground-breaking historian and writer Robert Bienvenu they priced the costumes high so no one would actually buy one (since they didn't have an inventory) and they really just wanted to sell the pamphlets! I am not sure they even had anyone lined up to make the costumes, and the few which were produced appear in photo after photo...I guess you could call it early leather recycling.
Burmel Publishing was a collaboration of Lenny Burtman and Ben Himmel, hence the name. Burmel was just one of many names...Selbee was another. Lenny is pretty well known today, having taken his particular proclivities all the way from the 1950s to the 1980s, but less known is this unusual venture into costume and fashion design from the late 1950s. Or at least pretending to go into the fashion business, I guess.
The ads here were published in their own magazines and digests, including rare offshoot of Exotique titled "Exotica" which you can dig around for. I have numbers two and three, and yet one site I find claims they only published one. They also published the ads in the obscure "Female Mimics" magazine, another of Burtman's efforts. There is also an image here from a mail-order brochure which was distributed in the late 1950s or early 1960s.The bizarre costumes they created, real or not, with the help of illustrators Gene Bilbrew, Eric Stanton (and who knows who) have certainly become influential. Just ask Lady Gaga's designers or those of her far more talented progenitor, Madonna.
I HAVE NOT YET LOCATED THE WAREHOUSE (IF THERE WAS ONE)
DO NOT CONFUSE WITH THE "EXOTIQUE" LOGO
CATALOG COPY DESIGNED TO DISCOURAGE ORDERS
Various images from material in the Victor Minx collection, circa 1955-1965 (No date in original objects)
DULL TOOL DIM BULB BOOKS HERE