The 500 Club
Updated: May 6
I am happy to be writing my story finally. It has been a truly cathartic experience. So to you, the reader, I am reading your comments. What a gift to be given.
It’s Sunday, and I just finished two days of back-to-back drag performances. I have nothing left inside of me to give. I am exhausted. Being tired like this is one of the effects of being the performer that gives it all up for the audience. I feed off my audience and try to return whatever they give. Some nights I’ve gone home to have nachos or a cheeseburger and fries- my two favorites. Food may be my favorite relationship. It always comforts me in those “hangry” times of tribulations. Tonight I was so damned tired that I turned off the phone. That damned two-day drive from Asheville back to New Orleans was also challenging.
People at the drag brunch were so sweet and so appreciative. I fell in love with a 92-year-old man. He was sitting next to his wife, who was looking at her watch at the table, having his brunch. He was precious. By round three, we were hugging and dancing.
I was taught by a dear friend that when you're older, to hang with the young to keep you wise and when you're older, hang with the young to keep you young. I heard Eartha Kitt say the same thing while we were chatting at the stage door for Cinderella in New Orleans.
I met Margie O’ Dair at the Royal Blend Coffee House in the French Quarter, having our morning coffees and bran muffins. She told me stories of the many roles she played on the stage in the French Quarter and the Beverly Theatre. Marge was the grande dame of local theatre, playing the roles of Mama Rose, Dolly Levi, and Mame. She and the cast of “Gypsy” went to a party for Tulane theatre patrons dressed as their characters. Becky Allen played the role of Mizzeppa, “Bump it with a Trumpet,” They were so good in their parts that guests thought they were real hookers and asked them to leave.
Margie and I had a theme song, “Broadway Baby.” I would start the verse, and she would jump in.
“Here’s to the Ladies who Lunch.”
PJ’s and Mona
That black Cadillac must have been polished right before she pulled into the PJ's parking lot because it was so damned shiny. It sent prisms of light into the PJ’S as she pulled into the space next to the front door.
She knew how to make her entrance. I stopped looking at my computer to watch the scene unfold.
She was having an intense conversation with someone on the phone. Her ring caught the sunlight too. “Wonder if it is big as Dottie’s or Loretta’s?” my friend always asks when seeing a diamond ring.
She finished her conversation, dropped her phone in her purse, spun on her heel, and opened the glass door without missing a beat. She walked up to the register to order.
The cafe had that new smell. Fresh, much different than the smells I was used to in the French Quarter’s coffee shops.
She ordered something frozen with whipped cream. She grabbed her coffee and walked over to the leather chair and sat behind me. She made a call to someone who was picking up her dry cleaning, and her groceries and to get her dog, Zsa Zsa, their food at the pet store. She wanted the bag of avocadoes and the large steak tomatoes. She wanted fresh salmon. "I think that's it, Dahlin."
"Oh the dog food, just tell the young butch girl at the Jefferson Feed on Jefferson Highway. that it's for Mona and Zsa Zsa.."
The best part of eavesdropping is visualizing where it takes you in your head as you set the scene, pick the cast, and the costumes and sets.
She thanked them and hung up. Her next call was to her manicurist. She needed her nails done. "Can we do Friday morning either before or after my ten o clock hair appointment.?"
Next, I assume she was checking email or social media because she went quiet.
She got up to go get herself a cookie for her "sugar" she told the barista.
As she walked back to the table, she asked me what I was doing. I told her I was reading an article about Jayne Mansfield.
"Oh, she was so gorgeous. I watched all her movies. I went out to Hollywood once just to see her pink mansion. Her husband, Marissa's father has a flower shop. Did you know that Marissa is her daughter? Do you know the one on Law and Order? "
"Yes ma'am I love Mariska."
She asked if I had been to any of the archives here to do any research. She said there might be something in the newspapers about Jayne being that she died in Slidell. She told me that the Bultman Funeral Home handled her body and she once went to a party with the persona who was the embalmer. He said she had a very large collection of cosmetics.
We introduced ourselves. Her name was “Johnnie Mae, but everyone calls me ‘Honey.’”
We talked for a bit. She told me she was a private investigator dealing at the moment in divorces. Her husband died and she was bored so her son-in-law told her she was nosey enough, she should work for him. Today I was watching a cheating husband come out of the Lamplighter.
“Men are bastards Arthur.”
She was fantastic, and we hit it off. She invited me to meet her at the downtown library the next Wednesday to check out the archives. She was old school for sure because the archives are all online as I was about to find out.
The story of to be continued
Lisa and Mickey
I love my Facebook groups, especially the ones that post vintage and historical photos.
I’m not sure exactly when Lisa and I became friends, but we definitely paid attention to each other’s social media during the quarantine and she always posts the best stuff in one of our groups. She is a wealth of knowledge.
On one of her posts about Bourbon Street, she posted a photo of the marquee at the 500 Club, where Chris Owens Club was/is now. The marquee had a handbill with a woman named Mickey Martin. I fell in love with her. Big hair which looked red in the black and white glamour portraits taken by Maurice Seymour and great big ole boobs.
She was the first person I researched at the archives. There wasn't much there in the archives, just some ads and a couple of articles about her being arrested for lewd behaviour. I found out through our group that Mickey, a performer, was born female cisgender, and worked at the 500 Club with the most famous of all strippers Sandra Sexton. Mickey once dated a French Quarter cop but left him to follow the gentleman with the money and open her own club in Metairie. I became obsessed about finding out what happened to her and began asking gentlemen of a certain age if they knew her or went to her club. No one gave up any information. It seemed there is a level of unspoken shame for men who once appreciated the dancers of that era. I even had a friend research real estate transactions and deaths in Jefferson Parish, and after a few charges for her club, the trail of Mickey and the Ship’s Wheel, as they say, went cold.
Chris Owens Club
After Covid, Lisa came in town for us to go see what would turn out to be Chris’ last performance. The grande dame of Bourbon Street would hang up her high heels and maracas and it would be the end of the famous Louis Prima Chris Owens 500 Club.
It was Chris' birthday and her return to the stage after a long break from performing because of Covid. Lisa flew in from San Francisco so I bought tickets for all of my friends to go see the fabulous one.
Unfortunately, some things aren’t meant to last forever-even Chris. The lights had finally dimmed on our diva and the legend that once was the 500 Club.
Losing Chris was losing a big part of New Orleans for me. We were not related, nor did we spend any personal time together. I did her hair in the eighties and worked in a salon in her building that is now the pizza place. From the first time, I smelled her distinct classy lady perfume walking down the street to make her deposit at the Whitney Bank on Chartres Street or on St. Louis Street with Collin or Mark in tow.
She wore her North Beach blue leather mini-skirt when interviewed by CNN, because sued Geraldo Rivera called her a stripper on national television. I saw her on St.Louis Street during the interview.
Chris Owens was always pleasant and kind. She recognized my idolization crush on her and waited for me to settle my energy for photos-selfies to portraits. She had my heart.
That part of me that died when she passed can't be replaced. Chris was Easter and Bourbon Street for me. The many times we passed to look at her marquees.