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Miss Topsy Takes Vegas!

Updated: Apr 13, 2019




This is such exciting news!


Burlesque legend Miss Topsy is trying to make it to Vegas this summer for the Burlesque Hall of Fame. I've talked about how much both Miss Topsy and the Burlesque Hall of Fame mean to me and everyone else in this industry, so it would be monumental to have her in the presence of so many of her adoring fans and performers who look up to her.


Photographer and Burlesque Hall of Fame (BHoF) Board member Neil Kendall is leading the effort to get her to Vegas. You can donate to their GoFundMe to help cover the cost of her airfare, ground transportation, and other incidentals she'll need over the course of 4 whirlwind days in June.


In celebration of her plans to visit BHoF, this is a great time to share a little article I wrote last year for my House of Knyle mentorship. I talked about my (kind of fruitless) efforts to find Miss Topsy and tell her how much she means to me. The end goal was to try and talk to her and tell her in person. It looks like Neil Kendall is helping make those dreams a reality for all of us, so this story has a happy ending after all!


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FINDING MISS TOPSY

*Originally written in December 2018 for the House of Knyle Mentorship Program

I first laid eyes on Miss Topsy in March 2017, a few weeks after I made my burlesque debut. I had never seen someone light up a picture the way she did, even in black and white.


Miss Topsy's photos have endured the test of time and continue to go viral to this very day. A quick search on Pinterest for “black burlesque” brings up multiple images of Miss Topsy in her heyday. She has a ubiquitous presence all over Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. This lingering addiction to Miss Topsy decades after she hung up her tassels is a testament to her unique allure.


I soon discovered that while photographs of Miss Topsy may be everywhere, written details about her personal story are a bit harder to find. For weeks when I started my research, I found nothing of substance written online or in any print books. The most promising lead? This bit of journalistic history:


From this newspaper clipping from the April 30, 1964 edition of The Star Tribune, I found out Miss Topsy’s real name and figured that she is currently approximately 76 years old. I gathered that she danced at the Gay 90s, a Minneapolis nightclub still around today, is originally from St. Louis, and once had a day job as a secretary. The author was also a big fan of her "sweater". Ha!


This wasn’t nearly enough information for me, so I took my digging to the one place where Miss Topsy’s photos seemed to be in abundance: social media. Instagram ended up being the best place, and I quickly saw that The Burlesque Hall of Fame posted substantively about her in the last few years. From their posts, I learned:

  • Miss Topsy was one of the first black women to headline outside the United States.

  • She was a huge hit in nightclubs in London, Paris, and the Far East.

  • She broke box office records in Tokyo in 1960.

  • I also learned that BHoF Board member Neil Kendall tracked Miss Topsy down in January 2016, and she shared with him very rare photographs and continues to keep in touch with him to this day. Kendall also unearthed 15 rare images of Miss Topsy from a Los Angeles agency run by Coralie Junior, including photos taken by famed photographer Maurice Seymour.

I immediately reached out to Neil Kendall through Instagram for more information, primarily to see if he could put me in touch with Miss Topsy. To my surprise, he responded very quickly, asked me to forward my questions to him, and promised he would pass them along the next time he speaks to her. I was one step closer!


Searching for Miss Topsy also led me straight to the Burlesque Hall of Fame, and she was right there on the Holiday Card list for BHoF Legends. Of course, I sent her a card letting her know all she meant to me as a burlesque newbie, and I can only hope that she chooses to answer my questions whenever they reach her.


By this time, BurlyCon rolled around and my obsession with Miss Topsy was well-known (ha!). I received pics of Miss Topsy’s history exhibit, and from here I learned that she started burlesque in 1962 while working at a hospital and living with her aunt and uncle in Hollywood. She began meeting celebrities, and wanted a bit of stardom for herself. She signed with Cora Lee Jr. (which must be connected to the “Coralie Jnr.” mentioned in the BHoF Instagram post), got a gig as a shake dancer in Los Angeles, and began traveling internationally to perform – gracing stages in Toronto, New York, and London along the way. To BHoF, she described burlesque as “an art.” She performed for 27 years while investing in real estate back home, and when she returned she settled into a quiet life active in church. She only got involved with BHoF apparently when her grandson Anthony contacted them to find out more about Miss Topsy’s performing career.


I get the feeling Miss Topsy is mysterious on purpose. There’s nothing wrong with that at all! In my research on her, I came across a few (very gorgeous) nudie photos that she may not want some people to find. I also came across a Tumblr comment from someone in her family, which as we all know as strippers can be very awkward. Miss Topsy may have closed the burlesque chapter of her life already. I’m not sure whether Neil Kendall found her first or her grandson Anthony found BHoF first, but I get the feeling Miss Topsy thought her famous burlesque days were over!


Even if Miss Topsy likes to avoid the limelight these days, it seems she is still in contact with BHoF and Neil Kendall, and that is reassuring. I really hope she comes to the Burlesque Hall of Fame in 2019, because she has legions of new fans who would love to shower her with adoration!


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Cheers to Miss Topsy and to BHoF 2019!

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3 Comments


Rip Mary "Miss Topsy" Thompson

Oct 2021


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Bebe Bardeaux
Bebe Bardeaux
Nov 19, 2021
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I'm sending you a direct message! thank you

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