Las Vegas is famous for its rich history of burlesque shows. It is home to the Burlesque Hall of Fame, the world’s only museum dedicated to the history, preservation, and future practice of burlesque. However, many may not know that this museum got its start in the Mojave Desert with the help of Dixie Evans, the Marilyn Monroe of burlesque.
Dixie Evans was born Mary Lee Evans on August 28, 1926 in Long Beach, California (Fox). Her father was an oilman who died when she was young, and the family struggled to support themselves after his death. Evans held a variety of jobs, such as working in the celery fields and being an airplane mechanic during WWII. Evans would begin her life on the stage as a member of the chorus in touring musicals (Fox). Sometime as a young woman, Dixie ended up stranded in San Francisco between jobs. There she found that a local burlesque theater paid four times more what she was making previously (Fox). Dixies’ career soon took off and she began preforming at Minsky’s burlesque house in Newark. She soon adopted the act of impersonating Marilyn Monroe which made her a legend in burlesque. In 1998, she told the New York Times “If you couldn’t meet the real Marilyn, you could come to the burlesque and meet me.” It is said that Joe DiMaggio, Marilyn’s ex-husband, amongst many other famous men, would come to see Dixie perform after his divorce (Fox). Dixie would meet her husband, the prize fighter Harry Braelow while performing and they were married in 1963. Dixie would perform as Marilyn up until Monroe’s tragic death in 1962. This would force Dixie to re-do her act, as she admired Monroe and imitating her after her death felt sacrilegious (The Burlesque Hall of Fame).
A young Dixie Evans (Burlesque Hall of Fame).
Dixie as an airplane mechanic in WWII (Burlesque Hall of Fame)
Dixie Evans (Burlesque Hall of Fame)
Dixie Evans as Marilyn Monroe (Burlesque Hall of Fame)
Dixie would go on to hold several other jobs, including working as a nurse’s aide in California (Fox). She would divorce her husband Braelow a few years later. In the mid 1960s, Dixie even went on to manage a hotel in the fishing village of Bimini in the Bahamas. She found a hotel owner and petitioned for a show with live music. The owner was initially doubtful, “You’re going to put a show on the smallest island in the world?” the owner asked. Dixie responded: “That’s the only way I know how to open up a place!” (The Burlesque Museum). She would design the bar and restaurant, and create the beautiful venue known as the Bimini Hotel which became a popular destination. Dixie was a true entrepreneur.
In the late 1980s, Dixie’s friend and fellow burlesque performer Jennie Lee would be diagnosed with breast cancer. Jennie had retired on a goat ranch in Helendale, California- located in Victor Valley in the Mojave Desert, within San Bernardino County. Dixie would move there to help take care of Jennie (Fox, Burlesque Hall of Fame Wikipedia). Jennie Lee had begun collecting burlesque memorabilia when she owned the Sassy Lassy nightclub in San Pedro and had wanted to create a burlesque museum with her collection, as well as run a burlesque school and bed and breakfast (Burlesque Hall of Fame Wikipedia).
Jennie would pass away in 1990 and Dixie carried on her wish to open a museum with her collections, working with Jennie’s widow. It became the Exotic World Burlesque Museum and Striptease Hall of Fame (Burlesque Hall of Fame Wikipedia). Previous visitors to the site would describe it as being filled with Greek-like plaster goddesses, fountains, and pools. A pool was built into the museum, where Dixie would host an annual beauty pageant. There was a sign at the museum gate instructing visitors to honk three times for a tour, and Dixie would appear in full makeup and costume to greet them (The Burlesque Musuem). The museum became a place of burlesque heritage, where young performers would come to learn about past dancers. Past performers are said to have enjoyed visiting the museum, seeing their work preserved and presented lovingly and professionally (Roadside America). Dixie is quoted stating that “This is history, and it deserves to be told” (The Burlesque Museum).
Dixie at Exotic World (Burlesque Hall of Fame)
Dixie would run the museum in the desert for sixteen years up until 2006, when the museum was moved to Las Vegas. The annual pageant would continue since its first start. In2018, the museum would move to its permanent home in the Vegas Arts district where it was renamed the Burlesque Hall of Fame (Burlesque Hall of Fame Wikipedia). Dixie moved to Las Vegas with it, and she ran and curated the museum until her death at 86 years old in 2013. Today, the museum still runs as a tourist spot and non-profit organization which offers tours of its collections of costumes, props, and memorabilia from the past. The museum also offers classes for beginners and experienced burlesque performers and its collections are open to researchers (Burlesque Hall of Fame Wikipedia). A promoter of history and a pioneer in burlesque, Dixie Evans’ legacy lives on through her museum- which all started in a small town in the desert.
Dixie giving a tour at The Burlesque Hall of Fame (The Burlesque Museum)
Burlesque Hall of Fame. Dixie Evans (1926-2013). Dixie Evans (1926 – 2013) – Burlesque Hall of Fame
Pinterest. Image of Dixie Evans. Dixie Evans, burlesque | Vintage burlesque, Burlesque, Belly dancing classes (pinterest.com)
Fox, Margalit. “Dixie Evans, Who Brought ‘Monroe’ to Burlesque Houses, Dies at 86”. The New York Times. August 10, 2023. Dixie Evans, Who Brought ‘Monroe’ to Burlesque Houses, Dies at 86 - The New York Times (nytimes.com)
Roadside America. Exotic World- Strippers Hall of Fame (Gone). Exotic World - Strippers Hall of Fame (Gone), Helendale, California (roadsideamerica.com)
Wikipedia. Burlesque Hall of Fame. Burlesque Hall of Fame - Wikipedia
Wikipedia. Helendale, California. Helendale, California - Wikipedia