Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Noel Toy

Inspired by my look at vintage burlesque stars from the golden heyday a few weeks back, I started to look up burlesque performances from the 40's and 50's on youtube.
I discovered a gorgeous exotic performer called Noel Toy, the U.S.A's most successful Chinese-American burlesque dancer working in the early Forties.

I began to research into Noel's history and was delighted to discover she was a revolutionary in her own way, setting out to liberalize women, Chinese women especially, from demure and submissive stereotypes!
I was so taken with Miss Toy that I decided to paint a portrait of her while I put together ideas for my other work based around dressing tables (see below).

Noel Toy was born Ngun Yee in San Francisco to émigré parents from Canton, China. She was close to graduating from her jounalism degree at the University of California Berkeley, when she accepted an offer to perform in a Chinese village show at the World's Fair on Treasure Island in 1939. The gig involved not much more than standing around in a Chinese dress looking pretty. This led on to other more risque work when later the same year Charlie Low asked her to work at his popular Forbidden City, the first and only Chinese nightclub at the time.

She changed her name to Noel Toy after her love of the Christmas season and began to wow audiences with her graceful dances. She was even labelled the Chinese Sally Rand as she became famous for her fan dances, and using a giant bubble while on stage.

Due to her popularity business tripled at Forbidden City within three months and Noel was soon off dancing at other clubs in San Francisco, a year later she was invited to perform in New York City where she was a huge hit. In 1942 Noel appeared in a Broadway revue Wine Women and Song but her stint was short lived after the show was shut down due to obscenity. A witness at the trial said that Noel Toy "was nude except for her shoes and one other piece of clothing, and pretended to dance but didn't move her feet" (Associated Press, December 1, 1942)

In 1945 Noel met and married Carlton Young, a soldier who saw one of her shows and was love struck declaring there and then, 'I'm going to marry you!'. Upon his request she gave up performing and turned to film and TV work. She appeared alongside Clark Gable and Susan Hayward (in "Soldier of Fortune") and Humphrey Bogart and Gene Tierney (in "The Left Hand of God"). But Noel soon became disillusioned by Hollywood as she was always cast as the 'Ornamental Oriental'. In 1954 she gave up acting and started a career in real estate.

She remained a rebel to the end of her life, often visiting the town where she lived in L.A wearing short skirts and high heels even while in her old age.
Noel died fittingly, on Christmas Eve of 2003 leaving behind her a legacy of scandal and revolution.

The first stage of my portrait of Noel Toy

Dressing Table Gallery

Each week I am showcasing photos sent in of readers dressing tables. This is a chance to interact with other people from the web but also goes towards a bigger project I am working on involved with narrative and belongings. Each photo gives the viewer a snapshot into a stranger's personal make up station and a portrait of their femininity!

This week the photos are from Layla Garner. Layla lives and works in Manchester in the UK and as I know her I can testify she is a very creative and individual lady! I especially like the use of candle sticks, again giving this dressing table a sacred appeal, almost like an altar.

If you would like to get involved and send in a photo of your dressing table please get in touch: gemma-parker@hotmail.co.uk

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your comment...Love this post.x.