Saturday, June 11, 2022


By Delilah Jones (aka Doris Gohlke)

Book Review

Born in Germany during the height of World War Two, Doris Gohlke survived the horrors of allied bombing raids, and the complete annihilation of her childhood home, to find success in America as one of the most popular, and most photographed, pin-up models of the 1950s, posing for such acclaimed glamour photographers as Keith Bernard (of Bernard of Hollywood) and Russ Meyer (director of Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! and Beyond the Valley of the Dolls). A statuesque brunette with a genuine, infectious smile, dark eyes that could be both playfully innocent or temptingly wicked, and an exotic presence borne from her European background, it is not hard to understand why Gohlke was such an in-demand model for magazines like Modern Man, Satana, Knight, Now, and Adam.

After featuring in over 75 different men’s magazine pictorials (including 25 covers and nearly as many centerfold features), Gohlke would then reinvent herself as burlesque dancer Delilah Jones, performing at nightclubs, strip joints, and casinos throughout the 1960s and 70s, with extended engagements in Hollywood (including at the famous Pink Pussycat), Las Vegas, and Mexico City. Working the clubs alongside such burlesque legends as Candy Barr, Tempest Storm, Tura Satana, Kitten Natividad, and many more, Gohlke also appeared in several films during the sixties, including the cult nudie exploitation movies Not Tonight Henry (1960) and The Touchables (1961). After retiring from the stage in 1980, she spent some time managing the legendary Palomino Club in Las Vegas.

In her recent book, My Life Without Regret, Doris Gohlke presents us with not just a wonderful visual scrapbook of her amazing career, but also delivers a candid oral account of her life story, which is engrossing and never less than fascinating, and at certain points quite harrowing. There isn’t a lot of structure to the narrative of the book, with it coming off more like a free-form, stream-of-consciousness, extended spoken word piece. As stated in the foreword, Gohlke insisted upon this approach for the book, with her words being left exactly as is, save for any grammar or spelling corrections. But it does flow in chronological order, and the style of the narrative does lend a unique tone to the book, and actually serves it quite well, allowing Gohlke’s personality to come through and really guide the reader on their journey into her world. The writing style also makes it a lot more personal and intimate, with the reader feeling at times like they are peeking inside a private diary, where no secrets have been hidden and every experience, good and bad, has contributed to Gohlke's personal strength and appreciation of life.

At over 200 trade paperback pages, My Life Without Regret is heavily illustrated with many wonderful black & white photographs, both candid and professional, taken of Gohlke throughout her life. While it is wonderful to see the photographs of her on stage performing, and those taken by professional photographers for magazine covers and layouts, it is the more spontaneous and candid photos, snapped in cramped backstage dressing rooms and on various vacations and road trips across America, which are the most fascinating, capturing their moments in time with a simple authenticity that makes the era seem so alive and palpable. It provides a remarkable social document for that reason alone, regardless of the subject.

My Life Without Regret is an essential read for anyone interested in the history of American burlesque, or for those who enjoy reading about the more shadowy netherworlds of vintage showbiz (and the colorful characters who populated them). It's a celebration of a life being lived to the full, and as the title implies, lived without regret. You can purchase signed copies of the book, as well as autographed photos of Doris/Delilah, by visiting her online store at the link below. Now a Burlesque Hall of Famer, Doris Gohlke also has a very active Facebook page, where she shares many of her vintage photos, including some from this book (and in color, when available). Although, many of her photos have to be censored for Facebook, which in the book they are not.

Copyright John Harrison 2022