The Gypsy Centennial: in review (Seattle, January 8)
The frustrating part of being obsessed with an American burlesque icon- or any icon for that matter- is separating myth from unvarnished truth. Gypsy Rose Lee’s memoirs are standard curriculum for burlesque aficionados- treasured, but perhaps a bit embellished by their author. Certain details are the subject of debate even today. Similarly, Seattle producer The Swedish Housewife has made a career of a little old-fashioned button pushing; perhaps all the more reason why she masterminded a birthday homage to the complex star, minus the saccharine. The Gypsy Centennial was equal parts presentation and party, doubling as a fundraiser for The Burlesque Hall of Fame. The legendary Las Vegas museum lovingly preserves showgirl history- Gypsy’s as well as the stories of many other outlaw women, two of which performed (Joan Arline, The Sexquire Girl) or were in attendance (curator Dixie Evans).
Hosted by Miss Astrid, the performances kicked off with Inga Ingénue’s imagining of what the rest of Gypsy’s first strip might have been, evolving from the infamous quote “the shoulder strap led to one thing and another, if you know what I mean.” Joan Arline, Paula The Swedish Housewife, and Lily Verlaine reenacted the three strippers from the Gypsy musical number “You Gotta Get A Gimmick”, right down to Paula’s “Mazeppa” gladiator costume and horn. (“Like the three-headed dog of burlesque,” Miss Astrid offered in introduction). Actress Sarah Rudinoff read a few feisty passages from the newly released American Rose, and Paula nodded to the marble tub Mr. Minsky installed in Gypsy’s dressing room by singing “I Haven’t A Thing To Wear” from a rolling porcelain bathtub.
The second act brought a hint of realism: a video segment prepared for the event by Deirdre Timmons (director of A Wink and A Smile) showed Gypsy’s silver screen highs and lows as well as a sardonic quote regarding her terminal cancer (“a present from my mother”). Next up, Miss Astrid introduced Dixie Evans, now 84, to thunderous applause. Dixie was adorable and gracious, grinning from ear to ear and ecstatic to be addressing the crowd. “Burlesque is back and Seattle, you’ve got the world on a string,” she said. “I may be hanging by a thread, but I’m still here!” Dixie talked briefly about the making of the museum, exclaiming “I don’t know how or why, but one by one, they started to come. Thank you to all today’s burlesque performers, you’ve kept me hanging on.” A nearly-nude Lily Verlaine walked through the audience afterwards, followed by a spotlight and taking donations in whatever tiny bits of costume they might fit. With Lily’s benevolent body, it appeared the museum raked in quite a nice stash of donations. Catherine D’Lish- who now hangs her feather boas in the Seattle area- was a powdery, perfumed vision in a ruffled pink gown and matching boa. No one masters smoldering sensuality as Catherine does. Her exquisitely slow reveals while slip-sliding around a golden chaise were eagerly watched over by Miss Astrid, who feigned lustful agony as Catherine allowed her to assist with one stocking. Joan Arline, now 78 and in fabulous shape, took the stage next with an act written by her former husband, “The Seven Approaches of a Man”. Earlier in the day, I had the pleasure to talk with Joan and she confessed that when her ex suggested she have a go at burlesque, Joan wouldn’t speak to him for a week. Afterward she and a friend wore trenchcoats and kerchiefs to visit a local burlesque theatre, flipping a coin to see who would ask for tickets. Fifty-five years in the business later, it might have been the most important ticket Joan ever bought.- J.Price
Check out these amazing pictures from POC, featuring the final act by the super sensual and ever-so-slinky Catherine D’Lish (two-time Exotic World title winner):
**Last but not least, DONATE to the museum at their newly revamped website**