These photographs remind us that the Hollywood nightlife in the 20th century was a haven for libertines. The Ivar Theatre, opened in 1951, was a strip club, but it felt more like a mausoleum for lost souls. It was a somber place where patrons took their seats with the gravity of theatregoers at a tragedy, while on stage girls undressed, often entirely. The club’s notoriety inspired the singer-songwriter Tom Waits to allude to it in one of his songs: “It’s cold out there. Colder than a ticket taker’s smile at the Ivar Theatre on Saturday night.”
Photographers were banned during the week. They had to wait for the famous “Camera Nights” on Fridays and Saturdays, when the club welcomed crowds of burlesque fans. Among the visitors was Garry Winogrand, whose photographs now hang on the walls of the Museum of Modern Art. But there were others, too: Norman Breslow, Bill Dane, David Fahey, Anthony Friedkin, Michael Guske, Beth Herzhaft and Paul McDonough. Some of them were friends and came together from the East Coast, while others preferred to indulge in their guilty pleasures alone.
In these photographs, obviously, we witness a raw exhibitionism, with a parade of legs and high heels. But we also have to take in consideration the relationship between the strippers and their audience, to look closely at the way they gaze upon the stage. The flash from the bulb may have lit up these women’s private parts, but it also revealed the admiring public, addicted to bare flesh. All of these photographs were taken between 1977 and 1989, when the Ivar Theatre closed for good. The story of where its patrons went is yet to be told.
Camera Night at the Ivar
Until November 25th, 2012
727 S. Spring Street
Los Angeles, CA 90014