Saturday, Sept. 3, 2011 | 9:36 a.m.
Dixie Evans remains one of the ambassadors of the art of burlesque, a fast-and-chatty spokeswoman who lords over one of the great collections of artifacts and memorabilia from that culture.
Evans once operated the Exotic World burlesque museum and (occasional) performance venue on an abandoned goat farm in Helendale, Calif., on a patch of hot dirt on Route 66 between Barstow and Victorville. Dreaming of a more fitting neon playground for her collection, Evans hauled the museum pieces to Las Vegas five years ago, where a small sample can be found at Emergency Arts on Fremont East.
But the move to Vegas has brought some frustration, as Evans has never been able to secure a larger, stand-alone venue for her multitudes of burlesque items, including some pieces once owned by Gypsy Rose Lee.
Also, in May, when the Burlesque Hall of Fame is traditionally held in Las Vegas, two organizations put on shows. One was spearheaded by Burlesque Hall of Fame board member Laura Herbert and held at the Orleans. Another offshoot show, headed by Frederic Apcar and Evans associate Luke Littell, was scheduled for the Plaza on the same weekend. The two sides sparred over the title of the latter show, which attempted to use the “Sassy Sally” title, named for a club in San Pedro, Calif., where Evans performed. The two sides settled a lawsuit out of court, with the Plaza show titled “The Dixie Evans Burlesque Show,” thus bringing a burlesque doubleheader to Vegas.
A single, more unified show starring Evans is set for tonight at 8 at the Royal Resort Hotel, a celebration of Evans’ 85th birthday. An all-star lineup of the art form’s biggest stars is scheduled to appear, including Cabernet Dance, Jami Deadly, Kitten DeVille, Miss Karla Joy, Kalani Kokonuts, Rene Le Roux, Angie Pontani, “Absinthe’s” Melody Sweets, Rita Star, Cha Cha Velour and Vi Vacious, along with legends Tiffany Carter, Shannon Doah, Kitten Natividad and “Queen of the Fire Tassels” Satan’s Angel, who most recently performed onstage in 1975. (Tickets are $25 and $30; go to TicketFly.com for information.)
A Q&A with Evans on Friday afternoon shows she is still a lively and tireless proponent of burlesque and its legacy. The interview started a few minutes late, as I was awaiting some minor upkeep on my laptop to be finished:
John Katsilometes: Sorry I called late. I was without my laptop for a while, and I need it to take notes. I was working with faulty equipment for a while.
Dixie Evans: Haha! My equipment’s been faulty for years, but I’m doing OK!
J.K.: I walked into that one.
D.E.: Haha, yes, you did!
J.K.: Other than to celebrate your 85th birthday, what is the purpose of this show?
D.E.: We’re having the party because of my name and what I’ve started, and the girls look up to me. But we want to show what burlesque was before TV. When TV came along, burlesque died and came back as what we see in gentlemen's clubs, where the girls just get naked and serve beer. This is to show girls everywhere what it is to get dressed up and really entertain.
J.K.: If you were to sell this show to people not familiar with the acts, what would you tell them?
D.E.: Oh, there’s so much!
J.K.: Are you ever going to find a permanent home for your burlesque collection?
D.E.: This is one of the saddest things I’ve experienced, to have spent 20 years building the collection and have everything come to a standstill. We came here in 2006, and I thought there would be sort of a plan for the collection before they disassembled the museum. The Emergency Arts building is not a museum, it’s a space, and we need a space.
J.K.: People traveled from around the world to see what you had on display at the goat farm, didn’t they?
D.E.: Yes, we had reporters come from everywhere to write about us. From Las Vegas, where there is so much to do, we had people come out. We had Bono visit us one time.
J.K.: Bono, from U2?
D.E.: The one with the big sunglasses, yes. He bought out almost the entire gift shop!
J.K.: If you were to sell your birthday show to someone not familiar with burlesque, what would you tell them?
D.E.: Oh, there is so much to see! We have Angie Potani, one of the Potani Sisters, one of the fastest precision acts ever, who performed in Indian costumes. Satan’s Angel, Queen of the Fire, who has not performed for 36 years. You’ve got to have a gimmick. That’s what they told me.
J.K.: And yours was as Marilyn Monroe, right?
D.E.: Mr. (Harold) Minsky (of the legendary Minsky Burlesque productions) said I would be the Marilyn Monroe of burlesque. He said, “When you walk onstage, you look like her!” So I went to the dressing room and started to walk and talk and act just like Marilyn. I did the act, with a producer’s chair and movie camera and casting couch, and did a whole scene of a girl going to Hollywood. He forced me to become better and better. I really gave that couch a workout, trying to improve my act.
J.K.: Why is it important for you to keep the art and history of burlesque alive today?
D.E.: Because this is our history. It’s not just about a bunch of girls dancing. It is our culture.
J.K.: Sounds like this is going to be a real happening for your birthday.
D.E.: It’s because of my name and what I’ve started, the girls look up to me, but it’s a lot more than that. It’s a good reason for all of us to get together. They say big girls don’t cry, but this one does.