Hinda Wausau (1906–1980) aka Hinda Wassau, Hinda Wasau, or Hindu Wausau, was a star stripteaser in burlesque. She claimed, and has been credited with, inadvertently inventing the striptease around 1928 at either the Haymarket or State-Congress Theater in Chicago when her costume started coming off during a shimmy dance. (Other performers have made similar claims and have also been credited.)
Wausau was born in Milwaukee and took her stage name from nearby Wausau, Wisconsin. She began dancing in burlesque as a chorus girl in the 1924 Columbia burlesque show "Town Scandals". Two years later Wausau was a featured dancer in the Mutual Burlesque show "Jazztime Revue" along with Ann Corio.
On March 1, 1927 Wausau was arrested by a police woman for "immoral dancing" at the Empress Theater in Milwaukee. Wausau's costume, a flesh-colored bathing suit, had been approved by censors earlier; it was her suggestive gyrations that led to the arrest. The publicity resulted in packed theaters. By the time her case came up in court, Wassau was performing in another city. She was fined $50, which was paid by the management of the Empress.
In 1928 Wausau and Corio each headed their own shows on the Mutual circuit: Wausau had "The Hindu Belles," and Corio had "The Girls in Blue." They each toured for years.
In 1932 Wausau became the first burlesque dancer to perform at the Publix Theater, a Paramount Studios house, in Minneapolis. She briefly returned to burlesque where Variety noted, "...she stands out in burlesk as the one gal who can satisfy a mob without getting down to the last ribbon. More than ever she's insisting on keeping her clothes on." She was signed by Billy Rose for his revue which showcased Eleanor Powell and Hal Le Roy. Premiering in late July 1932, Wausau was described by Rose as "the best cooch dancer since Gilda Gray first startled the public."
In the early 1930s Wausau appeared in Minsky's burlesque shows, the Chicago World's Fair, and nightclubs, including Billy Rose's Casino de Paree and Leon & Eddie's. She frequently performed to sell-out burlesque crowds in Minneapolis and at the Gayety in Washington, D.C. throughout the decade. Ahead of a 1939 appearance at the Gayety, the Washington D.C. Evening Star gushed, "All is happy and gay upon Ninth Street, for Hinda Wassau has come to town again. So for a week now the Gayety will be packed to its revered rafters by the citizens who would look upon Hinda, the inimitable; Wassau, the one and only. She is magnificent, this girl; there is no getting around the fact. For the record it might be again noted that she is still wild as ever and unrestrained; in fact, probably the least restrained of anybody in her business, which may or may not be saying a lot. Anyhow you practically have to see Hinda Wassau before your education is complete, and here she is."
Ann Corio once described Wausau's act: "Hinda was the first stripper to expose the bosom. She wore a negligee — sheer top — the waist to the floor made of chiffon petals. She'd tease with the negligee — put it on backwards so the outline of her bosom was even more clearly seen through the material. This was even sexier than exposing herself completely, as any striptease star can tell you. At the finish of her act she'd give the boys a quick flash — that ultimate revelation of the bosom in an instant which leaves the audience wondering if it was a dream."
Wausau's act was recalled by essayist James M. Merritt in a 1994 piece for the Baltimore Sun: "However, one of the ecdysiasts approached her work differently. Her name was Hinda Wasau [sic], and when she came on, the curtain was raised because she was going to need the whole stage. She strode about laughing lustily while unhooking the integral parts of her costume and tossing them away contemptuously. The joie de vivre she exuded was contagious. Suddenly, she would stop, spread her legs and, with her back to the audience, clasp her hands behind her flaming red hair. She would then palpitate her cheeks, singly or in unison, in perfect time with the orchestra's martial tempo. From these descriptions, it should be clear that I approached these exhibitions with the objective attitude of an art critic called to judge a recently discovered cache of nudes by Rubens. How else can I explain the ringing in my ears every time I think of Hinda's act? I firmly believe the great state of Wisconsin named a town and its insurance company after its favorite daughter."
Walter Cronkite said that one of his most memorable interviews was with Hinda. When he asked her about the role of burlesque in boosting wartime morale, Wassau grabbed him by the lapels. "Let me tell you something," she snarled at the shaken Cronkite. "The morals behind a burlesque stage are just as good as the morals at Radio City."
Wausau was active in burlesque into the early 1950s.
She was tested several times for Hollywood film contracts, but to no resulting roles. Wausau was considered for the role of Sadie Thompson in a revival of Rain at a Rochester, New York stock theater in June 1940. The character was made famous by Jeanne Eagels in the 1920s.
Wausau was managed by Rube Bernstein (1883-1954), who became her first husband circa 1930. He was 23 years her senior. Wausau was planning a divorce in February 1941 but they were still married a year later. Bernstein was also Ann Corio's manager until Corio discovered that Wausau was getting better breaks and dancing at a competitor club. Corio, who had moved from burlesque to vaudeville and was heading a troupe at Fay's Theater in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, fired Bernstein.
- Corio, Ann and Joseph DiMona. "This Was Burlesque." New York: Castle Books. 1968.
- "Origins of Burlesque." Jack O'Brian. Asbury Park Press. 23 Nov 1987.
- The Billboard. Oct 25, 1924. Page 16.
- "Theater Raids in Milwaukee." Variety. Mar 2, 1927.
- "Mil. Cleans Up Stock; Fines Shimmy Dancer $50." Variety. Apr 13, 1927.
- Palace, Baltimore. Variety. Sep 20, 1932.
- "Repertory Company to Be Formed For Winter By Katharine Cornell", Oakland Tribune, July 24, 1932, Page 15
- The Evening Star, Washington D.C., Jan. 9, 1939, p. 32.
- Merritt, James M. "The Block: Hey, what a heyday!" Baltimore Evening Sun. 18 Jan 1994.
- Burris, Camellia (17 July 2009). "Cronkite set standard for news anchors around the world". McClatchy Washington Bureau. Retrieved 25 June 2023.
- "Hollywood Goes in for the Strip-Tease---But in a Perfectly Nice Way", Ogden, Utah Standard-Examiner, June 20, 1937, Page 24.
- "Walter Winchell On Broadway", Burlington, North Carolina Daily Times-News, June 15, 1940, Page 4.
- "Walter Winchell", Port Arthur, Texas News, February 28, 1941, Page 18.
- "Theater Topics", Nebraska State Journal, April 24, 1938, Page 37.
- Hinda Wausau at Depaul University website