Goddess of Love Incarnate. The Life of Stripteause Lili St. Cyr

Author: Zemeckis, Leslie

Publication Date:

September 2015



Original language and publisher

English | Counterpoint Press

Territories Handled

France, Netherlands, Scandinavia



Goddess of Love Incarnate. The Life of Stripteause Lili St. Cyr

Author: Zemeckis, Leslie

  • 2 Seas Represents: Dutch, French, Danish, Finnish, Icelandic, Norwegian and Swedish.


St Cyr, like so many in her business, scrabbled to break out of poverty. Luckily, her grandmother Alice remained a stabilizing influence in her childhood. She taught St. Cyr and her sisters to sew, an art they used in making costumes for the burlesque acts. What Alice also taught her was to go after what she wanted and forget whatever didn’t work. Unfortunately, St. Cyr never learned how to say no. She accepted every job offered to her, which kept her in the limelight. She also accepted marriage proposals, six of them. She didn’t have the nerve to break up, though, waiting for her husbands to tire of being Mr. St. Cyr. Her work, her body, and her beauty were all she ever cared about. She was private, enigmatic, even shy, always emulating Greta Garbo. She never played to the audience, maintaining her air of mystery… There were loves along the way, but an ex-hockey player was the only one she kept going back to, and he never proposed. St. Cyr loved meeting gangsters and marveling at their swagger; they adored and adorned her, and she ate it up. Friends were few, certainly no women (she never trusted them). Her dance routines played to packed houses, and it was her bathtub scene, using a well-placed towel held by her maid, that brought her lasting fame. The book is well-written and loaded with photos.—Kirkus Review

In her dazzling new book, Leslie Zemeckis captures the life and times of one of burlesque’s true legends. A magnificent portrait of a complicated woman who once captured the fascination of America.—Karen Abbott, New York Times bestselling author of Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War

I remember hearing my mother, who had seen many beautiful women working for my father, saying that Lili St. Cyr had the most beautiful body of any woman on stage. She did indeed.—Barbara Walters

What’s most resonant in Leslie Zemeckis’s biography of Lili St. Cyr is how utterly human this Goddess of Love truly was. This is the story of a disciplined artist, a deeply generous woman, a girl who loved and lost (and loved and lost again and again), and a lady committed to living a determined life. This book, like its subject, is seductive and absolutely captivating.—Jill Alexander Essbaum, New York Times bestselling author of Hausfrau

Click here for the wonderful book trailer!

Ladies and gentlemen, feast your eyes on Lili St. Cyr, the one-time queen of burlesque and the one-time “highest paid stripteaser in America”. Six marriages, torrid romances with Orson Welles, Yul Brenner and Vic Damone, a number of suicide attempts, great fame and money, and then obscurity and poverty. From critically acclaimed author/documentarian and award winning filmmaker Leslie Zemeckis comes the fabulous, no-holds-barred biography Goddess of Love Incarnate: The Life of Stripteuse Lili St. Cyr, based on years of extensive research and completed with the assistance of Lili’s only living relative, this definitive biography, packed with stunning photographs (all permissions cleared), brings St. Cyr to life in a way no other writer could, restoring Lili to her rightful place in the spotlight.
Humbly born Marie Frances Van Schaack, Lili St Cyr led an extraordinary life: not only the marriages, the romances, the years of destitution, reclusiveness and suicide attempts, but she brought elegance to the burlesque stage in a way never seen before, through her use of exquisite gowns, expensive antiques, and her signature act: bathing before the audience in a transparent tub. The toast of “Stripty-Second Street” (as 52nd street was dubbed when the burlesque theaters pushed out the jazz clubs), Lili’s fascinating life crossed paths with Pearl Harbor, the Pentagon Papers, the Black Dahlia murder, and the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Once a touchstone of American culture, Lili was considered one of the world’s most beautiful women. But she died alone and penniless, addicted to heroin.


Leslie Zemeckis is an actress, writer and award-winning documentarian. Leslie co-wrote Staar a one-woman cabaret show which was the origin for the mockumentary she wrote and produced entitled Staar: She’d Rather be a Mistress starring Carrie Fisher, Jeffrey Tambor and Fabio. Leslie also wrote, produced and directed the critically acclaimed documentary Behind the Burly Q, the true story of old-time burlesque in America. The film aired on Showtime and was championed by such publications as USA Today and The New Yorker revealing the never-before told stories of the men and women who worked in burlesque during its Golden Age. As a writer she has contributed to Stork Magazine and the Huffington Post. Leslie’s latest film as writer/producer/director is the award-winning documentary Bound by Flesh about Siamese twin superstars Daisy and Violet Hilton. The film played to sold-out audiences at the prestigious Palm Springs International, Santa Barbara International and Chicago Film Festivals. Leslie once again chronicles an important part of American entertainment from a bygone era, delving into the world of circus and carnival life in the early part of the 20th Century. Her book Behind the Burly Q was published by Skyhorse in 2013. It is the definitive oral history of burlesque as told by the original stars themselves. She is currently finishing up filming her next documentary on the world’s first female tiger trainer, Mabel Stark.


UTTLERLY ENTERTAINING! Behind the Burly Q is a painstakingly researched love letter to the women and men who once made up the community of burlesque performers! Its treasure trove of vintage photographs and performance footage is enough to make historians and fans of classic erotica swoon! Insightful, fascinating.—Ernest Hardy, The Village Voice

CRITICS’ PICK! Intriguing! Fans of theatrical history are well advised to check it out.—New York Magazine

CHARMING, entertaining! A delight!—Manohla Dargis

Provides a privileged front-row seat to sample several of the form’s most memorable practitioners! Stories run from raunchy to touching to funny to flat-out incredible.—Ronnie Scheib, Variety

Taps into a world of burlesque as we’ve never seen it before.—Linnea Covington, New York Press

AFFECTIONATE and engaging! Wonderful vintage footage, a fascinating glimpse into a corner of American history.—New York Daily News

FASCINATINGLY strips away at the myths surrounding the most popular American entertainment form of the first half of the 20th century.—Michael Musto, The Sundance Channel

Quickly paced, absorbing.—Kyle Smith, The New York Post

FOUR STARS (EXCELLENT)! A fun-filled tribute which elevates the Golden Age of Burlesque to its rightful place in history.—Kam Williams, The Leader

RUN, DO NOT WALK, TO SEE THIS MOVIE! It is the most thorough, balanced, rich and probing documentary possible about the history of classical burlesque.—Trav S.D., Travelanche

HISTORY DONE RIGHT! Informative, entertaining, funny and finally rather moving. Jam-packed with juicy detail, and most of that jam is tasty indeed.—James van Maanen, Trustmovies

DELIGHTFUL, engaging! A veritable who’s who of the grande dames of the burlesque stage for sheer fun, this is a winner.—George Robinson, Cine-Journal

FASCINATING, colorful and yes, tantalizing! Progresses with a peppy pace and lighthearted demeanor probably apropos of a Burly Q show.—Ross Anthony, The Hollywood Report Card

Any fan of burlesque will no doubt find it thoroughly enjoyable.—Adam Schartoff, Film Forward

FUN and affectionate look at a subject that continues to fascinate generations.—The Diva Review

ENJOYABLE brassy and loud and thoroughly unapologetic. A lot like its subjects.NJ.com

INTIMATE and surprisingly interesting! BEHIND THE BURLY Q is a highly recommended and very important cinematic endeavor? a form of entertainment that has been left out of our cultural history and one that many should know about.—Andrew Johnson, Black Cat Media

Burly is the only oral history recorded by many of burlesque’s greatest stars! An interesting look at some unheralded theater history.—Joe Bendel, J.B.Spins

DELIGHTFUL portrait of that bygone era, featuring an extensive roster of veterans of the scene! A well-rounded history of the era.—Alex Roberts, TV Soundoff

(Zemeckis) has preserved for us a lively, lovely corner of American life.—Richard Schickel

ABSORBING, moving and cleverly constructed look at the tradition of American burlesque… the stories are rollercoaster rides!—Emily Hourican, Irish Independent