Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Interview with Burlesque Legend Dee Milo

With their express permission, I teach the moves certain legends of burlesque have taught directly to me. One of my favorites is the one I call "The Dee Milo," a naughty little forward bump n bend move that Dee did in the 1950s and still does today. Dee performs regularly at the Burlesque Hall of Fame Reunions, has taught there and at Burlycon, and traveled to New York last year to perform in our Mother's Day Burlesque Show. You can see her move in my book--or better yet, go to Las Vegas this June and see her perform yourself!


Image from Dee Milo's website.

When did you get into burlesque?
1949.

How did you come up with your stage name?
My manager wanted to keep it short to fit on marquees. Since my name is Dorothy we used Dee, and then we used "Milo" so I could be called the "Venus of Dance."

Where did you begin?
New Orleans. I had great instruction from our female master of ceremonies. I don't remember her name! I don't even remember the name of the club. Somewhere on Bourbon Street. I worked a few clubs there, I don't remember anyone I worked with. When I came back to San Francisco I became a headliner in the early 50s. I worked at The Barbary Coast and the President Theater. I worked my way through Los Angeles and San Diego. I didn't make friends with many at first because the house gals don't like headliners, but I made friends with Jennie Lee in Mexico-- we became bosom buddies! In 1957 were on the same billing. I was co-star and she was the star.

What are some of your fondest memories?
Traveling in Mexico and Japan. I loved the theater in Mexico City where I met Jennie Lee. We had leather coats and shoes made together. When I worked in Japan I couldn't help but love the way I was put on pedestal. They were so wonderful, the way they greeted me and made sure everything was taken care of. I got such personal service. I always had an assistant, same as in Mexico, who helped me dress and took care of my wardrobe. The assistant was provided by the club and I didn't have to hire them. I stayed six months in Japan. I had an agent there. The theater in Osaka in 1962/63 was marvelous, huge and fancy compared to today. Dressing rooms were very private and lovely. Then I came back to the States and oh boy! (laughs) Not so fancy!

Dee Milo
Dee rides offstage at the Burlesque Hall of Fame Striptease Reunion, 2009.

Your most scandalous moment?
While I was in San Diego I decided to try a different version of my signature "Sentimental Journey" number using the song "I Married an Angel." I changed from coming on with my suitcase into coming on in a wedding gown. The police were going to arrest me and shut the club down because they said using a wedding gown for a strip act was sacrilegious! I went back to "Sentimental Journey." In Mexico they were so strict the theater wasn't supposed to show bare legs on the posters on the marquee. We decided to push the limit indoors. I wore a fur g string in an act! Audience members shouted "Pelo! Pelo!" They loved it! The police started coming up on the side of the stage, and I took off the fur g-string and had a plain flesh-colored g string on under the fur. If you can get the publicity without getting arrested you should go for it.

What were some of your signature performances?
"Sentimental Journey" is my signature act. The music and the words tell the story. I'd come out in street clothes carrying the suitcase, take a negligee and gown out of the case, and then have the gown drop from under the negligee. If we had a young man in from the audience I would get on his lap and "claim" him. Then I would then place myself on the bed, the man would walk over, and they'd wipe the lights. It was a very well-liked number, and the women in the audience would comment on how nice it was that I left the stage dressed. I would do this number in every show I did, and if I did a nightclub gig I would do just this number. You could always push the envelope more in nightclubs.

That's the way it is now too. We can take more risks in nightclubs, especially in New York, than in more structured shows.
I never worked in New York, but I worked in Boston. (laughs)

Did you twirl tassels? I did! I could do it all, including bending over backwards to twirl and twirling tassels on my behind.

Do you remember seeing any other burlesque performers and admiring them? Did you ever meet people who were legends to you?
I really liked seeing Lili St. Cyr. I saw her in Burbank, in her giant champagne class. I didn't get to meet her, though. It was so beautiful, and she moved very artistically. I just thought, "Wow, if I could stage something that great!" But I'm on the lazy side and it would have been a lot of work carrying that champagne glass around.

That's so funny! I just wrote an article about giant champagne glasses and said it would be too hard for me to haul around. I'm on the lazy side too, that way.
I tried having a shower on stage in Mexico, and after going through setting it up a few times I said, "Forget that one!" If your personality can push you out there to the audience, that's the most important thing. You can have all kinds of great props but not be able to put it across. Lili did both.


Above image by Dennis Cardiff, available for purchase. Used with permission.

Are you glad you got into burlesque?
I wouldn't give up the experience I had for anything. If I'd stayed here I wouldn't be the person I am now. The experience I had touring was great.

When did you stop performing?
I came back to Utah in 1964. I just felt it was time. I decided to embrace the dominant religion in Utah, and my mother said, "Now, if you really repent from all your past sins, you will burn all of your memorabilia and gowns." I bought a house here with the money I'd saved from performing, and I'm still in it. When my daughter was about 10 she found this red red gown in in a box in the attic. I don't know how it hadn't gotten burned! She said, "Look mommy, how pretty!" I didn't tell her what it was at the time. When I saw it, I felt like there was still something of that time remaining in me. I came out of my goody-two-shoes closet.

How did you start again?
I found out about Exotic World by seeing Dixie on the Phil Donahue Show. I just happened to be watching and thought, "Yes, it's about time." I contacted Earl Hansen and said I needed some filming done. I told him I used to be in burlesque and he was shocked, and he'd known me all that time! We did the filming in an Eagle Club. I put on my red dress and did "Sentimental Journey." It gave me the guts to go and perform again at Exotic World.


Dee performing in 2006. Photo by Chris Blakely.

When did you first perform at Exotic World?
In 1995 I contacted Dixie and said, "I think I can perform for you." She was very excited and billed me good! There was a huge crowd at the show and it had so much publicity. HBO filmed it, and the Learning Channel. And tht's how the whole state of Utah found out about my past in burlesque! I have no complaints, it has been an all-around great time. The fans are great and everybody at Exotic World is so nice.

How did you come to perform at Teaseorama? When did you first start performing there?
My lover saw it on Maury Povich and suggested that I do it. I did it and I managed to fit my number into a minute and a half!

I have to tell you, and forgive my corniness, I saw that number and I cried a little. I think it had partly to do with my having been a stripper and having felt the disgust of a lot of society, and then seeing you up there being so loved was fabulous, and I loved you too and I thought, "If I can love her, I can love me too."
Oh yes, certainly a lot of society thought that we in burlesque were the crud of the earth. We felt that too.

What do you think of the performers you've seen at Exotic World and Tease-O-Rama?
I like Daisy Delight--I like gals that can move! Joan Arline does a nice number with class, and her son is very nice. I enjoy Paula the Swedish Housewife and she and I had so much fun in Vegas. I love the new performers and they've all been wonderful to me. Everybody's been so gracious and I couldn't ask for better feelings. My traveling companions were awed by how the star performers like Tigger were coming up to me and how affectionate and appreciative everyone was. Meeting fans is a highlight.

Have you performed in Salt Lake City?
You know, Roger Bennington was putting a show together in Salt Lake City with Dirty Martini and Julie Atlas Muz, and Dirty said to him, "Hey, you have a star right here in your town!" So they brought me in and made me a headliner! Those ladies are great to me. All the new perfomers have such a drive to do burlesque. They do great work.

Have you thought about teaching burlesque?
They want to me teach right here in Salt Lake City! People who work for Catalyst Magazine have been encouraging me to do it. So many young ones here want to learn the old fashioned way.

What do you do now?
I'm a massage therapist. I make the body feel good! I've been doing it for 25 years, started with reflexology and went into accupressure. Then I worked with a physical therapist, got my license, and I love it. I'm into crystals and other airy fairy things. Check out the part of my site that says "Body Balance."

Anything you want to say to the newest performers?
Go for it! It's also a great sexuality excercise.

deemilo.com
Dee Milo on CBS News
Dee Milo in The Las Vegas Mercury

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

awesome. more legend interviews please!

Burlesque Daily said...

Thank You! There are several more on the way in the next month.

XOXO

Minerva.* said...

Great interview´. Thanxxx.
I´d like to add something: I´m mexican so I know what I´m talking about. Dee says that when she was in México, the audience started shouting Pelo, pelo! referring to the fur. Well, what people shout to burlesque girls is: Pelos, pelos, referring to pubic hair. They shout that, so the girl shows it.
Great blog!

Burlesque Daily said...

Thank you for explaining that, Minerva! It's probably my error; we did the interview by phone and I don't know much Spanish, so I may have heard Dee wrong.

Zeugma said...

Yeah, speaking of teary-eyed... Any interview that can make me laugh and cry simultaneously is worth reading twice.

Thanks, Jo and Dee.

JE