Outside it may be 2013, but inside Grant Philipo’s Old Vegas mansion, time takes on an indeterminate quality. Its usual forward flow thickens and slows, pooling around the best parts of Las Vegas lore. In this house—the interim location of his Showgirl Museum, which he shares with museum President Mary Dee Mantle—it’s still a decadent yet classy world of glitz, glamour and rhinestones. It’s a world in which Liberace would grocery shop in full regalia at the nearest store and locals wouldn’t bat a false eyelash because Vegas is still a small town. It’s a world in which the old shows (Lido de Paris, Folies Bergere and Hallelujah Hollywood) and the old way (statuesque showgirls draped in jewels) live on in a curated approximation of their past glory.
Philipo is a show producer-director-designer, former showboy (an almost forgotten term that refers to a professional singer-dancer-model) and keeper of the Old Way. He is meticulous in his desire to preserve the remnants of the golden age of stage spectaculars. He spends hours scanning old show programs in order to create a clickable database for future museum-goers. He refurbishes old costumes, decrying the fact that a large collection of Bob Mackie pieces was left outside in a gazebo for more than 10 years (“No screens, no windows, just the sand and the heat—you can imagine what that does to feathers”). He’s filming Their Own Truth, a video-interview project for eventual museum display in which veteran show-business insiders tell their stories. (“It may not be factual, but it will be extremely entertaining.”) And he stays in touch with former showgirls from yesteryear, hosting free tours and reunions so that they can see what they once wore and bask in the glow of limelight memories.
Previously only open for private tours, the Showgirl Museum was one of the most amazing Las Vegas attractions that nobody could see. But on August 24, Philipo announced on the museum Twitter page that he was opening it to the public and requiring a $10 donation for admission. Proceeds will go toward a planned move into a public venue as well as to refurbishing additional costumes.
Toward his goal of expansion, Philipo is taking meetings and hoping to find the “right situation.” He is considering touring a small portion of the collection in shopping malls, but has turned down offers to show in casinos because of security issues. He is open to future opportunities as long as he can guarantee the safety of the collection.
To drum up publicity in anticipation of a move, he recently recorded a segment with Extreme Collectorson Canadian TV network Slice. The show debuts in September.
Philipo says that show host and antique appraiser Andrew Zegers appraised the collection on display at $15 million and the whole collection at approximately $100 million. Philipo appreciated the professional validation. “It was nice to have him tell my business partner that I wasn’t making her waste her money,” he says. “She’s wondered many a time if I was.”
Philipo’s larger goal is to show the general public what is involved in the glamorous side of entertainment. But his museum is not about fossilizing an old way in a perfectly preserved yet inert state. He wants to carry it on so the next generation can discover and re-create the glamour anew.
“If there’s that odd little kid in the middle of nowhere like I was who didn’t fit in, who wasn’t a jock, who had artistic aspirations—to go in that museum they will learn what is important to learn,” Philipo says. “Maybe they end up being a stagehand, maybe they end up being a star, but they will learn everything that is involved in our business, and understand that even though it isn’t always as glamorous as people think it is, it’s still a lot better than most jobs.”
GRANT PHILIPO’S LAS VEGAS SHOWGIRL MUSEUM
Tours are $10 and by appointment only. Sign up at LasVegasShowgirlMuseum.com.