Taxi Dancers by Eve Linkletter (Fabian Books Z120, 1958)

Who was Eve Linkletter? We cannot seem to find any info on her and if anyone knows, please do drop a line.

It does not seem she was a man writing under a female pen name.  One, Taxi Dancers has a womanly touch and understanding to it; two, other Fabian titles she did, Our Flesh was Cheap and The Gay Ones, sports back cover photos of the author, an attractive woman, so we see Fabian leading the way of author looks marketing before the NY trade houses did, starting with Truman Capote’s first novel…

Little has been written, in fiction and non-fiction, about the curious early 20th Century occupation of taxi dancing, the precursor of stripping and lap dancing.  According to a wikipedia entry, the taxi-dance hall

is a uniquely American institution that was first introduced in 1913 within San Francisco’s Barbary Coast neighborhood. At that time reform movements were shutting down many bordellos and red-light districts within America’s cities, and strength for Prohibition was gaining. In 1920, when the taxi-dance halls began to enter their steep upward climb to popularity, Prohibition was enacted and made serving alcohol in saloons, bars, and cafes illegal. The taxi-dance hall’s roots can be traced to a number of earlier dance establishments.

There was an early Chicago School of New Sociology study, Paul Cressey’s The Taxi-Dance Hall, started in 1925 and published in 1938, and June Miller worked as a taxi dancer, that Henry Miller wrote of in various books, most notably Sexus. At the end of Last Tango in Paris, we see Marlon Brando at a taxi dance palace (hence the double meaning of the title). In my ethnography, Zona Norte, I discuss the evolution of taxi dancing, and while it is no longer something you can find (in old form) in the U.S., it is still common in Mexixo, where women dance for a dollar or ten pesos per song, and get drinks and tips too.  (NOTE…Borgo Press will soon release a cheaper paperback edition of my dissertation on sex workers in Tijuana and San Diego.)

In Taxi Dancer, women get ten tickets per song, each ticket costing ten cents…they can also get drinks at the bar, and they can get tips from men.  Some meet the men outside the dance palace. The book mainly revolves around young Linda, who went to New York as a high school theatre star, knowing she would take Broadway by storm, and soon destitute and desperate for work…so like many young women in that era, being a call girl, streetwalker, or taxi dancer were quick options.  She is naive about what happens and what is expected at such an establishment.  She is lured in with the promise of making 100 bucks a week, which turns out to really be more like 30 or 50, unless she is willing to sell her body…

She meets all kinds of women at the palace, young and old alike, single mothers, alcoholics, down and out, weary, some married, some widows, some happy, many sad.  She meets the men who are regulars, that the women give nicknames to like, and Linkletter capitalizes,  THE HAIRPULLER, THE TURKEY, THE EAR KISSER, and so on.  Most are lonely older men in their 50s and 60s who do not stand a chance of meeting anyone for a real relationship.

The notion here in, in the 1930s or 1950s, is just to be physically close to a woman, for these men, even if it is just dancing, with some distance from the dies (there were moral cops at the time who made sure, early versions of bouncers)…a taxi dance palace, like a stripper bar, was a place a man knew he would not be rejected when asking a lady for a dance, the sort of ball busting ego shattering thing that can happen to a man at a regular dance club…or even a high school dance.

Cressey (1938) came up with this typology for the patrons of taxi-dance halls:

  • Racial or ethnic groups denied acceptance elsewhere.
  • Caucasian immigrants, frequently from a European country. Italians, Poles, Greeks, and Jews predominated.
  • Older men, approaching fifty, who want to rival younger men in courting young women. They were sometimes divorced, widowers, or deserters.
  • Married men whose marriages are suffering, seeking the clandestine adventures of the taxi-dance hall.
  • Lonely, isolated strangers who might be from a rural area or smaller city, and are new to the ways of the city.
  • The footloose globe trotter who has a very mobile lifestyle.
  • The slummer, men of higher incomes who wish to see how the other half lives.
  • Men who suffer from physical abnormalities or disabilities.
  • The fugitive, someone who might have a criminal background or suffers from local condemnation.

Cressy goes on to describes the male patrons of taxi-dance halls as being a varied and occasionally motley crew:

“Young men and boisterous youths… gray-haired men in their sixties… brown skinned Filipinos… Chinese waiters… pudgy men of forty or fifty who dance awkwardly… rough and ready fellows who seem unable to assimilate completely some of the modes of city life… a few spectacled well groomed middle-aged men who move quietly, politely… and finally, there are a few men, handicapped by physical disabilities, for whom the taxi dancer’s obligation to accept all-comers makes the establishment a haven of refuge. The dwarfed, maimed, and pock-marked all find social acceptance here; and together with the other variegated types they make of the institution a picturesque and rather pathetic revelation of human nature and city life…

Linda pretty much meets all these kind of men as she gets her feet wet in the occupation.  She roommates with Cora, a veteran of the dance club, who is waiting for her solider boy who went to Korea. Thing is, she is three months pregnant and when she writes him, he breaks up with her, says the baby is not his.  So she goes to get a backroom illegal abortion which, as it happens in many of these books, gets bocthed, and Cora hemmroages and dies in the hospital.  It is a wake up call to the ugly reality of sexual consequences for Linda.

And then another dancer, Mildred, gets murdered by one of the patrons, showing us that the job is just as risky as being a prostitute…you never know when these lonely men might snap in the face of rejection or shattered dreams of love, marriage, etc.

Did Eve Linkletter work as a taxi dancer? The book reads with a flair of authenticty…Linkletter knows this world well. It also gets sensational now and then, like the end of chapters, which sound like a slug line for a movie: “The usual routine had began, and business was ready to operate for another night at the DANCE PALACE!!!” (p. 18)

Many Fabian titles broke what was taboo in bigger New York publishing, containing elements Beacon, Gold Medal, or Nightstand would not print, or edit out.  For instance, in Orrie Hitt´s one title for them, Love Princess, he deals with incest between a stepfather and a daughter. Taxi Dancer has no sex in it but sex is implied, talked about, remembered, and taken casually by some, making this lurid enough to get the censors’ feathers all fluffy.

Whats interesting about many Fabian or Saber Books is the stuff found in the back pages, often little rants about the First Amendment. In this one, a page is devoted to Fabian’s victory in a recent court case, headlined: JURY VOTES FOR FABIAN AND SABER.  An April, 1958 case

charged that eleven books published by Fabian and Saber were substantially beyond contemporary community standards and appealed to the prurient interests of an average normal person. Before going to trail, the Government dismissed its case as to eight of the books and the case went to the jury with the remaining three […] the jury acquitted as to the book “Rambling Maids” and voted nine-to-three as to “The Strange Three” and “Turbulent Daughters.”

Later, publisher Sanford Aday was found guilty of obscenity for publishing Sex Life of a Cop, but it was later overturned by the Supreme Court.

Amazing when you think this shit was happening in America not that long ago…and could it happen again?  There are groups who would like that…hell, in Canada, if you write or publish, or even own, books or texts with certain “taboo elements,” you can find yourself arrested by the Royal Mounties.

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