Born Willis Marie Van Schrach in Minnesota in 1918, Lili St. Cyr (pronounced Sear) took her stage name from French aristocracy. Trained in dance from an early age, Lili began her dancing career in a chorus line in Hollywood, California. Her stripping career started two years later, but did not go well initially. Her producer, however, had faith in her dance ability and her beauty, and together with Lili came up with a number of unusual dance routines, some of which were called, “The Wolf Woman,” “Afternoon of a Faun,” “The Chinese Virgin,” and “Jungle Goddess.” Lili St. Cyr was soon known throughout North America, and played in Montreal, Canada, for some time. She was eventually accused of indecency by a local religious group, but was found innocent. Through the 1940s and most of the 1950s, St. Cyr and Gypsy Rose Lee were two of the most recognized strippers in the country.
Lili also became quite well-known as a pin-up model, and appeared in a number of films between 1952 and 1962. Most of these flicks were fetish oriented, showing Lili dancing in skimpy outfits, and at least two of them were produced by Irving Klaw. She did, however, have minor roles in the movies, “The Naked and the Dead,” and “I, Mobster,” but was always cast as a dancer or a stripper.
After Lili retired from the stage she started a lingerie business, which sold costumes for dancers and playful (and sexy) lingerie for everyday women.
Although Lili was married six times, she never had any children, and St. Cyr spent her final years in obscurity and seclusion, where she tended to her many cats. She died in January, 1999, in Los Angeles, California.
Aside from her line of lingerie (Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, started her television career wearing a Lili St. Cyr Deep Plunge Bra), Lili is remembered in a 1975 song from the movie, “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” During the opening credits in the song, “Don’t Dream It,” the singer states ‘God bless Lili St. Cyr!”