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Burlesque Past and Present: Noel Toy

The art of the tease is on everyone's lips; with a rising interest in burlesque, cabaret clubs are in full swing and new acts are cropping up every week. At Playful Promises we just adore a bit of cheek, and would love to introduce you to our favourite burly girls, past and present! Keep your eyes firmly peeled, as each week we feature inspiring performers guaranteed to set pulses racing!


 


Pint-sized wonder (just a petite 5 foot tall), Noel Toy was a burlesque artist who gained popularity in the 1940's with her almost-nude dances.


Labeled as the first Chinese-American fan dancer, she was born in San Francisco under the name Ngun Yee. It is said she chose the name Noel Toy because she loved Christmas, and was actually born a few days after on the 27th December 1918. Surprisingly, she also died a day before Christmas in 2003 - I guess she really did love the holidays.


In 1939 Toy was months away from completing a degree when she was offered a role in the Chinese village show at the World's Fair on Treasure Island. Although this was a fairly safe event (all she needed to do was stand around in a Chinese gown), it led to naughtier work - posing nude at a fairground "Candid Camera" attraction, where customers were invited to photograph models. "Well, school was dull," Mrs. Young told the New York Post in 1941, "and I couldn't see anything wrong about appearing there. I went home and told my mother what I was planning to do, and she raised the roof."






Soon after, businessman Charlie Low (sounds more like a gang-boss) offered Toy a job at Forbidden City, America's first Chinese nightclub. Charlie had hit the jackpot, and business tripled withing three months. Noel Toy soon earned the reputation of the "Chinese Sally Rand", who was another popular fan dancer. 


It's not surprising just why she gained such adoration - her dances were well known to reveal a surprising amount of flesh. She often performed sans nipple tassels, something which even today most clubs would not allow or have licenses for. The video below captures her signature fan dance:




 


Before long a promoter called Lee Mortimer enticed Toy to the Big Apple, where she drew crowds in at the Stork Club, Maxie's, the 18th Club, Lou Walter's Latin Quarter and Leon & Eddies. Men found themselves falling head over heels for this exotic beauty (although I can imagine the glimpses of flesh also helped!). 


One night in 1945, a soldier named Carleton S. Young became enthralled, telling her "I'm going to marry you," without a doubt. Toy had a strict rule against dating soldiers or actors, and Young happened to be both, so she laughed him off. He persisted, and they married that year. She must have fallen for him, as their marriage lasted until his death in 1994. 


The newly christened Mrs. Young gave up dancing at her husband's request but went on to an acting career that proved fulfilling. She appeared in big name movies, alongside stars such as Clark Gable, Humphrey Bogart and Susan Hayward. As Toy grew older she appeared in few acting roles, mainly just as a candid, but she remained a sprightly, glamorous woman up until her death.