Currently up for sale on eBay, these hand-painted, text-only signs for a carnival girl show continue to exert a powerful lure, just as they did on the midway in the 1940s. “NOT FOR…Junior” “Intimate SEXY! “It Tells ALL!” “It Shows ALL!” “Adults ONLY…”
A seller in Texas rescued the trio of tantalizing signs from an old show trailer, where they were stored for more than thirty years. “This is a must for any collector of carnival or sideshow memorabilia,” writes eBay seller gm3320 in his description. “These signs were a great ‘come on’ of what was inside. The show was never as risque as the signs described. There will not be any more of these Traveling Girly Sideshows like in the early days.” His asking price is $1,495 or best offer. The dimensions are 48 inches wide by 60 inches high.
The wooden signboards are akin to word banners, one of our fave forms of carny advertisements. Based on the text, ATZ’s best guess is that “La Femme” was probably what was called a “posing show.” Looking through old issues of The Billboard, we discovered that a “La Femme” Posing Show managed by Jack Norman was actually part of the lineup of Hennie’s Brothers Shows 1948 season!
The show featured a talker, two ticket sellers and four performers. Ads like these were plentiful too: “WANTED— GIRLS FOR POSING SHOW Must Be Young and Attractive (experience not necessary)” and “Have complete outfit for Posing Show, will furnish to a capable manager that has people and can get money with same.”
The job required the girls to strike poses reminiscent of famous paintings or models in an artist’s studio. The phrase “posing show” first caught my ear as a carny kid in the 1960s, though the Sunday school outfits that my concessionaire parents traveled with didn’t have girl shows or posing shows.
At night when the grownups cut up jackpots about carnival days gone by, my mother had a story about how her first husband had helped Zorima, Queen of the Nudists’ husband frame a posing show. I asked, ‘what’s that?’ Mom said they put up sheets and the girls would pose behind the curtains.
When I pestered her for details, Mom would say “Zorima was a beautiful girl,” but that she’d never been inside the show and didn’t know what they did. “You don’t want to tell me,” I complained and we’d argue. By then I was a teenager. “Tricia, I’m telling you the truth,” my mother would say. “We didn’t go in the shows. We were busy working our joints.” Clothespin Pitch. Devil’s Bowling Alley. Guess Your Name, Age, Weight and Shoe Size.
As for the beautiful Zorima, she must have have been an imitator of the original Queen Zorima, whose nudist show was the sensation of four world’s fairs, including the 1935-36 California Pacific Exposition and the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair.
UPDATE November 23, 2011, 1:40 pm
Many thanks to Johnny Meah, master sideshow banner painter and friend going back to the little New England midways of our childhood, for the following update on Posing Shows. It Tells ALL! After writing this post, ATZ sent him a note: “Came across this on eBay and thought you might enjoy seeing it. I imagine that you painted some of these too. Would love to hear your comment.” Visit Johnny Meah’s website- The Czar of the Bizarre– for news, art, prose, and to download a font in his idiosyncratic handwriting style.
MEAH ON POSING SHOWS:
In the heyday of backend shows with carnivals, the female pulchritude dept. fell into four categories : The white revue, the black revue, both of which were tented burlesque shows with a band, a comic, sometimes a variety act, a chorus line and two or three feature strippers. Next was the cootch show, strictly strippers usually working to recorded music. And the posing show—-as the title implies, girls posing behind a gauze or cheesecloth curtain, either nude or as close to it as the local law would permit. The blowoff,(added attraction for another fee), would be very simple—-the curtain was raised!
In many cases these shows were operated by the same person who operated the cootch show and were utilitarian masterpieces for the operator as they could use the same girls for both shows, running them back and forth between the two shows. When legal porn theaters came in it took its toll on all of these shows, the first casualty being the posing show. Seeing a statue-still girl standing behind a gauze curtain suddenly wasn’t very exciting.
The posing show became extinct and remained so for many years until one year two operators on Royal American Shows, the biggest railroad carnival of the era, decided, for God knows what reason, to resurrect the idea. The show was titled Girl World, themed to “girls of all Nations” who appeared behind the obligatory gauze curtain on a revolving stage with appropriate ethnic music. The show was not only a financial disaster but a mechanical monstrosity as well. The front had a triple cantilevered top sign, the top of which had a painting of a girl sitting on a globe of the world. It was so high that even on a mildly breezy day they had to have a guy seated on the roof of the wagon to lower it in sections the moment the wind picked up. Towards the end of the season, to salvage some of the money dumped into it, it became—–what else—–a cootch show.
For the most part, posing shows had silhouettes of girls painted on the front panels, below which hung “bally boards” bearing slogans like RACEY, SPICEY, NAUGHTY, EXOTIC, RISQUE, etc. These same worn out slogans also appeared on most cootch show panels. One day, tired of the repetitiousness of these slogans,I painted, “SCINTILATING.” The owner came out on the midway, looked at it and said, “What the hell does THAT mean ?!” I painted it out and replaced it with “EXOTIC”.
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November 16, 2009: Rare & Vintage: Coney Island Sideshow Banner by Dan Casola