Mary Lee Evans, 86, was better known throughout her life as Dixie Evans “the Marilyn Monroe of Burlesque”. She passed from this world on Saturday, August 3, 2013 of natural causes in Las Vegas, NV. She is survived by her sister, Betty, and nieces and nephews.
Dixie Evans was born Mary Lee Evans on August 28, 1926. She was the daughter of the late Roy Evans and Annie Wrennette Le Grand, in Long Beach, California. Her father, Roy, was in the oil business, and her mother, Annie, was a descendent of Robert Morris and other distinguished French and early American families. “I like to joke that though I’m from aristocracy,” Dixie has said, “I ended up a stripper.” Dixie worked in burlesque theatres and nightclubs from the early 1950s into the mid 1960s. Harold Minsky penned her moniker, “The Marilyn Monroe of Burlesque,” due to her striking resemblance to the sex symbol, and Dixie built her career on imitating the star on stage. Dixie performed in theaters across the country, including the President Follies (SF), Follies Theater (LA), Rialto Theater (Chicago), Minsky’s (New Jersey), and many more. For the majority of Dixie’s career, she traveled around the country working in burlesque nightclubs, including the Place Pigalle in Miami Beach where she headlined, on and off, for about a decade. At the Place Pigalle she met her husband to be, Harry Braelow, who she then wed in 1963. Dixie and Harry were married for a few years before divorcing.
Dixie’s career took another turn in the mid 1960s when she moved to Bimini to manage a hotel. She decided the tiny fishing village needed entertainment, so she worked to open a venue that featured live music and a wild floor show. She booked the show, as well as designed the bar and restaurant, including the installation of lights so spectacular that the venue could be seen from the small sea plane that brought passengers to the island. Dixie transformed the sleepy Bimini Hotel into a destination spot for visitors and locals alike. Even when Dixie retired from show business, she never gave up that entrepreneurial spirit and fastidious creativity which drove her life and career.
In 1991, she founded the Miss Exotic World Competition in the California desert town of Helendale, to bring attention to the Miss Exotic World Museum. Exotic World was the dream her colleague and friend, Jennie Lee who wanted to create a home for burlesque performers to retire, as well as to permanently display the wondrous burlesque ephemera collected throughout the years. Jennie died of cancer in 1990 before her dreams were realized, but Dixie built up the museum and its collection. Dixie maintained the day to day operations of the Museum and its staff, and also led captivating tours of the collection. A sign at the Exotic World Museum gate informed patrons to honk three times for a tour, and Dixie would answer in full show-girl hair, makeup and costume, frequently breaking into a spot-on Marilyn Monroe imitation as she narrated the history of burlesque to fascinated patrons. “This is history,” Dixie often says to the performance art form that she has dedicated her life preserving, “and it deserves to be told.” Dixie dedicated her life to preserving, displaying, and illuminating the magical world of burlesque. She built a Mecca in the desert, turning the dusty goat farm into a destination spot, just like she did in the tiny fishing village of Bimini. She last performed onstage at the Plaza Hotel in Las Vegas in 2011. Until her death, she was a passionate advocate for sustaining and inspiring both burlesque history and its performers.
Plans for Dixie Evans Week (August 26-September 1), an international, week-long celebration of and fundraiser for Dixie, will continue in her honor. Proceeds from shows, classes, and an online fundraiser will be used to pay for Dixie’s medical and memorial expenses. For more information, please visit www.dixieevansweek.com.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Dixie’s You Caring fund.
Thanks to Lee Joseph.