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Alice Schiller, Impresaria of Striptease, Dies at 95

from – Alice Schiller, a well-brought-up Midwestern woman who burst into tears the day her husband announced he was opening a burlesque house in Los Angeles, but who rallied to make the place — the Pink Pussycat of Hollywood — one of the most successful, celebrated and profusely feathered nightclubs of its era, died on Dec. 19 at her home in Washington. She was 95.

Her niece, Carole Feld, said her aunt died in her sleep. Mrs. Schiller [seen center in a photo from the mid-60’s]leaves no immediate survivors.

Mrs. Schiller, who by her niece’s account never drank or smoked or swore, had not set out to own a supper club in which performers left the stage vastly lighter than when they came on. But for nearly two decades, from the early 1960s to the late 1970s, she reigned gamely as a doyenne of the diaphanous, owning and operating the Pink Pussycat with her husband, Harry.

Located near the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles, the club was a popular destination of tourists and locals alike, known for its glittering stage shows and equally glittering celebrity clientele.

It was a favorite watering hole of the Rat Pack, and for good reason. Mrs. Schiller shrewdly gave her dancers stage names like Fran Sinatra, Samya Davis Jr., Deena Martin and Peeler Lawford, and the originals soon showed up to inspect their namesakes.

The club was also internationally famous for its attached institution of higher learning, the Pink Pussycat College of Strip Tease, familiarly called the Navel Academy of the West.

With the decline of burlesque theaters in the postwar years, a wave of more respectable if scarcely less naked establishments rushed in to take their place. Perhaps the best known of these was the Pink Pussycat, which literally embodied the transition between the seamy bump and grind of the burlesque house and the upscale gentlemen’s club of today.

“It was one of a few clubs that after World War II redefined what striptease was,” Rachel Shteir, the author of “Striptease: The Untold History of the Girlie Show” (Oxford University, 2004), said in a telephone interview on Tuesday. “So these clubs really served a function.”

The Schillers’ club was tasteful — practically wholesome. Men were encouraged to bring their wives and sometimes did. Dancers took the stage in oceans of sequins, acres of rhinestones and clouds of feathers. They departed peeled, but still strategically covered by G-string and pasties, or, as Mrs. Schiller genteelly called them, “bosom bonnets.”

“I myself am an authority on beauty and glamour,” Mrs. Schiller told The Los Angeles Times in 1967. “I’ve probably glamorized 1,000 pussycats. Twenty of my pussycats married multimillionaires. One of my girls got a $2,700 tip one night. She disappeared. We heard she’d fixed her nose with some of the money, but we never saw her again.”

By day, the club was transformed into the College of Strip Tease. The Pink Pussycat was not the only American strip club to have an adult-education division, but it undoubtedly had the most distinguished faculty: Sally Marr, the noted striptease artist, was for many years its de facto chancellor, provost, dean and sole professor. (Ms. Marr’s son, the comic Lenny Bruce, sometimes appeared on the Pink Pussycat’s stage.)

Tuition was $100 for 10 sessions. The curriculum, as Time magazine reported in 1961, included “The History and Theory of the Striptease,” “The Psychology of Inhibitions,” “Applied Sensual Communication” and “Dynamic Mammary, Navel and Pelvis Rotation.”

Alice Feld was born on July 14, 1914, in Indiana Harbor, Ind.; her parents divorced when she was young. She was raised in an Orthodox Jewish household by her mother, who ran a delicatessen, and her maternal grandfather. After an early marriage that ended in divorce, Alice married Harry Schiller in the mid-1950s, and they opened a men’s clothing store in Beverly Hills.

In the late ’50s, on impulse, Mr. Schiller bought the Club Seville, a Latin dance club on Santa Monica Boulevard. The couple ran it briefly as a jazz club but made little money. One day in the very early ’60s, Mr. Schiller had a brainstorm: burlesque. Mrs. Schiller wept. Then she dried her tears and named the club. It was one of the first instances, if not the first, of the now-ubiquitous “Pink Pussycat” as a business name, her niece said.

In the late ’70s the Schillers turned the club into a discotheque renamed Peanuts. Harry Schiller died in 1982; in the late ’80s, the discotheque became Club 7969 and was run by Mrs. Schiller’s nephew. The family sold the club about two years ago.

The Pink Pussycat was also a leader in the field of distance learning. For $4.95 plus postage, nonmatriculated students could order a home-instruction kit complete with two bosom bonnets, one G-string, a rhinestone for the navel and a copy of the curriculum.

The final exam was on the honor system. Those who passed could order a Pink Pussycat diploma, signed, sealed, beribboned and suitable for framing.


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