Fetish model and performer Mosh talks injured elbows, creative control, fetishes, competitive cheerleading and starting over.
Interview: Divertida Devotchka
You were born in Russia (which was then the Soviet Union.) Your bio states that you moved to the states at “a very young age.” How old were you exactly? At that same time your parents began your extensive training in gymnastics, which you did for more than 10 years. A devastating injury ended your aspirations of getting a college scholarship for gymnastics. Could you please describe for our readers how the injury happened and how you handled the drastic life changes that occurred as a result?
I believe I was around three years old when we moved to the states. Soon after I did start my training in gymnastics, with my parents as my coaches. The scholarship was really my mother’s plan to get me through college without the financial stress, however it wasn’t exactly an aspiration of mine. By high school I decided if I were to go to school, I wanted to go to art school, where a gymnastics scholarship wouldn’t have helped me anyways. The injury happened during my first year as an acrobat, where I fell from a stunt and injured my elbow. After some time and rehabilitation, I wasn’t able to fully go back to gymnastics, and switched to rhythmic gymnastics instead. Later I ended up joining high school cheerleading squads in two different states. I suppose the injury could be considered drastically life changing. In fact, had it not been for the injury, I may not have even had the opportunity to do what I do today. Life works out in interesting ways.
In addition to being a model, for the most part you are very particular about styling yourself and doing your own makeup. Are you entirely self-taught? Have you always done your own styling or did something happen to lead you to that decision? (I guess my question is that if you haven’t always done your own, did you have any really bad styling/makeup experiences that made you want to just do it all yourself, or was there another motivator?)
Yes I am entirely self-taught. When I started modeling and putting my shoots together, MUA’s weren’t really readily available for a new model, or required payment, which were funds I didn’t have. I’ve always had an interest in cosmetics too, and have been applying makeup on myself for years before my modeling for the competitive sports I participated in. So I picked up the styling and makeup myself, mostly due to interest, and partially due to necessity. Later I learned that I have particular things that I liked and disliked when it came to doing my makeup. There were certain looks I felt looked best on me, while an MUA might have other ideas. So it could become a battle for creative control. I decided I wanted to have full control over the looks I would create for myself, and just did all of my own makeup and styling.
Unless I’m mistaken, you started your modeling career simply using Model Mayhem when you were still in high school while also maintaining a job, an internship and extracurricular activities as well. Do you have any suggestions for other aspiring models who are trying to launch their careers?
Yes that’s correct, now when I think about those early years of modeling it makes my head spin! I really have no idea how I pulled together my schedule, but it worked. If you want something badly enough you’ll make almost anything work. My only general suggestion is that you keep your mind focused on your work and stick to it. Various things in life can distract you, and lead you further away from the goals you may wish to accomplish. Stick to your goals, concentrate on doing the best photo shoots you possibly can, and work hard. Modelmayhem.com is a great place to network. Spend your time connecting with photographers that inspire you. Always remember to have fun. When you thoroughly enjoy what you’re doing, it shows in your images. You’ll have no trouble finding yourself thinking about modeling regularly, planning for it, and creating beautiful work as a result. It’s a great thing to have something to look forward to during your regular job, it makes you want to work that much harder to create the best imagery you can. A strong portfolio leads to many opportunities, so use all the tools you can to build it.
In addition to your extensive modeling credits, you’re also a fetish performer and you do burlesque as well, correct? How long have you been performing and what are your aspirations as a performer?
I believe you could call me a fetish performer. I’ve done shows where I’m encased in latex, or the idea of the show has plenty of fetishistic elements a part of it. In fact, I believe all of my shows have that! Corsets, lingerie, and stockings can all be considered as part of a fetish. Although I primarily say I’m a burlesque performer when asked what I do for shows. I’ve been a performer for longer than my modeling career, and specifically a burlesque performer for about four years. My earlier performances were performed at half time shows and corporate events as an acrobat, dancer, tumbler, and fire performer. My burlesque shows came after a year of modeling. I combined the fetish elements of my work with the earlier performances I knew. My photos contained the same tease and the strip that burlesque held, so it seemed only natural to me to develop my own fully stylized shows, bringing my own creations to life like I would in a photograph. My aspirations as a performer are simply to bring my ideas to the stage, hoping that perhaps my simple strip tease and the complex and glamorous sets and costumes provoke the viewer’s imagination and emotions. I thoroughly enjoy performing, and feel lucky to have the ability to produce my own shows from scratch and then see them come to life on stage.
I loved being a competitive cheerleader. If I could do it all over again, I’d still be a part of a squad. The sport is thrilling, and requires a lot of endurance, preciseness, and trust. I was always a flyer, meaning I was the one being tossed in stunts. You’re up there several feet from the ground, balancing on one or two people below you. It’s quite dangerous, and quite exciting! When you see the coordination, the teamwork, that comes together when a routine is completed, it’s a great feeling of accomplishment all around. Three girls lifting a fourth one over their heads, while the top girl balances on one leg and pulls the other high over her head. Then you dismantle the stunt and run into position to do a fast dance sequence in a structured formation. Then you go do some flips, then go pull a few more stunts all while keeping up with the beat of the music. You must run a mile during one routine with all the zigzagging you do to get to all of your positions. This sport is astounding, I don’t think it receives the credit it deserves.
Your fetishes include everything from heels (especially six inches or more), corsets, stockings, latex and leather. Any other fetishes you’d care to share? Please tell us more about what led you to develop those fetishes, especially the specific photographers and/or images that inspired that in you.
Those are my main fetishes. There are a few more, but I find some fetishes more fun just to keep to myself! I found these fetishes here and there during my early teenage years. I somehow stumbled upon fetish imagery online. I found everything from photographs to illustrations, and found that I really enjoyed looking through them. There was everything from girls encased in latex, girls cinched in corsets, stocking clad legs, girls bound in ropes, etc. I found something more than just eroticism in the imagery. It was something more than erotic and enticing. I just felt “at home” looking at these images, imagining them as part of my own life. When I started modeling I immediately pulled my small collection of latex at the time, into all of the shoots I could.
After finally adjusting to life in the states on the east coast, you dropped everything and moved to LA to pursue a career as a full-time model and maintaining your paysite. Obviously the transition wasn’t as drastic as moving from Russia to the U.S. but what were the biggest challenges in taking the plunge and heading west? Do you miss the east coast, and if so, what specifically?
The biggest plunge was most likely quitting my regular day job. The recession was kicking into high gear at the time, and therefore probably the worst time I could pick to leave a stable job in favor for one that’s considered unstable, no matter what the economy is like. Then moving all the way to the opposite coast with nothing but a few suitcases, and start a new career from scratch. I was fortunate though, and had the support from someone close who would be there for me should my plans not work out. The other challenge was leaving my family and friends behind, as it would be for anyone. I do talk to them regularly though, and see them multiple times a year. Besides family, the only things I really miss about the east coast are the memories. I have had many experiences within those years to look back on, a lot of which shaped me as the person I am today. I also do miss the seasons, something that I immediately take back once I land back on the east coast in freezing weather after being comfortable warm in sunny Los Angeles. I do love the beginning of fall, the springtime, and even the humid summers. The other thing that I enjoy about the east is its architecture. The west coast is much newer compared to the east, and has stunning art deco buildings and striking mid century homes. The east however has an endless supply of architecture from the deco era and below. As much as I love mid century, there’s something enchanting about an older city that I get to enjoy during my visits. In terms of my move to the states, I came to the US at such a young age, I don’t even recall having to adjust! The east coast immediately became my home.
Between constantly shooting, emailing, editing images, and updating your site, you don’t have much free time. How do you relax when you are fortunate enough to have a free moment?
“Free time”, hmm, I believe I read those words in some fairy tale long ago. Joking aside, I don’t mind my constant busy schedule, in fact I’m very fortunate and happy to be able to continue my work in this manner! When this “free time” appears however, I like to spend it with a favorite person and enjoying a delectable meal together at a restaurant, taking a walk, or watching a good film. I also take any chance I get to hunt for antiques. eBay is great for when I’m too busy to go visit an actual shop or flea market, but when I get the opportunity, I love seeking out antiques and vintage pieces in person.
Anything you’d like to add?
Just a thank you!
Sammich the Tramp, St. Louis’ punk rock hobo and director of the Beggar’s Carnivale, talks slapstick, touring, the Show Me Burlesque Festival, Buster Keaton, passionate performance, and f’ing magic.
Interview: Divertida Devotchka
You studied theater at Columbia College Chicago and you describe your style as “live action silent film and neo-vaudeville.” I’d like to know more about the development process of your style and the creation of Sammich, if you will.
All through my childhood I played sports, I was really active. Then, when I got into my teens I got really into theater and discovered how much I loved performing, I specifically enjoyed making people laugh. As soon as I started doing theater I knew then and there that that’s what I was going to do with the rest of my life. So, when it came time for college I moved to Chicago, which is a theater mecca, and studied performance at Columbia. When I was in my junior year I was approached by a company to be a part of a silent play set to music. That company turned into Silent Theatre Company. We were a group that specialized in the recreation of silent films adapted for the stage. We, essentially, created a performance style that we had never really seen before. We weren’t clowns, we weren’t mimes, we weren’t modern dancers. It was very confusing for people, but people also really identified and gravitated towards the style. It’s a universal language, body language, people innately understand it. Within that group an even smaller group of us formed who were really passionate about physical slapstick comedy. We turned into the Oona Tramps, we all played despicable dastardly tramps, we did short pieces that fit into variety shows, and from that we ended up in burlesque. It was right when burlesque was starting to blow up. Then, I moved to St. Louis and started performing solo. I needed a name and Lola van Ella jokingly came up with Sammich, and it stuck. When Sammich started the character was a much more vulgar mean character, the charm and sweetness developed over time. I’ve been doing the tramp gig for about 6 years.
You’re the artistic director and producer of the Beggar’s Carnivale, correct? How did this project get started and what have you learned so far over the course of production?
Yes. I’m the director and I’ve learned to treat it like a theatrical production. Every tiny detail has to fall into place, the music, the lights, the show order, the story. It’s a journey. This show is particularly unique because it’s done completely silently set to music, featuring both a live house band specifically put together for this show (The Royal We), and a DJ. This is one of the only variety/vaudeville shows I’ve ever seen done without an emcee. There’s a story line that holds the show together. Audiences really seem to identify with the physical comedians (The Knock-a-Bouts). They’re the common men. Everyone can see themselves in those characters. I’ve wanted to do a show like this for years, St. Louis made that possible.
Though the Beggar’s Carnivale is still in its first year of production, it’s been wildly successful, not only in St. Louis, but you’ve also begun touring as well. Tell us about your touring experiences thus far and your traveling plans for the near future.
Well, I love touring. I would generally rather be on tour. The most important thing when you’re touring with a large group of people is that everyone in the group has a positive attitude and that everyone carries their weight. Of course, everyone has their moments and you have to learn to deal with that. When you’re on tour you’re living with people every minute of every day. You see people at their best and at their worst. It can be an incredibly positive experience if the group works together, and so far all the Beggars have given selflessly to this show. I couldn’t be more excited about taking this show on the road with these people.
I first saw you perform at Burlesque Hall of Fame 2009 with the Oona Tramps and it was incredible! Do you ever perform with the Oona Tramps anymore?
I haven’t performed with the Oona Tramps in almost two years. There are no plans for any future projects. I live in St. Louis now and they are in Chicago. I love the Oonas, they’re family. I would definitely be open to getting back together at some point to do a performance. I think it would be a lot of fun. We’ll see…
You’re the production assistant for the Show Me Burlesque Festival. Tell us all about the preparation that goes into the event. Are plans already in the works for next year’s festival?
The Show-Me Burlesque Festival was the biggest thing I’ve ever taken on or been a part of. Let me just say, again, this festival would not have been possible without the St. Louis arts community. Seriously, it’s the most supportive, loving scene I’ve ever been a part of. All of our national performers marvel at the love in St. Louis. A St. Louis audience is the best audience you could ever perform in front of. We were able to do this festival because an entire community came together to make it happen. There were nearly 200 people involved in the production of the Show-Me festival. That ranges from performers, to stage managers, to tech crews, and to volunteers. The key to doing something that large is having a circle of people that you trust. Delegate duties to the people you trust. We have been talking about the next one. We have tricks up our sleeves. I promise it will be even bigger than the last.
Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton are both big inspirations for you, right? With what do you identify the most with these two characters? Who or what else do you find particularly inspiring as a performer?
When I was really little my dad got me into Buster Keaton and as a kid I identified with the physical comedy. The stunts and gags that Buster Keaton came up with and executed are incredible. I don’t think anyone has come close to it since. As I got older I started identifying more and more with Chaplin. It’s his charm and his humanity and the way he was able to layer his tramp character so deeply. Such a fully realized beautifully executed character. His struggles speak to the common man; he’s a dreamer, a vagabond, a lover, a poet, and on top of all that he’s a brilliant physical comedian. He can make you genuinely laugh and cry all in the span of 90 minutes. His art is universal. Still to this day the themes he touched on in the teens, the twenties, and the thirties are still relevant. His work is universal. He truly achieved immortality. City Lights is the best movie ever made. It’s perfect. I could go on and on.
I think I’m a good performer because I’m such a huge fan, and my favorite performers are the ones who are the most passionate. I love live passionate performance, when you can tell that the performer really loves what they’re doing. They love it so much that they obsess over it, dream about it, study it, research it, and work at it all the time until they’re really f*ing good at it, and they’re confident and they know that they’re really f*ing good at it. A really great live show can feel like a spiritual experience….and music, I love music. It inspires almost everything I do creatively.
You were voted number 26 in 21st Century Burlesque’s Top 50 Burlesque Performers of 2010, which is incredible considering that it was your first time to make the list. It’s refreshing to see someone with your performance style receiving the recognition you deserve. Did you have any idea just how many fans you had prior to that?
I had no idea! I was completely surprised. I thought, “Hmm, it would be fun to make that list, a silly little tramp being on the top 50 burlesque performers list.” I never thought I would be voted that high. I was honored, I still am honored. Being in St. Louis helped that a lot.
In the last year, you’ve injured your nose, leg, foot and two ribs while performing. That’s quite a list! What’s the worst injury you’ve sustained while performing?
I think the worst one has been the most recent one. I’m currently all bruised up as I’m doing this interview. I get hurt more than most performers, I can deal with bumps and bruises, but this foot one has really been the meanest. The nose one is up there. That was awful. I was performing to Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance.
What’s next for Sammich the Tramp?
My goal right now is to really focus on The Beggar’s Carnivale. I want to take this show around the world. I’ve never believed in anything more. I want people to see it. I want Beggars to become a household name.
Anything you’d like to add?
I just want to entertain people. I want to keep them on their toes, keep them surprised, give them a spectacle, transport them to a totally different world. People NEED great live performance. It’s a uniting force, it’s spiritual. I’m really passionate about it, and when it’s done well it’s F*ing Magic!
Michelle Mynx and Karina Dohl, better known as St. Louis pole-dancing duo Gravity Plays Favorites, talk world domination, tussles, Beggar’s Carnivale, performance injuries, sexual ambiguity, sci-fi and broken glass.
Interview: Divertida Devotchka
You’ve been performing as a duo for at least five years and you were voted number 24 in 21st Century Burlesque’s Top 50 Performers for 2010, and it’s no surprise to us why! What are your goals for Gravity Plays Favorites, both short term and long?
M: Our first performance as Gravity Plays Favorites was April, 2005. We performed at Venus Envy, a weekend long event celebrating female artists of all kinds. Ahh, the future of Gravity Plays Favorites… To continue mingling this double Scorpio energy into titillating and innovative numbers, to keep the surprises coming, and I guess we’d love to continue performing in amazing, diverse shows of all kinds all over the world… Oh, and a taller travel pole would be fantastic!
K: Well I guess the next logical goal would be taking over the world. I don’t know how Michelle feels about it though. She would probably be down.
You won the Golden Pastie award “Performers You Wouldn’t Want to Tussle With in a Dark Alley” at the 2010 New York Burlesque Festival. Aside from your totally kickass physiques and incredible upper body strength, do you have any other thoughts as to why you’d be given such a title?
M: Well, we have a tendency toward being a bit feisty and unpredictable, which I guess can sometimes be misunderstood as “feisty” or “unpredictable.” In actuality, both of us prefer a good verbal debate to a tussle… for the most part.
K: Well, we drink. And we molester. And I love a good row. She might claim she doesn’t but she does. Actually the night before the Pasties we were drunk on our air mattress “discussing” the other award we were up for, Most Fitting Name. We couldn’t agree on who came up with it and things got evil. Ever see two scorpions go at it? Anyway we don’t talk about it anymore, though we both know who Really came up with it!, and besides Ophelia Flame won that one anyway. Hussy. By the time we got called for Tussle we were all fought out and thanked our audience wrapped in that warm glow of after-fight. It was shameful. If you want the good stories ask about why we won Most Scandalous the year before. We drink. And we molester…
You perform fairly regularly in the Beggar’s Carnivale, a St. Louis variety show produced by Van Ella Productions that is enjoying a successful first year of production. Have you been a part of the cast from the beginning? How have you seen the show change and grow over the last several months?
M: I think we officially became cast members on the third or fourth show, but had the pleasure of observing the conception of the idea through Sammich the Tramp’s utter excitement as her dreams and ideas flowed forth. At the risk of getting mushy, Sammy is truly one of the most genuine artists and passionate performers I’ve ever known. A fearless dreamer she is, and this world is blessed to have her here. As far as the show changing, it has gotten bigger and better, yet managed to maintain the integrity of the original idea. It’s what we all hope for. I’m sooo thrilled to be part of such an amazingly talented group!
K: I don’t know if we were a part of it from the beginning or not. Does something really exist if you’re not a part of it? If it doesn’t then yes, from the beginning. If it does exist then I suppose there might have been a show or two before we joined. I don’t hold it against them though. Sammich and Lola are our sisters from some other misters so we forgive. Besides we don’t really have a choice because it is one of the best shows we’ve been a part of and we want to keep doing it. There really isn’t anything like Beggar’s and it is a fantastic experience for first time audiences and vintage show goers alike. Its humor has both physical and mental aspects, there is continuous momentum, and the people are pretty good looking. Mostly. With a show like that the audience gets so wrapped up with us that everyone feels in on it together. As if… as if we were feeding on their energy like two dozen hungry succubi. So do come to the show. We give as good as we take.
Do you find it difficult to stay innovative when it comes to developing new acts together? Could you describe the creative process for creating a new routine?
M: Just when I feel like we’ve got nothing, something strikes one of us. Sometimes it is the theme of the show we’re preparing for that inspires us. Sometimes it’s a song, or just something in life and one of us will get an idea and the balls just start rolling. Maybe we have a couple of drinks to start, then we brainstorm together and edit the good ideas from the better ideas.
K: I’ve found that just as we are starting to despair over not having any new acts that something great happens. One time we got a new music mixing program that got us all hot and bothered to create. Sometimes it’s as easy as hearing a song we haven’t heard in a while. We are kind of limited with the height of our traveling pole so inventing new tricks is especially difficult. Freaking painful too. We learned most of what we do by performing and as the venues and shows get bigger the opportunities to screw around up there get smaller. Still, every so often, we get to run off stage grasping each other and squealing, “what the balls was that?! Do you remember how we got into that?” And a new trick is born. From a vagina named Screw-up.
I know that at least Katrina has been hospitalized after a stiletto-to-the-forehead incident, but have there been any other performance injuries or mishaps over the years?
M: Well, not really… Unless you count Katrina’s left nipple’s refusal to hold a pastie, or our double trick, The Red “C’”, named so for causing my clit to bleed almost every time we do it. But if you know there’s a very strong possibility of it happening, is it really a “mishap”?
K: How do you define “mishap?” On separate occasions we each have kicked out lights and been carried off stage to avoid broken glass. Which honestly makes you want to kick out another one. One time we rolled into each other and I got a finger in my eye that had me in bed for two days. My roommates brought me ice cream so that was a win too. There are always scrapes and bruises but the worst kind is when you hurt and have nothing to show for it. It’s pretty unfulfilling to brag about the injury no one can see. One time Michelle’s foot was bleeding like a Jesus wound and all she wanted to do was get a picture. She’s like that, one minute wiping the blood from your scalp and the next one taking a picture of it.
Michelle, you own the Michelle Mynx Academy of Pole Dance, located in St. Louis. When did you start the academy and how has it grown since its inception?
The Mynx Academy was born in January, 2010. I started with a loyal group of around thirty students and now have a handful of wonderful instructors, 15 regular weekly classes, plus parties and a waitlist to get in for beginner classes. I’m thrilled to be expanding to a larger location in the next few weeks. I’ve been really lucky to have such amazing, talented, and selfless students supporting me along the way.
Katrina, I read that you are a black belt in karate and Michelle, you have an associate’s degree in Psychology, correct? What else might our readers be surprised to know about you?
K: I’m a huge nerd. I think it’s my mom’s fault. When I was a kid she would drag me around to yard sales every Saturday during the “season” and appease me with a big bag of science fiction books. I don’t know how she always found them, must have had some kind of radar built of necessity. I now have a very special and complex relationship with my couch, sci fi, and late night cartoons. And snacks. Always with the snacks. That’s her fault too but I think more nature than nurture.
M: Hmm..Probably anyone that met me past the age of 15 might be surprised that I seriously considered the convent growing up. I was raised Catholic and went to school at a small parish, St. Martin of Tours, through my entire childhood. It was like an extended family and my priest and Sisters were nothing but a good influence. They taught me that no one can do everything, but everyone can do something to make this world a better place. I was raised with the “it takes a Village” mentality. I was never taught any of that Hell and Damnation stuff. To me, being a nun just meant being committed fully to making this world a better place. Then, my hormones kicked in. I still do my best to make the world a better place though.
In a 2006 feature in the Riverfront Times, Michelle explained that the decision to perform on the pole together was really more out of necessity than anything else. The club they worked at built a smaller stage and performing on two different poles in a small space became hazardous, so they opted to share a pole. What was your relationship at the time that you started performing together? I mean, if you were simply work acquaintances I could see that being a little awkward… were you close friends already? I’d love to know more about the dynamic between the two of you in the beginning and how that has evolved over the years.
M: I felt connected to her the very first time I laid eyes on her. She was on stage, by herself, dancing to Snake River Conspiracy’s cover of “How Soon is Now?” I saw immediately that she was part of the music and it was part of her. It’s how I felt on stage, and I knew right then we would know each other. Or already did, cosmically at least. She was adorable. And a bit weird. Cute little blond pixie hair. Plus she had come in alone to work having never stepped into a strip club before and was only nineteen; the girl has balls! How could I resist? So, we started dancing together and discovered a sort of magic between us. Right away we felt a bond and a mutual admiration for one another. Both of us being of the sexually ambiguous variety, we kind of fell in love with each other. So for the first four years of our relationship we categorized ourselves as girlfriends. Then one day (I’ll spare you the sordid details), we realized that wasn’t really the right title. But when you have the connection of best friends, sisters, mother/daughter, daughter/mother, lovers, and dance partners, and have for centuries, it’s hard to put the proper label on it. We love each other. We always have and we always will.
K: I remember the first time I ever saw Michelle. Like any good story it happened as I glanced across the strip club at a commotion. In bustled what I can only describe as two little forest people piled with old suitcases covered in stickers, giant shiny boots, and wings. I thought, “those are the weirdest girls I have ever seen.” To be fair I was right off the farm. I mean the literal farm. Turned out she wasn’t as frightening as all those piercings and hair colors suggested. I became friends with both of them and when her partner took some time off we would occasionally dance together. And then more than occasionally. She showed me my first two pole tricks, hanging upside down and a sugar glider (which didn’t even have a name back then), and massaged my elbows when I cried from the pain of learning to climb. By the time the club got a tiny satellite stage we were quite comfortable, mayhaps over comfortable?, with being naked together but we began to get frustrated with waiting for the pole. I mean I know I was. That chick can stay up there forever. We started doing tricks on the pole together but not touching. I don’t remember the exact point when we began to use each other’s bodies (ha!) but I’m quite sure it involved jägerbombs, someone getting impatient, and… taking that hop. I don’t think my life could have gone any other route than to find her this time around. She has filled almost every role imaginable at one time or another and I get a little tearful when I think too hard about it. Don’t print that. I have a reputation to maintain.
What’s next for Michelle Mynx? Katrina Dohl?
M: I could not be happier in the life I have created for myself. I feel so incredibly blessed to do what I love in life. I just want to continue growing as a person, as a performer, and as a teacher.
K: I’ll be in school for probably the next ten years learning how to teach your children!
Monthly online, and biannually in print, our contributors work their pasties off bringing you the most fabulous interviews, burlesque and pin-up tips, and herstory articles. Meet Divertida Devotchka and Femme Vivre LaRouge, two of the fabulous gals who make Pin Curl Magazine possible!
Known for her juggling skills, killer rack, and love of bacon, Double D joined our team in 2009 and has been cranking out fabulous interviews ever since!
How did you become involved in burlesque?
In the summer of 2006 I was living in Denton with Femme Vivre LaRouge, and she and our dear friend Amy Marquez (Saint Luna Laguna) started a troupe called Minx Burlesque. I was actually just the photographer at first; performing didn’t even occur to me until months after it got started. I really wanted to be involved, so when they started adding more variety acts, I decided that my juggling would be the perfect way to contribute to the show. Then in January of 2008, Femme and Luna started the Vixens of Vaudeville Revue along with Dr. Q and me. I started writing for Pin Curl in the summer of 2009 and I still get excited about how I’ve been able to combine my love for writing with my love for burlesque and performance.
What is your guilty pleasure?
I’m not-so-secretly a total nerd. I LOVE puns and bad jokes; I’m usually the person to laugh at jokes that make my friends groan. I also have a very juvenile sense of humor. Oh, and I really like video games, particularly first-person shooters. (Goldeneye on N64 is my all-time favorite.)
If you could have dinner with any 5 people, living or dead, who would it be and why?
Hunter S. Thompson: Even before I began my studies in journalism, I had an affinity for Hunter S. Thompson, and that I only grew stronger the more I learned about him and the more of his works I read. Of course, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is my favorite. His writing style is unparalleled and I’d give anything to be able to have a conversation with that man.
Dirty Martini: After meeting her a few times and even getting to interview her, I still get all nervous fanboy in her presence. She’s just so gracious, warm and wonderfully creative- who wouldn’t want to know her better?
Charlie Day: The co-creator of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” who plays the character Charlie Kelly, a mostly illiterate, inhalant-abusing crazy man who I absolutely adore. Charlie is by far my favorite part of the show and I’d love to drink a beer with him, possibly dressed as Green Man.
Tim Heidecker & Eric Wareheim: If you’ve even heard of “Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!” chances are that you love it or hate it. I fall into the love category. Don’t get me wrong- they’re weird as hell, but their absurdity makes me laugh (most of the time). They seem like they’d be really fun to hang out with, so maybe one day…
Favorite burlesque memory?
It’s hard to narrow down just one memory, but I can say that most of my favorite memories so far occurred during my days with the Vixens- being creative as a group, making asses of ourselves to make each other laugh during rehearsals, the out of control afterparties, BHOF 2009 with Femme Vivre, Honey Cocoa Bordeauxx and Crystal Pistols (pants off dance off party, drunk fu, hot tub afternoon with the champagne of beers, whiskey breakfast on the pin up photo safari… I could go on and on.) I also had a blast at the New Orleans Burlesque Festival last year with the Pin Curl production crew swilling hurricanes, dancing and playing drinking games til the wee hours of the morning.
You have an interesting stage name, how did you choose it & what does it mean?
I chose my name because of my interest in language/wordplay, I suppose. I began studying Spanish about 12 years ago and have a passion for the language, so much so that I have a Bachelor’s degree. In Spanish, Divertida means funny, amusing or entertaining. The last name, Devotchka, means girl. I took the last name from the Nadsat language in Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange. Devotchka has the same meaning in Russian, but I chose it because Clockwork is my favorite book and I’m rather fond of the Kubrick film as well. Plus, I really LOVE the way the two words sound together. Bonus- I get to go by the nickname Double D and because I’m juvenile, that makes me giggle.
Little known fact: you are a badass at the gangsta rap karaoke! What are your top three song picks?
Haha! I am a BIG fan of 90’s gangsta rap and hip hop. My all time favorite karaoke songs to sing are: “Who Am I? (What’s My Name?)” and “Gin & Juice” by Snoop Dogg and “Regulate” by Warren G & Nate Dogg.
It is a well known fact that you have an obsession with bacon & love to cook. Care to share your favorite recipe?
I do LOVE me some bacon! It’s a pretty well known fact among my friends, family and co-workers. Two years ago I even dressed up as a piece of bacon for the costume contest at work! As far as a favorite recipe, that’s impossible to choose, but I make mean carnitas, flautas, and salsa verde, and I can make one hell of a cake ball!
Femme Vivre LaRouge, a true cowgirl, could ride a horse before she could walk, and always had a love for history and old movies. She put her skills in writing & her love of history together when she joined the Pin Curl crew in 2010 with her monthly Burlesque Haunts & Legends contributions.
How did you become involved in burlesque?
I began my performance journey in theatre (both school and community) and dabbled a little in film, as well. Shortly after I graduated college in May of 2006, my friend and cohort, St. Luna-Laguna, and I were dancing around my living to a Marilyn Monroe cd, lamenting the fact that no one in the area was putting on the type of show we really wanted to see, and we decided to put on our own show. We recruited some friends who were in a play with us that spring and founded Minx Burlesque, which ended up being a sort of artist’s collective, drawing our influence from vaudeville, film noir, cartoons, musical theatre, and all manner of variety arts. I convinced my then-roommate to put her wicked juggling skills to work for us and Divertida Devotchka was born. We enjoyed a wonderfully creative year as a group and then had a spectacular falling out, as happens in showbiz. In 2008 we re-formed as The Vixens of Vaudeville Revue, adding the talents of Crystal Pistols and Honey Cocoa Bordeauxx. In 2007 I also began doing gigs as an artist’s model and joined Circus della Morte sideshow, as Nurse Narcissa, and I’ve been up to all kinds of trouble since!
What is your guilty pleasure?
While I have lots of pleasures, I don’t feel very guilty about most of them! I do, however, enjoy The Gilmore Girls, Sookie Stackhouse, and all things food.
If you could have dinner with any 5 people, living or dead, who would it be and why?
That’s such a difficult question- history holds so many mysteries and colorful characters that it’s dreadful to choose, but at the moment I’ll say:
Humphrey Bogart – because he is my number one heartthrob.
Nellie Bly – for her anachronistically daring and noble exposes (this brave lady was a Victorian era undercover reporter and humanitarian who stopped at nothing to expose the truth, and we happen to share a birthday). I’d love to recreate her 1890 trip around the world, in which she broke the fictional record set by Phileas Fogg in Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days!
Robert Johnson – to meet the man behind the mystery and the music.
Prohibition Rose – because she was a total badass, and it is extremely difficult to find information about her (she built an underground empire in Portland during Prohibition, running multiple operations as madam, mob boss, and microbrewer).
Jasper Fforde – because of his incredible creativity and wit, and the absolute joy I get from reading his novels.
Favorite burlesque memory?
“Minxmas” in 2006 was a magical evening; we had a mantel, hung with a variety of ladies’ stockings, and a fireplace DVD playing in the center, we started out on stage in huge, wrapped packages, Dr. Q wrote ‘The Night Before Minxmas,’ we danced with lawn-size candy canes and had jingle bells on our bosoms, we kidnapped a very sexy Santa Claus (Divertida) and tied her up, then I gave her a lap dance while our fellow performer sang Santa Baby, and I also sang my very first number, Baby, It’s Cold Outside. The theatricality, the variety, the magic, it was all there! “Fatal Follies,” in which we attempted to string together the whole show with a murder mystery storyline was also splendid, although admittedly unfinished and unpolished. Our productions as The Vixens for The Plaza in Carrollton were also some really grand, if backbreaking, affairs (as we used to say, “I break my back for burlesque!”). “Hangin’ Out with the Hungover”, “Bustin’ Out with The Vixens”, and “Vegas or Bust” were all of a truly vaudevillian nature. At one show we even had our own Statler and Waldorf to heckle us from their balcony seats!
The last three years I have also had the great pleasure of attending the Burlesque Hall of Fame Reunion in Las Vegas and each has been uniquely wonderful, full of fantastic people, performances, and experiences. The great success of this year’s Legends Challenge was truly rewarding.
I hear you have an amazing historian project in conjunction with the Burlesque Hall of Fame- do tell.
The Burlesque Oral History Project was founded by Dr. Lukki and endeavors to preserve the history of burlesque by gathering and archiving memories of yesteryear from the remarkable ladies (and gents) that lived it. This year I volunteered, along with Tempest Devyne, to help curators Elsa Sjunneson and Julie Vogt at the Burlesque Hall of Fame Reunion, and although I’m afraid I was very little help this time, I do hope to continue to volunteer for the project. I did have the honor of interviewing legend Val Valentine and I also have plans to interview Dallas’ very own Tammi True.
We know history gets your rocks off, but what are some other more little known facts about you?
*I also share a birthday with Karl Marx. Cinco de Mayo!
*While I adore my Maltese (Detective Sam Spade), my favorite pet ever was my adventurous, intelligent, sweet, and social little rat, Lilith.
*I had an unusual childhood as I grew up almost as if we were living a century behind. We were very poor, but we grew our own food and raised our own animals. I started riding horses by myself when I was just over a year old and was bucked off for the first time at 2, I was homeschooled for years and first learned to read from The Bible, and since school attendance wasn’t an issue, my mom and I would often hit the road and visit our widespread relatives, and I very much enjoyed that gypsy lifestyle.
*I graduated Magna Cum Laude with a degree in General Studies, with concentrations in Sociology, English, and Art History, and I’m about to begin graduate studies in Humanities.
*I’m a huge old movie geek. I especially love film noir, slapstick, romantic comedies from the 30s, and pre-code films.
*My stage name, Femme Vivre, came out of my love of film noir, but with a desire to be more of a bacchic beauty, a descendant of Dionysus, than a femme fatale, thus Femme Vivre, the woman who loves life.
*My slogans are “Have boa, will travel” and “Chillin’ like a Vaudevillian”
Olive Thomas and the New Amsterdam Theatre
by: Femme Vivre LaRouge
In 1913, for his sixth annual production of The Follies, Florenz Ziegfeld moved the show to the extravagant New Amsterdam Theatre. The theatre’s Art Nouveau design, sweeping staircases, lush lounges, and large auditorium, plus fully-enclosed rooftop ‘garden theatre’ were a perfect fit for Ziegfeld’s decadent tastes. In its original days of grandeur, the playhouse was dubbed “House Beautiful” by The New York Times when it first opened in 1903. It was upon this stage that future film star, Olive Thomas, auditioned for and performed in The Follies of 1916. She also starred in the Midnight Frolic, a more risqué show that took place on the rooftop stage after hours.
The Frolic began in 1915 when Ziegfeld decided that he would rather continue to profit off of the after-show crowd than have them toddle off to another nightclub. The rooftop venue featured a glass dance floor that enticed patrons from the establishment below to sneak a peek up the dancers’ dresses. Although the Follies themselves were a couples function, the Frolic drew an almost exclusively male clientele. Chorus girls walked amongst the audience, dressed in costumes comprised mainly of balloons, which errant cigars eagerly popped. While the shows below served up a luscious palette of scantily costumed ladies, their decorum was always of utmost importance. On the rooftop, however, free and loose modernity roared its way into the twenties.
Featured in this advertisement for the Frolics, painted by popular artist Harrison Fisher, is a wanton Olive smoking a cigarette, with her hair falling loosely about her and her gown slipping off her shoulders. While a little artistic license was taken in depicting Olive as a redhead rather than a brunette, the ‘anything goes’ atmosphere of the rooftop garden is made pretty clear. It seems that stage door Johnnies often bought their jollies with expensive gifts for the rooftop chorines.
Harrison Fisher’s models, much like Charles Dana Gibson’s and Howard Chandler Christy’s, were known as Fisher Girls. In fact, Olive also ranks among the Christy Girls, and it was a competition held by Christy in 1914 that put Olive on the road to stardom. The competition, which she won, was to find “The Most Beautiful Girl in New York City.” It led to Olive’s modeling for several successful artists and catching the eye of the foremost aficionado of beautiful girls, The Great Ziegfeld. According to Mary Pickford (Olive’s future sister-in-law), “The girl had the loveliest violet-blue eyes I have ever seen. They were fringed with long dark lashes that seemed darker because of the delicate translucent pallor of her skin.”
Born Oliva R. Duffy in 1894, Olive married her first husband, Bernard Thomas, at the age of 16. After a couple of years, however, she left Pennsylvania and her husband for the bright lights of New York City. After that, Ollie’s life was a fast affair, and sadly, short. She divorced her husband and became one of Ziegfeld’s many impressive mistresses. The Alberto Vargas painting below, which she posed for shortly before her death hung in Ziegfeld’s New Amsterdam office for many a year, much to his current wife’s displeasure. The painting, ‘Memories of Olive,’ does not depict the innocent ingénue that the Hollywood press had been serving up, but rather a return to Ollie’s wilder image as a Frolic dancer. In late 1916 Olive had been signed to Triangle film studio and in 1919 she was signed by David O. Selznick for $2,500 per week. She made over twenty pictures and her last film, 1920’s ‘The Flapper,’ was the first film to use the term flapper.
With Olive’s move to tinsel town came love and a second marriage, to Jack Pickford, Hollywood heartthrob and brother of leading lady Mary Pickford. The couple eloped to New Jersey in October of 1916 and Ollie in a later interview for ‘Motion Picture’ magazine, quoted “Jack . . . is a beautiful dancer. He danced his way into my heart. We knew each other for eight months before our marriage, and most of that time we gave to dancing. We got along so well on the dance floor that we just naturally decided that we would be able to get along together for the remainder of our lives.” And so they did, although for Olive, that was to be just shy of four years, and the relationship was certainly filled with excitement. By all accounts, their marriage was a passionate and volatile one, full of fighting and making up, interspersed with expensive gifts, wild parties, and reckless driving.
The couple endured long separations due to their respective film careers and the unfortunate interruption of World War I. Jack, a Canadian, decided to join the U.S. Navy rather than be drafted into Canadian service, but he managed to avoid any threat of danger by using his film star status to recruit amateur actresses into service for his superiors. This practice eventually landed him a dishonorable discharge, which likely didn’t bother him one bit.
And so, in September of 1920, Olive and Jack set out to Paris to celebrate a second honeymoon after their time apart. Lamentably, a raucous night out on the town brought an untimely end to the rendezvous, and Olive’s life. At this point in the story, things get a little fuzzy and the truth of what really happened that September 6 will never be known. The original doctor’s report and initial press reports do not match later accounts, nor did Jack’s testimony about the event quite add up. America was awash with theories as to Olive’s demise- that she had been indulging in drug use (as did her husband), that she had committed suicide upon finding out that Jack had been stepping out on her, that Jack had killed her for her insurance money, that it was simply an accident due to her drunken state and lack of familiarity with French labels… this list went on and on. What everyone did know for sure was that Olive died from ingesting mercury bichloride, a then-common, topical treatment for syphilis. Reports indicate that she was searching for something to soothe her headache and help her sleep when her hand alighted on the fatal blue bottle.
Why she swallowed such a large dose, however, remains a mystery. Although Jack woke and quickly forced her to swallow raw eggs in an attempt to induce vomiting and the first doctor on the scene pumped her stomach several times, she could not be saved. After days of pain, paralysis, and blindness, slipping in and out of consciousness, Olive was pronounced dead at the American Hospital of Neuilly. Her body, and her spirit with it, was transported back to the states for burial. But her spirit would not rest; instead, she returned to the scene of her first showbiz success, the New Amsterdam Theatre. In short order, patrons of the theatre began to sight her specter in its various lounges, as well as backstage.
Although the once-magnificent theatre became a movie house after the stock market crash of 1929 and eventually fell into disuse, and disrepair, Olive never left it. One of her most notable appearances came in 1952 when a caretaker who had previously been a Follies crewmember saw her, twice, and recognized her as the former Follies filly he had once adored. The shade generally shows up dressed in her beaded Follies costume, wearing a gold sash with her name on it- a demand that she not be forgotten. Finally, in 1993 Disney purchased the New Amsterdam for $29 million and began renovations, which delighted Olive’s apparition, and scared the daylights out of at least one night watchman.
She has since shown herself to multiple members of the cast and crew, sometimes whispering flirtatiously and always carrying with her the damnable blue bottle. She has been known to turn out lights and shake sets and sometimes floats about on the rooftop stage. Whenever the last living Ziegfeld girls would pay a visit, she always managed to make an appearance as well. If you attend a performance of Mary Poppins at the New Amsterdam theatre, you might also get to see Olive.
For more information on the Olive Thomas haunting, see Tim Ogden’s book, ‘Haunted Theatres: Playhouse Phantoms, Opera House Horrors, and Backstage Banshees. A documentary about Olive is also available, ‘Olive Thomas: Everybody’s Sweetheart.’
The Legendary Life of Doris Eaton Travis
by: Femme Vivre LaRouge
Few of us are lucky enough to enjoy either the longevity or the fullness of life that Doris Eaton did. Born March 14, 1904, Doris witnessed almost all of the amazing twentieth century, as well as the unfolding of the twenty-first. In 2010, shortly before she passed away, Doris received her final standing ovation in the New Amsterdam Theatre, as the last living Ziegfeld girl.
At 14, Doris was the youngest girl to perform in The Follies, and she was the last dancing too, performing annually at the Broadway Cares/Equity Fights Aids “Easter Bonnet Competition” for a dozen years preceding her death. Young Doris was dancing in The Follies when fellow Ziegfeld girl, Gilda Gray, first popularized the shimmy. Along with her siblings, she was making films in Hollywood when John Wayne was just a prop boy and Alfred Hitchcock was still writing title cards for silent pictures. During the twenties, Jack and Sam Warner, her upstairs neighbors, regularly came down to mingle with the show crowd gathered there, in hopes of starting their own studio. Other regulars at the Eaton household included Fred Astaire and Charles Lindbergh, with George Gershwin on the piano. In 1929, Nacio Herb Brown wrote a little ditty called ‘Singin’ in the Rain” for her, which she debuted at the Hollywood Music Box Revue. She rode in an airplane less than twenty years after the first successful flight, lived through Prohibiton and two world wars, and witnessed the nineteenth amendment, giving women the right to vote. Doris Eaton was named just weeks before Times Square was given its name, and Doris was there, dancing in the square, for its centennial celebration.
When Doris was just a child, her eldest sister, Evelyn, used to direct the younger children in backyard productions, which led to five of the seven Eaton children working in showbiz at some time or another. Doris’ career began at age seven with a role in the Nobel-winning novel-turned-play, “The Bluebird.” The fantastic Eatons performed regularly at Zefferino Poli’s Washington, DC theatre, where President Woodrow Wilson was often in attendance. After doing the touring circuit, the Eatons wound up in New York City, taking with them a young Volga Hayworth, who didn’t make a very big splash in showbiz, although her daughter, Rita, certainly did!
For seven years straight at least one of the charistmatic Eaton children was performing in The Follies. One of them, Pearl, aided with Follies choreography and became Broadway’s first female stage manager. Pearl was a regualar in The Frolics, as well as Earl Carroll’s Vanities and George White’s Scandals, and RKO’s dance director for a time. Another sister, Mary, became The Follies’ prima ballerina, wowing audiences with her intricate sequence of impeccable pirouettes. Mary, along with Doris and their brother Charlie, also experienced success in Hollywood. After Mary and Doris tied in a seven-state beauty contest, Doris gave the follwing beauty advice: “Don’t hire a taxicab when you can afford to walk.” When Doris first appeared in The Follies, by law, children under the age of 16 were not allowed to perform in musical comedy, so she took the name Doris Levant and the following year, Lucille Levant. By her third year in The Follies, she was finally 16 and was promoted to ‘specialty dancer,’ under her own name. It was during this time that Doris met Babe Ruth (who, incidentally, married another Follies girl) and had her very own baseball signed by him on a publicity assignment. Showbusiness was booming for the Eatons.
Then came the Great Depression and the Eatons’ careers were cut short. Doris eventually found steady work in 1936 as a dance instructor at the original Arthur Murray dance studio. She enjoyed a long, successful career with Arthur Murray, opening the first new branch of the studio, in Detroit. At one time there were nearly 300 Arthur Murray dance studios, 18 of which belonged to Doris. The studio brilliantly marketed their classes with a dance-for-health campaign, and social dancing was at peak popularity. Doris wrote a weekly newspaper column, On Your Toes, which was full of dance advice along with delightful illustrations, and hosted her own television show, for seven years.
Both of Doris’ younger brothers came to work with her at the studios and in 1950, at Charlie’s suggestion, the school began to host dance getaways in Havana. These dance vacations were enchanting trips to paradise that brought the attendance of celebrities such as Ava Gardner and Ernest Hemingway. Unfortunately, that party ended in 1959 when Fidel Castro took Havana. Of course, in the sixties everything was changing and, as couples’ dancing declined in popularity, the Arthur Murray empire began to lose money. Doris had no choice but to sell each of her branches in the late sixties. Those years, sharing her love and knowledge of dance with so many, were precious to Doris. As quoted in Lauren Redniss’ biography, Century Girl, Doris said, “When I see a woman moving over the ballroom floor in grace…precision…feeling…tasting the joy of movement…creating a segue of pattern pictures, all coordinated to a rhythm…then I know this person is at one with the universe – at one with God.”
Doris met Paul H. Travis when he was taking a dance course with her and after 8 years of courtship, they wed. Doris was 45 at the time and, although she had married producer Joe Gorham at the age of 18, he unfortunately died of a heart attack less than a year later. Despite an 11 year relationship with Herb Brown, Doris did not remarry until she fell in love with Paul, and she never had any children. The couple raised racehorses instead, moving to a ranch in Norman, Oklahoma in 1969. Then in 1980, Doris decided it was high time she gave herself the education she had missed during her busy youth. After obtaining her G.E.D., Doris attended the University of Oklahoma, graduating cum laude at age 88. Later, upon her one hundredth birthday, Oakland University granted her an honorary Doctorate of Humanities. For her speech at the commencement ceremony, she sang a number, “Ballin’ the Jack,” from the 1913 Follies, much to the delight of all the graduates.
By this point in time Doris had already made her stage comeback at The Amsterdam, beginning with the newly renovated theatre’s opening gala in 1997. The event brought together the last five Follies gals, of which Doris was the only one still able to perform. At age 94 she repeated her performance from 1919’s Follies and kept returning each year to perform, while all the other Ziegfeld girls passed on. Doris did numerous interviews and documentaries and even made a cinema comeback with a cameo role in 1999’s Man on the Moon. Doris celebrated her centennial birthday on Broadway, with an enormous pink cake that was taller than she. As Tom Viola, Executive Director of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights Aids said of Doris, “no matter her age, when the stage lights hit Doris she was instantly and forever young.” Without any medications or help from doctors, Doris kept on dancing and didn’t stop until she was 106.
For further reading on the wonderful Doris Eaton Thomas and her marvelous life, I highly recommend Century Girl: 100 Years in the Life of Doris Eaton Travis, Last Living Star of the Ziegfeld Follies by Lauren Redniss. I was delighted to find that Doris also wrote an autobiography, The Days We Danced: The Story of My Theatrical Family from Florenz Ziegfeld to Arthur Murray and Beyond, which I have not yet had the pleasure of reading. For charming photos and footage of her performances with Broadway Cares, see: http://www.broadwaycares.org
DIY: Saving the Taste of Summer (for Cocktails!)
Though it may not seem like it now, considering the record heat wave, soon summer will be over and with it goes all of the fabulous flavors of the season: fruits, berries, peppers, and herbs. Here are a few simple and clever ways to enjoy your favorite summer flavors, long after the sunshine is gone!
You can have great mojitos in the winter, by simply preserving your mint in ice cube trays.
Process: Strips leaves of of fresh mint sprigs, and chop leaves evenly. Portion so that each pile is one teaspoon of herb. Place each portion in separate compartment of ice cube tray, cover with water and freeze.
To use: Thaw and strain.
(This method also works well with just about any fresh herb.)
Herbed Simple Syrups
Lemon Verbena Simple Syrup
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup fresh lemon verbena leaves
1/2 cup water
Chop and bruise the lemon verbena. Put sugar in a small saucepan with 1/2 cup water and stir to dissolve as it comes to a simmer over low heat. Let it simmer for just a couple minutes.
Stir in the lemon verbena and take off the heat. Let steep for fifteen minutes, and then put in the refrigerator to cool completely.
You will need:
A generous handful of washed & bruised fruit such as lemons, oranges, peaches, or berries. You can also use summer peppers for a spicy kick.
750ml Good Quality Vodka
Large Glass Jar
1. Fill your jar halfway with fruit, then add enough vodka to fill to rim and cover with
2. Place jar in cool dark place (like pantry) for three days to a week. How will you
know when it’s ready? Taste it!
3. Once you have the flavor you want, strain it. Keep the fruit- it’s yummy but
4. Store your infused vodka in the freezer to enjoy when summer is gone!