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 'www.measuresup.com' .. "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.