The Most Exotic One: Part One
The Hard, Wonderful, Fun Life of Georgette Dante
By Jimmy McDonough

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.

Carny Girl

“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

“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.””

Child Stripper

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.

Special thanks to Charlie Beesley and Natalia Wisdom.


Jimmy McDonough is a biographer and journalist. He has written acclaimed biographies of Neil Young, Tammy Wynette, Russ Meyer, Al Green and Andy Milligan. Time magazine declared his Milligan biography The Ghastly One “a masterpiece” and John Waters has repeatedly named it one of his all-time favorites. McDonough has also authored definitive profiles on Jimmy Scott, Gary Stewart, Hubert Selby, Jr. and Link WrayHis most recent work is The Exotic Ones: That Fabulous Film-Making Family from Music City, USA -The Ormonds.