Yvette Paris Interview
(Queen of Burlesque)
She is known as the "Queen of Burlesque." She is Yvette Paris.
Yvette has just written her autobiography, appropriately titled "Queen
of Burlesque" (Prometheus Books).
A member of the Stripper Hall of Fame, we asked Yvette about her life
both on and off the stage.
Q. After reading your book, I can't imagine why anyone would want to become
a stripper. Was it your intention to discourage women from entering this
A. The stripping part of my career wasn't the bad part. In fact, I was
treated like a queen when I finally obtained star status. It was the go-go
dancing and booth baby work that was degrading and dangerous. When I wrote
the book I was trying to deter young women from running away to the so-called
big city in quest of the glamorous life, which by the way does not exist,
only in magazines.
Q. Yvette, I don't think anyone would disagree with
me, when I say you had a tough childhood. I am surprised at how you arrived
at the decision to become a stripper. You write, "One day I had a bright idea. I thought
maybe it would be fun to see if I could successfully pull off a strip act." Out
of the clear blue sky, that idea came to you? Why not become, say, an
airline stewardess, or go back to school?
A. I'm probably the only one who would disagree with you on my having
a tough childhood, but then what would I know? I was only there. When I
wrote about my childhood, I never meant to give the impression that my parents
were monsters. I only told how it was and most people take my stories as
a horror show. My parents were a paradox. They showed my brother and I as
much love as they could and were always there for us. Still, as I wrote
in my book, there were times that I wondered if they ever loved me. I chose
to remember only the good parts, of which there were many, and I chose to
believe they really loved me, although I'll never be totally sure. What
was a normal upbringing to me was a nightmare for the average person. Still,
my childhood was a fun time for me. I didn't decide to become a stripper
right out of the blue. I was influenced by the movie "Gypsy" with
Natalie Wood, when I was very young. I had been a go-go girl in my teens,
so the exotic world wasn't something new to me. I just never stripped before
and I wanted to know if I could do it. I had to prove to myself that I still
looked good after having a baby. I did. As for not deciding to become a
stewardess, lawyer, or brain surgeon, I might remind you that these avenues
were not open to me at the time, as I was a high school drop-out. I never
went back to school at that time, because I was arrogant and didn't believe
that I needed a good education. I have since gotten my diploma and attended
classes in journalism. Education is a must.
Q. Do you know what Americans fear most? Standing up in a room and having
to give a speech to strangers. I maintain it is not a normal thing for someone
to take their clothes off in a room filled with strangers.
A. I'm well aware of the fear that many Americans have of standing up
and talking in public. I cannot only stand up in public and speak, but I
can do it in the nude. I don't think that taking one's clothes off in public
is a normal thing to do, but it is different you must admit, and I like
to be different from other people. I must tell you that the most common
female fantasy is wondering what it would be like to take off all your clothes
in front of a room full of men and getting lusted after.
Q. Do you ever hear the remarks audience members are shouting up at you?
Do those remarks hurt? Do they throw your act off at all?
A. I often hear the remarks that patrons shout up to me. In places of
striptease these remarks are very complimentary and they encourage me to
give my finest performance. In go-go bars, however, the remarks are sometimes
insulting. Many men come into such places to vent their frustrations, and
the dancer is usually the one who catches all the flack. The insults
always throw you off, but the compliments make your night.
Q. Do you know what I find is so strange, a man can pass a woman on the
street and not look twice at her. Put this same woman on the stage, and
suddenly she becomes so desirable. What is there about the stage that brings
out that feeling in people?
A. I believe it is because there is the element of decadence in the exotic
dancer. Most men love that factor, coupled with show business, such as it
is. Exotic dancing is still show business and many people are drawn to the
people on stage like a magnet. Looks very rarely enter the picture.
Q. You describe a permanent fixture in the go-go
bar as "the spotter." Who
does the spotter work for?
A. The ABC (Alcohol Beverage Control) They were always looking for something
to close a bar down for.
Q. You don't hold agents in very high regard. Why not? Have you ever tried
contracting the top theatrical agencies like William Morris, Creative Artists
Agency, or I.C.M.?
A. I don't hold agents in high regard because I never saw an agent that
was worth the powder to blow him or her to hell and back again. I have not
gotten in contact with the so-called top theatrical agents. I am my own
agent and I don't have to answer to anybody. I get all my own work. Agents
are for insecure people who can't take care of their business deals themselves.
Q. How long did you work as a "private dancer" or "booth
A. About six months, but one day is too long. It was the lowest point
in my career.
Q. You often saw people at their worst. How does this affect the way you
now look at people?
A. In all honesty, I saw men in their absolute worst, and their absolute
best. I was not afected by the men I saw in the strip theatres. These
men were very nice. Even the men in go-go bars did not affect me negatively.
The men in the peep booths had a bad effect on me. These men were perverts,
mostly harmless, but some were down-right homicidal. They told me things
that made my blood turn to buttermilk. And to think, they walk the streets.
It took me a long time to come down to Earth after listening for five hours
a day, every day to men's sick sexual fantasies.
Q. "Bouncers in go-go bars are almost non-existent and the dancer
usually has to fend for herself." Couldn't a dancer demand security
in her contract?
A. There are no contracts in the bars where I worked. Bouncers in go-go
bars must be paid a lot of money. Many bars do not have bouncers because
they do not want to pay them the standard high fee, leaving the dancers
to fend for themselves. But, most bar patrons police the bars themselves
and come to the dancer's aid and that is exactly what the bar owners anticipate.
I always had a gentleman come to my rescue. Gentlemen do exist; only don't
call them that in a go-go bar. To be called a gentleman is a high insult
right up there with asking a guy if he wants a glass for his beer. It's
just not done in that environment.
Q. You talk about sitting with a customer having
a drink, during a break. "You
don't want to make the patron feel you're too good for him, even though
you are." You go on to say. "You order a drink, never a soda,
the bar owner will kill you. Real men don't buy soda, wine, or champagne." Do
you really dislike the men who stop into see you? Is that why you made
that first statement? And, what's the big deal over ordering a soda?
A. I was taken out of context when you read my opinion on the bar room
mentality. First, I said that I was better than the man who asked me to
sit down for a drink with him. The reason I said that was because most men
get loaded and don't ask you for a drink. They badger you into sitting with
them by insulting you with such remarks as 'What do ya think? You're too
good for me or something!' Many men were quite nice, too. Bar room paranoia
is in full swing at go-go bars. I never said that a real man doesn't buy
wine or soda. This was said to me by patrons who suffered macho, barroom
paranoia. I am no big deal drinker and when I was dancing I would have preferred
to drink only Diet Coke, but the bar owners made no money from soda, so,
they encourage the dancer to drink. Champagne if she can swing it is all
the better for the bar.
Q. What do you mean when you say "Although
I'm out of the exotic world now, the exotic world will never be out of
me. I still see things exotically."
A. I will never see things in an innocent or rosy way ever again. I have
seen too much, and I know too much, particularly about men. Sometimes, I
wish I didn't know the things that I know. I would like to think innocently
again, but, not in this lifetime.
© Gary James All Rights Reserved