Don’t take my word for. Here’s how Booklist is raving about Goddess of Love Incarnate: The Life of Stripteuse Lili St. Cyr, a new biography written by Montecito resident Leslie Zemeckis: “With tireless detail, Zemeckis brings an enigmatic and forgotten star back in the limelight and raises tough questions about beauty, sex, womanhood, and success in this fascinating, lavishly (and racily) illustrated biography.”
Before writing this book, Leslie had already made a name for herself as an expert in early forms of American entertainment, including making the award-winning documentaries Behind the Burly Q (about burlesque shows) and Bound by Flesh, which vividly explored the lives of sideshow “freaks” Daisy and Violet Hilton, who were conjoined twins. Through her comprehensive work in both books and film, Leslie restores these forgotten entertainers to their rightful place in history. She humanizes them and, in the case of St. Cyr, shows us her complexity and intelligence. The Los Angeles Times picked Goddess of Love Incarnate as one of their top holiday books of 2015.
Leslie herself is bigger than life, as entertaining, fascinating, and intriguing as the characters she champions and documents. Her daily Instagram posts are addictive. When I ran into common friend Lisa Loiacono and told her I was writing about Leslie, she told me, “Leslie is a unique and talented woman who inspires me to be strong, smart, and bold!”
Here, Leslie answers the Proust Questionnaire.
What is the quality you most like in people?
Extravagance; the ability to tell a witty story while being impeccably, eccentrically dressed.
What do you most value in friends?
The neverending stream of skeletons in their closets equaled by their vast and various shoe collections.
What do you like most about your job?
Meeting strangers and having them tell me colorful bits about their past, including often times a prolific sex life. The sharing of stories, trust, and hearts. Interviewing others retains my belief that “people are really good at heart.”
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
A full glass of champagne, a riveting book, and flamingos in the yard.
What is your greatest fear?
Spiders and the fear I’ll lose my ability to perform a perfect cartwheel.
Who do you most admire?
Scarlett O’Hara because of her 18-inch waist, she could make a dress out of curtains, and her ability to put things off until tomorrow.
What is your greatest extravagance?
Leopard print. From lingerie to duct tape and all points in between. Jackie Collins claimed it was her greatest “weakness,” but I claim it’s my greatest strength.
What is your current state of mind?
Delirious. Either from lack of sleep, too much holiday cheer, or simply from the little people in my house who put their arms around me on a regular basis and tell me they love me.
What is the quality you most dislike in people?
Lack of grooming. And the inability to let others choose who they want to love and marry.
What is your most marked characteristic?
Wearing fascinators and flamingo feathers.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
Ones that can’t be repeated in front of children, the elderly, and the Pope.
Which talent would you most like to have?
The ability to sing the blues with a buttery voice and wear a 1920s beaded skull cap without looking like I just escaped from an institution.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
My address. And as often as possible.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
My one-woman show where I sing, dance, and strip in front of gorgeous, muscle-bound dancing boys in attendance (even though I can neither sing nor dance and am petrified of performing solo).
Where would you most like to live?
Where I live, Italy, Santa Barbara, and Chicago. Each holds a little piece of my heart.
What is your most treasured possession?
Gypsy Rose Lee’s gold initialed commode (that once concealed the “throne” her highness sat on in her bathroom).
Who makes you laugh the most?
Several rather elderly lady friends who regale me with stories about past lovers and life on and off the burlesque stage. One 97-year-old dancer told me, “I should have been a stripper. I would have made a hell of a lot of money.” I fear I know what she means.
What is your motto?
Diamonds are a girl’s best friend.
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
Bette Davis who said, “From the moment I was six I felt sexy. And let me tell you it was hell, sheer hell, waiting to do something about it.”
On what occasion do you lie?
You mean I need an occasion?