Dixie Evans, the Marilyn Monroe of Burlesque, has become a legendary figure for all of us that flaunt it for a living. The main thing that strikes me about her as a figurehead for us is that later in her life she was a self made phenomenon, a creative and innovative legend of burlesque. Many know her as the legendary proprietor and PT Barnum of the Exotic World Museum in Helendale, California, remembering her as the woman who wrangled strippers from local clubs in the Mojave Desert to ‘compete’ in a strip pageant before their night shift.
Most people aren’t familiar with her role in the reinvention of a hurricane damaged hotel bar in Bimini, including elaborate stage shows and lights that could be seen from a plane. Most know of her very ‘neo-burlesque’ type storyline style routines in the 1950s, inspired by Marilyn Monroe’s films, which were ingeniously recreated the minute she was able to see them in the theatre. Maybe not so many performers know that she was an animal lover that lived in Australia when she was a child and dressed up her favourite baby Kangaroo in sun dresses.
Stories such as these were told at her memorial at the stately Palm Downtown Mortuary in Las Vegas, but mostly they were shared afterwards at the reception, held at the aptly titled ‘Oscar’s Beef Booze and Broads’ in the Plaza Hotel. In this more casual atmosphere we felt free to celebrate Dixie’s wonderful life with laughter, friends, and bottles of ‘Dixie Beer’ from New Orleans. Mostly, we talked about the past, the ranch in its glory days, with stories that started, ‘Oh! Were you there when…?’ This was indeed a fitting tribute, as we all agree that the thing we loved most about this glamorous, welcoming woman was her stories about her life and the colourful people she’s known.
Travelling to Las Vegas and attending a funeral seem incongruous. When I leave to go there, I’m used to packing glittery G-strings, extra wigs and gambling cash. Grief stricken, I didn’t even think once about getting a plane ticket and flying out on Labor Day for the occasion. Faced with the inevitable, I had no idea what to bring. What do you wear to the memorial of an 86 year old stripper who, in her casual downtime, wore a hot pink track suit? Certainly not black. No one wanted to seem disrespectful. Luke Littell, Dixie’s friend and caretaker, as well as the producer of the Las Vegas Dixie Evans Week show, made sure that everyone felt comfortable coming to the event.
Strolling the entrance hall was the director of the Showgirl Museum, organisers of Dixie Evans Week, and the director of the Burlesque Hall of Fame, as well as burlesque legends and Vegas celebrities. Speaking to the gathering were important people in Dixie’s life, including her two nieces, Cherie and Carol, who told wonderful stories about their childhood, contrasting their more conventional mom with their infamous aunt. Dixie’s good friend Holly Knox talked about their long friendship and morning chats. Dr. Lucky and World Famous *BOB* represented her burlesque family with beautiful and tear inducing words about Dixie’s imprint on their lives.
Giving a heart-warming send off, Tempest Storm took to the podium, warning us that “she’s not going anywhere”, and then, in her unassuming and sly way, she told us of steamier times she and Dixie had with none other than Walter Kronkite. Pastor Jeff Long took all of this in stride, reminding us gently of Jesus and more spiritual pursuits.
This was a rare moment to come together for Dixie, who was the most open and welcoming person I’ve ever met. She loved all facets of burlesque and the people in it. She was never judgmental and she always went out of her way to make whoever she met feel important, as if they were the star in the room. Her legacy will live on in her stories and her collection of burlesque artifacts, with the yearly pageant that the world of burlesque cherishes and all of the legends of burlesque that she helped to bring together every year. It’s Dixie that has always been our Burlesque Mecca, not glittering Vegas or even a charming little museum in the desert. Because of her generosity of spirit and her tireless efforts to keep burlesque alive, we can all come together each year in our glittering finery and remember her impact on our lives.
Images courtesy of Jennifer Cappuccio Maher/Inland Valley Daily Bulletin. More images from the service can be viewed here.
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Quoted in major international newspapers and held in high esteem and affection by the international burlesque community, 21st Century Burlesque Magazine has documented the contemporary burlesque scene since 2007. Founded and edited by Holli-Mae Johnson.