By Stefene Russell
Photograph courtesy of the Missouri Historical Society Photographs and Prints Collection
Used to be chefs didn’t think twice about patting marzipan latticework onto a cake with a Lucky Strike glued to their bottom lip with a bit of spit. Or stirring hefty chunks of Sno-Cap lard into frosting. Or putting more booze than fondant in the rum balls. This cheery fellow at the Sheraton-Jefferson hotel sure didn’t seem worried about the quality of his amuse-bouches, though his cabinetry looks awfully grubby and the cake was heading upstairs to the visiting Prince and Princess of Belgium. But he was accustomed to serving royalty: Every night, after her act at the Stardust Club, burlesque queen Evelyn West stopped by the hotel for coffee with her manager, Al. Though she jumped out of giant cakes rather than having them baked in her honor, Miss West dressed in tailored shirtwaists, sheath dresses, gloves and camel’s-hair coats like Princess Paola and Jackie O. If it seems people were more elegant back then despite the smoke and the liquor and the lard, maybe it’s because even the hoochie-coochie girls in pasteboard tiaras knew how to cop some dignity.