Thursday, December 06, 2012

The day Zorita and her snake slowed traffic to a crawl in downtown Miami

Miami Daily News, Feb. 22, 1939.

Wednesday, Feb. 22, 1939: A 21 year-old exotic dancer named "Zorita" takes her snake for a noon-time stroll on busy Flagler Street in downtown Miami.

A large crowd gathers to watch the spectacle, spilling into the street. Traffic soon slows to a crawl.

The cops are called and Zorita and her snake are on their way to police department.

"The only way we could disperse the crowd and free traffic from a snarl was to bring her and the snake in," one of the cops told his bosses.

The Miami Daily News quotes a few veteran cops as saying, "The whole thing smacks of a publicity gag."

Publicity? No way, says Zorita, "We only were taking the morning breeze."

Two days later, this ad runs in the back pages of the Daily News.

Miami Daily News, Feb. 24, 1939.

That ad in the News was just the first of hundreds of ads for Zorita and her snake that would run in Miami newspapers over the next four decades.

Miami Daily News, May 27, 1955.

Miami News, Dec. 14, 1958.

Zorita died in 2001 at age 85.

From the Miami Herald, Nov. 14, 2001:
Zorita started dancing professionally when she was 19.

Her daughter Tawny Petillo doesn't know where her mother got the name Zorita. "She told me a lot of stories, but she never told me that one. She liked to sound exotic," Petillo said. "All I know is it had a `Z' in it, and you could make it into a snake ."

In her signature, Zorita would put a little curve on the ``Z'' so it looked like the head of a snake with a little line, like a tongue, coming out of it.

"When she first started, she was on the road an awful lot. She did a lot of shows in Baltimore and Chicago, California, Panama and other places," Petillo said. "Once I arrived, she sort of settled into the Miami Beach area."

Zorita still traveled for some shows, but she was based in Dade County and danced at places like Miami's Gaiety Burlesque and Martha Raye's Five O'Clock Club before she opened her own nightclub, Zorita 's Show Bar, on Collins Avenue and 176th Street in Sunny Isles Beach in the 1960s.

Zorita wore long, sequined gowns and lush fur wraps as well as her boa constrictor wrapped around her body.

"She may have been an exotic dancer, but she was very, very classy," Petillo said.

And it seemed as if she was always on exhibit with her snake . Though people probably did not know she had two snakes , Oscar and Elmer, which she alternated in her routines. Zorita also had a snake handler that would care for and feed them.

A regular at Roberts Drugstore on Flagler Street in Riverside (now East Little Havana), she used to eat breakfast at 3 a.m. with her snake in a basket beside her. She fed it crumbs. She once walked the snake on a leash like a pet down Collins Avenue and was quickly arrested. It was what she wanted, her daughter said.

"She'd do almost anything for a little publicity," said Petillo. "She raised quite a few eyebrows."


  1. Zorita wasn't a stripper. That's far too vulgar a description of her work. She was an ecdysiast.

  2. Zorita was a great artist an I knew her well. I grew up with her an her daughter Twaney was my friend. Ron Cohen.

  3. My brother, myself and a friend "ran away" in 1974 to Miami Beach. We lived at the Argosy Motel on N. Collins. There was a little Italian Restaurant across the street next to Zoritas Show Bar. Because the Restaurant would serve me beer underage I went there alot. Zorita would often come in and make a fuss over me. Being 16 I never knew of her standing until seeing a Burlesque Special on HBO. What a Lady!


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