In The Beginning
In The Beginning
As long as I can remember, I always wanted to be on stage. As a young girl in the Deep South, I wanted to be a rock star. I have taken piano lessons since I was six. I played in church and in gospel tents. We had a Hammond organ, which I loved to play. You could make that instrument scream. My brother Raymond played the drums. We loved to jam out together.
I grew up in the Bible belt, and everything was very strict and boring to me, a future rock star. I also wanted to model, because I was tall. I wanted to be in the business they call show. My mother would have none of that. I had to play gospel music, and Raymond and I slipped around and played some devil music when we could. The first song that I had written I called “Nicotine Weed” and it went like this:
"Started smoking before I learned to read"
"Gotta have that nicotine weed, nicotine weed, nicotine weed,
that's all I need"
Momma came in when I was on the Hammond organ, rocking out with that song. She grabbed me by the hair of my head and said, “You will not play that devil music in my house.” That's when I knew that I had to move on if I was ever going to be a Modeling Rock Star. I knew I had to go somewhere where my talents were appreciated and not thinking that I was demon possessed just because I wanted to express my self-difference from my Mother or Father. God bless them both, but they didn't appreciate my loudness and artistic abilities that I had.
I was trapped in this body. I knew I had to get out to somewhere and it wasn't in Alabama. I will not write about my childhood, because it was not an encouraging childhood. My family did not do anything for the artist in me. In fact, they didn't even notice the artist, they thought something was wrong with me for wanting to be anything but a schoolteacher, and to have the natural flair that I had, that no one, not even my parents could kill.
Roll Tide, Yeah I gotta roll up out of here, and that's what I did.
I joined the carnival Amusements of America, run by the Vavona Brothers. They had a girlie show, which was like a traveling Burlesque show. I watched the girls on the bali. A bali is where some of the girls come out while a barker barks to get a crowd. I had never seen anything like that; I thought
everything was cool. They all had beautiful long beaded gowns. They looked like movie stars.
Wow, I was in show business.
The star was Honey West. She was a young beautiful redhead, who taught me how to bump and grind. Lee Sharon, was her sister. They were both so nice and helpful. I will never forget their kindness. Honey let me borrow one of her gowns. I
learned how to bump and grind, though I still couldn't walk very gracefully in high heels. I learned how to put on stage make-up. I loved getting dolled up and getting paid for it. I worked on the Girlie show until the end of the season, when all the carnies went to Florida for the winter.
The comic said that I should go to Miami Beach to the Gayety Burlesque Theater and get a job there, so after the season was over with the carnival, I hitched a ride to Miami.
I went to the Gayety Burlesque Theater located at 21st and Collins Avenue. The owner of the theater, Leroy Griffith, was an old carnie himself. He had been a candy butcher with the carnival, and made his millions; of course, he was also a big time gambler.
I went in to see him and he hired me, but I had no wardrobe or costumes so he asked some of the girls to hook me up and sell me some of there stuff. Cherrie Lynn sold me one of her gowns.
Leroy told me to go out and watch the show. I was stunned when I saw a black girl on stage. Coming from Alabama, I wasn't expecting that. I met the beautiful Princess Gloria Gandy, a beautiful girl from Mexico. She had the coolest car I had ever seen. It was a 1969 gold Camaro with a Leopard Vinyl top and leopard covered seats. Gloria was a petite thing. I think she called herself an Aztec Princess. I had never seen anyone so beautiful and so glamorous as Princess Gloria Gandy. She was very nice to me. I would run into her many times over the years on the road after I had become a Star. We always had a lot of fun. Gloria really knew how to work the men. They gave her anything she wanted. I was really impressed with her.
There was a comedian and a straight man there. The comedian was the famous Monkey Kirkland. Though this was the tail end of Burlesque, only about twenty Burlesque Theaters opened up throughout the United States. Live Nude Dancing and Go-Go-Girls were putting Burlesque out of business, just like Burlesque put Vaudeville out of business. There was still Burlesque out there in the 60's and 70's, but disappearing.
I had to think of a stage name. I had no clue about any of this action. There was a song that was popular at the time, titled Michelle My Belle. That was the stage name that I chose, Michelle My Belle.
I had never seen anything like Miami Beach in the season. Every hustler that you could think of was there, just for the season, to hustle all the tourists. Miami was jumping with action. Hookers and drifters came down from up North. Name it; it was on Miami Beach.
There were about seven girls in the show, a comic and straight man, and the star attraction. A different star attraction would come every week. The rest of the girls were house girls that lived in Miami Beach. The headliner, when at the theater, was a girl from Chile named Lita Bond. She couldn't speak any English. She had just come from Chile to the United States. She was a very pretty girl with beautiful beaded costumes. Grace Swank was there, she was my age. She came from the carnival shows also. Her parents were in the business, and they had just been killed in a car accident. Grace was a quiet, shy girl. Grace was also a talking woman in the scenes.
There was a girl named Kim from up north somewhere. She turned me on to my first speed pills. I never had been around any kind of drugs before. We took this speed, named Obitrin. They took it off the market. It had speed and a downer, mixed. I really liked those, but at the end of our show when we went to the bars, when I would drink on the pills, I went crazy, I just couldn't handle the two of them mixed together. I got into a fight with everyone that I ran into.
We would go to three gays bars that were together on Miami Beach just a few blocks from the Theater, up the street from Place Pigale, The Night Owl, and the Pin-Up. One was a girl’s bar and one was a men's bar, they stayed open until 5 am. Of course, we closed the bar. I was staying at the Dorchester Hotel on Collins Avenue. Everything was close together.
The girls used to laugh at me because I could not walk very well in really high heels. You had to have very high heels on; it was the sexiest for your legs. I had no clue how to act sexy. Of course I finally figured it out over time, but during those early days you could tell that I was an amateur, but, not for long. This book is about the rise of Camille 2000, the girl for yesterday, today, and tomorrow. I will try to remember my journey as best I can.
I was a party girl; I liked to have a good time, and still do. I was very young and innocent when I started, being brought up in the Bible belt, where if you showed any kind of creativity, they thought you were the devil. They wanted to cast the demons out of you. Please don't, I like the demons, they can be fun. Without the dark, there would be no light.
I loved the spotlight and I would become a very famous Burlesque dancer, who changed how people would look at Burlesque toward the end of my career. You will learn about this as you read this book. I am not a writer, so I hope this gets printed some day before I kick the bucket.
I loved to watch the Burlesque performers and try to pick up a few moves. Lots of girls didn't like you copying them, but some were willing to show you a few moves. I knew that I wanted to become a Star in Burlesque. I wanted to close the show. I wanted what all those other girls had. I wanted to bring down the house with my performance. Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither was Camille 2,000.
My first year I stayed on Miami Beach as a house girl for the Gayety Burlesque on 21st and Collins, owned by Leroy Griffith, a carnie and big time gambler. He owned several Burlesque Theaters. Word is that he lost all but the Gayety in Washington and the Gayety in Miami Beach due to gambling.
Leroy was short in stature, and had a Napoleon complex, but I liked it. He dressed in expensive clothes, and was always well manicured. He was a real showman from the old school. What better place to learn the ropes than with an old showman.
The Gayety Burlesque was across from Wolfe's on 21st and Collins, which also had the gay beach.
I didn't know from gay but I would soon learn.
One feature was a big blonde Latin lady name The White Savage. I was in awe of her. I was in awe of all the girls. Some other features I remember were Morganna the Wild. She packed that theater like no one else. When she didn't have a feature on the road Cheri Lynn would feature. She looked a lot like Cher and she sold me some of her costumes. She was a great strip with long legs. She also had a sister in the business working the clubs in Boston, I will think of her name later. I wish I had documented my life more like a lot of performers did. Bambi Sr., aka Joey Namath, Joey Bishop changed her name a lot avoiding a mean boyfriend.
I loved this Burlesque world. I felt right at home. I was often scared by the many different characters that I would meet, but never showed it. You had to be street tough to survive, but I had a mission to become a Burlesque Star.
I worked as a house performer at the Gayety for a year or so, mastering my craft. I learned how to walk and tease the audience, but I knew I needed to go to New York to get professional photos taken and get an agent.
I met many guys that wanted to buy me apartments, cars, diamonds, anything I wanted. These guys were called stage door Johnnies, or Johns to girls that tricked. I never turned tricks, I was way too afraid that I would go to Hell for sure if I did that. Plus, that was just too scary for me. I am a scaredy cat, being a Leo. Disrobing on stage was enough for me. That was a real big thing for me, being that I was brought up so stuck in the Bible belt. Everything was a sin that was fun, and if you did anything like that, you would split Hell wide open, as my father use to say.
I learned a lot in Miami at the Gayety. I smoked my first joint, took my first pill. There are drugs in show business; that is just part of the culture. Years later it would be Cocaine in the 80's. It was just a social thing to do in those days, at least for me and everyone that I was around. I guess it is true, birds of a feather flock together.
I was taken aback by drag queens, I loved them, they were all so beautiful. I love gay men. You could party with them and not worry about them trying to fuck you. When you disrobe for a living, most of the men offer you money for sex. They believe that you are the character that you portray on stage, the sexpot, the siren. Who in the hell acts like that all the time, unless you're a nympho?
All the fans fall in love with the character you are on stage, the sexpot. I had many guys, who after the show, wanted to take me out to dinner or to a European vacation with them, promising to lavish me with gifts. I remember once, a man named Fred, left a diamond ring at the box office for me with a bouquet of roses and a note asking if I would meet him at Wolfe's after the show.
I was curious to what he looked like, so I went over to Wolfe's after my show to meet him. He was young, and easy on the eye. We chatted, and he told me about himself. He told me that he had just received a big inheritance from his Uncle's estate. I am protecting him by not saying his last name though. He may be dead now, but his family name is still out there. He was from very old money; his family had many companies and sold lots of different products. He was really smitten with me.
I had to go back to the theater for the 11 o'clock show and said I would have a drink with him after work. He seemed safe enough. He walked me back to the theater across the street; he bought another ticket to see the show again. I walked in the stage door entrance to the dressing rooms. I told the girls about him and that I was meeting him after the show for a cocktail. I asked Cheri and Kim if they wanted to join us for a drink and check him out.
There was a little bar next to the theater; I think it was called Joey's. We would go there a lot between shows for drinks. Some of the customers would be over there trying to meet one of their favorite burlesque queens.
The comics would come over sometimes. They usually had their bottle in the dressing room with them. The comics were great, and I loved working with them, I just didn't' want to do any scenes.
After the show we met Fred at Joeys'. I ordered a Stinger. I had seen it in an old movie before, so I always wondered what they tasted like. It was an old Bogart and Bacall film where they ordered Stingers. Since all this was very new to me, a simple little country girl. Y'all hear. We drank until the bar closed at 2 am then we went to an after hours place on the beach that stayed opened until 5 am. I think it was called Sonny's. It was owned by Al Capone's son, Sonny. It was a great after hours place.
All the show people, musician, hustlers, hookers, and performers all went there after work to unwind and listen to the band. Everything known to science was at Sonny's. You could also buy party favors; it was a very colorful place.
James Early was playing, a very cool musician. I loved to hear him sing, he had a very Marvin Gaye style in his singing. He had a beautiful Sugar Mama with him, who was really beautiful. I had never heard of any people like that before. I really liked all these colorful people. I felt like I was one of the colorful people. It was very creative, the life that I was living now, and I liked it very much. I didn't think about anything but just living one day at a time, and one day becoming a famous Burlesque Queen.
This was the beginning of my career, in Miami Beach, at the Gayety Burlesque. This would also be the last theater that I worked in my career. Twenty years later, I will do my last show at the Gayety Burlesque Theater. This book is my journey for those twenty years, how I make a complete circle and work for Leroy again. Though the Gayety Burlesque was Martha Raye's old 5 O’clock club now. It moved from across the street. The open feature was Joni Carson. Lots of performers were using celebrity type names, like Joey Bishop, Joey Namath.
So if I drift off. I apologize; I lived in California for quite some time.
All the police on Miami Beach would come and stand at the back of the Theater. Leroy let them in free, you know, for security. Leroy was friends with the police on the beach. They loved each other. The police officers always kept an eye on us, because they knew we worked for Leroy.
Our first show was at 1:30, and then we had a 4:00 show. We broke for dinner break and came back for an 8:00 show, then an 11:00 show. We could leave in between shows, but we had to be back a half-hour before the show started, except for the star of the show.
She didn't have to be in until half hour before her show. The star also had a private dressing room. I wanted a private dressing room, but I wasn't a star yet.
In Burlesque, you had a comic, a straight man, and a talking woman. The talking woman was one of the strip acts. Some just specialized in being a talking woman, terrible strippers, but great talking women.
Sometimes for the scenes, the comic had to use other dancers to act in the scene. I never wanted to do scenes, because the star attraction didn't do scenes, and I knew I was going to become a Star so I just didn't want to do scenes, but Leroy wanted me to do scenes. He thought my cute southern accent would be a hit. He gave me a raise to do scenes. For more money, I would do scenes.
The comic, Monkey Kirkland, did not like me in the scenes because I was not very good. I was funny, but not good. I couldn't remember my lines, and I would ask him what was next and the audience would laugh like crazy. I was funny. You're not supposed to be funnier than the comic. He went screaming to Leroy saying I don't want her in the scenes, she is terrible, but Leroy said you will put her in the scenes.
So, the next scene I got him back. It was a nightclub scene, and I was the waitress. I had to bring a bottle of booze and set it on the table. The comedian had all the props and had a bottle full of water for the prop for this scene. I switched it, and brought a bottle of vodka out on stage to him. That was the funniest thing I had ever seen. He was a really good comedian and got thru it. After the scene, he said, “I like the vodka, you just shouldn't have surprised me.” He was a good sport for that. I guess because he knew he was stuck with me doing scenes.
Meet me round the corner in a half hour; meet me round the corner in a half hour, one of my favorite scenes. I also liked slowly I turned, step by step, inch by inch, I think that scene was called Niagara Falls.
I remember Monkey Kirkland was sick one night. I went to his dressing room to see how he was feeling and pray for him. He told me that I did not belong in this business, that this business was too rough for me. Of course, I didn't agree with him.
Those burlesque queens really had a way with the language. Not all the girls, but the majority had a way with words. They said what they meant and meant what they said.
They cursed a lot. I learned how to curse from being in Burlesque. One of the older dancers told me that I had to toughen up if I wanted to survive in this business, so I learned how to Muther Fuck everyone.
I really learned how to read people from Bob Morris. He was one of Leroy’s Theater managers. He was in Miami Beach for a while, and then he went to manage the Gayety Burlesque in Washington DC I never heard anyone talk like Bob Morris. He was so funny how he told people off. He would read people to whale shit. I wanted to be able to do that, and over time I did.
Bob was a jolly guy or should I say gay. I was surprised to hear that, I was just learning about the gay scene from being in Burlesque. I liked gays, they were all flamboyant and beautiful. I loved to go to the gay bars on Miami Beach.
They are torn down now, but there were two gay bars together, The Night Owl in the left building and the Pin-up in the right. The music was awesome. I saw girls that looked like boys. In those days, girls would wear binders across the boobs to flatten there breasts. They wore boys clothes, and had male haircuts. That kind of turned me on.
I used to fight with guys all the time. Cheri told me that I was gay. I would tell her, “I'm not gay,” but I was beginning to like everything gay.
The first girl I kissed was Chickie. She was from New York and on vacation in Miami Beach. She was very aggressive. I tried to tell her no, but she insisted. We went back to the hotel room and she raped me. Yes, a girl raped me, she forced herself on me, and she was much stronger than I was. She put her fingers in my vagina and raped me with her hand. She said that I wanted it. Not that way. I didn't want my first experience with a girl to be like that. I thought women were supposed to be more gentle, and knew what another woman wanted. I would get Chickie back though. She will come up again as my story moves along.
After that experience, I was hoping not to ever see her again, but she was in love now. I had never met a woman like her. I think she was called a Bull Dyke. She was a bull all right.
So that Chickie would see that I was not interested in her, I started dating Johnny Doyan. He was a boxer on Miami Beach.
His trainer was Angelo Dundee, who trained all the famous boxers. Johnny was young and an up and coming star in the boxing world. He would run early in the mornings. He was very handsome, but he was a player and a hustler, which I didn't even know from that either. I didn't know from a lot of things. I was brought up in a very strict home, where I learned nothing about the world around me.
Johnny was my first boyfriend on the beach. He was really good in bed, Of course I thought I was the only one ,but found out, he would bang anything with a skirt on. We couldn't have sex when he was getting ready for a fight though. Of course he had a hot body, but Johnny was a little crazy.
Guys were always asking if I would have sex with them, and they would pay me. I could never do that. I could never sell my body that way. Johnny knew that I didn't trick, but he wanted to get the guy in the room, then he would come in before anything happened, and say, “What are you doing with my girl,” and scare the shit out of the guy, then rob him.
He told me, “Just do this for me. Say you want to have sex with them. I will be there right away,” so he talked me into it. I was afraid because I had never done anything like this in my entire life. So, this guy offered me $300 to go with him. We went to the hotel room, and I left the door unlocked.
No sooner than he gave me the money, Johnny came busting in the room. "What the fuck are you doing," he said. “Are you trying to fuck my old lady?” The john was scared shitless, saying, “Please don't' hurt me, I'm a married man with children.” “Oh Yeah,” Johnny said. “Give me your wallet.” He didn't want to give Johnny his wallet, so Johnny pulled a gun on him. I almost fainted when I saw that gun.
The man gave up the money and Johnny threw him out and told him if he ever said anything Johnny would tell his wife and children. He kept his drivers license with his address on it. Johnny told him he was lucky that he didn't kill him.
Johnny pocketed all the money the guy had, and we went to the bar for a drink. I was shaken up a bit. I had never been in anything like that, and knew that I never wanted to be again.
I had to go to the theater to do my 11 pm show. After the show, I didn't go to meet Johnny like usual, I went to the gay bar and partied. I was avoiding Johnny like the plague. Word was out that he was looking for me.
The next day I go to work to do my evening show. I was on stage dancing when Johnny came up to the stage and made a fist and said, “What are you doing running from me. I will get you. You do what I say.” The bouncers threw him out on the street.
In the Miami Herald the next day, everyone read about what happened that Johnny Doyan, an up and coming boxer, was thrown out of the Gayety Burlesque Theater for threatening a dancer. The bouncers roughed him up a little because he was fighting them. The paper said that Johnny had to cancel his fighting match that he had that weekend.
Some people said Johnny was afraid to fight this guy, because he knew he was going to get his ass beat, so he just used it as an excuse. I had to keep an eye out for Johnny once I found out how crazy he was. He was a real bad guy. I just didn't know that when I first met him, he was so handsome and charming and a body like an Adonis. I was sad, but I knew he was dangerous.
I was learning fast, I was living in the fast lane. I liked the fast lane and I loved a little danger. I was, at that time, still very naïve and innocent to any kind of worldly goings on.