In the final days of the “Folies Bergere,” there were a lot of “What next?” conversations. We were scribbling down the names and addresses of shows that were or might be going into production around town, around the nation and, in a few cases, on the high seas. Cruise lines are a dandy place to showcase one’s talents.
As a professional wardrobe attendant, I have to practice tact and discretion.
“Hey, Kim,” I yell across the dressing room. “Do you have a gig yet?”
Kim Denmark, who was raised in the South and has perfect manners, doesn’t so much as flinch. “Yes, ma’am. I’m going into a new show, ‘Bad Girls.’”
I’m not surprised. Showgirl/choreographer Kim manages to keep busy year-round, regardless of the economic climate. At 5 feet 10 inches, the hard-bodied Southerner is a head-turner, her blond mermaid hair cascading down her back. She’s actually a redhead, but changed color for work. While blondes may or may not have more fun, she claims they get more jobs. “Good for you.” I say, feeling a tinge of jealousy. “That sounds like fun.”
She holds out her arm and grabs her bicep. “I’m working on my upper body. We’re rehearsing acrobatic work on stripper poles, and the show is kickin’ my butt.”
I turn to Janu Tornell, a Cuban-born beauty queen whose exotic looks have made her an icon of the Folies, the girl posing provocatively in red feathers, lighting up billboards and fliers across the Valley. “What’s your plan? Do you have something lined up?”
She pushes her glasses up onto her forehead and looks up from the papers she’s grading for the Spanish class she teaches at UNLV. “I think I’ll hang up my dancing shoes, but keep modeling on the weekends.” She’s referring to the runway work a lot of the showgirls do at the Fashion Show Mall, a place I’ve added to my weekend rounds, just so I can keep in touch with the cast I’ve worked with for the past few years.
On the way out of the theater I bump into Scotty Pence, a fellow fatality of the Folies’ closing. An acro-dancer who has been with the show off and on for 12 years, he is the cast prankster who keeps everybody laughing with his antics. If he gets too far out of line, the girls have been known to lay a bare breast against his cheek, causing bouts of shuddering and possible nightmares. For Scotty, the gay lifestyle is no high school experiment – it goes all the way to the bone. “I’m retiring,” he says when I ask about his plans for the future. “Going into the family business.”
“And do what?” I ask, expecting some kind of dance school or theater-related job.
“My family runs a log cabin resort on a private lake in Kentucky.”
“That sounds cool.” Kind of like “Queer Eye for the Rustic Guy.” “What will you do, exactly?” I ask, still expecting something theatrical.
“I’m going to help take care of the place,” he says, speaking slowly and carefully as if I’m too dim to figure it out.
“Oh, like carpentry and stuff.” I reply, turning my intellect knob all the way to 11. “Are you moving solo, or is your partner going with you?”
“He’s coming with.”
“Be sure to warn him about the nightlife,” I suggest. I’ve been out of town once or twice, and I know for a fact most places outside of Vegas aren’t open 24 hours a day.
“He knows,” Scotty says. “The population is only four hundred and fifty … the kind of place that sells bait and ice cream out of the same cooler.”
Now there’s a taste treat you can’t get on the Strip, and trust Scotty to mention it. “Well, good luck and keep in touch,” I yell as the gate slams shut sealing off Fifty Years of Fabulous.
Scotty smiles his mischievous grin. “Don’t worry, we’re survivalists. We’ll make it … we always do.”
He’s right, we’re all going to survive. Because no matter where we end up, we know the difference between frozen red wrigglers and a cherry Popsicle.