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Saturday, January 5, 2008

Dixie Evans: A True Believer in a Beguiling and Teasing Art Form

Dixie Evans, burlesqueIn her world and time, Dixie Evans was a star.

From Los Angeles to New York, she was billed as the Marilyn Monroe of Burlesque. And much like the screen goddess, Miss Evans was sultry, smart and blond and knew how to capture a man's attention with the wag of a finger.

Those days for Miss Evans and burlesque are long gone. But she still has her memories, and she shares them with anyone who walks through her wrought-iron gate just outside of this small patch of desert, a two-hour drive east of Los Angeles and 17 miles off the road to Las Vegas, Nev.

Miss Evans is tour guide, curator, president and keeper of the flame (and of the fans) at Exotic World, a museum and hall of fame dedicated to the history of burlesque and stripper stars from the 20's to the 50's.

''These people deserve their place in entertainment history,'' Miss Evans said the other day as she danced her fingers through her hair, still blond at the age of 72. ''But I don't have the space or the mannequins to give the era the credit it's due.''

The museum is in a one-story building that used to be a series of goat sheds on what used to be a 40-acre goat farm.

''There's only one old goat left,'' Miss Evans said, ''and that's me.''

Exotic World is packed with sequined gowns, glittering shoes, flowing boas and skimpy bras worn and discarded by such stars as Tempest Storm, Sally Rand, who made the fan dance famous, and Jennie Lee the Bazoom Girl, who founded the museum and died of cancer in 1990.

Almost every inch of wall space is covered with posters and photographs of those women and scores of others with stage names like the Alaska Heat Wave and Gail Winds, the Texas Twister.

''A good name helped put people in the seats,'' Miss Evans said. ''That's show biz.''

Miss Evans clothed the mannequins with donations from the closets and drawers of former colleagues. In her will, Sheri Champagne, a dancer, left her costumes and her ashes to Exotic World. She died several years ago, and her urn sits on a shelf in the museum under a picture of Miss Champagne in her glory days.

Miss Evans said about 40 people a week stop by the museum for a 35-minute tour. Many of the visitors are Europeans going to Las Vegas.

The museum is mentioned in several guide books, and Miss Evans said she had appeared in nearly 60 news programs, mostly in Europe, where ''they are just fascinated.''

Exotic World is open from 10 A.M. to 4 P.M., but Miss Evans, who lives on the property with several people, dogs, cats and a horse, will open the museum at almost any hour if someone drops by.

There is no charge and most people leave a donation, from 50 cents to $100, as did a gray-haired man once, who said the museum brought back a lot of good memories for him.

For Miss Evans, burlesque is a proud piece of show business history, especially in the Depression.

''It was a marvelous institution for the American public during the Depression when people had nothing to look forward to,'' she said. ''For 25 cents, you could see a cast of 60 and forget your worries for a while.''

Exotic dancers, Miss Evans said, were only one part of the burlesque shows, which also included comedians, musicians and other acts.

As she walked through the museum the other day, ''Harlem Nocturne'' played softly in the background.

''We didn't fight over men or money,'' she said of her colleagues. ''We fought over that song. Everyone wanted to dance to 'Harlem Nocturne.' ''

During the tour, Miss Evans slipped in and out of a very good impersonation of Marilyn Monroe's voice and famous poses.

''If you couldn't meet the real Marilyn,'' she, ''you could come to the burlesque and meet me.''

Miss Evans said that she began imitating Monroe in 1951. and that in 1957 her lawyers threatened to sue but never followed through. Five years later, Monroe was dead, and Miss Evans said her own career nearly ended.

''I felt terrible,'' she said. ''I decided to rely on myself. I dyed my hair black and I flopped.''

Every year, she puts on the Miss Exotic World pageant, a combination talent show and reunion.

'This is our Olympics,'' she proclaims on the museum's Web site.

Young dancers from as far as Chicago come to the desert to compete for the title and old dancers come to remember the past and to share war stories.

''I do not try to encourage any girl to go into dancing,'' Miss Evans said. ''It's not for everybody. But for me, it was wonderful. I had a great time.''

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is really old info. Any true fan of burlesque knows that Exotic World is no longer located in Helendale but in Las Vegas Nevada and that you have to make reservations to see the museum.