Nov 13 2013

Viva Las Vegas Style!

How topless showgirls and Charleton Heston’s bare ass informed one 4 year old’s view of adulthood.

We left Brooklyn in the summer of 1968.  Watch any episode of The Brady Bunch from that summer, as I did religiously at the time, and you’ll see that the miniskirt was a staple of any young girls wardrobe 1n 1968. In fact, if you watch any episode of any sitcom from back then (think Mary Tyler Moore), you’ll see that the miniskirt was the staple of any grown woman’s wardrobe as well. So Vegas didn’t have much to do with my already miniscule hemline.

Mary-and-Phyllis-on-the-Mary-Tyler-Moore-Show

What little girl didn’t want to grow up to be Mary Tyler Moore!

But it had a lot to do with how I would grow to view beauty and the effect of well-packaged femininity. I was hypnotized by the mystery, the fantasy, that was inspired by the dress of the women in Vegas. In stark contrast, back in Brooklyn, the women I knew (most of whom were Greek housewives who also happened to be my aunts) didn’t bare much skin. It’s also much colder there than in Vegas, so perhaps the women of Brooklyn knew what they were doing.

cocktail_waitresses

Glamorous cocktail waitresses came in all shapes and sizes.

But in Vegas, there were plenty of grown women whose hemlines were short like mine. They wore beautiful gauzy mini togas, They wore sheer genie costumes, just like I Dream of Genie on television! Their never-ending legs were sculpted in fishnet; their hair, teased to infinity — and beyond! They ruled the world, I was convinced; with their confident smiles and the way they floated and strutted simultaneously (something I’m still trying to master) in their strappy stilettos. Everyone looked at them with admiration and appreciation whenever they approached.

They were the cocktail waitresses, and I wanted to be one of them. Or at least dress like them. They get to dress like that for work? How fun!

And then it got even better.  I discovered The Showgirls, and they took glamour to a whole new, stratospheric level.

lido

Lido de Paris!

When we had company in town – and it was their first time in Vegas (back then, it usually was) — my parents would oftentimes take them to see one of the shows on the Strip. Shows with dancers: Follies Bergere, Lido de Paris, Jubilee. Sometimes some of the women were topless. I couldn’t go to those shows, because… I never fully understood why. I mean, I knew why; because the women were topless. But I didn’t understand why that was bad for me to see. Boobies. My mom had boobies, I’d seen them. My grandmother had boobies, I’d accidentally seen them. I thought they looked funny, and had no idea why the dancers didn’t want to wear one of those pretty sparkly bras in the first place to cover up their funny-looking boobies. But I did get to go to the shows where the dancers did wear the pretty sparkly bras, and on top of it (literally), ginormous headdresses. Feathers! Rhinestones! Boas! I loved looking at the showgirls so much. I don’t recall wanting to be one – they didn’t really dance so much as walk around, which looked boring – but boy, did I love looking at them. Maybe I could just… dress like them. Just a little.

The trifecta of Things That Greatly Shaped My View of How I Would Dress When I Grew Up is completed by the discover of the Miss Universe Pageant, which opened with the contestants parading about in their “native” costumes. I decided which countries I’d travel to based on who had the most stylish native costume. Didn’t everyone?

vivafashion

Clockwise, from top left: me as Cowgirl; me as Indian (yup, that’s what we called it then);me as Genie, me as Maria (from “The Sound of Music”); me as a Swiss Miss (I’m the blond in the yellow skirt, on the right); me as Burger Queen.

I just liked the idea of “Dressing As…”, so I started doing so myself. I never dressed “As Cocktail Waitress” or “As Showgirl” or “As Miss Universe Contestant.” Although I did come close to the last one, when I was in a figure skating show at the Ice Palace in Commercial Center, one year the theme of the annual show we performed was “It’s a Small World.” I performed in the Swiss and the Chinese numbers. But in daily life, I just tried to tszuj it up a bit with accessories. I went to school as a cowgirl. I went to school as an Indian (as we labeled them, back in the day). I played Burger Queen (Burger King gave out these free paper crowns, and I rocked it). I watched the above mentioned Brady Bunch in pajamas that I accessorized to make me a dead ringer for Barbara Eden in her iconic role.

No Disney princess — not Cinderella, not Snow White, not Sleeping Beauty — could influence my four year old take on The Ideal Woman. But cocktail waitresses, showgirls, and Miss Universe contestants did. The things that were targeted at me had little appeal. Grown-up fashion, grown-up conversation, grown-up music, just seemed much more… interesting.

Perhaps it’s no surprise that the first celebrity who made me feel that tiny tingle in my tiny vagina (what is that!?!)  for the very first time was not an age-appropriate teen pop idol — not Donny Osmond,  not Michael Jackson, not the kid from H.R. Puffenstuff. No, that special honor goes to Charlton Heston. Yes, Charlton Heston. The memory is a foggy one at best. Of course, the place is Vegas. We were at the drive-in – we’d never been to a drive-in before, another “only in Vegas” wonder, I thought at the time. There were five of us, my parents. two brothers, and myself crammed into my father’s supercool new baby blue Volkswagon (people didn’t need so much personal space in cars back then, apparently). Being a runt and the only girl, I insisted on that coveted tiny space behind the backseat.

charltonhestonsass

Yup, this is the scene that started it…

The movie was “Planet of the Apes,” and I have a vague memory of Chuck being buck naked. But I have a  very clear memory of this mystery feeling down there, like being tickled only… it was weird; and I was too frightened (and oddly delighted and ashamed, which really confused me) to mention it to anyone. Somehow, women’s boobs were taboo, but CHARLETONFUCKINGHESTON being naked and igniting this, this, “What is going on in my sissy!!!” fear/euphoria was okay???

Perhaps scientists can learn from this. As an early indicator of sexual orientation, show four year-old boys and girls images of A) topless showgirls; and B) naked Charleton Heston Whichever one lights up electrodes on their itty bitty genitalia, that’s your answer.

I consider this to be my first Sexual Experience (unbeknownst to my entire family, who were right there at my side); though I had now idea of what sex was at the time. But I digress…

Actually, I don’t digress. I think moving to Las Vegas, and its late 60’s glamour, made the adult world seem sexier, more exciting, more (here we go again) interesting. The women I saw  in Brooklyn  wore traditional hemlines and sensible shoes; the movies I saw in Brooklyn didn’t feature a naked CHARLETON FUCKINGHESTON, like movies in Las Vegas; rather, they all seemed to feature Julie Andrews in traditional hemlines and sensible shoes (I even dressed up like Maria in The Sound of Music, complete with guitar and travel bag — see above). Even though she was in movies, she seemed more like a mom, not a movie star, not a cocktail waitress,  not a showgirl, not Miss Universe…

…and certainly not the new me for that matter; the Las Vegas Me, that couldn’t wait to grow up. Look out, world: I had arrived — and I wasn’t even five.