I first met Camille 2000 at the 2013 Texas Burlesque Festival. I took her workshop and found her to be a kindred spirit. Since then she’s become a dear friend of mine and I’m so thrilled to share this interview! If you’re interested in learning more about Camille 2000, check out her book, Cosmic Queen!
Adele Wolf: How did you first discover burlesque?
Camille 2000: I joined a carnival (Amusements of America run by the Vavona Brothers) that had sideshows and girlie shows. They were like travelling burlesque shows; they had girls that stood out front and they got guys to come into the theatres. They told me that when the season was over for the carnival, everyone went to Miami Beach and worked the Gayety Theatre owned by Leroy Griffith. I worked at the carnival for one season and the rest is history.
I went to the Gayety and got a job. That’s where I polished my craft for about a year. They wanted me to be a travelling feature because I was tall and young. I wanted an act so I went to New York City and worked with a choreographer, got gowns, photos, and all that kind of stuff. He taught me this routine with two stuffed cockatoos on a prop, which was very pretty and very classic.
Did the nudity bother you at all when you started out?
I got used to it and it was just fine. I was brought up really religious and strict so the nudity was a bit… In the beginning we didn’t go completely nude, we just went down to g-strings and pasties, and sometimes in certain clubs you’d have the net bra. Towards the end, we went completely nude, but not in the beginning when I first started.
What was the first night you performed like?
I was petrified! I was drinking – the girls in the carnival had bottles of booze and everything. I didn’t know anything about burlesque at the time; I just went out and did a song. Honey West was the feature and she let me borrow one of her gowns. I couldn’t even walk in high heels. I was just young and they hired me. I was very naïve.
What was travelling like?
I liked travelling a lot. I had like seven suitcases. Years ago, to make a name for yourself you had to travel. You had to work the burlesque circuit to get your name out. Then if they liked you, you’d get more money the next time you went out.
How did you come up with the name Camille 2000 and your tagline, ‘The Girl for Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow’? What made you decide to break the mold of classic burlesque?
I got the name from Greta Garbo’s Camille. I loved that movie and so I just turned it into a modern day version with ‘2000’. Rose La Rose gave me the tagline when I worked her theatre. She was a very famous burlesque headliner in Toledo, Ohio.
I was in burlesque for twenty years. The first ten years I did acts with gowns, fans, the stuffed cockatoos and things like that. We were losing our audiences to live nude dancing. I came up with the ‘Black Widow’ and the tribute to Marquis de Sade to try to keep the audience. A lot of people were saying it wasn’t burlesque – they were calling it performance art – but it was burlesque. That’s why I love this new burlesque – they do everything and I love it!
Can you tell me about any memorable experiences from your early career?
I really enjoyed working on Miami Vice and movies. I used to love to work the theatres in Hollywood and New York. Those were my favourite because I always got lots of gifts from stage-door Johnnies.
You are a member of S.A.G. (Screen Actors Guild). Tell us a bit about your acting experience and your favourite projects.
I worked on Porky’s II. When the politicians were watching an X-rated movie, I was the girl in the movie playing Marie Antoinette. That was my introduction to the movie industry. I worked on B.L. Stryker with Burt Reynolds, Smoky and the Bandit 3, Where the Boys Are, and then I worked on Miami Vice as an extra.
I later got a speaking part with Iggy Pop. I just loved him. He was dressed like a square! I was shocked he was dressed like that – I expected him to be… Iggy Pop! We exchanged Christmas cards for years.
What was it like discovering the modern burlesque revival?
I didn’t know for a long time that it was going on. The Burlesque Historical Society contacted me about ten years ago. I rented a car, drove out to the museum (Burlesque Hall of Fame)… well, I almost turned around. There were tumbleweeds going out in the road and I thought there couldn’t be anything out there. It was in the middle of the fucking desert. I finally found it, got out of the car, stepped onto the sand and broke my high heel sandals. I thought, “This is not going to work… this needs to be in Las Vegas.”
I went out to see Dixie (Evans) because she and I always corresponded through letters. I was shocked to see these young girls were doing such a great job. I loved it of course, but I didn’t like it being out in the middle of the desert.
Can you tell me about any memorable experiences since you’ve been involved in the modern burlesque community?
My favorite memory is at the 2011 Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend when I did a tribute to my late husband, Eddie. I did a fan dance to I Believe I Can Fly. I almost fainted when I came offstage; I was so emotionally moved. I can’t tell you how that made me feel when I was rising up… just that feeling, I felt like a phoenix rising.
I’ve been depressed and everything since Eddie died and burlesque has been such a big help to me. When I did that act at the Burlesque Hall of Fame, it meant so much to me. I love being with Bambi the Mermaid and all my friends; they make me feel so young. And I love being around all these young girls; it makes me feel good.
What advice do you have for burlesque performers today?
Don’t get on the floor and do floor work. When I went to the choreographer, Paul Markoff, he told me, “Camille, don’t ever get on the floor. A star does not get on the floor.” Also, be yourself. Eventually your own style, your own walk will come to you. Your own personality will come out if you don’t have it right away. Be the star that you are!
Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about?
I’d like to thank all the girls that brought the revival and Neo Burlesque, you and everyone else for including me as a burlesque legend. It’s really done a lot for my life and my wellbeing. It has helped me become myself and again and I’d like to thank everyone for that.