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Collection Highlight: Thunderbird Hotel Records, by Dallas Reiber

By Cyndi Shein on September 2, 2014 3:36 PM | Permalink

Thinderbird Hotel Records, promotional material

The Thunderbird Hotel Records (MS-00180) are comprised of material that documents the work of this Las Vegas, Nevada hotel's entertainment department from 1964 to 1973. The records consist of photographs, memos, newspaper clippings, and publicity materials. The hotel hosted many entertainment acts that included showgirls, whose costumes exposed various amounts of skin. As I went through the nine boxes of records, I found many interesting images related to showgirls.

The Thunderbird Hotel records include material from the 1960s and 1970s that use terminology that reflects the times. The words used to describe the showgirls interested me because it's not typical today. Instead of referring to the performers as “women,” some of the documents refer to them as “dames.” I particularly noticed the set designs for a production called "Fun & Dames."  This terminology objectifies women and seems politically incorrect by today's standard.

The body types of the women in the photos also caught my attention because they are different from the current ideal of female beauty. The showgirls in the Thunderbird photographs are soft, curvy, and alluring. They are posed together, looking confident and proud of their skill and performance. They have natural bodies and their only augmentation is makeup with false eyelashes. Today showgirls and performers are more muscular, thinner, and convey an assertive sexuality, leaving much less to the imagination. The performers at the Thunderbird appear more feminine and lady-like than the showgirls of today. This collection not only documents the activities of the Thunderbird Hotel, it also reveals how our culture's vocabulary and attitude toward the female body have shifted somewhat over time. It also demonstrates some change in what it means to be a showgirl now compared to forty years ago.

Dallas Reiber recently earned bachelors degrees in film and in history from UNLV and is currently a collections assistant with the UNLV Special Collections Division