THE MOST EXOTIC ONE
THE HARD, WONDERFUL, FUN LIFE OF GEORGETTE DANTE
By Jimmy McDonough
Reading time 180 Minutes
The Hard, Wonderful, fun life Georgette Dante
“I was doin’ the geek thing – y’know, bitin’ the chicken’s head off, and I’m in the pit,” Georgette Dante tells me.
“Some asshole throws a bottle, hits me, busts my head open and I’m bleeding. It was rainin’ like a motherfucker, mud up to my damn ankles, and I’m barefooted.”
Georgette tore off to a nearby trailer, but the storm was wreaking havoc with power lines, and when she grabbed the door handle a massive current jolted through her and she couldn’t let go.
“Here comes my Dad – he runs up, hits me with his whole body and knocks me off that door. And he kept on goin’, because he had work to do. I went back to work in the pit, too.
“This is how hard carnival people work. They don’t stop for nothin’. Don’t cry the fuckin’ blues. Keep goin’, get off your fuckin’ ass and get motivated!”
That story tells you a lot. Georgette hasn’t worked a carnival in decades, but the first thing you learn about her is that everything in life is viewed through that flinty prism. “I’m really a carnival person more than anything. I love the burlesque world, I love music and bands, I love the gangster world, the wrestling world, the boxing world, the nightclubs…but carnival people are my people.”
I don’t know about you, but show business these days, who cares. Stars might as well be rubber dolls…interchangeable pieces of a predictable puzzle. Not Dante. She’s unpredictable, uncontrollable and filter-free. You’ll have to dig around the ass-end of Vegas just to track her down, but once you do, lookout. So what if Georgette doesn’t have a miniseries, a shiny new movie or an Instagram account. Show biz is her religion and boy, can she preach.
Georgette Dante has been a midget stripper, exotic dancer, fire dancer, actress, clown, magician, carnival geek, gangster’s moll, costume designer, hat maker – and probably ten other things I’m forgetting. And at age 72 she’s still at it, performing in Vegas regularly and dreaming up new projects by the hour. A walking, talking history of everything show, she yaps a mile a minute, which can be daunting when she doesn’t have her choppers in – a near-fatal car crash smashed up her jaw and just about everything else. But that didn’t stop her. Nothing stops Georgette.
She is entirely self-made, having pulled herself out of abject poverty and a grim family dynamic to rise to the top of a old-school showbiz world that often goes undocumented – state fairs, carnivals, nightclubs, casinos. The wild trajectory of her life has earned her many admirers. “You can’t meet a better person in the world,” says ex-paramour Ronnie Evans. “To come from what she came from, it’s unbelievable what she accomplished…it’s hard to even talk about.” Gerry Murphy, one of the biggest carnival owners in the business, agrees. “Georgette was thrust into the big world without any tools. She was brought up in a hard-ass business and she did everything with class. Whatever she went after, she accomplished.”
Hers has been an often surreal and even unbelievable tale, but thankfully she has thousands of photographs to back it all up. “I’m a picture freak,” says Georgette. Decades ago when I first talked to her I found myself raising an eyebrow at some of her more outlandish claims. These days the eyebrow remains up, but only in amazement at what she’s actually lived through. “I know she talks alotta shit, but 98 percent of it is true,” testifies old friend Dennis ‘Face’ Wiley. Gerry Murphy agrees. “Even if it hurts her, she’ll tell the truth. That’s just the type of lady Georgette is.”
And so, from the muddy bowels of the carnival to the neon spirals of Las Vegas, here is her crazy, epic story – largely told by Georgette herself, because nobody can top that. Longtime friend Faye Waddell drags out an old cliché that’s a perfect fit. Georgette Dante is “more than one of a kind—they’ll never be another one like her.”
Georgette. She’s blessed with that winning combination: eyes of a child, mouth of a sailor.
Dante just gives me a thrill.
“I was born in a circus, raised in a carnival,” says Georgette, who came into the world as Dale Elaine Baker in Fort Myers, Florida on January 28, 1948. (It was famed photographer Bruno of Hollywood who’d later suggest she add her mother’s real middle name to her stage surname to become Georgette Dante. For the sake of simplicity, she’ll be referred to as Georgette.)
Georgette comes from Greek, French and Native American stock (her Seminole Indian ancestors were the first settlers in Florida). Mother Delilah was a showgirl at Barnum & Bailey Circus; father Kenneth Baker was a sometime “roughie,” one of the workers who put up the tents. Show business was in Georgette’s blood: great-great grandfather Jacques Suzanne trained horses and wolves for Warner Bros. (after allegedly crossing the North Pole with Admiral Peary), while uncle Leonard ‘Slim’ Baker was a stunt double for John Wayne.
Georgette’s brother Bruce arrived two years after his sister, but neither child would get to know their father well. Delilah would leave the kids with Kenneth to work the carnivals now and then, which is how she encountered Bob Collins. “My mother fell in love with a carnival man,” says Georgette. Delilah actually brought Collins back to Florida and moved him in, claiming he was her brother. “So my real Dad took care of him all winter,” explains Georgette. The ruse didn’t last long. Finally Delilah “left with my brother and I on the bus. With my real Dad running behind, just beggin’ her not to go.”
Bob Collins ran his own carnival. Summers were spent joining up with state fairs and major carnivals like those run by Lucky McDaniel, William T. Collins and Gerry Murphy. “You made your money in those three months,” says Georgette. Winters, when Bob took his own scrappy outfit out, were tough. “Big carnivals, you pay insurance and you drive 5-600 miles to get to the next town. My dad had what he called a forty-miler, a ragbag show.” There were games, rides, and gambling. “27 concessions, heavy-duty on gambling. Hardly any of the rides worked.”
Georgette can still run down all the gambling outfits. “The nickel and dime ones were called hanky-panks. Then you got the alibis – quarters, half dollars and dollars. The flat store is where you’d wheel and deal. Big money.” There was even a game where you’d bet on live rats as they ran around a board and jumped into holes. Delilah made pets out of these star rodents and gave them names – Cleopatra was a favorite. “She’d pet ’em and talk to them…those was her little buddies. She cried when she had to finally turn them loose.”
Georgette was adept at the gambling racket, “but I wasn’t as good as I could’ve been, because I didn’t have the heart to really gig and gouge people. When you start seein’ mothers and wives in the corner a little ways away, cryin’ with a baby in their arms…the real quality flat store agents, they never take everything you got.” Despite the gigging and gouging, the suckers always came back for more. “Sometimes I’d go back in the gambling tent to sleep, and I’d hear what I heard so many times in my life – ‘I don’t know what the fuck you did to me, but I had a good time.’ People just like to gamble.”
The carny netherworld had its own laws. “You don’t wear shorts on the midway, you don’t have your boobies hangin’ out – next thing you know they’re makin’ a pass at you, and you don’t do nothin’ to cause friction with the townspeople.” Gambling involved payoffs to the police, or “the fuzz” as the carnies called them. Many times it was the same cop year to year. “You normally didn’t pay the police officer each time someone was gambling, you only paid at the beginning of the week, and that was it. You didn’t just pay every police officer, just the main man.”
Often this was handled by the patch. “We called our lawyers the patch – they patch all problems up. They’d square the beef, patch it up and make it OK.” For this the patch got 30-40% of the profits. People were constantly trying to sneak in for free. “They were always tryin’ to cut into the tent. My brother and I were always back there with a baseball bat, hammer or a two-by-four to whack ’em on the fuckin’ head. Next day I’d get out there and sew the damn tent up. It happened all the time. They all wanna see the pussy.”
Yes, the pussy. Besides gambling, girl shows were the main attraction – first came Delilah, a funky show named for Georgette’s mother, who performed in a small tent. “My mother would just dance on a piece of plywood on the ground with a rope tied all around it. They were chargin’ a dollar – and another dollar to see more pussy.” This led to the much bigger Folies Bergere, a 110-foot attraction which featured as many as 18-20 dancers. There were two bands, one inside, one out on top of their semi trailer.
“Our show seated 500 people and 200 could stand—700 people a show. You did 18, 20, 30 shows a day. We’d make 3 – 5000 some days.” Bob would be out front doing his spiel. “She’s gonna twitch it and twatch it and stand there and let you watch it…hodgy-podgy. She’s gonna shimmy and shake it like a bowl of jelly on a cold frosty morning…hubba hubba.” (Ron Ormond would later lift the first line for use in both The Exotic Ones film and trailer.)
Georgette's mother was introduced as “the delicious, delectable, de-lovable Delilah Dante.” Delilah liked to dance to “What’s New, Pussycat?” and “The Stripper.” “She was really, really good,” said fellow carny Donna Smith. “Delilah had a lot of moxie about her.”
According to Georgette, the Folies Bergere was a classy show, although it didn’t take much to impress the locals. “In the old days, hick-town farmers they never saw nothin’ like that. They’d come to show after show.” But the Folies faced stiff competition from rougher, low-down entertainment that often lurked just across the midway: the hoochie-coochie show. “That’s where the girls smoke cigarettes out of their pussy, play with themselves, that type of thing. Or pop ping pong balls – the one girl would be popping the ping pong ball out of her pussy, and on the opposite side of the stage the other girl would be catchin’ it with hers. We never went that route. Too much class.”
One thing unique about the Collins carnival was their African-American girlie show. As ticket-taker, Georgette wasn’t allowed to sell to black folks due to the usual racism. “I had to say, ‘Sorry we’re filled up.’ My heart went out to them. So my Daddy built another girl show so black people could go in. What’s funny about that is the white people could go see the black pussy, but they couldn’t go in and see the white pussy. That’s the way it was.”
The star of their black girl show was Lilly Mae. “She had to have her own little tent,” said Donna Smith. “She couldn’t be with the other dancers, they didn’t mix back in them days.
"Lilly Mae had a walk that was un-believable. She’d walk down that midway and it was really something – bump diddy bump bump bump.”
Ask Georgette what’s the most unusual act she’s ever witnessed and she’ll point to one of the black attractions. “You’d stick your head in a hole and a clamp came down around your neck. A light comes on and there was a big, big black woman with big titties, totally naked and stinkin’ like a motherfucker. She’d been out there for days, weeks at a time, no baths, she’d be rubbin’ her titties and pussy in their face and they’d be beatin’ on the fuckin’ wall to break free. Everybody had to see that damn show. One guy would go and then lie to his friend – ‘You gotta see it, buddy, she’s gorgeous!’”
Dancers then weren’t the most reliable employees due to various complications—abuse, alcohol, drugs. Georgette claimed one of the crazier carnival dancers “was a nymphomaniac, she had to get dick all the time.” This eventually manifested itself in bestiality with a German Shepherd. “She’d be inside the semi truck fuckin’ the dog. Finally my Dad couldn’t take it anymore. He took the dog away and kicked her ass out. Wolf was the dog’s name. My Dad loved that dog, but it was really bad about bitin’ the fuck outta people.”
Step Right Up
Georgette started performing in the circus at age three as a pretend midget. “People wanted to see a little midget person. You’d just dress up. As far as they knew I was real.” By five Delilah had her working as a midget stripper in the carnival, “with makeup and bleach blond hair and washcloths under my clothes for boobies. I just danced around as best I could.”
An actual midget on the same midway fell in love with her from afar, sending her notes, flowers and candy (Georgette couldn’t read the notes, threw away the flowers and ate the candy). When Delilah told Little Jimmy that her daughter wasn’t a midget, he refused to believe it. But Georgette says once out of costume she looked “just like a little boy,” and when Delilah “proceeded to put the makeup on, tears started runnin’ down his cheeks.” It became a running gag with the other carnies, leaving Jimmy so embarrassed he fled the show abruptly. “He left a blank spot in the middle of the midway,” says Georgette. “You never leave the carnival in the middle of the week.” Years later out on the road, when Georgette was nearly an adult, she bumped into Jimmy, who gazed up at her longingly and muttered, “I’m in looooove again.”
Georgette was taught to pickpocket from an early age. “I was too little to reach a mark’s wallet, so I’d get a razor blade and cut the bottom of the pocket. I’d take the wallet to my father. I’d go into stores and steal watches, clocks, clothes. I’d wear a long gypsy skirt, raise my skirt up throw it between my legs and walk out. I never got caught, never been busted for nothing.” She sold bootleg booze to the other carnies. “I’d run for coffee and Coke for the carnival people, I’d put that medicine bottle between slices of bread and wrap it up. We’d charge 5 dollars I’d get $2.50.” In the morning she’d return the empties to the bootlegger for another quarter. The hustles never ended.
By age five Georgette was taking tickets on the midway, standing on Coca-Cola crates to do the job, a year later she was disguised as an adult to drive Delilah’s Edsel with a trailer in tow. (By ten Georgette was driving their semi!) My mother put that little black wig on me, along with a scarf and big earrings. I sat on two Coke cases and a pillow. I used a crutch to hit the gas and the brake, because my feet couldn’t reach the pedals.”
Georgette would help her father set and strike the show. It was a gruelling task. “I was two years older than my brother, so Bruce did all the 'female' work – carrying the water, making the G-strings, dumping the pee buckets, keeping the semi trucks clean.” Georgette excelled at hard labor and quickly developed muscles and immense strength, which she’d soon utilize in her act.
“Dale was one of the hardest workers that I ever knew,” says Donna Smith, her one friend in the carnival. “She pulled in canvas and drove in stakes with them sledgehammers just like a grown man.” (Since family and friends still called her Dale, many of the carnies thought the cap-wearing hard worker in their midst was a boy and that the performing Georgette was her sister.)
Donna, who also grew up in a carnival family, believes Georgette’s parents “would let only me and my brother be their friends because we were hard workers. They were real strict. Sometimes those kids would be in the trailer all day long by themselves. Georgette couldn’t go out past the girl show tent or leave the possum belly of the trailer. She didn’t get to be around other kids at all. Delilah just made her work all the time, drove her to do more and more.”
It was tough, never-ending labor done under almost medieval conditions. Sometimes they’d be so broke Georgette and Bruce would be sent off to siphon gas out of stranger’s cars so they could drive to the next stop. Rain would turn unpaved country roads to mud. Water had to be carried in buckets. At times there was no electricity. Or bathroom facilities. Showers and baths were rare events, sometimes approximated in a laundromat. “You sit on a washing machine, straddle the damn thing and wash your cootie the same time as your clothes.” She slept on an army cot or in the belly of the truck. “I worked 18-20 hours a day, drove 80 to 100,00 miles a year. I never had a birthday, never had a Christmas.”
Although Georgette was brutally honest over our many hours of interviews, she remained absolutely loyal to the carnival code. “I will never – never, no matter what – tell the secrets behind the gimmicks and the games. I’ll tell how we conned people out of their money, but I’ll never tell how the tricks are done. That’s taboo.”
Life isn’t A Carnival
Delilah Dante was a looker. Stacked, with long black hair and a striking face, Delilah was, as her daughter puts it, “unbelievably beautiful. Too beautiful. People always said she looked like Elizabeth Taylor. She had that extra special way about her, like a Marilyn Monroe or Bette Davis.”
“The kind of attention Delilah got from men was so much different than what Georgette got,” says Donna Smith. Men were wild about Delilah and she liked it. “I was always protectin’ my mother, because she was very flirtatious,” Georgette admits. Although the carny crowd was supposed to stay behind the ropes as the women stripped, sooner or later some rube would inevitably reach through for a quick grab. “My Mom would be totally naked.”
Little seven-year-old Georgette, peering out from the canvas flap of the tent, would grab her hammer and sneak into the audience behind the offender. “I’d hit him in the fuckin’ foot or the leg with the damn hammer and run backwards – they didn’t see me, because there was barely a light in there. So they’d want to beat the fuck out of the guy next to ‘em.”
Delilah, who had grown up in New York in an abusive family situation, had given birth to a child at 14. She worked as a brassiere model and as a showgirl in Earl Carroll’s Vanities, but somehow her superstar dreams went south and she wound up stripping on the midway. “There she was in a carnival, tryin’ to run a show with a bunch of characters – roughies and grease monkeys fighting, tearin’ things up…dangerous situations where you never knew what was gonna happen.” It made her mother more than a bit ferocious, confrontational. “My mother was a beautiful woman, very sexy, had everything goin’ for her, but she had psychological problems. She was a troublemaker, had a mean streak.’”
To put it mildly, Delilah was not the motherly type. “My mother spit in my face almost every day of my life. Just spit in my fuckin’ face. I’d go wipe the spit off, she’d slap me and start choking me. She’d try and kill me.” Her brother Bruce wasn’t exempt, either. Once when Delilah asked for a pair of scissors and Bruce brought her the wrong ones, she threw them at him. “They were stickin’ out of his damn head.” Another time when Bruce brought her a glass of water and it spilled, she broke the glass over his nose.
At the same time Delilah could be utterly charming to strangers. “My mother was always conning people into doing work – 'You’re just like my daughter,’ ‘You’re just like my son’ – and she’d treat them like they were her own kids.” Georgette, who’d only get two days of schooling and taught herself how to read by studying road signs, once watched from afar as her mother took a group of gypsy kids under a tree to teach them how to read and write. “I don’t get it,” she says today. There was no making sense of Delilah. Sometimes she would snag workers “using the sex thing – my Dad knew what was goin’ on, but we needed the help.”
Donna verified all of Georgette’s tales of abuse – and more. She recalled how Georgette and her brother once found a calendar with an image of Jesus on it, and when they brought it home, “Delilah went ballistic. They got punished real bad.” And Georgette always got the worst of it. “I went over there and checked on her and stayed with her a lot,” says Donna. “I saw Delilah really blackguard her a whole lot, but she didn’t break Georgette’s spirit – in fact, that made it stronger. She took it like a champ.
“There was just somethin’ off about Delilah. She was a sick woman in some ways. I never heard her compliment Georgette or brag on her like a proud mama. She was in her own little world and she had Georgette right where she wanted her – under her thumb. She could be really, really ugly, and Georgette just worshipped her to death.”
To get away from it, Georgette would “just escape into other stuff,” says Donna. She’d practice her acrobatics and fire-eating, or create art. As Georgette remembers, “At the carnival, at night time, when the lights would go off, my brother and I would catch as many fireflies as we could and place them in a jar. That was the only way we had to see what we were doing.”
There by the firefly light, Georgette would draw striking portraits of her mother, which she vividly colored in. As with everything else, Georgette taught herself how to draw, and was a talented artist. The pictures of Delilah are bewitching, slightly haunting. She looks like a gypsy witch.
The Odd Couple
Bob Collins and Delilah were a strange match. “I never saw no affection from ‘em, and when they got mad at each other they’d take it out on Bruce and me,” reports Georgette. Complicating matters was their stepfather’s sexuality. Georgette says Bob’s own father had been “boopin’ and boppin’ his butt, screwed him all up mentally and physically. My Dad used to go hang out at bus stops and get paid for it.” Bob left home at 14 to join the carnival “with these two gay guys. He lived with them.” According to Georgette, when he fell for Delilah those relationships ended, but “he made a mistake by telling my mother. It was hard on her. Every so often she’d go tell people. She could not accept him being thataway.”
Bob meted out his own punishments to the children. “He’d have me and my brother take our clothes off, he’d wet the buckle of a belt and beat us with the fuckin’ belt, then turn the belt around and whip with the buckle. I still got large scars on my hip and right leg.” He once beat Bruce so badly that both his wrists were broken. “He’d walk around with floppy damn wrists.”
Sister and brother would routinely test each other to build resistance to the abuse. Bruce would bend Georgette’s finger back as she remained poker-faced. “We learned not to show no emotions so we didn’t get whipped as bad.” When Bruce shot Georgette with a BB gun in the ankle, she had no response. (The pellet stayed in her ankle until, surreally enough, she got bit by a rattlesnake in the same spot during a show. When her brother cut the wound open to suck out the venom, the old BB popped into his mouth.)
One day Georgette was working on top of the truck with her stepdad. When he told her to fetch some nails and she returned with the wrong kind, Bob backhanded her, sending her flying off the truck onto a rusty fender, “slicing my side wide open.” Bob didn’t lift a finger to help his daughter. “He had to keep workin’,” Georgette rationalizes. She laid on a wooden army cart for “three days, until the carnival people took me to the hospital…I would’ve bled to death.”
Making the situation more difficult was Bob’s degenerate gambling. He’d spend downtime in the G-top—the tent where all the carny workers gambled. “He’d grab a handful of money out of my mother’s makeup kit, then go back to the G-top and gamble all her money away.
Every damn nickel, no matter how much goddamn pussy we showed, or how much I pickpocketed.”
Forget criticizing Georgette’s parents or telling her she had it rough. She won’t have any of it. Carnival life was an impossible grind on her mom and dad, and she doesn’t judge them. She just says, “Some people aren’t meant to be a mother or father.”
Georgette would stick by her parents for the rest of their lives, despite the physical abuse and petty routines – like Delilah forging her daughter’s name on car titles (“She was always doin’ shit like that,” Georgette sighed). Donna Smith was struck by Georgette’s devotion. “She always just stayed there. She was a true daughter to them, a true daughter. They don’t make them any better than Georgette. They really don’t.”
Georgette the Geek
By age 6, Georgette had grown out of one of her jobs. “I got too big to be a midget.” But while one opportunity ended, a new one arose. For the Collins show had a geek. Geeks were a carnival tradition, infamously presented as the ultimate human degradation in the book/movie Nightmare Alley. The geek cliché went like this: an unscrupulous carny owner latches onto some down-and-out alky who’s paid in hooch to get in a pit, look insane and shock the rubes by (literally) biting the head off a chicken. So it went with Shadow the Geek.
“We’d go to Cleveland and pick him up every summer go up and down the alleys ‘til we finally found him and put him in the carnival,” says Georgette. “We’d give him wine bottles all night long, and he’d jump up and down, act crazy and bite the chicken’s head off. Give him a bottle of wine and he’d bite all the chickens you want. We called him the Wild Man of Borneo.”
One day Shadow was found dead in the pit. “Well, my Daddy grabbed him and pulled him out to the back of the tent. We just took him, put him in a ditch and just went on with the show. We tore down, we left. Because that’s the way it is. Carnival people leave the body.”
A new geek was needed. Georgette already worked the reptile show – she’d get in the pit and roll around with a snake. But one day the reptiles spent too much time in the hot semi truck and “the damn snakes all died. I had one dead fuckin’ snake in my hand.” Her first attempt at geek makeup wasn’t too effective, either. “I kept grabbin’ dirt off the ground to try and dirty my face and arms up. It just wasn’t stayin’.”
Georgette had to up her geek game. So Delilah cut holes in a gunny sack for an outfit, Ivan the Beatnik burned a cork and rubbed the ashes over Georgette’s skin, they messed up her hair and tied her ankle to a stake. Presto change-o, the Wild Woman of Borneo.
There was one problem, however. “I went to bite the chicken’s head off, tried to kill that motherfucker. I couldn’t do it.” Georgette palmed a razor blade to do what her teeth wouldn’t. “Then I’d rip his head off. I’d be makin’ faces and screamin’ at people.”
The act was a hit. The climax came when Ivan the Beatnik, who was up in the ticket box, turned the lights off. Georgette would untie herself and sneak out into the crowd. “I’d go ’round and bite people on the ankles, or goose ‘em on the ass, and they’d be fuckin’ knockin’ the tent over to get out. It scared the hell out of them.”
Along the way Georgette learned to eat fire – ”I burned the hell out of my throat a couple of times before I found out a fire breather breathes out, not in” – and do acrobatics by studying the other acts. “No one taught me nothing. In the carnival you do not ask questions. My dad would say, ‘Shut up and think simple, stupid. Watch and figure it out.’”
Commit a Crime, Part 1
“I’ve killed three times in my life – because I was put in the position where I had to kill.”
The first time she took part in a murder Georgette was only 7. She was under the bleachers, scouring the ground for returnable pop bottles and scanning the asses parked above for accessible back pockets with fat wallets inside – anything to bring some money home to her parents. Hard at work, she didn’t notice there was a man lurking nearby, watching her.
“He grabbed me by the hair, jerked me around and pulled his dick out and was shoving it in my face. I bit his fuckin’ dick like a motherfucker! He had his legs around my neck, so I bit his leg.” Georgette managed to break free and started yelling ‘Hey, Rube’ – “in the carnival life, that means, ‘Help, help!’”
The call was heard. “Here come the carnival people. They came runnin’ out of the joints and they were all around this guy. And they start beatin’ on him.” Her stepdad Bob got wind of what was happening and jumped into the fray. “Dad reached in his pocket, pulled out his switchblade, popped the blade, and he put it in my hand.”
Georgette didn’t know what to do. “I’m lookin’ at this knife, thinking, ‘What the..?’ I’m 7 years old, I have no idea, I’m still a fuckin’ kid. So Dad put the knife in both our hands and he jabbed it in the guy. I pulled my hand away and Dad slapped the hell out of me. I stabbed the guy 4, 5 times after that. Between my Dad stabbin’ and me stabbin’…well, the guy was dead. Period.”
As far as Georgette knows, the death was never reported. Even if the police had shown up, nobody would’ve talked. “Carnival people don’t know nothing when it comes to the cops. When somebody caused trouble and we’d beat ‘em up, it was, ‘I don’t know, man, he was running down the midway, ran into that truck and knocked himself out.""
By the time she was 12, Georgette was stripping right alongside her mother, both in the carnival and on the nightclub circuit during the slow winter season.
How did Delilah prepare her daughter for the job? “My mother gave me the eyebrow pencil and I drew hair on my pussy.” One night between shows Georgette laid down on the floor in the semi and the makeup rubbed off. “I stood up and realized I didn’t have much pussy hair down there, so I went back to the tent where everybody was sittin’ around and added a bunch.” She overdid it, and one repeat customer noticed. “I walked out there and this damn farmer says, ‘Goddamn, your pussy grows fast.’” Georgette’s stage name was Little Egypt, after the scratchy Coasters 45 she danced to, which played on a little plug-in turntable (“Wooly Bully” and “Wipeout” were other favorites).
Georgette discovered a trick used by some of the old-timey strippers to up the ante. “They’d take a tiny little ball and hide it in their pussy, and when they’d grind, they’d show more facial expression, because they were getting turned on, too. I decided, ‘I’m 12 fuckin’ years old, I ain’t got no mind for sex,’ so I tried it. I jumped in the air and did a split – and when I did, the ball hit my damn pussy, and nearly killed me. You’re talking about pain like a motherfucker!”
Georgette wasn’t your typical exotic. Even as a kid she’d already worked acrobatics and fire-eating into her act. The state fair acrobatic team of Tom and Tiny Twist are the only people she credits with showing her a few tricks. “They taught me how to do a headstand on a chair.” Tom would let people stand on his stomach, something that fascinated Georgette, who’d also seen her real father Kenneth pick people up and balance them on his shoulder. Soon she’d be doing both in her act. (Georgette was game to try anything that might add some pizazz, including twice getting shot out of a cannon by the Flying Zucchini Brothers. “That was enough. It throws your whole body out of whack.”)
Everything clicked one night in Texas when Georgette was working a club called the Mirror Lounge. “I slipped on beer and fell, so I went into a backbend.” The crowd went wild. “I kept it in the show.” Little by little her show was less stripping and more acrobatics, fire dancing and strong-lady stuff. “I had balls – I’d hear about some new trick somebody was doin’ and figure out how to do it.” She even used her old pickpocket skills as part of the act by going into the audience and palming somebody’s wallet or belt in the blink of an eye. Georgette noticed that when she added these things, “my money would go up. I became a novelty act.”
Georgette was (and is) incredibly disciplined. “Never missed a job, never been late.” She rarely drank and did no drugs (other than weed, which she still loves). “I didn’t socialize with the strippers. I would drive 30-40 miles to avoid bein’ in a motel with them. They’d be turnin’ tricks, drunk or high on drugs, settin’ mattresses on fire. I didn’t need to be around those characters, because it would rub off on me after a while.”
Fearless, Georgette took no shit from anyone. “I’d scare the fuck outta club owners. One time a club owner gave me such a hard time I threw him out of the damn club in the snow – it was really deep, too – in Amarillo, Texas, of all places. I saw his nose pressed up against the window, tappin’ on the window, askin’ if he could come back into his own club.”
Then there was the night in Chicago she set a customer on fire. “I’m workin’ a burlesque club, this place was pretty rough.” It was a common occurrence for guys in the audience to bring along cardboard boxes with holes cut in the bottom so they could yank their crank. “The guy would stick his hand right in the box and jack off in the damn box. I’d work the audience in bare feet and sometimes I’d look down and the cum was drippin’ through my damn toes.”
There in Chicago, one black guy did it three times in a row – and Georgette, doing her fire torch routine, wasn’t having it. “I’m getting pissed…he was really goin’ at it. I jumped off the stage, and it’s a high stage. Well, I hit his dick with the damn fire. Now he was really whacking his damn dick – not because he’s happy, because he’s tryin’ to put the damn fire out. He whacked so hard his pants were fire as well. He was runnin’ down the runway to get out of the damn theatre, and the owner of the place came walkin’ in and he says, ‘Miss Dante, I’ve heard of hot acts before, but this is ridiculous.’”
As her act developed Georgette didn’t consider herself a stripper or an exotic. “I was more of a character. That worked for me. I didn’t like stripping. I never was good at it, anyway. Now, I get it. People came to clubs for a release in life—whether it’s jackin’ off or getting away from the wife and kids or the boss – but my heart is in total entertainment. Fire eating. Acrobatics. The strong woman act. Why would you take your clothes off when you have talent?”
One day when Georgette was still a kid, her stepfather was watching her take down a show alongside the owner of the carnival, Jack Thompson. “She works just like a man,” Thompson mused. “What do you think’s going to happen to her?”
Bob pointed to one of the down-and-dirty day workers helping them and said, “She’s gonna wind up on one of these trucks. With one of these ride boys.”
Georgette’s never forgotten her stepfather’s answer. “So that’s what he thought of me—that I was gonna wind up with one of the grease monkeys, one of these fuckin’ roughies…? That’s another reason why I pushed so hard to get so much better in life.
“By the time I left home at 16, I already had an act.”
Father, I want to Kill You... Both
Life was not coming up roses for Georgette at 16. “I left my Mom and Dad because when we tore the show down, every so often he’d go into the tent to check if we had problems – and sometimes he’d see me naked. And I’d see him watching.”
One day they were in a car sitting at a stoplight. My Dad reached back and said, ‘You wanna arm wrestle?’” Georgette indulged him, thinking it was harmless. But Bob had something else on his mind. “He reached back, ripped open my cowboy shirt and tried to grab my snatch. I knew exactly what was goin’ on, so I jumped outta the damn car.” She went back to the semi and slept there with the door latched. The next day she decided to jump ship and work for somebody else on the midway. “You’re not supposed to do that, it’s taboo in the carnival.”
She got a job working one of the games. “Here comes my mother. She grabbed me by the ear and starts draggin’ me down the midway to Bob Hammond, the owner of the carnival. And there was the patch, Harry. They dragged me into the office and wanted to know what the problem was. Well, I told them.
“I said my Dad got fresh with me. I told ‘em he’d also asked me when I took a shower did I play with myself. I hadn’t even had sex at that time! Even though I’d been strippin’ at 12. I was 16. I didn’t know what was fuckin’ goin’ on, to be honest with you. I knew…but I didn’t know.”
Delilah reacted. “She grabbed me by the fuckin’ hair, took me back down the midway through the back of the carnival to the G-top where all the carnival guys were gambling. She hollered for Bob.” Her husband appeared. Delilah grilled him—did he ask Georgette if she had touched herself in the shower? His response was to take it out on Georgette. “He slapped me – ‘Why did you tell your mother?’ Well, my mother had no choice but to stay with him. Because he’s the one who put up the show, tore it down and drove the semi truck. So I knew I had to get the fuck outta there.”
Georgette snuck off to work a girl show in Atlanta and decided to track down her real dad, Kenneth, after 16 years. “I called the police department – that’s how you found people in the old days.” Contact was made and he came to visit her out on the road. “It was fine – until he pulled the same shit that happened with my stepfather. My real Dad wound up goin’ into the tent and seein’ me naked.” Things got ugly that night in his motel room. “He brought another broad, he’s fuckin’ her, then she passed out…that’s when he come over tryin’ to get into bed with me – ‘You look so much like your mother, I just can’t help it.’ He grabbed my wrist and all of a sudden I got a fuckin’ dick in my hand.
“I didn’t leave right away because I had a big snake – a boa constrictor – and he was getting sickly, so we went out in the woods and I let it go. My Dad had the other broad, so she kept his attention. He took me back to the carnival. I just never mentioned it again.”
Only a teenager, Georgette had seen a lot, some of it truly hellish. Such horrors didn’t stop her, though. She kept moving.
Hit the Road Jack
Back in the family carnival, Georgette bided her time, looking for the right moment to escape. On the road in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a security guard became smitten. “He was always watchin’ me. He’d stand by the Coke machine, makin’ goo-goo eyes.” The guard followed the carnival to Beaumont, Texas. “He shows up at the girl show and asked my stepfather if he could have me. My Dad, I’ll be damned, said, ‘Go ahead, take her.’ I guess my dad thought I would not go.”
Georgette moved to Tulsa with her paramour and got a square job, waiting tables at the Piccadilly Cafeteria for $36.50 a week. Things went south immediately. The security guard’s mother was a churchgoer who disapproved of Georgette’s flaming red dye job. “I couldn’t deal with it. It was the straight life. I didn’t say goodbye, I just went. The guy had no idea. I split, I’m gone.” Her next job was in a beer joint. “At the end of the night the boss tried to wash my feet, tried to get fresh with me. So I got the hell outta there.”
She called Duke Dempsey, a club owner she knew in Texas, and he sent her bus fare. That led to a gig performing in San Antonio – until the club owner found out Georgette was underage. Around this time Georgette lost her virginity. “When I run away from home I hadn’t had sex. My brother called and said my mother was dying—of cancer. And needed major money. So I start turning tricks at age 16 to send them money. I turned tricks four or five times only, it was just for my Mom. Haven’t done it since. It’s not me.” Somewhere in Texas, she can’t recall where, she “had sex with a fat, ugly motherfucker. That was my first real sexual experience. I cried through the whole damn thing.”
“I was tryin’ to save money so bad I wasn’t even stayin’ in a motel, I was stayin’ behind people’s homes. And in their cars. I’d clean up with a garden hose.” She subsequently found out Delilah didn’t even have cancer. “That was a bullshit story – she had hepatitis. And really my Dad wanted a tent.”
Georgette hopped a bus to Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, where, unable to get a work permit to perform, she hustled drinks as a B-girl. “I couldn’t speak Spanish, I’d just drink whatever they drank – tequila, vodka, Scotch. I’d get drunk every night.” Georgette’s take was a quarter a drink. “I was only makin’ two, three dollars. My hotel was two dollars a day.” She hung out with a pair of black tap dancers, Willie and Wally. “We got arrested because they thought we were turning tricks walkin’ back to the hotel, so I wound up in jail for a short amount of time. They told me I had to leave town because I had no work.”
Dante went to Boys’ Town to see a little bestiality instead. “The girl was fuckin’ the damn donkey. They had to hoist the donkey up – and her pussy had to be made really, really big, they had to stretch it. She locked her legs around the donkey and it was tearin’ her cootie up.” She decided Mexico was too hot. “So I decided to turn a trick. I’m right in the middle of havin’ sex with this guy – he didn’t finish up, I didn’t finish – and I stole his money. $160.”
The dough got her back across the border to Houston, where she shacked up in an apartment Duke Dempsey used for stashing strippers, among them the notorious Candy Barr. At some point a hotel party was arranged with some girls. Georgette invited some country stars she knew from playing state fairs –Rex Allen and Molly Bee. “I had a portable record player in the hotel. Everybody’s dancin’ around, startin’ to get naked, and one girl didn’t want to get naked so I encouraged her. She wanted to be a dancer anyway. Here comes the police. They busted us. Took everybody to jail.” Turns out Duke Dempsey had tipped them off. Georgette had no ID, gave the cops a fake name and lied about her age, saying she was 18. And somehow got away with it.
She took off with a couple of people in a “raggedy car with no brakes” and wound up in Coushatta, Lousiana at the home of fellow carny Lorett “The Tattooed Lady” Fulkerson, who was covered head to toe in ink at a time when it wasn’t suitable for the masses. “She’d say, ‘For another fifty cents you can see tattoos you can’t see right here.’ Then she’d take her bottom lip, hold it down and they could see the tattoos. Then she’d say, ‘Now for another fifty cents you can see tattoos you really can’t see now.’ Some people would walk out…but most stayed. Then she’d spread her legs and open her pussy. More tattoos.”
It was at Lorett’s that Georgette got a frantic call – her brother Bruce had fallen into a fire pit while at carnival winter quarters in Houston. “Burned the hell out of him.” Georgette hit the road to get there. She was broke, carrying only three show dresses (wedding gowns she’d died green and red—"never yellow, because that’s bad luck in the burlesque world”), and a makeup kit with a pet turtle inside.
Commit A Crime #2
“I start hitchhiking, guy picks me up, he’s drunk.” Although there were beer cans all over the floor of the truck, Georgette was desperate to get to her brother, and got in.
Seeing Georgette was in a hurry, the driver told her he knew a shortcut that would shave forty miles off the trip. “Like an idiot, I believed him.” He pulled off into the woods and tried to force himself on her. Georgette was intent on leaving the vehicle, but not without her dresses and turtle. When she tried to retrieve them, he forced her head in his crotch. “I’m fightin’ like a sumbitch. I reached in the back, grabbed a big box flashlight and whacked him in the fuckin’ head.” His cranium connected with the steering wheel. She took off. “I grabbed the damn wardrobe and the damn turtle and run through the woods. I hid for I don’t know how many damn hours.”
Georgette eventually made it to the highway, where a nightclub-owning couple picked her up and drove her to Houston – and to her brother, who would survive his burns. As she left the hospital, she turned on the radio. “They had found the trucker, his head had been bashed in. So I had killed the guy, beat him to death with a box flashlight.”
THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES
To sort out Georgette’s chronology between the age of 16 and 17 is damn near impossible. Here, there and everywhere, she was a human tornado. And the wind was beginning to blow. A trip to Kansas City landed her a real booking agent, Chet Stamps, who helped score her some wheels so she could travel solo. She built up her wardrobe. The “novelty act” was paying off. Better clubs, more moolah. She hit Los Angeles, playing the Pink Pussycat. “I made my rounds real quick, it didn’t take long for me to get goin’.” She started meeting celebrities, among them Joey Bishop, who remained a life-long friend. “I’d ride around with him in an old-time Rolls Royce. I used to be real good at fixin’ him up with girls. I never would date him.” (In Georgette’s collection there’s a postcard of Joey Bishop, and on the back he’s written to her, “Don’t you love me no more?” Said Dante friend Perfecto Mangual, “He was always tryin’ to get in her pants.”)
By this time she already knew Bob Hope. A voice-over artist friend of his saw her at a nightclub in Shreveport, Louisiana and asked if she wanted to meet the comedian. “I always loved Bob Hope, even as a child growin’ up.” Off they went to a swanky restaurant complete with waterfall. “I had a mink hat on, a mink coat – honey, I looked good. I didn’t look like an entertainer, I looked like somebody.” Amusingly, Georgette’s friend introduced her as a jewelry salesperson, and she showed Bob one of her treasures – a small silver keychain called a Dicky Bird, which was “a tiny little dick and balls, with little wings.” Hope took a look at it and cracked, “Hell, I modeled for that in ’47.”
The gang reconvened in Hope’s nearby suite. Georgette, who carried her costumes, torches and record player with her, decided to put on a show for Bob and his friends. “I did my acrobatics and my fire eating right there in his suite. Bob said, ‘I can’t believe you’re that strong.’” To prove it, she arm-wrestled Hope’s masseur, Freddie. “Boop! He went down.” Then Bob took her on. “Same thing. Boop! He went down.”
The guests soon departed – leaving Bob and Georgette alone. “We decided we’d go back to the room. Well, I’m covered in soot from the fire. I told him I want a bath. He sat in there on his hands and knees, fillin’ the bathtub, putting bubbles in it, whooshing it around. He washed my back, didn’t touch me nowhere else.”
They returned to the bedroom. Georgette was 16, Bob 61. (Not that she told Bob her age until a year or two later in Los Angeles. Hope’s response: “Oh, my goodness – do you know how much trouble I could’ve been in?”) “I don’t want to put Bob Hope down at all – he had a fabulous wife who was a fantastic singer, just beautiful – but when he was on the road, he had to have sex, OK?”
Hope would be the first of Georgette's senior boyfriends. “When I was dating, I’d date people 60, 70 years old, because I enjoyed their company. Sex, to me that was nothing. I enjoy people and conversations, I don’t care about how big somebody’s dick is. I prefer to be around older people. They’ve stopped playing games…some of them.”
Not that Bob didn’t try to play one as she left. “He’s walkin’ me to the elevator, and he tried to give me a hundred-dollar bill. Well, it pissed me off. I was highly insulted. I had $3700 in my pocket. I pushed it back. He still wanted to give me that fuckin’ hundred dollars – I said no. I told him, ‘I’ll tell you what I want—I want your address. And your phone number.” (Later she turned down a diamond watch. “In those days I had diamonds on all my fingers because I bought ’em from Jack Stein, a professional carnival thief, so I didn’t need diamonds anyway. Bob couldn’t believe I sent it back.”)
Hope gave her his contact info, and they remained friends until the day he died. “He never had anybody to talk to. We talked once or twice a week for years.”
And the one time Georgette needed help, Hope was there. When her brother Bruce was in another bad carnival accident in Florida and she was in the middle of Illinois unable to get a flight out, Bob sent a plane to get her there. He made sure Bruce got a private room and had the mayor of Fort Walton Beach stop by and check on his care. The nurse told Bruce, “You’re a very lucky boy.” “Why,” he asked. “To have a friend like Bob Hope.” “Oh, you found my sister,” muttered a blasé Bruce.
Back to the Carnival
At age 17, Georgette returned to working her parents’ carnival, and she’d continue to do so every summer. Delilah was the one who’d reach out. “We had the same talent agency, so she could always find me. She was always cryin’ the blues – ‘We got no girls, we need help.’ I kept goin’ back, like an idiot.” Plus, she found out her stepfather was taking her absence out on her brother. “He started beatin’ the hell out of him – ‘Whatsa matter, your sister could do all that work!’” But it was simply inevitable that Georgette would return. “I loved the carnival more than I did nightclubs – all the strippers were into stupid shit, like jerkin’ people off and finger-fuckin’.”
That year Georgette married an Italian immigrant named Dave Conedera, “one of the best gamblers in the business, a big shot. He got a brand new Cadillac every year.” Conedara was insanely jealous, and they fought like cats and dogs. One day Georgette was chasing down a wardrobe thief who was climbing a fence to get away when Dave shot at her twice, and she can’t even remember why.
“I left Dave six times in four weeks,” she says. Things came to a head one night at a motel where they were staying. Conedera had accused her of looking at another man in a restaurant, and when they got back to their room he couldn’t find the key, so he “kicked the fuckin’ door down. The motel owner called the police, and he gave the motel guy money for a new door. Dave always had a pocketful of cash – see, carnival people love to carry big wads of money. It might be all one-dollar bills with a hundred around it, but carnival people love to signify.”
Things only got worse once the motel owner left, the argument escalating until Dave tried to jab her in the neck with a pencil, shouting, “Go back to your cunt-suckin’ mother! Let her teach you how to suck some more cunts!” That was it for Georgette. “He was holdin’ me down with my hair, tryin’ to jab me with that damn pencil. I grabbed my pocketbook, dumped everything out, grabbed my brass knuckles, put ’em on and proceeded to beat the fuck out of him. I broke his nose, his jaw, four ribs and his ring finger – I wanted that fuckin’ ring off.”
The couple split for good, but somehow managed to remain lifelong friends. Dave even thanked her for the beating years later. “That finger had healed crooked,” she said with a laugh, “and he said it made him a lot of money.” Working the carnival flat store, he’d wag his finger at the marks and try and engage them enough to come in the tent. “Normally when he’d call people, they’d say, ‘Go fuck yourself,’ but now they thought he was crippled, felt sorry for him and came in to look at the game.” The edge he had wasn’t lost on his fellow carny gamblers. “They all started doin’ their hands crooked…like they had four disabled guys in the fuckin’ joint!”
Behind Closed Doors
“I tried everything in the goddamn world,” says Dante of her private life. “People asked, ‘Georgette, are you bisexual?’ I’m trisexual – I’ll try anything once.” [I don’t think she got that line by way of Andy Milligan’s Torture Dungeon, in case you’re wondering.] Experimentation with women lasted about a minute. “I only had sex with a woman once, almost two times. The first time I did it for money. It was a black girl. She used to dance on glass, glass dancer. She had a real good show.” The two of them were sharing an apartment behind the club.
“She’d be turning tricks in the house in the back…she kept tryin’ to get in my pants, over and over again. I wasn’t into sex, period.” The woman kept offering her money, and when the price hit $500, Georgette said yes. “I told her, ‘Go ahead, but don’t go up past my belly button.’ I didn’t want her kissin’ my titties or my face. Y’know – just do your thing, whatever.” When Georgette ran into her at another club, it happened again – a rare occasion when Dante wound up soused. “I passed out on her. She took a cab and went home.”
One other dancer tried to plant a kiss on her in a dressing room after Georgette gave her a pair of earrings. “She went for it – tongue and every fuckin’ thing. I backhanded her, and when I did, she hit the pipes. It broke her nose and messed her jaw up. It messed her up for a few weeks, so I gave her a little money.”
Dante has known some rather unusual men. Every time I talk to her some crazy name comes up. She went out with Freddie Prinze shortly before his death (he committed suicide the day after Georgette’s birthday in 1977) and met actor Michael ‘Little Joe Cartwright’ Landon when she was still a teenager. “I dated him. Didn’t have sex with him until years later.” Another brief encounter? White R&B belter Wayne Cochran.
Georgette was actually engaged to Al Lewis, famous for playing Grandpa on The Munsters. An incredible character who smoked cigars, supported many a liberal cause and routinely embellished his biography, Lewis had also gotten his start in the carnival and was plain crazy for Georgette. She even talked him into joining a carnival she organized herself and took on the road around 1980. Carny bigshot Gerry Murphy recalls running into them somewhere in North Dakota, “Here come Georgette and Grandpa Munster down the midway…he was following her like a puppy dog.”
Although Lewis loved carny life – Georgette has countless snapshots of him sitting around beaming, dancers plopped in his lap – he was the world’s laziest MC. “I needed someone to be out there in front to get the people all wound up while the show’s goin’ on. Al was supposed to be doin’ all that, but he got so hung up goin’ to the cookhouse talking to the damn carnies. He just didn’t give a fuck, the dirty bastard. He’d piss me off.”
Georgette had a Big Apple address for a spell, and she’d take Lewis to visit mobsters they both knew. Or they’d go to the Bronx Zoo, where he’d give her acting lessons. “He’d say, ‘Georgette, watch the animals, see how they walk. Copy that duck’s walk…that’s how you become an actor, by pickin’ up on little moves like that.’ Now when I see movies and somebody doin’ a little silly walk I say, ‘A – ha, you’ve been to the zoo.” (Believe it or not Georgette was also engaged to Pat Buttram, best known as Mr. Haney on Green Acres.)
Although they’ve never been romantically involved, Dante has been pals with Chubby Checker for over fifty years. She met him as a teenager playing state fairs and since that time Chubby’s stayed in touch, inviting her to shows and even dragged her onstage to do his signature twist. Talk to those who know Georgette and they’ve all met Chubby. Toni Turcketta, who worked as an assistant for Georgette in the late seventies, remembers the two of them staying at a motel “in a little town in the middle of nowhere. A bus pulled up and Chubby Checker and all his crew poured out.”
Dante’s Vegas magician pal Gary Darwin tried to date her decades ago. When he took her to meet his mother, Georgette stopped to urinate in the bushes on the way. “Mom thought that was very cute,” maintained Darwin. When they got back in the car Gary joked, “Motel or dinner?” Georgette didn’t see the humor. “We came to a stoplight, she ran out of the car and I didn’t see her for about twenty years. I was gonna take her to a restaurant and feed her!” [Much later Gary and Georgette rekindled their friendship and she visited him frequently in the hospital before he died.]
Georgette hasn’t dated in over forty years. Too many abusive relationships. “I gave it up in ’77. No more sex, no more fuckin’ idiots. People are people, that’s why I don’t date. It’s after the fuck when you really get fucked, mentally and physically.”
What has she learned about the sexes? “In general, men hate women. And if I’d been a man, I’d be a queer. I don’t like women. They’re dangerous, they’re sneaky. One second it’s, ‘Oh, I’m your best friend in the world’ and then they’re fuckin’ out to get you, understand?
“I got a vibrator named Hummer, and me and Hummer does just fine. I see somethin’ that looks good, I go get Hummer – ‘C’mon, Hummer, get my mind off this.’ No more mistakes for me.”
Twitchin’ and Twatchin’ With The Ormonds
Made by the Ormond Organization, The Exotic Ones is one of those strange question marks in exploitation film history. The first family of low-budget filmmaking in Music City USA, the Ormonds consisted of Ron, who produced, wrote and directed their modest exploitation epics; wife June, who distributed them, and son Tim, who learned the ropes of filmmaking as he grew up. All three appear in their films – in The Exotic Ones, young Tim even sings a sappy pop song ("Well, The Hurt Goes On (And On)” [title approximate]) to the monster, although he’s had this embarrassment snipped out of existing prints.
The Ormonds’ previous work had been mild drive-in fare, so 1968’s The Exotic Ones came as a bit of a shock (even to themselves – all their subsequent films would be made in service to the Lord). The story is pedestrian – monster is caught, monster is shown to public, monster breaks free – but there’s gold in the many peculiar and often pointless digressions it takes. It’s a stupefying and colorful collision of Russ Meyer-as-imagined-by-Nashville, vaudeville, gore and Laugh-In, starring the Ormonds and their ragtag regulars thrown together with bemused Nashville musicians not known for their acting resumes. And the most fascinating thing about the movie is Georgette Dante.
As Titania the exotic dancer, she overtakes the picture. Her first appearance comes at the tail end of the opening credits. “SWAMP MONSTER STRIKES AGAIN – CLAIMS ANOTHER VICTIM,” shouts a newspaper headline. The paper lowers and a gyrating Georgette comes into focus. She’s bathed in purplish-pink light, swirling fire tassels off her pasties (intercut with reactions from the crackpot cast – including Ron Ormond himself playing a gangster and sporting a bad Beatle wig, moustache and shades while puffing a fat cigar). Dante kicks off her heels, peels back her long black gloves, then charges around the stage barefoot as she does acrobatics and splits, tossing a chair around with one hand and drinking out of a glass while going from a backbend into a headstand. She shows off that body – sturdy, not curvy, and strong, like a tough little Eskimo. The point is not sexiness, but knocking you dead with showbiz moves and physical derring-do. Georgette is the hardest-working James Brown of exotics.
This is the only known footage from Dante’s early years, but it’s more than enough. Everything about her appearance is outrageous. The massive, light blue/black/white eyeshadow which runs all the way to her hairline, the bindi diamond on her forehead, the jet-black pile of hair in an angled bun on her head – she resembles some ancient Egyptian concubine who’s taken a wrong turn and wound up in Alabama. Both Divine and Amy Winehouse owed her big time because Georgette got there first. I look at her and hear Alan Vega belting out “Jukebox Babe,” The Sonics blasting “The Witch,” The Jiants tearing through “Tornado.”
Then there’s the attitude – scowling, scrappy, ready to fight. She’s tightly coiled, ready to burst into a karate chop or backflip at any given moment, the whole persona screaming ‘bad girl.’ “I was afraid of her,” admitted fellow cast member Diane Jordan, who appeared as one of the backstage dancers. Had Georgette known of her fear, it wouldn’t have fazed her a bit. “To be honest with you, when I was doin’ the movie I didn’t socialize with any of the girls. My mind was totally on what was goin’ on.” It was another one of her old rules: carny people keep to themselves and don’t pal around.
By the time she made The Exotic Ones, Dante was familiar with the denizens of Music City USA. “I knew Roger Miller, Hank Thompson…Ray Price I dated on and off for years.” That happened when Georgette was playing at Skull’s Rainbow Room. “We’d go over to the motel and fuck. Horny motherfucker, too. He’d jump from one room to another, he knew all the broads. Fuckin’ me just wasn’t enough.” According to Dante, various country stars visited The Exotic Ones set, amongst them Porter Wagoner and Conway Twitty – the latter of whom posed as he stood on Georgette’s stomach. “I had a picture…but somebody stole it.”
Georgette actually met the Ormonds not in Nashville, but Atlanta. “I was performing at the Nitery Club and the waitress come back to me and I thought she said, ‘Georgette, do you want to be in a whore movie?’ ‘A whore movie?!? I don’t wanna do no damn X-rated movie.’ Turns out she said ‘horror movie.’” Georgette went out and met the ones inquiring – Ron Ormond and his buddy Ed Moates, who would appear/invest in The Exotic Ones. Ormond had originally planned to use Georgette in a smaller role, but there was just no containing her.
Serious as death when it came to show business, Dante found the script a challenge. “In those days I could hardly read or write at all, so I had to have somebody read me the script.” She not only memorized her dialogue – but everybody else’s. “Ron would look at me constantly and say, ‘Georgette, just get up here and tell this actor what his line is!’” Georgette did a lot of the dancers’ makeup as well. “The makeup person didn’t know the burlesque way of doin’ things.”
Georgette’s carny background provided further inspiration. As mentioned, Ormond incorporated some of her stepfather Bob’s carnival banter in both the film and the trailer – “She’ll twitch it/And twatch it/And stand there and let you watch it” – and after Ron heard her tales of being a geek, fowl decapitation was added to the monster’s act.
For Diane Jordan, geek day was an indelible nightmare. “A farmer came in and brought three chickens in cages and somebody said, ‘After we break for dinner, we’re gonna shoot a scene with the monster ripping up this chicken.’ It was mortifying.” Diane contemplated setting the chickens free but thought to herself, “‘They’ll get so mad I won’t get my $200.’ I agonized over that. That poor chicken didn’t have a chance!” Jordan was further dismayed when Georgette informed her that after the real geek act in the carnival, “they would eat the chicken afterward. They never wasted it!”
Outfitted in a black fright wig, plastic fangs and loincloth, rockabilly singer Sleepy LaBeef plays The Exotic Ones monster, and it’s a rather geek-like performance – a lot of wigshaking, mumbling and crazyface. Georgette tried to show Sleepy her old blade-palming carnival trick, but it didn’t take. “I handed him the razor blade and he couldn’t do it. I ran out there, grabbed the blade, cut the chicken’s throat and put it up to his face.”
Adding to the difficulties, LaBeef was standing on a stack of crates to make the creature’s stature more threatening. “He was literally fallin’ off the damn crates goin’, ‘OwwwwrrrrWaaaarreee’ while he was tryin’ to hold the damn teeth in. In the movie it looks like he was growling and making noises, but he wasn’t – he was getting sick. That’s why he’s makin’ all those damn faces. I was squeezing the chicken, trying to follow the scene through, and Sleepy was giving me the worst looks. I grabbed the damn razor blade for the last time and opened all the guts, ripped the chicken open. Sleepy lost it – and his teeth. He threw up in the cage.” (Years after The Exotic Ones Georgette had a little dalliance with LaBeef. “I run across him at a motel. I was in the swimming pool I looked up and saw him outside a room. I hollered, ‘Sleepy!!!’ I wound up havin’ sex with him. I don’t know why, but I did.”)
There are fabulous scenes of the dancers gathered in the dressing room, June Ormond playing their mother hen. A catfight breaks out between Dante and another girl, and as the others gather around, Georgette looks like she’s playing for keeps, ready to pound the skull in of any challenger. “I could hear Gordon Terry and Ed Moates hollerin’, ‘Pull her bra off!’ If you watch the movie, you can see where I reach up and grab her bra. I whipped it right off her and kept on with the fight.”
On one occasion Georgette clashed with the director himself. She laughed recalling what happened. “I almost killed his ass, I was so goddamn mad at him.” She had managed to hit the lines right for all her dialogue, but this time she was up to the third or fourth take, which presented a challenge to the budget. “I was messing up. They had changed one of my lines – ‘I paid for that dress with a pound of flesh’ – because they decided to use a damn blouse. It threw me off because they didn’t tell me and Ron was hollerin’ to say ‘this blouse’ instead of ‘this dress.’
“I wasn’t getting it, so he run up and slapped me right in the face. That’s not a good thing to do to someone who lifts 400 pounds and drives semi trucks. I didn’t react – and luckily I didn’t go beat the fuck out of him. He overreacted. You don’t slap a carnival person. I had tears in my eyes I was so furious.” Realizing his mistake, Ormond immediately “ran backwards away from the camera, over to the corner and started throwing kisses at me. If he hadn’t backed up as quickly as he had, I would’ve gone after him.”
Georgette provided her own brand of excitement on the set. “Georgette always wanted to wrestle,” said Ed Moates. “She’d hit you on the arm and it was like being hit by a truck.” The Exotic Ones was shot at Trafco Studio, which was run by a local Methodist church. As Moates recalled, “We’re in Trafco and Ron says, ‘Georgette, go lift Sleepy LaBeef up.’” Sleepy was a sturdy 6’ 5” and a bit of a challenge, even for Dante.
“She had to walk up, put her belly to his side, put her arms around him and lean back to get Sleepy off the ground. I just happened to be standing by three or four nicely dressed Methodist ladies. And Georgette didn’t have any panties on! You can imagine what that looked like, with her rearing back and lifting Sleepy. June Ormond was walking by at that moment, did a double take and said, ‘Georgette! Go get your panties on!’ Georgette said, ‘June, I would, but somebody stole them two days ago!’”
Co-star Gordon Terry was a well-known fiddler and guitarist who’d been in Merle Haggard’s band. “I knew him years before we did the movie together, ‘cause I met him in nightclubs,” said Georgette. Terry was smitten with her. “He was in love,” muttered Dante, instructing me on how utterly unimportant this was. “Even though we had sex, that was nothing to me. Because I’m very, very dedicated to show business.” They were hanging out in Georgette’s motel when Terry had to use the facilities. Little did he know her snake had gotten into the toilet. “Gordon went in there, sat down, and the damn snake came up the hole...they have a tendency to do that. He whooped and hollered and he run outta that damn bathroom. He fell over his pants running outside, sayin’, ‘You comin’ or not?? I’m outta here!!!’”
Georgette joined the Ormonds for a promotional tour of movie theaters when The Exotic Ones came out. Ed Moates recalled the memorable first stop in Kentucky. “Georgette had fire on her toe, then lit the mayor of Knoxville’s cigar.”
Delilah came along on the tour as well. The stars were entertaining the crowd from atop the concession stand at one drive-in when chaos erupted. Georgette, in a cape doing her fire show, looked down to see some local groping her mother. “Georgette literally dove off the concession stand roof, ready to do battle,” said Tim Ormond. Dante continues the tale. “I flew off the roof like Batman, backhanded the guy, knocked him down, grabbed my mother, shoved her back towards the candy counter and she climbed up on the roof with us.”
Georgette never really appeared in another movie outside of bit parts (she can be seen performing briefly at the end of the 1972 obscurity Miss Melody Jones) and it’s a pity. Like Tura Satana in Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, Georgette was too big for the screen, too ahead of her time. We can all be thankful she was immortalized in The Exotic Ones, which she looks back on with fondness. “Oh hell, yeah. That was a really good time for me. I’m not used to teamwork outside the carnival. Ordinary people don’t seem to do that. The Ormonds were just like carnival people. Workaholics that stuck together at all times.” She remained friends with the family, particularly with the one surviving member Tim. She even fixed him up with a few dates.
“I consider Tim a brother. Honey, he’s a beautiful person, and he was very dedicated to his mother and father.”
THE MANY LOOKS OF DANTE
From the late 60s to the early 80s, Georgette was on a roll, crisscrossing America playing clubs, state fairs, and carnivals and clocking thousands of miles on her car – a Pontiac Bonneville Brougham she’d replace every year. “My salary was $3500 a week in clubs. I spent $1200 on new gowns, and I had nine, with beautiful headpieces.” Sexy costumes struggled to contain the Amazon within. She’d drag men up onstage and have them stand on her stomach two at a time (she tried upping the ante to three, but “once was enough”).
Carnival owner Gerry Murphy recalls introducing her to a friend at the Independent Showmen’s Convention in Gibsonton, Florida. “He was a big guy who thought he was pretty tough with his muscular arms. I said, ‘See this lady here? She could throw you across the room.’ He laughed. Well, she grabs ahold of this guy with one hand and lifts him into the air. One hand! He practically crapped his pants. She sets him down real gentle and I said, ‘Well Mike, whaddya think of that?’ He couldn’t talk. Couldn’t talk!”
“She was one of the best showgirls I’ve ever seen,” said Ronnie ‘Leroy’ Evans, a keyboard player who’d work (and live) with Georgette for years. “People would think she was just a regular stripper – next thing you know she’s in the audience pickpocketin’ and takin’ off a person’s rings, watches and belts. She would blow people’s minds.” His brother Roger recounted how Georgette would get the fire tassels on her breasts going “and light some guy’s cigarette in the audience.” Roger became part of the act. “I’d stand there with a cigarette and she pop that cig out of my mouth.” (Chemicals fortified his courage: “We only did that one when we had some good smoke.”)
Both brothers were members of the Slaphappy Band, a funky outfit that opened for Georgette. “We were the only Southern rock band with a big following and a tour bus that never had a record out,” said guitar player Dennis ‘Face’ Wiley. “We could go from ‘Dixie Chicken’ to Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller.’”
They travelled together, sharing motel rooms, and it wasn’t unusual for Georgette to be waltzing around naked with doves on her fingers. “Clothes were nothing to her,” said her friend Donna Smith. “She was more like their buddy.” A lot of weed was smoked, which could make mile-a-minute talker Georgette even more of a handful. “She’d get too far out there, man,” said Dennis Wiley. “She could always get away from us, but we couldn’t get away from her. I’ve shut the door on her a couple of times – with her still talkin’!” Dante laughs at the memory. “We didn’t worry about who did whatever. We were a team, and double damn cool.”
Georgette Dante and Slaphappy graced the stage of many a crazy joint. “We used to play for the Dixie mafia on the Gulf Coast,” said Dennis Wiley. “They owned all these little gambling bars. We had the most fun in them places, because they paid us phenomenally—sometimes we’d go to work and the boss would stick a hundred-dollar bill in everybody’s pocket and say, ‘You guys take the night off.’ They’d be all these judges, lawyers and bigwigs from Mobile gambling. One night we were playin’ in this place called the Silver Slipper, a little bitty shack. The stage was so small and I’m kinda tall, so the club owner had ’em cut a hole in the stage with a chainsaw so I could wear my cowboy hat. The owner said I didn’t look right without it.”
Gangsters loved Dante. “Georgette fit right in with all of them,” said Wiley. “She had connections. She wasn’t no ho and she couldn’t be bought – I always had alotta respect for that. Now, if she wanted to sleep with ya, you’d be the first one to know.” And carny people were always showing up on the road to greet her. “I had the lobster man and bearded lady in the audience!” said Wiley.
Nobody had to look out for her on the road, either. “She was strong as an ox,” said Roger Evans. One night in Buffalo, New York “some guy tried to mess with her and she knocked most of his teeth out,” he said, laughing. “She was bad to the bone.” Georgette’s assistant Toni Turcketta watched her nearly take out a stalker. “Somebody started following us from a club one night and she was drivin’. She had her piece under her leg as she was shiftin’ gears and all of a sudden she slammed on the brakes, parked, got in position and – BOOM – blows out their fucking tire!”
Georgette was fiercely protective of her friends. Living at an Odessa, Texas motel, she became close with owner Faye Waddell. “I had minor altercations with people who didn’t pay their rent,” recalled Waddell. “I’d just go take care of business, go down there and beat on their door with a pickhandle until they paid the money. I turned around one time and Georgette was just standin’ there, backin’ me up. Didn’t have to ask her, she had radar tuned in. She said she could just tell when she glanced up and saw the way I walked by the door. Georgette didn’t take no bull from nobody, and she was so strong she could damn well pick up a horse.”
FIRE WALK WITH DANTE
Georgette’s been a great lover of animals for as long as she can remember. “We had an animal show in the carnival – a crocodile, a bobcat, a raccoon and a couple of skunks. I’d feed ’em, take care of ’em.” She’s picked many a wounded animal off the highway to nurse it back to health – hawks, possums, rabbits, dogs, cats. “I’d take ’em to the motel, put ’em in the bathtub, clean ’em up and start workin’ with ’em. But if the animal was too far gone, I’d stop and just drive over it and keep goin’. No way in the world I’d let it lay there for days suffering. I feel the same way about people. When a child is born crippled, there’s no way carnival people can take care of those kids...the gypsies would just drown them.”
Working the carnival, she’d become particularly fond of the snakes, feeling she could communicate with them psychically. In the slow winter season, they’d have to let the reptiles go. One year Georgette made her way down to a nearby creek to do just that, but when she opened the gunny sack, “They started crawlin’ around my ankles.” And when she started up the embankment, “They were literally followin’ me back up the hill…I’m not scared of ’em. They sense that.”
Around 1964, Georgette had herself buried in a van filled with 102 rattlesnakes as a publicity stunt. There was a built-in scope so the good people of Coushatta, Louisiana could peek at the action. The snakes were in a big wooden cage. “I laid in front of it naked for days at a time so I could smoke marijuana and look at them. They got used to seein’ me. I had a good air conditioner in there so it kept the snakes cool. If they were a little hot, they’d get moody and want to bite. Every so often I’d take one out and blow smoke in his face. After a while they mellowed out…they were happy, I was happy. I’d put a little lipstick on them so I’d know which one they were. I was under there 5 days – supposed to be 7, but it rained out.”
Years later (1981 or so) in Odessa, Texas, Georgette wrestled an alligator, one she caught herself. She’d originally gone into the swamp with three burly guys (one a professional boxer), but they’d all chickened out. “They wanted out of the boat – ‘No fuckin’ way!’” Georgette went back alone that night. “I managed to get the first alligator with a loop around his neck, but he was too damn small, I let him go.” The next one was “bigger than the boat. I let him go.” Finally she nabbed a six-footer with star potential, but he suffered from stage fright. “As soon as the damn spotlight hit him, he did nothin’. Hardly moved! I still got a page write-up out of it.”
Everybody has a Georgette animal story. She once conned Donna Smith into going to a snake farm, even though her friend was terrified. “She said, ‘Donna, I promise, I won’t get no snake.’ We got down the road about twenty miles and she pulled a snake out of the sleeve of her blouse! I’d like to have tore that car up. She put it in the glove box – and it got out. I was cryin” about that snake. Georgette pulled over, she was laughin’ so hard. We never could find that snake.”
Ronnie Evans recalled being in a motel room with some musicians he knew. “Georgette had a money bag settin’ on there. One of my friends sitting on the bed said, ‘Hey, you got money in that bag?’ She said, ‘No, let me show you something.’ She opened it up and out came one of those boa constrictors. My friend must’ve jumped up about six feet!” Then there were the birds. “She kept them doves in the bathroom,” said Roger Evans. “Ronnie walked in, they were flyin’ around, crappin’ everywhere. He told her, ‘You gotta get rid o’ them damn birds!!!’”
Then there were the arachnids. Dennis Wiley remembers Georgette parking her bag on the table of a Mobile gambling joint they were playing. “I noticed some girl put her hand in the purse, and all of the sudden she screamed. This big tarantula come crawling outta the purse and landed on the table. This woman like to have shit her pants. Georgette just laughed. I looked at the spider and noticed it only had seven legs. I asked her how come. ‘Oh, Face, it tried to bite me when I first got it. We’re good friends now, though.’ That was the goddamnedest thing. I sat there with my mouth open. Georgette could stare down lions and tigers. And drunks.”
Johnny Ramirez, aka Mexican Mike, was Georgette’s third ‘unofficial’ husband (Ronnie Evans had been second – “a great man, but very lazy” was her send-off). Ramirez was practically born in the carnival – a carny couple had adopted him on the spot after he survived a car crash in Mexico that killed his parents. Strangely enough, when Georgette’s first husband Dave had threatened her with a gun in one of his jealous rages, it was Ramirez who’d loaned him the piece!
“I run across him in Tulsa,” Georgette recalled. “I hadn’t seen him since I was 18 or 19 years old.” Ramirez was a flat store agent, pool hustler and sometime magician. “I connected with him. I thought, ‘He knows how to gamble, he’s fuckin’ sharp, he’s got the eye of the tiger.’ He wound up bein’ dead weight.”
But that was in the future. Right now Dante had a plan. The Trans-Alaska oil pipeline was under construction and Georgette wanted to take a three-tent show up there. Georgette and Johnny could do their show in one tent, there would be gambling in another, and “in the middle would be the prostitution.” Georgette was ready to go. “I had an 18-foot trailer, it had gambling devices, marijuana, some guns.”
Off they went. “We’re on our way out of Kodiak, I’m sittin’ in the Suburban, settin’ my wig, puttin’ colors on it. Johnny was drivin’…like an idiot, I let him. I had a gut feeling, but I didn’t listen to it.” On the highway behind them was a drunken Eskimo in a stolen car, closing in fast. “Johnny seen the Eskimo come up on the side and kept drivin’ faster…the Eskimo hits the side of the trailer and knocks us right off a cliff – we just kept going down, down, down. When we went off the cliff both Johnny’s hands went up in the air. If he held onto the goddamn steering wheel, we woulda been okay.” Georgette’s dream was now wreckage, junk scattered on a frozen hillside. Even the weed.
So she split for Las Vegas, Johnny in tow.
Neon Flashin’, One-armed Bandits Crashin’
Once they hit Sin City, Georgette looked up burlesque pal Dusty Summers, who was appearing at the Royal, a mob-owned hotel just off the strip. “She done told the casino owner a lotta good things about me,” said Georgette. "Normally people audition. I don’t do fuckin’ auditions for anybody.”
Georgette was soon starring in her own revue at the Royal. “She played to a full room all the time,” said bandleader Perfecto Mangual, who was working across the street. “She was an amazing performer. I’ve never seen anybody do what Georgette did. She used to stand on a Tesla coil and light fires from her fingers. She’d have somebody come onstage, and as she was helping them up she’d be picking their pockets, wearing that little smirk of hers.” The audience would often be peppered with Vegas superstars.. “They were all crazy about her, because she was very exotic and they couldn’t figure out what they could do to get next to her. That’s what was so funny. She wasn’t interested. ”
Johnny Ramirez wanted to be a magician, and Georgette started incorporating magic into her act, becoming a regular at magic world legend Gary Darwin’s weekly soirees, where a couple of practicing superstars hit on her – and where Siegfried (Roy’s significant other) always managed to wear an outfit that matched Georgette’s. “If I wore white, he wore white. Every week we wore the same color.” Georgette’s new skills left an impression on Dennis Wiley. “She’d levitate one o’ them strippers and run a hula hoop over their body. I don’t know how she did it.”
Perfecto Mangual, who got chummy with Georgette during her Vegas stint, remains mesmerized. “She’s unlike any other woman I’ve ever met. You never had to wonder where you stood with Georgette. If she didn’t like something, she told you. She has no filters.” Perfecto once visited her apartment with a friend as she was about to use her outdoor shower – “which she did, naked,” he recalled, still amazed. As far as weed went, “Georgette always had the best.”
Like so many others, Manuel marvelled at her street smarts. “Georgette could figure people out easily. She’s nobody’s fool. She did her own contracts, because she didn’t trust anybody. People would try to pull fast ones on her, but there was no way you were gonna get away with it – she was a carny, true to the word.” And when somebody tried to mug Georgette in the parking lot, “She beat the living crap out of him. She said to the cops, ‘I guess he never saw my show!’”
Dante’s relationship with Johnny Ramirez ended in Vegas. She found out he was pimping on the side, which led to a brawl that ended with him “stickin’ his fingers in my eyeballs. I got a nose that’s crooked now because of that asshole.” Johnny, aka Mexican Mike, was history. “He rang her bell one night and the next day she cleaned his clock,” said Dennis Wiley. “She wound up almost killin’ him.”
Dante and the Teflon Don
After Vegas, Georgette did a stint with Minsky star Ann Corio’s This Was Burlesque dinner theater show. Dante’s take on this revered legend? “As an entertainer, she was gorgeous. But she was a prima donna that didn’t want anyone else to shine. Pinky Lee quit on her.” Georgette ran her own carnival for awhile and returned to the clubs, but it didn’t last. “They got real raunchy. They went X-rated.” She tried out new stage names like Lucky Desmond and Dale Collins. “You been around 30, 40 years they think you’re an old broad and they’re not gonna take a chance on you. Change your name for the new generation.” She promoted oil wrestling, Jello wrestling and boxing, which also meant gangsters.
“I was involved with John Gotti on and off since I was 19, 20 years old,” Georgette announced one day. “I did money laundering all over the world.” Dante had known mobsters all her life. “When I worked nightclubs they were owned by gangsters. And I didn’t B-drink. If they said, ‘Mix with your customers’ I’d tell ’em, ‘Go fuck yourself.’ I had a show. I’d say, “You see my show, you’re not happy, I’m outta here.’ I never had no problems. They called me Miss Dante and they highly respected me.” Maybe they knew what could happen to them if they didn’t. When one Chicago heavy crossed her, “I grabbed his neck, threw him up against the wall, reached into my purse and pulled out my .38. The son came and said, ‘Georgette, Georgette – please put my father down!’
“All the gangsters I’ve known through the years, they’re all good people, special, special people. They’re very religious, they kiss each other on the cheeks. I know people say they do bad things, well…”
Dante won’t go into detail on her capers with the mob, saying only that she had a New York City apartment where they’d bring in “huge fuckin’ duffel bags of money. I’d have to stand on a chair and push the panels in the ceiling to hide it up there. I had a shotgun by the door, a gun at my hip and baseball bats in the different rooms.” Georgette also admits she was sometimes used as bait to lead degenerate gamblers to a motel where they’d be strongly advised to pay up. “I’d dress up nice – didn’t have to sweet talk ’em much, honey.” Off to the motel they’d go, and a couple of gorillas would “come out of the bathroom and beat him…one time we over-stabbed a guy.”
When the heat finally came down on Gotti Georgette was instructed to disappear. “For over ten years I had to keep a low profile so they couldn’t find me. I was in Louisiana with my Mom and Dad, building parade floats.”
Commit a Crime #3
Before that Louisiana getaway, in around 1980 or so, Georgette was in Detroit, promoting boxing and wrestling with a couple of local thugs. The three of them were holed up in a motel room with a pile of cash – $3400 belonging to the gangsters, another $2700 that was in Georgette’s purse when she ventured out for a bucket of chicken. “I didn’t worry about leavin’ it. I’m walkin’ to Kentucky Fried Chicken.” As Georgette returned, “my two gangster friends come walkin’ out of the room…then two black guys come out.”
Her associates were not in good shape. “My one friend looked at me and said, ‘We just been robbed!!!’ He had his hand on his head, blood runnin’ between his fingers. The other guy was laid out on the ground. What they were tryin’ to do is score some fuckin’ drugs from these black guys – cocaine, the idiots.”
“I threw my chicken down, grabbed one of the guys and I’m beatin’ his fuckin’ head into the ground. I’m goin’ through his pockets, seein’ if he’s got the money. I hear a ‘click!’ A fuckin’ switchblade. He slashed my side.”
Crook #1 didn’t have the money, so Georgette “started chasin’ the other black guy. I’m running and running, it was like a damn movie. I’m callin’ him’ every motherfuckin’ name in the world. The guy climbed a damn fence, I grabbed his foot, a shoe came off in my hand. He’s over the fence, he’s gone. I fell backwards. All I got is his damn shoe.”
The police arrived. “They followed my blood, that’s how they found me. I wound up in the hospital.” As did the switchblade brother she’d pounded on. Georgette was released, he stayed. “I got the hell out of town…back down the road with the carnival.”
It wasn’t until years later that Georgette learned how the story ended. She was playing Club Juana in Orlando and some carny buddies were in the audience. “I went over to the table to talk to ‘em. The one carnival guy says, ‘Dale’ – that’s my real name, Dale – ‘she’s a mean motherfucker, she killed a guy.’ I laughed and said, ‘I shoulda killed him.’ He said, ‘You didn’t know? The guy was in the hospital, he took himself out early and he died. Had he stayed there, he probably would’ve made it.’”
EVERYBODY LOVES A CLOWN
The Parade’s Gone By
Throughout, Georgette would stay in touch with her parents, but it never seemed to amount to much. “She always wanted a good relationship with ’em but every time she hooked up with ’em, it never would happen,” said Roger Evans. “She tried.”
Years of heavy drinking had left Delilah in particularly bad shape. “When Dale wasn’t around anymore, Delilah got to drinkin’, usin’ pills,” said Donna Smith. “She was in her middle 50s, still dancing. She had to dance by herself, couldn’t keep nobody around her. They weren’t gonna put up with her bein’ so hateful and catty.
“Sometimes I’d go down when it was teardown night and she’d be real loaded. I’d be in front of her trailer and I could hear her cussin’ God and bawlin’.” Donna would be shocked at the sight of an inebriated Delilah tottering down the midway with a cigarette in her mouth, still wearing her stripper gown, to get change for the girl show. “I never saw her do that stuff before. The drinkin’ and druggin’ changed her personality.”
Sometimes Delilah would feign suicide. “She was always pullin’ that fuckin’ crap,” said Georgette with a sigh. “Always tryin’ to cut her wrists, throw little temper tantrums.” One day in Galveston Delilah got into it with Georgette’s then-boyfriend Ronnie, “scratchin’ his face clawin’ on his neck and callin’ him cocksucker and whore monger.” That afternoon Georgette was alone on the beach when she saw a woman in the distance walk into the sea. It was Delilah. “She was way the fuck out there in the ocean. I ran in, dragged her back outta there, gave her to my stepdad, and Ronnie and I left.”
Bob and Delilah eventually retired from the carnival to run a parade float business in Louisiana. Georgette came down to help, moving into a bus she’d fixed up. She’d do artwork on the floats with her mother. It was hard labor. “I’d be workin’ in the sun so many hours I’d get huge blisters on my shoulders and my eyeballs would get bloodshot.” Her parents spent most of their time in the bag. “My father had a vodka in one hand, a beer in the other. But they could still work hard.” Sometimes Bob would be so drunk up on top of a float he’d go to the bathroom in a bucket and forget about it. The many stray cats on the property would do their business up there as well, so when a float was delivered, often to customers dressed in minks and gowns, it “would be all full of shit.”
On January 18, 2008, Georgette was nearly killed in an auto accident. She wasn’t at the wheel. “We were pullin’ out of the gas station – I was still putting my safety belt on, because I had a big coat, it was wintertime – and he pulled right in front of an 18-wheeler, a salt water truck.” The impact “threw me through the back windshield and I landed 27 feet away. I didn’t even know I was on the ground.” She was transported to a nearby hospital by helicopter. “I wound up goin’ to four or five hospitals. They had a helluva time savin’ my life.”
Georgette was all smashed up. “My face hit the dashboard, caved my mouth in.” (She’d have all her teeth taken out, and decorated a hat with them.) Dante spent the next four and a half months in a hospital bed recovering from mangled limbs and internal injuries. When she was finally released, despite being weak and wheelchair-bound, she stopped by a boot store on the way home to pitch an American flag to its owner. (Bob, Delilah and Georgette sold flags to laundromats, car washes and motels on the side: “I got real good at it, real good. I never got a ‘no.’”)
She shouldn’t have left the facility. “I took myself out of the hospital early, because my mother was going to have open heart surgery.” (Before Georgette’s accident, Delilah had fallen off a float while working a brush and laid there paralyzed. “She had paint all over her.”)
But Georgette was in no shape to take care of her mother. Internal complications developed, causing her weight to balloon from 140 to 240. “I didn’t go to the bathroom for three months.” She has photographs of herself lying naked in the bus, her belly distended, obviously in pain. They are hard to look at. A bungled insurance settlement paid only the hospital bills, awarding Georgette nothing for her considerable pain and suffering.
Delilah got through her own surgery, but now Bob was falling apart, and living in a double-wide with rotted floors that Georgette was convinced would soon give way under him. There were 40 inbred cats in there as well. “My Dad loved cats, but he had no food for ‘em there in the fuckin’ wilderness of Louisiana. He didn’t give a fuck. So every time the momma cat would pop out 10-12 kitty cats, I’d go to the back of the school bus and drown the sumbitches in the bathtub. We couldn’t keep ’em. They were full of worms, eyes poppin’ out of their heads…they didn’t need to be livin’ anyway.”
One day she tried to cheer dad up by dying his hair black. Unfortunately it came out blue. “My Dad kept his feet in ice, so he’s sittin’ there with his feet in the bucket, can’t get up, can’t do nothing. With blue hair.” A flag business road trip ended when Bob had to be taken to an emergency room in New Iberia, Louisiana. When Georgette asked about Bob’s condition, the doctor replied, “Your dad’s got prostate cancer and pneumonia. Didn’t you know?”
Georgette returned to the family compound in Jennings, but in the wee hours of the morning the phone rang. Georgette rounded up her mother and they were there in Bob’s hospital room when he passed. “We got back in the car and I drove my Mom back. We never said a word about what happened.” Eventually Georgette was able to pay for Bob’s ashes, and outside a club in Mobile where her on-again off-again ‘husband’ Ronnie Evans was playing, she scattered them in the ocean. With folks playing pool inside the club and stray cats prowling the exterior, she thought her stepfather would approve.
But a week later Georgette got a call from the law. They’d found an empty ash receptacle and were investigating whether human remains had been dumped illegally. She bullshitted her way out, explaining there had been a robbery and that her dad’s ashes were among the items taken. Apparently the authorities felt bad, because they tracked down Delilah and sent her ashes, claiming they were her late husband. Georgette had to inform her mother they weren’t, “because I threw that shit in the ocean.”
Now Delilah was in and out of the hospital. Georgette would take her to a motel to get away. “She’d shit and piss all over herself constantly, couldn’t control nothin’. And I was crippled up, I couldn’t hardly move.”
With her stepfather gone and unable to run things herself, Georgette sold the float business for quick cash – 18.5K. It was a typical carny deal, as the parade floats had been stored outdoors exposed to the elements. “The floats were rotten underneath that pretty paper…they didn’t know.”
The good daughter took the spoils to her mother in the hospital. “I showed her all the money. She looked at me with big eyes.” Georgette had bought an assortment of magic props and supplies, painting Delilah’s name on some of it. “We’re gonna start over in Vegas,” Georgette announced. “You got a whole new world comin’, a new life, Mom. You’re gonna be a magician.”
It was not to be. There in the hospital, Delilah “kept tryin’ to pull the tubes out of her body, fightin’ everybody, rippin’ everything out.” Suddenly Georgette had an idea. She raced down to her van and found a tape she’d made of Bob talking on his CB radio. As soon as Delilah heard his voice coming out of the cassette player, she “calmed down immediately.” When the tape ran out and her mother became agitated once more, she played it again.
But Delilah’s time wasn’t long. “I had a gut feeling. She’d say, ‘I’m dying, I’m dying.’ I’d say, ‘I know, Ma. But in time you’re gonna be reborn again. You’re gonna be a brand new little baby and and I’m gonna adopt you.’” Georgette crawled into the hospital bed with her mom, holding her close. “Over and over and over she said, ‘I love you.’ She was tryin’ to make up for lost time.”
Recalling something Delilah had once said – “When I die, take a flower, kiss it, and throw it to the wind” – Georgette hit a nearby Walmart for a dozen roses. When she returned holding them in her arms, Delilah had a “shocked look on her face, almost terrified.” Georgette brought the bouquet closer, and the sweet perfume seemed to calm her for a time.
On July 15, 2010, just a little more than a year after Bob’s passing, Delilah died in the hospital bed as her daughter lay beside her. Georgette asked the nurse for some scissors, cut a lock of her mother’s long, black hair, slipped the ring her stepfather had given Delilah off her mother’s finger, and left. A few years later in Santa Monica, not far from the piers “with the carnival rides,” Georgette would scatter Delilah’s ashes to the sea so “her ashes would meet my Daddy’s.” She has a yearly ritual on the anniversaries of their deaths. I celebrate both those days. I make sure I get drunk. They loved drinkin’ and I don’t.”
I asked Georgette whether her mother’s death had affected her much. “Not really,” she replied, tough as ever. But there are some nights on Facebook when she posts picture after picture of Delilah, commenting over and over on her mother’s beauty. “I miss the fuck out of her.”
The Slow Road
On the day of her birth in 2011, Georgette packed up her van and drove to Las Vegas, where she found a shadow of the fabulous showbiz mecca of yore. “The old money isn’t there anymore,” noted her old friend Perfecto Mangual. “The easy money’s not there.” Nor is the style. As Georgette admits, “The old school is gone.” But she’s adapted to the new ways of Vegas, promoting herself online just like the kids do.
She’s lived all over town in the customized van she souped up herself, which is packed with pictures of show business pals and her carny family. Friends have tried to help get her established. “We offered to buy her a motor home she could park and live in,” said Dave Williams, active in the burlesque scene as performer and historian. “She out-and-out turned it down.” (Dusty Summers tried to help Georgette write some promotional letters but grew frustrated when Dante refused to let her address each recipient as ‘Dear.’ Said Georgette, “I wanted to put in ‘Hi,’ not ‘Dear.’ I said, ‘Dusty that’s horrible, ‘Dear,’ what the fuck is ‘Dear’???” “I guess it’s your way or the highway,” Summers shot back. “Yes, Dusty – if you’re gonna do somethin’ for me – and I really appreciate it – it IS my way.”)
For awhile Georgette stayed in a warehouse stuffed to the ceiling with circus and carnival equipment, and infested with rats and bedbugs. There was no heat or air conditioning. During Vegas heatwaves she’d have to run to the bathroom and pour water over her head to cool down. During one of these jaunts she slipped on the wet floor and cracked nine vertebrae. She’s had surgery, but five remain broken. No more acrobatics for her.
A couple active in the burlesque world – Jamie Burns and Francine Krajewski – let her move into their house in 2018. “The first home I’ve ever lived in in my life,” declares Georgette, who’s spent a lifetime in motels, vans and the possum bellies of semi trailers. She gets by for the most part on social security and face-painting gigs for kids. Dante performs her magic/fire act whenever she can, but money gigs are elusive. “I don’t worry about fuckin’ nothing. No matter what happens in life, you just deal with it. I’m not cryin’ the blues.”
Nothing dims her spirit. “When you got old you gotta slow a bit,” said her old band buddy Roger Evans. “Not Georgette, though. She’s still wide open.” And forever on the move. She knows every soon-to-be-somebody in Vegas. Every time you turn around there’s another celebrity impersonator she’s pals with – Michael Jackson here, Neil Diamond there, Ray Charles over yonder. Georgette is active in local politics as a booster for her close friend, mayor Carolyn Goodman (wife of infamous mob lawyer and former mayor Oscar Goodman, who plays himself in Scorsese’s Casino). She’s also the vice president of the Sammy Davis Jr. Museum.
Dante is somewhat involved in the current-day burlesque scene but retains a skeptical eye. “There’s a lot of old broads that don’t deserve the title ‘legend’ – they’re just fuckin’ old!” The one exotic legend she socializes with is aforementioned friend Dusty Summers, not only a vintage burlesque queen, but an author of numerous books and once a well-known Vegas columnist. (“I don’t have time for deadbeats,” states Georgette. “Just like my mother only socialized with one dancer, Patti Starr. She was a character, and a tough broad. Knew all the gangsters in Kansas City.”)
Georgette’s been a minister since she bought a mail-order license in 1980. “When I preach here in Las Vegas every once in awhile, I don’t get on a damn Bible kick – ‘God said this, God said that.’ It has nothing to do with God, it has to do with the individual person. I preach being organized – make sure when you go to bed at night your dishes are clean, your house is clean, your nails are clean. You gotta be an example for everybody else.”
She’s also involved in the Unification Church and has sermonized there on occasion. Georgette feels that the movement’s controversial founder, Sun Myung Moon, has gotten a bad rap. “He had to wheel and deal, do all kinds of horrible things to raise money to help his people in the Korean War. He went to jail, people always tried to sabotage him. Just like carnival people, he had to do what he had to do. We had to do things we didn’t like doin’ to get by in life, and he was the same goddamn way.”
Georgette dreams of writing a book about her life called “The Hard, Wonderful, Fun Life of Georgette Dante.” She also wants to start a movie studio on a piece of property she’s had her eye on. “They want 11 million, but I think they’ll take 8 or 9.” The first movie Georgette wants to make is about gay people. “I’m going to call it ‘Body And Mind.’ And I’d explain how some people have a man’s body, a man’s dick but their brain thinks like a woman.” She wants to utilize homeless people in the cast. Then there’s her planned remake of The Exotic Ones. “I’d use a famous basketball player to play the monster and this time I’ll play the Ron Ormond gangster part.”
She wants to do a film on the carnival world, to explain it to the world at large. “They misunderstand carnival people.” Modern-day carnies would not be included. “Carnival people are not what they used to be. They’re just not the same – they’re not characters, they’re not unusual people…People are not what they used to be. It really has nothing to do with the carnival. There’s no morals, no respect—people are just a bunch of walkin’ zombies now. They walk around like, ‘Where the fuck am I?’ I love people, but I don’t fuckin’ like ‘em.”
In addition to everything else, Georgette posts endless updates on Facebook, whether it be vintage photos, live events or personal messages to her fans and the world at large. (“A fabulous promoter,” declared Gary Darwin.) As she is the first to admit, her writing skills aren’t the best, resulting in a surreal, unedited mélange of broken English and autocorrect. Figuring out what she’s trying to say is like decoding a Burroughs/Gysin cut-up. Here’s a favorite: “This semi truck was originally my mom and dad girl show we had a big tit and a beautiful front now is part of the bracelet business you look closely you'll see me in the possibility.” And another: “I got that truck I'm standing on from Evelyn Curry famous lion Tamers very few ladies can perform with your Liars cuz when is that time of month the lions and tigers smell that blood it is hard to work with him and Johnny Ramirez extra Magic not good for a husband but a good friend who passed away four years ago.”
When byNWR came to Vegas to shoot her act in September, 2018, When we came to Vegas to shoot her act in September, 2018, Georgette was the first one to arrive. She worked the crowd like a politician, promo materials on every table. After the show her back pain was so severe she immediately had to lie down – suddenly becoming naked as a jaybird in the process. (“Honey, they’re show people, they understand,” she said to her helper, waving off concerns about our crew.)
Later that night we met up at her van, where she ruminated on Sun Myung Moon as she demonstrated how to make use of the tiniest of roach butts by heating it with the car lighter, then sticking it on the end of a pin in order to inhale (a trick she did with Bob Hope, apparently). “I like my marijuana,” she confessed. Georgette also admitted that she feels a bit more mellow these days. “Used to be I beat the fuck outta people, nowadays I don’t do any of that stuff. I take a walk. My mind is strong. It overcomes everything.”
She had presents for all of us. If Georgette likes you, at the end of a visit, she’ll hand you a little doll - a strange, stuffed creature or statue of something. And she names them all Toby. “This way, before I go to bed at night, I pray for whoever owns a Toby, wishin’ them nothin’ but luck and happiness.” (This is not just mystical, but practical. “Otherwise I’d have to name everybody and say, ‘Good luck, Bobby…Good luck, Sue…’”)
Case in point: Carolyn Goodman was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. So Georgette sent her a little package. Inside were a few photographs showing their friendship, along with a little surprise. “I got a rock that I found in Mobile, Alabama by a log cabin that I liked real well. Now, I’ve been carryin’ this rock for twenty fuckin’ years. And I just rub it every so often.
“So I put that rock in a baggie with a little note to Carolyn. And I says, ‘This rock is named Toby. I’ve had this rock for over twenty years. Now Toby’s gonna take care of you and protect you.’”
Stories such as that one move me, but I can’t get sentimental about Georgette. She’ll deck me. When she goes, though, a whole secret history of America will go with her. Personally I think Las Vegas should build her a museum – and they should do it right now so she can join in the fun.
On the first floor would be Georgette’s voluminous collection of photos and memorabilia. The second level would be home to the Georgette Dante Theater Of Unknown Show-Biz Legends, where all her pals and celebrity impersonators could perform.
Next floor up would be The Georgette Facebook Archive, which would present every one of her posts and re-posts in chronological order, helpfully annotated to unlock their actual meaning.
And the top floor would host The Georgette One-On-One Theater, where you’d encounter gigantic past-and-present holograms of Dante doing her thing, with Georgette in the flesh right next to you to provide a running commentary on her life’s work.
And up on the roof would be a golden ladder to the sky, with a nearby spotlight set up for a special event. Why a ladder, you ask?
As Georgette told me more than once, “When I get to the point somebody has to take care of me and wipe me, I’m gonna climb to the top of a building somewhere, take a handful of pills and just fall off the damn thing – and it’s over with.”
There would be no better place for this event to occur then atop the Georgette Dante Museum.
She could climb those golden stairs, breathe a little fire, whip out a magic trick or two, then make her final exit as an audience of her fans watch from below (and maybe even jump out of the way). Ghoulish? I suppose. But I think Georgette would see the showbiz in it. Talk about going out with a bang.
Until then, Georgette will keep right on scheming and dreaming. She has no regrets. “To be honest with you, if I had to do it over, I would not change a goddamn thing. Look at what it made me.” Nor has she any fears concerning present or future.
“My road is a slow road. When I finally get there, I might be 75. But when I get there, I’m gonna feel good about myself.”
Which is why you can’t ever utter the words ‘sugar daddy’ around Georgette. “No fuckin’ way! I could get a sugar daddy, but I’d feel like a piece of shit. My mind would be warped. I ain’t suckin’ nobody’s goddamn dick or let ’em fuck me in the ass to pay my goddamn bills. No one’s gonna be able to say, ‘She screwed her way all the way to the top’ about me. Bullshit!
“I worked real hard for every fuckin’ thing I’ve got. And I like the idea that when I get to the very top, nobody around me is gonna say nothin’ bad. They’ll say, ‘She worked her ass off, she deserves what she’s got.’
“And I like feelin’ good about me. I know I’m cool. Hell, I’m so cool, I pee ice cubes.”
Special thanks to Charlie Beesley and Natalia Wisdom.
Dedicated to Toby.
Jimmy McDonough is the author of The Ghastly One: The Sex-Gore Netherworld of Andy Milligan, as well as biographies of Tammy Wynette, Al Green, Russ Meyer and Neil Young. Currently he is working on his years-in-the-making biography The Exotic Ones: Heaven, Hell and the Ormonds. He is managing editor of byNWR.com. Jimmy’s website is jimmymcdonough.com