Alice Schiller, the owner of the Pink Pussycat of Hollywood—one of the most vaunted strip clubs of its era—died Dec. 19 at age 95. Though she was at first reluctant to enter the world of burlesque, Schiller eventually embraced it, and styled her husband’s nightclub into a glamorous, celebrity-driven scene.
According to the New York Times:
Mrs. Schiller, who by her niece’s account never drank or smoked or swore, had not set out to own a supper club in which performers left the stage vastly lighter than when they came on. But for nearly two decades, from the early 1960s to the late 1970s, she reigned gamely as a doyenne of the diaphanous, owning and operating the Pink Pussycat with her husband, Harry.
Located near the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles, the club was a popular destination of tourists and locals alike, known for its glittering stage shows and equally glittering celebrity clientele.
It was a favorite watering hole of the Rat Pack, and for good reason. Mrs. Schiller shrewdly gave her dancers stage names like Fran Sinatra, Samya Davis Jr., Deena Martin and Peeler Lawford, and the originals soon showed up to inspect their namesakes.
Born Alice Feld in 1914, in Indiana, Schiller was raised in an Orthodox Jewish home by her mother, who ran a deli, and her maternal grandfather. She married early and divorced, and then in the mid-1950s married Harry Schiller and together, they opened a men’s clothing store in Beverly Hills, writes The Times.
In the late ’50s, on impulse, Mr. Schiller bought the Club Seville, a Latin dance club on Santa Monica Boulevard. The couple ran it briefly as a jazz club but made little money. One day in the very early ’60s, Mr. Schiller had a brainstorm: burlesque. Mrs. Schiller wept. Then she dried her tears and named the club. It was one of the first instances, if not the first, of the now-ubiquitous “Pink Pussycat” as a business name, her niece said.
The Schillers’ club was tasteful — practically wholesome. Men were encouraged to bring their wives and sometimes did. Dancers took the stage in oceans of sequins, acres of rhinestones and clouds of feathers. They departed peeled, but still strategically covered by G-string and pasties, or, as Mrs. Schiller genteelly called them, “bosom bonnets.”
“I myself am an authority on beauty and glamour,” Mrs. Schiller told The Los Angeles Times in 1967. “I’ve probably glamorized 1,000 pussycats. Twenty of my pussycats married multimillionaires. One of my girls got a $2,700 tip one night. She disappeared. We heard she’d fixed her nose with some of the money, but we never saw her again.”
By day, the club was transformed into the College of Strip Tease. The Pink Pussycat was not the only American strip club to have an adult-education division, but it undoubtedly had the most distinguished faculty: Sally Marr, the noted striptease artist, was for many years its de facto chancellor, provost, dean and sole professor. (Ms. Marr’s son, the comic Lenny Bruce, sometimes appeared on the Pink Pussycat’s stage.)
Tuition was $100 for 10 sessions. The curriculum, as Time magazine reported in 1961, included “The History and Theory of the Striptease,” “The Psychology of Inhibitions,” “Applied Sensual Communication” and “Dynamic Mammary, Navel and Pelvis Rotation.”