Exotic World - Strippers Hall of Fame
On every trip pointed east from LA, it's hard fighting the urge to detour. We know it'll trash our schedule, but what to do? We give in, turn north into the desert and look for a dirt road haloed by an unmistakable wrought iron sign that spells "EXOTIC WORLD." Halfway between the glitter of Los Angeles and the glitter of Las Vegas, Dixie Evans, the former "Marilyn Monroe of Burlesque," runs a museum celebrating the history of stripping and the art of exotic dancing.
Greek-like plaster goddesses, fountains, pools, and horses are in view as you walk around her home and the museum buildings. An in-ground pool is the centerpiece of Exotic World's annual beauty pageant. Dixie, a senior citizen in glittery gown and feather boa, greets visitors and leads the tour of her amazing collection of stripper memorabilia.
In the main wing, every inch of wall space is covered with stripper posters, 8x10" glamour photos and items from the glory days of Burlesque. One room displays Blaze Starr's famous flame red dress (worn in the movie Blaze), her cigarette holder -- even her jewel-encrusted garter belt. "Blaze is very much admired and adored," Dixie says. "I hear from her quite often."
"She's sending me her smoking show couch, " Dixie notes. "It smokes, then it catches on fire."
There are artifacts and photos from the acts of Tempest Storm, the Quiver Queen, the Eye-Ful Tower, Diane and her Monkey... lip prints from Candy Barr and Chesty "Double Agent 73" Morgan and scores of others. "There were thousands of girls," Dixie says, effervescent and mile a minute. "At any time, you had at least a hundred top international headline acts on tour...every city had two or three halls. It was TV before there was TV."
Dixie loves to conjure moments from the old days, and it takes little to get her vamping through the museum with her classic Marilyn Monroe moves.
While Exotic World visitors are awash in busty, topless imagery, there is a bizarre wholesomeness to the whole operation. A velvet painting of a nude Farrah Fawcett is surrounded by photos of strippers in Indian headdresses, a large breasted woman in a shopping cart, and posters hawking Elvira Pagan. A bikini top and bottom garnish the corners of a wall-mounted box exhibiting Sally Rand's shoes. It's amusing and touching at the same time.
Retired Burlesque Queens are a close knit bunch -- and the younger generations are eager to learn about their heritage. They often visit from parts unknown. "The girls love coming by. They enjoy knowing that someone cares about preserving their work."
Exotic World goes one step further -- polished urns preserve the ashes of a few of the all-time greats, properly memorialized among glass cases filled with pasties and G-strings. Sheri Champagne's urn is augmented by an adjacent saucy photo assemblage glued on a silver disc rimmed with blinking Christmas lights.
Golden Era stripper Lily St. Cyr died early in 1999. She was a close friend of Dixie's. No word yet on whether her ashes will assume their position of honor in Exotic World.
The tour always features a tribute to the founder of the League of Exotic Dancers and Exotic World's first hostess, "The Bazoom Girl," Jennie Lee. "Jennie Lee twirled tassels on her bazooms... and on her derriere," Dixie recalls. "She did cartwheels across the stage at the same time." Jennie died in 1989 of breast cancer; one room displays a large portrait and many props and keepsakes from her career. Her urn is around somewhere....
Piles of artifacts donated to Exotic World require proper cataloging before they go on public display. There are photo albums in a back room of the museum offering a unique viewpoint on 20th century history. One, titled "Cuba, 1949" visually chronicles The Bazoom Girl's trip to pre-Castro Havana.
Dixie loves recounting details of hundreds of other girls' acts she witnessed during her career. She'll point to a photo of a stripper on the wall, and tell a story of a time now lost . . . such as that of Siska and Her Macaws. Siska had two trained birds who would fly on-stage, and take off a piece of her clothing, fly offstage, drop it and come back. Right when they got down to her G-string, she'd start dancing too fast for the birds to catch up to her, and one macaw would turn to the audience and yell 'Hellllpppp. Helllllpppp Me.'"
Once you get Dixie going, it's hard to put on the brakes -- but she's always the charming hostess. We hear all the tricks of the trade: how to keep your pasties on, who did the best "freeze," what a "Half and Half" act was, what Diane did with her Monkey.
It's a day well spent.
January 2007: Charlie Arroyo, the owner of Exotic World ranch, died in February 2006. Between his death and ongoing harassment from San Bernardino county officials, Dixie and her crew packed up the show -- literally every last pastie and garter belt and every last hand-painted exterior sign -- and moved it to Las Vegas, Nevada. They intend to reopen the Exotic World Burlesque Museum in May of 2007, in conjunction with their 17th annual Miss Exotic World Pageant.