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Vintage Toronto Ads: Burlesque, Yonge Style

There used to be a sign above a video arcade that proclaimed “Yonge Street is Fun Street.” Back in the 1960s and 1970s, much of that fun was to be had at the many bars and clubs that lined the street south of Gerrard––Le Coq D’Or, Steele’s Tavern, Friar’s Tavern, Zanzibar Tavern and so on. Depending on the venue, you could listen to music, dance the night away or catch a striptease. Today’s advertiser combined all three.
By the early 1970s, the morality rules regulating the exotic dance industry weakened as old-style burlesque houses gave way to modern strip joints. Among the rules that had been in effect as recently as the mid-1960s:
• No touching of curtains, walls or proscenium.
• No lying down on the stage or runway.
• No bumping of props.
• No body movements that could suggest a simulated sex act to the audience.
• No running of any article of clothing between the legs.
Starvin’ Marvin’s appears to have combined the old and the new by the time of this ad––comedians continued to perform between dancers who bared more. By mid-decade the last of the old-style houses, the Victory on Spadina, had called it a day.
The stylized portrayal of the dancers fits the artwork of the era, even if one figure is quite politically incorrect. Based on figures published in the Toronto Star years later, the average dancer earned around $450 a week.
331 Yonge was also home to the Hawk’s Nest, a teen-oriented spinoff of its next-door neighbour, Le Coq D’Or. The club was named after Ronnie Hawkins, who had a hand in its operation. Hawkins used Le Coq D’Or as his base for most of the 1960s, with his backing bands a school for many Canadian musicians, notably The Band.
Painting a portrait of Yonge Street during the Christmas holidays in 1977, Globe and Mail columnist Dick Beddoes lamented the recent closing of Starvin’ Marvin’s:

Raunchy old Starvin Marvin’s, where ladies used to undress on cue and Ronnie Hawkins used to romp, is gone, replaced, f’r hevvin’s sake, by a wholesale house that offers radios, skis, hockey sticks, chain saws and can-openers. All that is left of Starvin’ Marvin’s, in fact, is a sign advising, KEEP COOL – WE’RE AIR CONDITIONED. As the year declines toward a melancholy end, many hunger for imagery, the warm glow if fire, a reassuring star of hope. Starvin’ Marvin is dead on crass old bawdy Yonge, but God is fairly alive.

The music lives on at the sites of Starvin’ Marvin’s and Le Coq D’Or, now home to HMV.
Source: Toronto Life, August 1971. Material also taken from Crisis at the Victory Burlesk by Robert Fulford (1968) and The Globe and Mail, December 19, 1977.


  • rek

    That ad is beautiful!

  • Adam Sobolak

    Rather paradoxically, it’s probably the least dated-looking entry in this vintage-Toronto-ad series–in spite of the fact that (or because?) it looks more like a mimeographed flyer than a magazine ad. The artistry almost suggests super-early Barbara Klunder, or something like it. (And other than her being black at all and stylized to boot, I can’t say how “politically incorrect” the black dancer is; or at least no more politically incorrect than the rest of the ad–that’s clearly lipstick, not “nigger lips”.)
    Come to think of it, maybe a gentrified return of something akin to the comedians-between-dancers routine suits our present age–or maybe it’s because that presumed Starvin’ Marvin depiction reminds me a little of Misha Glouberman…

  • Marc Lostracco

    The drawing of the black woman is reminiscent of the Golliwog and Jezebel caricatures. It’s not just the lips, but how the eyes, hair, earrings and “exotic” body stripes are drawn, which are characteristic of imagery from a racist past that many people find offensive.

  • Adam Sobolak

    Even accounting for the Golliwog/Jezebel thing, it’s borderline benign–at least, when viewed through a prism informed by anything from Tarantino to “South Park”. (Not that *those* are terribly “politically correct”, either; but there’s a benignness from being closer to our time…)

  • Bardo

    This is simply amazing! The Toronto of the 60′s and 70′s is one my favourite places and eras…Thanks for the morning smile.
    As well…makes me want to phone the number and ask for Starvin’ Marvin’:o)

  • Jamie Bradburn

    One of my big regrets is never writing down my father’s stories of late 1960s Toronto – he often mentioned going to see Bo Diddley at Le Coq D’Or and I’m sure I could have drawn a few more stories out of him of going to the various venues along Yonge (for example, I strongly suspect he saw Gordon Lightfoot at Steele’s Tavern).

  • Bardo

    I can definitely relate with that, Jamie – My brothers and sisters (who are older than me) all came to Toronto to live and work in the 70′s…I grew up in a small town on the myths and stories of that time and place.

  • ElleDriver

    Very beautiful work, indeed. (Especially since this was done in the pre-Photoshop/Illustrator days.) It just serves as a stark reminder to myself that I need to get away from the computer and start picking up a pencil more often.

  • cg

    At the age of 15, I went with some friends to the Victory Burlesque. As it was a ‘restricted’ show, 18 was the minimum age for admission but nobody ever asked for ID. For the price of admission, (75 cents? $1.25?) you’d see a few strippers, a comedian and a movie. I think that there was even a band in the orchestra pit.
    Eaton’s lingerie ads revealed almost as much as the strippers ever did. The comedian was Gene Taylor who went on to work at City-tv and the restricted movie was ‘A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum’.
    Pornography in Toronto ran rampant in 1966.

  • http://undefined DTD

    LOL…cg I was the same way. At 16 years old I lived in CFB Borden. A buddy and I would skip out of school and hitch-hike down to TO and spend the day on Younge St. The 70′s were an incredible time down there. It was a vibrant and wild street for a 16 yr old.
    Then we discovered Starvin’ Marvin’s. Well that was something else. We to were able to get in without showing our ID. What a great find for teenage boys. Soon after finding Starvin’ Marvin’s we discovered a place just upstairs from there that we figured was heaven. I think it was called the Orange Club or something like that. I could be way off base. Ladies all undressed in various degrees waiting to “look” after us. This was my first introduction to the massage parlor. Little did we know then that the ladies would have done more then just give us a massage. (wink wink nudge nudge). I am sure everytime we went there and then left the girls would sit around and have a great chuckle at us kids. It always amazed me that full grown beautiful ladies would take off their cloths for just me and all I had to do was give them $10.00. What a world!
    Later on I joined the military and a buddy and I went to visit Toronto and of course we just had to stop into Starvin’ Marvin’s. It was still a great place. Even the comedian was able to tell a couple of funny jokes.

  • http://undefined CaylaSilver

    R.I.P. ♥

  • Mike Austin

    Wow, do I ever remember those fantastic days on the Strip..I worked most of the cinemas I was that very last person who worked Victory Burlesque..My name is Mike Austin and should anybody read this and remember me way back then..please contact…

    • carol hunter

      How do i contact you mike austin. I would love to chat about the old days with you. leave your email address for me.. I remember you dated Tangerine. contact me at ….. its strawberry cher

    • Viktoria Mara

      HI , maybe you can help me… my mother used to dance at starvin marvins and other clubs in the mid 70′s . her stage name was Samantha Williams and her real name was Debbie Mutter She got pregnant ( with me ) during the year 74. She can’t remember the mans name but I have other details on his appearance, work, and character that I believe if I speak to the right people from the scene back then that I may be able to find out what my fathers name is.

      Apparently he really stood out in a crowd and knew everyone!

      any suggestions ?



  • Carol Hunter

    i remember you Mike.. its Strawberry Cher..
    Carol hunter…

  • Carol Hunter

    I hear Rummy Bishop Died. .Aug. 2012 He was 93 years. sad. Hope everything is good with you Mike Austin….. Strawberry cher…. Carol Hunter…