Burlesque Queen Rose La Rose and Her Toledo Ohio Theaters

Presenting the lovely Rose La Rose, “The Original TNT Girl”

If it wasn’t for the lovely Rose La Rose, this blog wouldn’t exist.

Rose La Rose owned two Burlesque theaters in Toledo, Ohio. First, the Esquire, and then the Town Hall, and fortunately for us all she had the foresight to save all the promo pix from nearly all the girls who performed on her stages over the years.

And I was lucky enough to acquire most of that photo archive — going through those boxes was as much fun as opening Christmas presents. “Thanks a million, Rose!”

  • Rose’s promo flyer from when she performed at the Folly Theater (Kansas City, MO ) in 1956.
  • The Folly Theatre website once wrote about Rose’s performances:
  • “Traditionally, burlesque houses kept a red light in the footlights to advise their dancers of a censor’s presence in the house. If things were taken too far, the theater was raided and the exotic dancers arrested for indecency. The Folly Burlesque was raided on and off for years. Favored talent Rose La Rose was continually arrested around the country because she took the red light as her personal cue to take things too far.”
The Boston police Vice Squad officers went to the Old Howard in 1953 to film the performances of 3 strippers. The ensuing case led to the closing of the Old Howard forever.  From the Boston Globe on November 9, 1953: 
“Fined yesterday were Rose La Rose, Mary Goodneighbor, known as Irma the Body, Marion Russell [pictured at their arraignment] and managers Frank Engel of the Casino and Max Michaels of the Old Howard.” [Source]

  • Rose performed in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. She had some great costumes.
  • This book, Big Town, Big Time By Daily News Books, Jay Maeder [scroll down to chapter 72] mentions one of Rose’s costumes in particular:
  • She had a special TRICK DRESS that she wore when she sang ‘Who Will Kiss My Oo-La-La?!‘, that exposed some of her “Oo-la-la”. She’d dance, frequently slapping her “oo la la” (fanny).
  • And here it is:

  • Rose doing a commercial/promo for Pepsi Cola.

  • A 1945 magazine ad for Kools cigarettes even used her name. [Source

Rose signed this to William Travilla, who designed some of her costumes.


Rose’s Esquire Theater, 1968
After her Town Hall theater was shut down as part of Toledo’s urban renewal project, Rose bought the Esquire Theater in 1968. She still ran live shows for a while, then added in X-rated movies, and eventually switched to movies full time. That was the way it was for the live burlesque business everywher at the time. Rose passed away soon after.
Lou Hebert writes:

When the legendary venue [the Town Hall] was reduced to remembrance, the theatre’s long time owner, the famous and formidable burlesque queen, Rose la Rose was heartbroken and angry.
She fought the move, but lost.  City fathers in Toledo even tried to pass a law outlawing burlesque throughout the entire city in an effort to stop Rose from opening the old Esquire Theatre at Superior and Jefferson as a replacement to the Town Hall.   

A federal judge, however, intervened and ruled against the city; but while Rose La Rose won the battle, she lost the war.  By the time she was able to reopen burlesque theatre in Toledo under the Esquire marquee, its magic was fading quickly. 

This “innocent” brand of sexually suggestive show business had become too mild and hokey for the times. 

 Rose la Rose tried to keep it on life support, but finally, even she yielded to the pressure of the times and began running x-rated movies with a mix of live performances at the Esquire.   

It was too little, too late. The concept soon died, and so too did Rose la Rose. In 1972,  Rosina DePella, aka Rose La Rose, died of cancer at the age of 53. Her 16 year run in Toledo was finally over. [Source]

For Whom the Bell Tolls — It Tolls for Live Burlesque

Rose La Rose has been blamed with sounding the death knell for live Burlesque theaters. She had a good business idea, shared it with some film makers – gratis – who ran with it — all the way to the bank!

You can read all about those short naughty films in the book, The Other Hollywood.  [Screen shot above has the entire Rose La Rose reference.]

Rose’s Early Career

Rose was in Wages of Sin, a short stag film or ‘midway loop’.

Rose la Rose was a performer at Minsky’s along with Gypsy Rose Lee. Miss La Rose has an uncredited role as a stripper in the Herman E. Webbe directed The Wages of Sin (1938) about an impoverished young woman forced into prostitution, with a cameo for sexploitation mini-mogul Louis S. Sonney.”

Video Clip here.

…and Introducing Rose La Rose

Rose La Rose has a supporting role in Sam Newfield’s Queen of Burlesque (1946), which includes a murder mystery involving lesbianism. Rose played Blossom Terrain, a burlesque dancer trying to reclaim her headlining status. [Full synopsis]

When asked why she got in the business as a teenager (she lied about her age, of course), Rose said, “I didn’t want to stand behind a counter & serve people.”
She eventually owned a veritable chain of burlesque theaters in Toledo, Ohio, & made extra on the side teaching housewives how to strip for their husbands.
She became (according to Walter Winchell) the highest paid stripper in America.

In a Virginian-Pilot newspaper article about the Gaiety Theatre in Norfolk, VA, they quote an even earlier 1950 article: “It might be that she has a tantalizing technique for taking off her clothes. And it might be the frenetic unrestraint that characterizes her performance, the daring she mixes with little touches of humor. Whatever it is, she’s got it.”

Rose La Rose as a blonde, doing her Leda the Swan routine. [Source]

Rose with an armful of kittens, 1940s, backstage at the Old Howard Theater, Boston. [Source] 
  • This Time Magazine article from 1970  titled Show Business: Grinding to a Halt [subscription req’d. to read] tells of Rose’s last performance:
  • Fiftyish but still game… persuaded Rose La Rose to come out of retirement… Rose held court in a silver gown, signed men’s shirttails with “Teasingly Yours, Rose La Rose” …”
  • Just who were her 3 husbands? 

 “She was no crooner…one review in 1950 said her “sultry contralto” was her least attractive feature.  That means her voice likely ranged from the G below middle C (G3) to the G two octaves above middle C (G5).   Which translates to “shut up and dance” unfortunately.”

Here’s some biographical info about Rose:

  • Born 1919, NY — Rosina Dapello – left school at 15 – worked as cashier at Minsky’s Theatre – lied about her age to start performing…
  • …they gave her stage name of Rose La Rose – she didn’t like it, but it stuck – (she tried to switch to Connie Rae, but word got out she was really Rose, and audiences flocked to the theatre) – had name legally changed…
  • …was 1st striptease dancer to make more than $2000 a week — good with money – 1958 bought Town Hall in Toledo…
  • …In 1968 the city closed the theater (urban renewal), so she bought the Esquire Theater and continued there.
  • …Sadly, Rose passed away from cancer in July 1972, at only 53 years old.
A final tribute to Rose on the marquee of Rose’s 2nd theater, the Esquire (Torn down in 2007) [Photo Source] [More Esquire history here.]

Rose La Rose’s Final Curtain Call

  • Obituary link — Toledo Blade – Jul 28, 1972 — (same as below – click image to read)

Rose performing at a 1971 charity event in Toledo, OH, accompanied the announcement of Rose’s death from cancer, on 27 July 1972, in Toledo area newspapers. [Source]

Town Hall Theater auction, May 4, 1968 [Source]
  • Lou Hebert wrote his memories of going to Rose’s Town Hall Theater in his 1960s youth. [Read it here.] He ends with this comment:
The research for this story took me to a Toledo Blade story from 1968 that told of a big auction that Rose was holding to sell off the memorabilia from the old Town Hall just weeks before the wrecking ball took center stage. The sale included photos of the many dancers who performed there, posters, lights, fixtures, unclaimed trunks of performers’ costumes, plus some unique artwork that adorned the exterior and lobby of the theatre. Rose La Rose even sold off three trunk loads of her personal costumes from her early days on the bump and grind circuit.  The theatre seats themselves were sold to the highest bidders. The auction was held in May of 1968 — and I now wonder what ever happened to these pieces of Toledo’s past. In what basement, or garage or warehouse are these artifacts gathering dust or conversation?  
So, apparently the photo collection I acquired must have come from the estate of the person who bought the photos at the aforementioned auction. Rose’s obituary mentions her theater manager Bill Smith. It was my understanding that my collection came from his heirs. Perhaps Bill was the one bidding at Rose’s auction.
Looks like the home decor described in the above obit.

Rose La Rose ~ Shake Dancer and Burlesque Queen Fight Over Name – Jet Magazine, June 16, 1955 [Source]

There is and was ever only ONE true Rose La Rose! Vive La Rose!

Bonus – listen to a snippet of the Miller Brothers Band’s tune, Rose La Rose (Down Toledo Way) here. From Detroit, a trip to Rose’s theater was a right of passage when they were teenagers, as it was for 1,000s of young men!