THE LIVING ARTIST originals PRESENTs
Lynne O'Neill was born Elaine Jose Nolan in Baltimore, Maryland, on March 8, 1918. Her father, Allan Nolan, was a house painter, and her mother Josephine, a cafeteria waitress. The Nolan family moved to Evanston, Illinois, where they lived on Elmwood Avenue and later on 522 Lee Street during the 1930s. O'Neill attended Evanston Township High School and graduated in June, 1935. Beginning at an early age she attended dance classes, particularly ballet, which she kept up after graduating from high school. During World War II O'Neill toured several Midwestern states as an entertainer for the United Service Organizations (USO). After the war, in June, 1947, she matriculated to Northwestern University's School of Speech Summer Session. In the following years she continued performing as a model and stage performer.
Under her stage name, O'Neill began to work as a burlesque dancer in Chicago. Her mother, who accompanied her to her shows, apparently had an idea for the gimmick that would advance O'Neill's career. At her mother's suggestion, O'Neill began to emphasize her garters, while performing. At the end of her shows, O'Neill would bestow garters to selected members of her audience. This act became a signature routine, and she styled herself as Lynne O'Neill, "The Original Garter Girl."
In the following years O'Neill traveled throughout the United States and to Mexico, where she refined her burlesque acts and had minor roles and skits in musicals, movie shorts, and in radio shows. In the 1950's she moved to Lynbrook, New York, initiating a particularly busy period of her career. In March, 1960, O'Neill was arrested in her home and accused of possessing nude photographs of herself and distributing them through the mail. She was convicted and served four days of a 10-day jail sentence. For a while she worked with Barbara Nichols, a fellow burlesque performer and model, and had a role in the movie Secrets of an Uncover Model (1965). By the late 1960s, O'Neill had become a regular contributor to the risqué men's magazine "Man to Man". Her column, called "Burlesque Backstage," chronicled her experiences in the profession. Those columns often ended with entreaties to fans, particularly soldiers serving in the Vietnam War, to write her letters. Many took her up on that suggestion. She made a point of responding to her correspondents, and included photographs of herself in her replies.
The popularity of burlesque declined in the 1970s, and O'Neill's long career as a performer and chronicler of burlesque ended at around the same time. In 1967 O'Neill was divorced. In 1972 she and her widowed mother, Josephine, moved to Hempstead, New York, and opened their own real estate brokerage office, covering both commercial and residential sales and rentals throughout Nassau County. O'Neill, working under her given name, Elaine Nolan, served on the board of the Hempstead Chamber of Commerce and was the president of the Country Club Estates Civic Association, a member of the Nassau County Historical Society, the Hofstra University Club, the Hempstead Historical Society, and a supporter of many animal, environmental, and veterans organizations. She died on August 5, 2010, in Hempstead, New York.