Headshots of old burlesque stars wallpapered Dixie Evans’ Las Vegas trailer home. When I interviewed her in 2011, the “Marilyn Monroe of Burlesque” was a vibrant storyteller, taking on her Marilyn voice for emphasis and showing off a beaded hat from the film Some Like It Hot with the initials “M.M.” written under the brim. Evans removed it from its wrapping gingerly, as if it were a holy relic.
“I had this hankering to be somebody or something,” she said, describing her youthful aspirations.
Evans succeeded on both counts.
At least 29 burlesque shows are planned around the world in celebration of Dixie Evans Week. The August 26-September 1 festivities, which also include burlesque classes, were conceived to cover Evans’ medical bills after she suffered a stroke in January. But when Evans died on August 3 at 86, the event shifted its focus to memorializing the “bawdy, entrepreneurial, firecracker of a blonde,” as DixieEvansWeek.com describes her. The fundraisers will now pay outstanding medical bills and for her funeral arrangements.
Evans’ August 28 birthday would have occurred in the middle of her week, and she had wanted to celebrate. “She had been planning on going to the [performance] here in Vegas even two days before she passed,” says longtime friend Luke Littell, “asking for her walker so she could practice walking. She didn’t want to use her wheelchair, she wanted to walk in [the show]. She was feisty till the end.”
After her time as an original burlesque star, Evans had a second act working to preserve the art form and helping inspire the neo-burlesque movement. In 1991, she founded the Miss Exotic World Pageant to bring awareness to burlesque and to fund the Exotic World Museum in Helendale, California, which she curated and directed. In 2006, Evans brought the competition and the museum to Las Vegas, where it has become the Burlesque Hall of Fame on Fremont Street.
While her passing after living a very full life—she worked as an airplane mechanic during World War II and managed a hotel in the Bahamas in the ’60s, among many other things—might not seem like a shock to the outside world, members of the local burlesque community have been beside themselves.
“People have been devastated,” says Littell, 39. “She more than anyone in the world helped start the fire of the burlesque revival. She kept the flame alive for burlesque and let this younger generation keep discovering it. She was the one who was able to show them all the way.”
Indeed, at the Las Vegas Burlesque Classes studio, a signed photo of Evans hangs front and center on a wall of “burlesque legend” publicity photos. There, after hosting an August 10 class on pasty tassel twirling, Las Vegas-based burlesque dancer and instructor Darby Fox teared up when discussing Evans’ death. “It was shocking, no matter how you look at it,” she said. “If you were in the community at all, you felt it.”
Fox, whose bright red hair was twisted into a ’50s-era curl, was planning to teach a class to benefit Evans, but was so shocked by her death that she hasn’t finalized the plans. “No matter what culture you’re in, you really have to respect where you came from,” Fox said. “The best way to remember her is to continue to perform and do things to help the community.”
Evans would have agreed. “The girls have all bestowed on me that I started all this,” she said in 2011. “I’m most grateful to them because they don’t realize what they did for me. They’ll say, ‘Oh, you did so much for burlesque.’ And I say, ‘No, it’s the other way around. You’re keeping me going.’”
Dixie Evans Week
Aug. 26-Sept. 1, with local show United We Shimmy! at the Plaza Showroom, 9:30 p.m. Aug. 31, $20, DixieEvansWeek.com.