LA Times Interview
By Richard Abowitz, April 2007.:
I learned about the existence of Dita Von Teese while living in Las Vegas. I have seen her maybe twice: on a red carpet at a resort’s nightclub and maybe once while covering the AVN convention. I say “maybe” because it could have been one of the dozens and dozens of women in adult entertainment (and, many more in mainstream culture) who have adopted, indeed, shamelessly copied, her look. Dita probably doesn’t care since she would be the first to tell you that so much of her aesthetic and act comes direct from a long line including Bettie Page and Lili St. Cyr.
Of course, she has her own very distinctive personality and isn’t afraid to speak her mind especially on a favored topic like model releases: “I’ve signed model releases that have come back to haunt me,” she tells me. “I am on the cover of Penthouse right now for film I took around 1993. I got paid $1,000 back then. All these years later, I know what my image is worth now. I should have thought it through more back then. The message is don’t sign everything away when photographers tell you it is standard. Especially for young models there is not one way to do things when photographers tell you that is the way it is. It is not that way. Young pinup, fetish and glamour models need to be careful.”
Dita turns out to be more than a male fantasy of erotica and fetish. She is that, too. But Dita (the last name, Von Teese, was added by Playboy when she graced the cover a few years ago) has achieved the most powerful fantasy of so many young women in this town: Dita was once a stripper at Crazy Horse Too behind the Strip and now returns to town the conquering hero as the first guest star in the history of MGM Grand’s offshoot of the revered Crazy Horse from Paris.
Here are Dita’s thoughts on a guest spot she did at the original Crazy Horse in Paris:
Dita Von Teese: I’ve been a big fan of the Crazy Horse since I was seventeen. I read the history of it. I learned that it was open since 1951 and that it is an all nude cabaret and that the girls are highly respected in Europe which is unfathomable in America for a nude dancer. I took myself to Paris the first time when I was 18 or 19 years old and it was really the first place I went. I’ve seen the show in Paris maybe 20-25 times. Being a Crazy Horse girl would have been a dream come true. But those girls are the most beautiful girls from all over the world. They all have exceptional dance training. It was a real honor and privilege to be part of the show. It was daunting. I was the first guest star. And, these girls work 365 days a year, and two shows a night and never stop. As this American burlesque performer walking in there and not being the kind of dancer they are: it could have gone horribly wrong. But I had a real connection with the girls and I developed friendships with the grils. I think they are last great showgirls. I’ve seen a lot of cheese shows in Vegas. But this is what it should be in my mind. This is what I think of when I think of showgirls.
Richard Abowitz: Did you develop the act you are doing here or did Crazy Horse?
A: I’ve been taking bubble baths on stage for a really long time. The costumes change and the aesthetics have changed but it is an act I have been doing. It was chosen for two reasons. In part, because the clearance of the stage is very small. It makes the girls look very tall. All the girls have heels made different heights so they will be the same height. It is very uniform and it is very cool. Most of my props are too tall for the stage. The bathtub is the smallest prop. Also, the founder of Crazy Horse saw footage of Lili St. Cyr’s famous bathtub act. And, that helped inspire him to open the Crazy Horse. It all started with Lili St. Cyr.
Q: You know quite a bit of history…
A: You have to. With everything I do I want to know the history. I want to know the history of the showgirl. How hard was it for women to do the same thing in the 1930’s or the 1890’s? What kind of stigma did those women deal with when they were going on stage. It still exists…
Q: I don’t mean to interrupt you, but I guess it depends what you call a thing. But I don’t think there is any stigma to being Las Vegas headliner topless or not.
A: Yeah, well there will always be people who say ‘Oh that Dita, she is just a glorified stripper.’ And, yes I am. And, I am proud to be a glorified stripper. That is what Gypsy Lee was too. Striptease is something that has a history. Most people think it was invented in the pole dancing clubs.
Q: What do you think of the art of striptease, the pole dancing clubs, as practiced in the strip clubs in Vegas?
A: Well, I used to work in Vegas at the other Crazy Horse (Crazy Horse Too topless bar). I worked there in the early 90’s when I was nobody and just a little fetish girl. I went to Vegas to work every once and awhile. I hated working in Las Vegas as a stripper. I hated the hustle. I don’t put down lap dancers because that is how I got my start. That set the groundwork for what I am doing now. You know what is funny, I auditioned to work at Club Paradise (across from Hard Rock) and they turned me down to work there. They wouldn’t even let me audition on the main stage. I definitely had my moments when people didn’t get what I was doing.
Q: Did you imagine you would go from the topless bars here to guest headlining in a show at MGM Grand?
A: No. No and no. There is a lot that has happened in my life I never thought would happen. I am very thankful. There is a lot of hard work that went into it too. I did feather dances in biker bars, you know. I was always up for the adventure.