Friday, February 13, 2009

Shirley Jean Rickert, R.I.P.

It was with some sadness and a bit of regret, that I read of Shirley Jean Rickert's passing, in this morning's newspaper.. I certainly didn't know her as more than an acquaintance. But we'd enjoyed a pleasant correspondence together; exchanging a number of e-mails, from around 2001 - 2004.
As regular visitors here are already acutely aware.. I have a fascination with 50's-era Burlesque/Striptease. Apart from hunting down & collecting vintage Men's Magazines,-- there really isn't a whole lot of substantial info to be found on the Subject.. Apart from talking to the principal performers, themselves. And most of them, are either senior citizens now.. Or simply put, are deceased.
Fortunately, Shirley Jean was computer savvy enough to create her own website, entitled '' .. "Measures", being the name of her 2nd husband.

Shirley Jean was a Feature Performer, back in the 50's.. Dancing (mainly) under the stage name: "Gilda & Her Crowning Glory". This is what she looked like 'on stage', at that time:
But before Shirley ever got to a dancing career in Burlesk.. She had already enjoyed a very busy Show Business career as a child actor. Her own mother was a frustrated actress. And quickly established herself, as a very strident Stage Mom. Eventually , getting young Shirley a semi-regular gig on the beloved 'Our Gang' series of films.. Where Shirley usually played-up the role of the spoiled Rich Girl with the spit-curl hairdo..

You may recall that role, once you see this adorable photo:
After 'Our Gang' ended.. She found a steady role as the "Tomboy Taylor" character in the 'Mickey McGuire' series, starring: Mickey Rooney. Ostensibly, the series was based on the Fontaine Fox comic-strip of the same name. But the producers never fully secured the licensing deal from the cartoonist. And eventually the series ended, upon threat of a lawsuit..
As a young teen, she appeared in an early John Wayne serial, entitled: "Neath Arizona Skies". But as she got older, her cute child actress cachet diminished. And she found it very difficult to find steady work..
To keep busy, she studied formal dance.. And as she grew into an attractive young woman, she found uncredited dancing parts in many of Hollywood's most famous musical films, including: "Royal Wedding" and "Singin' In The Rain"..

Dance careers are understandably short. And those jobs too, began to dry up.. Which is when she walked into L.A.'s New Follies Theatre & got the idea to try her hand at a career in Striptease.. After only 7 months in their chorus line, she began performing as a Featured Act.. And continued to tour thru the U.S. & Canada, 'til she retired in 1959!

By the time I met Shirley thru the Internet,-- she had been suffering a number of personal setbacks. She had lost all of her personal memorabilia, in a house fire a number of years prior. And was bothered by a number of nagging health problems, too..
Her doctors had prescribed steady use of an oxygen tank, due to emphysema. And Shirley also underwent a number of surgical operations on both of her legs, to rectify circulatory problems.

Fortunately, I was in a unique position to help out with getting Shirley some of her lost memorabilia back. Not "originals", granted. But I made (and mailed her) extensive photocopies of some of the articles that I'd managed to collect of her, over the years.
She was particularly delighted to regain a copy of the following Pictorial that appeared in the October '56 issue of 'CARNIVAL' digest.. It shows a hint of (I think) Shirley's acting skills very well! A series of Funny Face photos, that she really got a kick out of seeing again:
I had asked her (in my e-mails) about some other Feature Performers she might have known.. But as she correctly pointed out to me: Featured Acts followed each other into each venue .. And rarely ever crossed paths. A detail, that I hadn't really thought of before! heh

The angioplasties she'd undergone had "worked wonders..", as she told me. And Shirley enjoyed another good stretch of personal health. But she was choosing to slow down. And by 2004, had moved into a Retirement Home in Ballston Spa, NY.. She seemed very content & happy with this existence.. But admitted finding it difficult to get by, purely on Social Security..

Many of her fans, continued to help her out. Replacing old photos & films that she'd appeared in. So much so, that she was now actively selling autographed Prints online, of her more popular photos.. I made sure to get a copy of this "cheeky" Pose! haha
After 2004, I kind of lost contact with Shirley.. Not intentionally, by any means. But "Life" got busier & the lapsed time between e-mail exchanges, got ever longer. We'd discussed doing a formal interview about her Burlesque career, someday. But never got it together..
I can recall in her last few messages, that it was her fervent Birthday wish to go on a Hot Air Balloon Ride with her grandchildren, before she died. I dunno if she ever got to fulfill that request.. But I hope she did!

She knew of my career as a freelance artist. And I made sure to send her a copy of my Sketchbook, once it was published. She wrote back to me, with her reactions : "The pictures are great.. I'm fascinated by your mind! -- Love'n' stuff, Shoil"

She was a sweet old lady, that passed away last Friday (February 6), at the age of 82.
She's survived by her daughter: Melody Kennedy.. As well as two grandsons and two great-grandchildren.


Willy Ashworth said...

Hi Rich

A touching tribute here, and well written.

Have you read Girl Show, by Canadian A. W. Stencell?

Rich Dannys said...

Hello Willy!

Funny thing.. I met Al at one of Toronto's "Old Paper Shows", a few years before his book came out.. We both noticed we were looking for vintage Girly Mags, etc. And started a conversation..

Gave me his ph# & encouraged me to visit his collection. I think he was even living in Scarborough, at the time?

I regret not talking to him more. His "Girl Show" book is killer.. But he's a bit more into oldtime Carnivals & Circus stuff, than I am! heh

Thanks for the visit, Willy.. Howz the Least Coast, working for ya?

Willy Ashworth said...

Hi Rich

I'm in town for a few months.

We should get together for a beer.

Village idiot maybe?

Rich Dannys said...

A beer sounds fine to me!
Maybe you could send Suzanne an e-mail & we'll work out the details?

Dominic Bugatto said...

Great post, thanks for sharing.

ryan said...

that cheeky gilda picture is HOT

Lady Babe said...

Hi Rich....This is her daughter Melody.....

This was an AWESOME tribute!!!!


PS The cheeky picture has always been my favorite of all her Gilda pics!!!!

Rich Dannys said...

Thanks, Dom & Ryan!

And Thanks especially, to Melody!!
Great to hear from you.. And great to see that you found my Posting..

I'd always wanted to interview your Mom about her Burlesque career. There's really no good excuse for my not taking the time to visit her.. I just couldn't seem to find the time & now it's too late!

If you ever have some insights you'd like to share about that part of her life.. Feel free to e-mail me at:

BlessThisDress said...

As a burly performer and fellow vintage collector/enthusiast - this was a great red. thanks for documenting such an interesting woman!

BlessThisDress said...

As a burlesque dancer and fellow vintage collector/enthusiast - what a great read. Thank you for documenting such an interesting woman.

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