Tripping It

Lehighton (PA) Times News

February 17, 1970

An Orgy By Any Other Name

Last evening we traveled to what is fondly called “Sin City”—Reading, Penna.—to see the closed circuit coverage of the Frazier-Ellis championship fight, and in the process we saw documentary evidence that vaudeville and burlesque died from internal problems, rather than from the advent of the movies, the economic impracticality of staging live productions, or a shift in interest of the American public. (The high point of the evening, however, was the George Foreman-Gregorio Peralta fight.)

The Rajah Theatre at 126 N. 6th Street had billed the entire extravaganza as “The Boys’ Night Out.” Sounded like a real hell-raising, devil-may-care free-for-all type thing, right? Something like the old college smoker, or the bachelor party, or the local social club’s stag party, only on a really huge scale, right? They were even advertising that they were going to give away free cigars, and for a gigantic smoker, what could be better? And an hour-long burlesque show before the Foreman fight, too. Terrific, huh? And in Reading, which has always been reputed to be a sin capital of the Western World, right? Sounds like the perfect combination for Sodom and Gomorrah, or for New Orleans at Mardi Gras time, or for Montreal’s St. Catherine Street. Don’t bet your proverbial bippy, though, ’cause we know that the times, they are a-changin’.

First of all, you know there was something fishy going on, and that there was going to be a crimp in the evening’s festivities when you walked in, they handed you a big, fat, smelly-looking cigar, and you had to deposit it in your pocket because there were signs all around saying NO SMOKING, and there were announcements over the PA system every ten minutes to the effect that there would be no smoking allowed in the theatre, and if you were caught you would be asked to leave and your money would not be refunded. So chalk off the cigar-smoking phase of the orgy.

In order to get a better view of the proceedings, we made our way to the balcony where, if you were a mountain climber, you could get a seat that made you have the distinct impression that you were leaning over the row in front of you, and if you let go of your seat you would go tumbling down onto the seats thirty feet below. There wasn’t a lot of time wasted waiting around for evil things to happen to you and your friends in this arrangement, though, as somehow one of the planners of the gala event had fouled up and put seven heavies in a balcony box over on the left side, each weighing in between 300 and 400 pounds, and you could spend the half-hour before the show started by taking bets on how long the balcony was going to hold up under their combined weight.

For an added treat (no doubt thrown in free) you were entertained by a testing tape for the audio set-up of the closed circuit system that informed you that “This is a test of the Heavyweight Championship Closed Circuit Network. We will now play a recording of 1,000 decibels, so that you can set your…” What came out was a highly amplified ear test that sent waves of sound up your spinal cord that centered on your heart, where you enjoyed thirty seconds of cardiac arrest. Actually, it was probably a lot safer for your health than smoking the old smelly cigar, anyway.

Next, the burlesque show. Da-da! The announcer intoned the standard “Show time!” through the PA system and told you something about these two brothers who were going to entertain you, and how they were direct from the “Merv Griffith Show,” although they didn’t specify what year’s show. OK, so the two fellows come out, do some soft shoe, some tap dancing, and some second-rate acrobatics, with the skinny guy (who looks like hell in his ill-fitting double-breasted dinner jacket) being the fall guy, and the audience waiting for a line to the effect of “Hey, Joe, why’d the chicken cross the road?” Foiled! They didn’t do that one, but they did do, “Fred, Fred, I can’t see.” “Why?” “’Cause I got my eyes closed.” The jokes coming from the audience were the highlights of the act.

Immediately following the routine, they brought on a stripper who was about 20 pounds this side of Bruno Sammartino, and who someone in the next row assured us was a guy doing an impersonation: “No girl I’ve ever known has calves like that,” was the comment. He was wrong, I guess, because after three numbers the person down there in the dim lights (they billed her as Barbara Lyn) proved that she was indeed a she.

The brothers came back on then with a comedy routine on boxing, with some jokes that ranked far inferior to those used in the old college smokers, and executed about half as well. They than brought the next stripper on, who was billed simply as “Venus.” If you squinted a bit through the bad lighting, however, you could see a remarkable resemblance to Barbara Lyn, and it was whispered in some circles that, yes, this was indeed Barbara Lyn with a wig, because who else was built so well that she would make a lady wrestler quake in fright? After five numbers, she was done and the boys were back, with more bad jokes, and then it was time for Barbara Lyn again, although she didn’t really have to bother coming back again, although it was nice to see her once more with her own hair. The brothers were back yet again and then, reaching for laughs that were unavailable, finally gave up and came right out and asked for them, claiming that they had worked hard to earn them. We knew, though, that they hadn’t worked as hard as we had putting up with them.

We waited an hour while they pumped canned music into the theatre, toying with our cigars, anxious to get outside after the production was over so we could smoke them, and finally they had the closed circuit screen set up and we were at ringside. We were where the action was, as George Foreman and Gregorio Peralta had at each other in one of the best fights in years. The fight was right up there with the greats, and the house went wild. Because hell, that’s what we were there for anyway, wasn’t it?