The image of the actress as prostitute has haunted the theatrical profession since women first went on the stage. This book explores the history of this connection both in the cultural imagination and in real life. It shows, through case studies of women working in Britain and the United States between the seventeenth and twentieth centuries, that some women have drawn on the dual tradition of 'whore' as radical and victim to carve out a space for female sexual agency. Female performers from Elizabeth Boutell and Charlotte Charke to Mae West redefined gender identity and appropriate female sexuality. Pullen integrates substantial archival research and interviews with working prostitutes with a consideration of feminist and cultural perspectives on the myth and reality of the actress/whore. This highly original study offers many insights to theatre historians and scholars of cultural, social and gender studies.
List of illustrations; 1. Prostitution, performance, and Mae West: speaking from the whore position; 2. Betty Boutell, 'Whom All the Town Fucks': constructing the actress/whore; 3. Memoir and masquerade: Charlotte Charke, Margaret Leeson, and eighteenth-century performances of self; 4. Burlesque, breeches, and blondes: illegitimate nineteenth-century cultural and theatrical performance; 5. 'We need status as actresses!': contemporary prostitution and performance; 6. Afterpiece: millennial prostitution; Bibliography; Index.