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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Dita Von Teese on manners, maturity, and Marilyn Manson

Sometime in the the early '90s, a pint-size natural blonde from Michigan (real name Heather Sweet) dyed her hair black, painted her lips red, poured herself into a corset, and stepped out onto the stage of strip club. Years later, the world came to know her as Dita Von Teese, burlesque goddess of the boho set, appearing tastefully nude in an oversize cocktail glass near you. Von Teese's fame only increased in 2005 when she married another provocateur, goth rocker Marilyn Manson, and she continued to make headlines through last December when the couple filed for divorce.

This week, she takes a break from the show girl act to try her hand
as a host and commentator for the Independent Film Channel's new miniseries Indie Sex, which airs August 1-4 at midnight and explores sex and censorship in entertainment—a subject she knows a little something about.

Dita was in town for the unveiling of her video portrait, the latest work by experimental artist Robert Wilson. In between bouncing around events associated more with socialites than strippers, Von Teese confronted rumors about her penchant for Internet porn, what she really thinks of Marilyn Manson, and the challenge of aging gracefully in a g-string.

You're registered under a pseudonym at your hotel. Do you have trouble with rabid burlesque fans trying to track you down?
DITA VON TEESE:Not too much, but you know how some celebrities have fans of the opposite sex, who imagine they're going to marry them and live happily ever after? I have a different thing. Over the past 15 years I've had a few female fans who've gone overboard and been upset because we didn't become best friends and go shopping together.

They wanted to swap pasties with you?
Yes! Which I wouldn't really mind. I'll swap a pasty once in a while.

Your new IFC miniseries, Indie Sex, charts the history of sex and censorship in film. Seems like everyone loves your act now, which is received as performance art rather than smut. But have you ever been on the other end?
Lots of times. The most significant is when I was performing in the UK probably about 1993. It was before burlesque hit the mainstream and became trendy. I was doing a show in front of the censor board. They informed me that it was still illegal to remove your clothing in a "seductive manner," but it was okay to be nude. I couldn't take off so much as a glove in front of the audience, and had to go behind a wall to get totally undressed.

For the series, you've taken on a more authoritative talking head role. Should we expect more of this, and less stripping from you in the future?
Honestly, burlesque is my first love and for me it's important to preserve this lost art and remind people that striptease has a great history. I would never drop anything for a different career choice. Unless, of course, the time comes, which it inevitably will, when I shouldn't be bouncing around in pasties and a g-string. Get back to me then!

That brings me to the inevitable, and probably irritating, "when your body goes" question. Do you worry about getting older and maintaining your career?
The thing is, I started doing this when I was 18, and now I'm going to be 35. Back then, I remember thinking: 35? That's so old. I'll never be doing it when I'm that age! And I was wrong.

So, might you have 10 more years of burlesque in you?

Sometimes I think no way. Then I look at actresses like Demi Moore, and these amazing women that we still want to see in various stages of undress, and I just don't know. I'm saving my pennies, no matter what, and really looking at my career now as something that is temporary. I don't have that kind of ego where I think it's going to be this way forever.

You've said before that you don't hold yourself above workaday strippers, yet you run with socialites and fashion designers—some of whom would probably look down their noses at the biker bars where you started. How do you explain why they seem to not only accept you, but absolutely love you?
I think that some of them know the history of burlesque. Some of them just really appreciate the risqué element, or maybe that I'm doing something unique. I think they like that I didn't just decide to be an actress or a pop star, that I took a different, riskier path. I mean, let's be honest, if I just wanted to be famous, I should have chosen a different career. It's not the easiest way.

You recently went through a very public divorce. I know that your ex-husband [Marilyn Manson], who is doing press for his new album, has spoken frankly to the media about the end of your marriage and his new relationship. Have you read those articles?
I didn't read much of it, but it's hard for people not to point it out to me. It was hard. I just never expected it. It's unfortunate to have my divorce exploited for record sales. "Shock rocker," I suppose. That was the shock.

Do you think the press mishandled things by blowing up his comments?
I don't think it was the press. It was a matter of, "Hey, maybe you shouldn't drink absinthe and do cocaine and do interviews all at the same time." I think there were regrets about things that were said. So no, I don't think it was the press. It was drinking and interviewing.

We will post Part 2 of this interview, Dita's life after Manson and her search for a man with manners, tomorrow!

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