Richard Simmons is larger than life. He’s an ubiquitous dynamo who has been changing lives for decades. Some of us remember first seeing Richard on “General Hospital” early in his television career. Others remember first seeing his enthusiasm for getting fit on “The Richard Simmons Show.” His videos and DVDs made their way into into homes worldwide, and many schools used his programs for physical education. His health and fitness empire and charisma have made him a Hollywood Icon. He is a philanthropist in the truest sense of the word: Richard Simmons loves people.
Richard’s mother, Shirley, was a fan dancer in New Orleans when he was a young man, performing under the stage name Nancy Lee. Richard took a moment between his fitness tours and entrepreneurial activities to share with us about his mother.
RED SNAPPER: HOW DID SHIRLEY GET INTO BURLESQUE IN NEW ORLEANS? IT SEEMS TO BE A NATURAL TRANSITION FOR MANY ACTRESSES.
RICHARD SIMMONS: My mom started out as a dancer in New York and then got married and moved to New Orleans where my mom and dad worked. My mom performed all around the United States. My dad made my mom’s costumes.
RED: TELL US THE STORY OF HOW SHE BECAME A FAN DANCER.
RICHARD: The fan dancer got sick and they handed the fans to my mom. [The fans were five feet tall and Shirley was under five feet. She was very petite!]
RED: HOW DID SHIRLEY’S CAREER IN BURLESQUE INFLUENCE YOU?
RICHARD: My mom influenced me in many ways. I learned to be creative, take chances and entertain people.
Richard is creative and entertaining, which you can see in his new YouTube video “Hair Do.” He has a new workout system with the Food Mover in release. His Sparkle jewelry line is a new and fabulous addition to JTV.com.
You can witness Richard’s burlesque firsthand in his Slimmons Studio in Beverly Hills. Many burlesque dancers have taken his workout class, joining ranks with fitness enthusiasts and first timers alike. His costumes always have pizzazz, and he has been known to strip down to workout wear during the class, eliciting hoots and hollers from the students. You can also see how much he cares about each and every individual student working to reach their personal fitness goals.
When I first learned there was burlesque happening in present day, I devoured everything I could find about the subject. I remember getting early issues of Bachelor Pad Magazine and seeing ads for What Katie Did. The retro-inspired lingerie in the ads was fantastic, and I wanted more. I placed an order or two when there was only the shop across the pond. They opened a Los Angeles store a couple years ago in the very fashionable strip of Melrose. They were less than 30 minutes from my house, but I still found myself ordering my underthings by mail. I’d been on the mailing list for almost as long as I’d been doing burlesque, but I’d never been in the store or tried their stockings.
The stockings workshop, conducted by Hollywood Burlesque Festival, gave me the opportunity to do both. Arranged by Lili VonSchtupp, the evening was filled with three mini-classes of ladies learning about the stocking peel. It was a bit of a dream come true to teach these classes with Lili, nestled in this adorable boutique, surrounded by silky unmentionables. (I had seen many London workshops in their newsletter over the years. I was really excited to be teaching at their Los Angeles shop.) What Katie Did gifted every attendee with a pair of stockings, and I fell in love with mine from the first moment. Just the right amount of stretch for an exciting peel and more durable than the “one size” options I’ve purchased in a pinch. They were considerably sturdy; I peeled my stockings about 30 times and wore them around the shop without shoes, only developing a run in the toe at the end of the night. Most stockings endure about ten peels before the runs begin and quickly spread up the leg.
What Katie Did also gave attendees an incredible discount. I made a little splurge of my own at the end of the evening to celebrate some great classes. With wine, cupcakes and candies, it was like a fantastically festive hen party. We even collected a few more bras for our Hollywood Burlesque Festival charity, Free The Girls.
What Katie Did is located at 7970 1/2 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90046. Open 11am-7pm Monday through Saturday. What Katie Did is a sponsor of the Hollywood Burlesque Festival.
Stephanie Blake is an inspiring, delightful, and congenial performer. Her numbers are sensual and incredibly flexible. Stephanie shares a little insight on her burlesque journey from Midwestern cutie to Hollywood legend.
RED SNAPPER: HOW DID YOU GET STARTED IN BURLESQUE?
STEPHANIE BLAKE: My mother did it. When she was 20 she was a cocktail waitress in a nightclub. The club owner told her she could make a lot more money by getting on stage. He also helped her with wardrobe and gave her the stage name of BeBe Love.
In Kansas City, Missouri, there was a club called King Arthur’s. The owner kept hiring professional exotic dancers for “amateur night” and audiences were very upset. My mom suggested he use me, a real amateur. That is how I ended up on stage. My girlfriend had to drive me to work because I was too young to get a driver’s license. I really don’t know how I would have gotten into burlesque if my mother hadn’t done it.
RED: AS A SECOND GENERATION STRIPPER, DID YOU LEARN TIPS AND TRICKS FROM YOUR MOTHER? WHAT WAS THE BEST BIT OF ADVICE SHE GAVE YOU FOR THIS LINE OF WORK?
STEPHANIE: My mother helped me with some costumes and she made great pasties. The only advice she ever gave me was “don’t give money to men” and “If you ignore a man he will chase you around and give you the world.” It was the best advice I ever got and it really works!
RED: YOU GREW UP IN THE MIDWEST. TELL US A LITTLE OF YOUR “HEADING TO HOLLYWOOD” STORY.
STEPHANIE: I was born in Texas and raised mostly in Kansas City. Due to a bad choice in husbands (at 19), I wanted change. After getting a divorce I moved to Vegas where I worked in a revue called Rare ‘n Bare at the Royal Casino. I enrolled at UNLV and went to college during the day. Then I got a job writing for a tabloid and got to interview fabulous people like George Carlin, Robert Goulet, etc. I had balls of steel at the time because I would just call the stars who were working in Vegas and ask them if I could interview them. No one ever said no!!!
I was also taking acting classes from a teacher named Joseph Bernard. He told me if I wanted to act I had to go to L.A. I believed him and moved.
As soon as I got to L.A. I started getting TV work (because of my stripping ability)! I did HBO shows with Phyllis Diller, Julie Newmar, Jack Carter, Sid Caeser, Imogene Cocoa, and lots of other great people. Then Rob Reiner hired me for the film The Sure Thing. Next was Ferris. Then more! Without my burlesque background I wouldn’t have gotten most of these jobs!
RED: YOU’VE BEEN A BURLESQUE FESTIVAL JUDGE BEFORE. WHAT TIP DO YOU THINK WOULD BEST HELP COMPETITORS?
STEPHANIE: Personally, I think performers should know what they will be judged on. Usually it will be costume, originality, audience response, and creativity. The judges never know who will actually win until it is announced. I think the ballot should include sensuality, too. Ginger Valentine is one example of someone who is definitely a winner. She has everything anyone could want. I would say study her technique and make sure all areas of your performance measure up. She also teaches classes on how to win!!!
RED: YOU ARE INCREDIBLY FLEXIBLE AND FIT. HOW DO YOU MAINTAIN THE BODY WE FIRST SAW IN FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF?
STEPHANIE: OH GEE…Thank you! Right now I try to stretch every day to get back the flexibility that I have lost by not stretching! And I get to the gym whenever I get a chance. This week for my prep for New Orleans, I will be doing yoga every day plus going over the routine I’m doing with Russell Bruner.
RED: HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH THE CURVE BALLS YOU MAY GET THROWN IN LIVE PERFORMANCE?
STEPHANIE: I have never let anything throw me. There are no mistakes on stage, as long as you don’t tell the audience you can change anything and everything.
RED: ANY OTHER ADVICE FOR PERFORMERS?
STEPHANIE: Have fun when you perform! If you have fun the audience will too! Be glamorous and beautiful and give the crowd more than they ever imagined they would get. KNOCK ‘EM DEAD!!!
Stephanie Blake is performing at New Orleans Burlesque Festival again this fall, and she is one of our headliners for Hollywood Burlesque Festival. You can keep up with her at http://stephanieblake.bizz
Taking your show on the road is challenging. You have to be able to predict what could possibly go wrong and plan for it, and you have to keep your costumes in top shape while living out of a suitcase. The ever glamorous yet down-to-earth Evie Lovelle shares her experiences so you can make your travels simpler and successful.
RED SNAPPER: YOU TRAVEL OVERSEAS FREQUENTLY AND HAVE LUGGAGE LIMITATIONS WHEN YOU TRAVEL. WHAT TRICKS DO YOU USE TO FIT ALL OF YOUR GOWNS, FEATHER FANS, AND MERCH? HOW DO YOU MANAGE TO STAY UNDER THE WEIGHT LIMIT FOR YOUR BAGS?
EVIE LOVELLE: When you’re packing for being on the road for a month or more, your biggest weight obstacles are going to be liquids and shoes. Yes, it would be nice to not have to trek to the market on your day off and hope you can decipher the shampoo bottles or to be able to wear that one pair of red shoes that go so well with that one cocktail dress that you may have the opportunity to wear once, but wouldn’t it be nicer to not pay that extra $200 for 5lbs, stand in another line and then worry after submitting that receipt [that you’ll be reimbursed by the production company]? I always travel with a manual luggage scale because digital things let you down. This is not to say that I don’t run into the humiliating and frantic baggage scale shuffle at the airport. Every airline is different and the same airline can have different weight regulations between international and domestic flights (so watch those connections!). Be polite, smile and be sympathetic to the person helping you with your luggage.
RED: DO YOU HAVE LUGGAGE RECOMMENDATIONS FOR TOURING PERFORMERS?
EVIE: For years I used cheap, enormous bags and I struggled with my luggage. I was so jealous when people would pass me with these nice bags that just seemed to sail along. I invested in some medium cost models with the 360 wheel feature and my travels have been much easier.
RED: HOW DO YOU KEEP YOUR GARMENTS STAGE READY WHEN YOU’RE LIVING OUT OF A SUITCASE?
EVIE: It is a blessing when I land at a venue with a house costumer. This lovely person takes your acres of yardage that have been wadded up, and irons them for show time. Hug this person. When I don’t have access to a house costumer, I arrive at the venue early, put on a Parasitism podcast and iron everything myself. It’s a nice meditation. When pressing is not possible at the venue, I’ll iron in my hotel room, pack neatly and hang the garments as soon as I check in. I used to travel with a steamer but with the voltage change country to country…let’s just say I was spattered with boiling water one too many times, and it quit me, abruptly leaving me wrinkly for a television performance. I also learned a trick from a wardrobe friend, most stains and dirt smudges will come out with a standard hand wipe. A “handy wipe,” a low lint towel and some friction can help your costumes look clean when you’re touring, and only you need know the truth of your grubbiness.
RED: WHAT’S YOUR GREATEST COSTUME DISASTER WHILE TRAVELING?
EVIE: The tour manager brought a large garbage bag of ice backstage for an injured performer. The bag leaked and the stage kitten put my light blue taffeta costume right in the big puddle. The carpet was filthy so the fabric soaked up not only the water but the dirt as well instantly leaving my gown hideously watermarked.
RED: YOU HAD MULTIPLE STOPS ON THAT TOUR. HOW DID YOU DEAL WITH IT BEFORE THE NEXT PERFORMANCE?
EVIE: Since we were packing up and moving to the next gig that night, it had to be packed wet. There was no cleaner to be found in the next town, the damage ended up being permanent and I had to RESEW every bit of the gown. Thank goodness the corset was unharmed! And thank goodness I had packed an extra costume!
RED: WHAT’S IN THE SEWING KIT YOU TAKE WITH YOU FOR REPAIRS ON THE ROAD?
EVIE: I pack my sewing kit for the specific costumes I’m taking on the road. I’ll pack loaded bobbins rather than spools of thread to save space, a tiny tube of E6000, safety pins, sewing needles, stick pins and oodles of fasteners. A pair of all-purpose shears is in there too. I would recommend you take a look at everything and just anticipating it giving you trouble at the worst moment, imagine how you’re going to fix it, and pack what you’ll need to make that happen.
RED: MEALS CAN BE TRICKY WHEN TRAVELING, ESPECIALLY WHEN YOU HAVE DIETARY RESTRICTIONS. HOW DO YOU PREPARE FOR THAT?
EVIE: I would like to say that you’d inform the person you’re paying to be your manager to inform the venue ahead of time and this will not be an issue; however, when third parties are involved, they may not get the message. I have a bit of paranoia when it comes to foods with meat, dairy and egg products. I love parasitology, especially the life cycles of infectious organisms, so, there you go. I started packing a 2lb container of “Tru-Food Vegan” by the company NOW when I travel. It’s economical, very healthy and almost makes up for the missing daily 1lb of broccoli in my life. I’ve also traveled with a bulk of Heart Thrive Sun Cakes in the past. Always be prepared to take care of yourself.
RED: YOU’VE PERFORMED IN A FEW FESTIVALS. ANY RECOMMENDATIONS TO MAKE THE BACKSTAGE EXPERIENCE BETTER WHEN YOU’RE MEETING SO MANY PEOPLE IN A SHORT PERIOD OF TIME?
EVIE: I am a total dork at festivals backstage (in life too, but especially backstage). I get really excited and happy which then makes me want to be super helpful. I’m paranoid about not being ready, so I’m dressed early and usually stitching someone into their costume or safety pinning something to some hard to reach place for someone I’ve just met. Try to take up as little space as possible, be mindful of the limited outlets/mirrors and keeping the floor free of dangerous obstacles (that Altoid you dropped could cost a girl her ankle, I’ve seen it happen). There are so many beautiful and interesting people and things all in one room, why not let the compliments fly? Again, be nice!
RED: WHAT FIVE THINGS SHOULD EVERY PERFORMER HAVE WHEN THEY TRAVEL?
EVIE: 1) A coat. DO NOT LEAVE THE HOUSE WITHOUT IT.
2) A compact umbrella. Too much sunshine? Surprise rain? It happens every time.
3) Earphones. Sometimes, burlesque touring is a lot like zip lining (yes, that’s a South Park reference).
4)Jelly flats. Don’t hate. When you want to walk a new town for 12 hours straight, they’re pretty much your only option for keeping your feet happy enough to slip into stage heels later.
5) A full container of your favorite sunblock and a kick ass medicine kit. Sunblock is not seasonal! Anticipate any sort of sick you may become and pack for it. Wandering around to pharmacies and trying to explain what’s going on with you in another language while you’re dead ill is not fun, trust me.
RED: ANY OTHER TIPS FOR TRAVELING PERFORMERS?
EVIE: Meeting sweet, wonderful, lifelong pals is one of the rare perks of this job. Mind your manners. Be kind to the people working at the venues. Be kind to the people who are taking the time out of their lives to see your show. Be gracious, be prompt and do not forget those earphones.
Evie Lovelle was named Most Classic at Burlesque Hall of Fame in 2008. You can catch Evie in the film Tournée, and as one of our headliners at the First Hollywood Burlesque Festival. She splits her time between European tours and creating costume masterpieces in her Los Angeles home with her husband, Mike, and her kitties, Vincent and Stewart.http://www.facebook.com/TheEvieLovelle