Life Wasn’t Always a Cabaret – My Personal Memoir
Life Wasn’t Always a Cabaret
My Personal Memoir
Life Wasn't Always a Cabaret - Alfie Pettit Production
© 2019 “Life Wasn’t Always a Cabaret” – Alfie Pettit.
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James Gypsy Haake said to me, “…I’m not the star Alfie, you’re the star...” From that point forward, Gypsy and I always started the Carnival Cabaret show holding pinkies.
Dan Gore, when speaking before the City Council of Palm Springs in reference to my star being placed on Palm Canyon Drive stated, “…a name in concrete no one knows, and possibly no one really cares about...”
I have resisted saying anything for over two years until now. What I will share with you now is, “…Dan Gore, you should have let it go...”
The year was 1991 and I was 21 years old. I had recently moved to Los Angeles from the Northwest and one evening my friend Dugan Windebourne offered to take me to Lou Paciocco’s La Cage Aux Folles, which was located at that time on La Cienega Blvd in Los Angeles - to see the celebrity impressionist called “Viva Sex.”
The setting at La Cage was very similar to the staging at the Moulin Rouge complete with pink feathers everywhere on the floor, black feather centerpieces and of course, the requisite grand piano. Anyone visiting La Cage would find mannequin legs protruding from the walls which created a sense of whimsy, and to fashion an effectively visual burlesque atmosphere.
Typical cars parked strategically in front of La Cage included Mercedes Benz, Rolls Royce’s, and Bentleys which added pizzazz and glamour. The carnival of humor and entertainment included Viva Sex, who is a Spanish American transgender impressionist and most known for her impersonation of Madonna. La Cage also featured female impersonators performing as characters like Cher, Marilyn Monroe, Whitney Houston, Judy Garland, Liza Minnelli. The show employed other entertainers as well, that did performances as Michael Jackson and Boy George.
Along with those performers, there were a cavalcade of Diva impersonators inspired by, and through, the magic of wigs, makeup, panty hose, and gowns - all of which transformed these performers into crowd-pleasing and show-stopping icons of show business.
For me, this sparked a lifetime fascination with the show’s iconic host James “Gypsy” Haake. I saw Gypsy as a master of “drifting,” which is the talent of going from one audience member to another in a humorous way. I never formally met Gypsy at La Cage during that time, but years later Gypsy would become my mentor and a friend.
Around this time period, a new and upcoming performer, named Dan Gore, was making a name for himself doing a spot-on impersonation of George Michaels. Dan traveled the world for five years impersonating George Michael, all leading to establishing a celebrity impersonators business named ICONS.
Dan had a particular fascination with Madonna that lead to a specially designed show entitled “Blonde Exhibition.” As fate would have it, 25 years later I would become his business partner, along with Luis “Xtravaganza” Camacho. Luis is the renowned dancer and choreographer who made a name for himself in the underground New York City ballroom scene. Beginning in the late 1980s he became a member of the legendary House of Xtravaganza, which is one of the most publicly recognized “houses” to emerge from the New York City underground ballroom scene and among the longest known to be continually active. Extravaganza, as it eventually became known, is depicted in the 2018 television miniseries “Pose” as well as in the 1990 film “Paris Is Burning”.
Luis would eventually catch the eye of Madonna, and taught the Queen of Pop to ‘strike a pose.’ Luis was introduced to the world when he “gave good face” in Madonna’s video of the 1990 smash-hit song “Vogue.” In 2015, Dan and Luis would include me as a fellow producer, promoter, and performer at the Carnival Cabaret located in Palm Springs, California. This show would be hosted by none other than James “Gypsy” Haake. Talk about a full-circle moment! I didn’t meet Gypsy until New Year’s night of 2015, after seeing the Carnival Cabaret show at Oscar’s Café & Bar, also located in Palm Springs. When I finally met Gypsy at the “meet & greet” that followed the show, we mugged for the cameras – doing the exact same facial expression! This hilarious moment sparked a new showbiz connection between us.
Gypsy received his name from Chita Rivera, and was also inspired by his years of dancing on Broadway in chorus lines. His illustrious career goes back decades to a club in New York City known as Gypsy’s. It was at Gypsy’s that young and unknown entertainers could showcase their talent. It was during this time that Gypsy perfected his craft and charmed the audience between numbers. Nell Carter, Jane Oliver, and Christine Ebersole, to name a few, worked there as novices for a mere $100.00 per night.
The club closed in 1978, and Gypsy moved to Los Angeles. April 18, 1981 was the opening night at La Cage Aux Folles in Los Angeles. Gypsy was there with his blind date Connie Stevens and their mutual friend Vivian Blaine (the American actress and singer, best known for originating the role of Miss Adelaide in the musical theater production of Guys and Dolls as well as appearing in the subsequent film version). Some snafu occurred with the scheduled host (who eventually was never to return), so Vivian suggested that Gypsy step in, to Lou Paciocco. Vivian knew Gypsy from his club days in New York and thought he would be perfect. Lou agreed and the next night Gypsy was on.
Gypsy had never done drag, but since the show was a female impersonator show, he agreed to don gowns and heels - but “…no wigs or breasts…” he said. Gypsy recalled to me later, “I was fabulous from the neck down.” His trademark image of colorful makeup and dramatic headpieces contradicts his statement about his glamour being just from the neck down. It was during this time, that his signature “skullcap” image was created. He is certainly known as well for a variety of hats, particularly large swooping ones, but never a wig.
I look back on my visits to La Cage Aux Folles with amazement. The stunning end of show shocker at La Cage Aux Folles was when actor Tim Dunne performed to the Charles Aznavour song written for Edith Piaf entitled “What Makes A Man A Man?” for the finale. Tim, alone on the stage in drag, begins to take off makeup, wigs, pantyhose, and gowns, to give an impactful and poignant conclusion to the show.
I would later perform to a similar number at Carnival Cabaret. My ambition for show business was truly cemented in my memory of Gypsy’s nightly rapid-fire wit as host, and also the brilliant finale reveal at La Cage Aux Folles.
During the intervening years, after seeing Gypsy at La Cage Aux Folles, I had been running a successful celebrity autograph business in Hollywood. Rather than list all the celebrities whom I have met, you would instead have to make a list of the few I never nabbed in person! Elizabeth Taylor, Marlon Brando, Jack Nicholson, these mega stars and more all experienced my charm and tenacity. Following a front-page article in the Los Angeles Times, media outlets quickly picked up on my trail and I was featured on talk show Leeza and similar television entertainment shows. Show business has always been my dream and my passion.
Now, you must understand that Dan Gore’s working relationship with Gypsy goes back to 2006. At that time, Gypsy was living in upstate New York, and was pulled out of retirement by Dan to work in Palm Springs and Lake Tahoe. He was “Mastress of Ceremonies” (a term coined by Milton Berle) at Dan Gore’s newly resurrected hotel/casino show called “Carnival Cabaret.” The show consisted of Gypsy’s snappy repartee with the audience, and a rotating variety of female impersonators portraying famous women performers and musical artists. The Tahoe and Palm Springs shows both closed for good in 2008.
Dan Gore reopened Carnival Cabaret at Oscar’s Cafe & Bar in Palm Springs, California in 2014, and was only supposed to be a short theater run. Oscar’s Cafe & Bar was owned at that time by Jeffrey Schmidt and Mike “Mikey” Meier.
Dan had previously been involved with Copy Katz in downtown Palm Springs, which is now known as LULU’s, with Elyse del Francia from 2007 until late 2008. The pair had also been at Fantasy Springs Resort Casino in Indio from 2001 to 2002. The two have known each other since Dan was 16 years old, and Elyse had also been in the celebrity impersonation business for years.
The show Copy Katz was to be a combination of years of roving shows that each of them individually had created. Partnering with Dan Gore meant marrying two forms of famous look-a-like shows. Female impersonators from Dan Gore’s side, and traditional personalities like Charlie Chaplin along with (real women performing) Marilyn Monroe’s and Barbra Streisand's impressionists from Elyse’s repertoire. They ended up creating a spectacular show palace, including two enormous colorful chandeliers they acquired from the auctioned items from the then-defunct Ritz Carlton in Rancho Mirage, California.
The venue was perfect, right on Palm Canyon and Arenas Street in downtown Palm Springs – Arenas which is known as the “gay” street where many of the gay clubs and businesses are located; and Elyse raised the capital to the tune of nearly $1,000,000.
Unfortunately, the economy tanked, and that in combination with an explosive partnership between Dan and Elyse led to Kopy Katz’ demise. Gore would ultimately refer to his ex-business partner Elyse, as according to her as nothing short of the worst business partner ever. According to Elyse, they had a huge argument which allegedly included Dan assaulting Elyse, sweeping everything off her desk and telling her to get out - again, per her recollection. Lawsuits followed shortly afterward against each other and Copy Katz closed. Sadly, the litigation went on for years.
Dan Gore, as I would later learn from personal experiences with him, in my opinion could be described as a tyrant. The Webster’s Dictionary definition of a tyrant is simple – someone who is an absolute ruler feeling they are unrestrained by law or person, and defends their position by oppressive means, tending to control almost everything and everyone that they see as standing in their way; all of which I was to eventually personally observe. Let me explain a bit further.
I first met with Dan Gore when a mutual acquaintance reached out to me and said, “Dan Gore wants to meet you and talk about his show,” referring to Carnival Cabaret. A meeting subsequently ensued at a local ice cream shop called “Great Shakes” in January 2015. Along with myself, in attendance was Dan Gore, his business partner Luis “Xtravaganza” Camacho, and Anil Patel. Anil, whose drag name is Chanelta, called me to arrange the meeting. I also knew Anil from a social support group in Los Angeles, and I had also met Luis prior to this meeting at various social events in Los Angeles.
Dan Gore, Michael Andrunas, and I eventually met at Oscar’s where Dan informed me that, “…we want you to be a part of the show…” He implied he would mentor me and find a character for me to impersonate, quite possibly Ann-Margret, stating, “I see you as her.” Dan exclaimed, “…We will make a costume for your character, and pay you $1,100.00 a month. You will open the show, have supporting dancers, and you will also close the show.”
The show finale was a group number with three performers doing a spectacular reveal. I would later perform a similar reveal to the same song, Jerry Herman’s Broadway musical number “I Am What I Am.” This is a prime example of the inspiration I took away from this experience, and which would eventually become my signature song.
I had recently purchased a Cadillac XLR and wrapped it in a pink sparkle covering. I dubbed her “Hair Force 1.” At that moment in time, I was itching to do something new – and the Pink Cadillac was seen all over Palm Springs and quickly became a new trademark for me and my new alter-ego Arial Trampway. Gypsy would later state “We have a show that goes with the car.” Dan Gore brought up my pink-wrapped Cadillac at that initial meeting at Great Shakes, and he became enamored with it.
Dan Gore loved going for rides in my Pink Cadillac. I drove him and Gypsy home dozens and dozens of times after shows. My second Cadillac wrapped in Pink Chrome soon emerged as an unnamed star of the show. Visible in front of Oscar’s each night - you would also see it strategically parked around town with Carnival Cabaret flyers draped on it. The Pink Chrome Cadillac was always on display at La Plaza, which is smack-dab in the middle of the Palm Springs VillageFest held every Thursday night.
The Pink Cadillac would also become synonymous with Gypsy. Gypsy and I were seen at restaurants, in parades, at galas, and even at a special event where I drove Gypsy into a ballroom of the famous Palm Springs Hard Rock Hotel. The top of the Cadillac was down and Gypsy was perched above the back seat no less, dressed in a red tulle cape, a pink chiffon dress, pink beaded skullcap along with Gypsy’s signature makeup. The Pink Chrome Cadillac had become the gleaming mechanical “Barker” for Carnival Cabaret.
Shortly after the Great Shakes and Oscar’s meetings (where none of the cast of characters roles were defined, at least initially), Michal Andrunas, a sometimes assistant to Dan Gore, invited me to come to Carnival Cabaret and meet with Dan Gore and the “girls.” (The pronouns she/her are often used to describe drag queens or female impersonators.) I recall that when I arrived, two drag queens were passed out on the floor of the dressing room, eloquently displaying their talents. I was then introduced to Kevin Wiley who provided the show’s version of Dolly Parton and Reba McEntire; along with Patrick Ross, who provided the show’s versions of Joan Rivers, Barbra Streisand, and Bette Midler. Although the initial backstage vision was embarrassing and awkward, I was, however, thrilled to meet Kevin and Patrick, having previously seen their work.
I later realized that this first introduction to Carnival Cabaret contained some red flags. However, it was my fascination with the show’s star Gypsy that kept my intrigue level high and compelled me to continue with an affiliation with Dan Gore and Carnival Cabaret. When I finally got to work with Gypsy at Carnival Cabaret, I was terrified of him.
I remember, I came into the showroom and sat and watched him perform. Gypsy’s lifelong career was legendary and there he was in the flesh, about to work with me! Despite the characterization of Gypsy as the star of the show, Dan Gore was frequently quoted as saying “There is no star of the show, the show is the star.” This contrivance in my opinion was intended to keep the show’s clearly recognizable star, “Gypsy” under his authority.
This intent was apparent in the way he treated Gypsy, as well as the other performers for that matter. One caveat from Dan Gore while working together, was that I could not portray my drag persona “Arial Trampway” and I couldn’t wear any blonde wigs. I agreed and complied, however with a degree of perplexity. Dan Gore was in charge of the show’s performances, and this he did brilliantly. I recall Dan trying to get me excited about being included in this venture, and at the time I was under the impression that I was being included in the Carnival Cabaret show for my talent.
During the meeting at Oscar’s with Dan Gore and Michael Andrunas, the topic of conversation moved to Gypsy. I was all ears, as Gypsy was a large determining factor in my decision to even join Carnival Cabaret in the first place. I became curious and asked “Does Gypsy have a star?” My questions refers to the famous “Walk of Stars” in downtown Palm Springs, which is a tradition beginning in 1992 when founders Gerhard Frenzel and Barbara Foster-Henderson, embedded the first stars in the sidewalk cement. To date there are now over 425 stars.
I brought this up because I knew Gypsy would be the perfect candidate for a star because of his illustrious career. Dan Gore stated that no one had mentioned getting Gypsy a star before, and so I drove home the idea at this meeting. In my infatuation of Gypsy, during the meeting I proposed that, “I will raise the money for a star. I will get her a star.” I enthusiastically pointed out that the fundraising and publicity around a “star” would also promote Carnival Cabaret.
From this meeting, the “star” project was launched for Gypsy, resulting in many unimaginable events and efforts that would be triggered by such a massive endeavor. Mike Andrunas did the requisite paperwork for the star vetting and submitted it to the Walk of Stars for review. Of course, Gypsy was easily vetted, and the talk of raising the required $10,000 for the “star” began.
It is important to note that, at that time the Palm Springs Walk of Stars was a private non-profit enterprise working in cooperation with the City of Palm Springs. In 2018, the city took over the entire process due to a controversy, and gave the administration of the Walk of Stars to the Palm Springs Chamber of Commerce. The contention over stars being given to any local socialite, much less a specific socialite who requested that the title “Prince of Palm Springs” be etched on his star obviously created quite a stir! Combine this along with a local news anchor who received substantial financial support from an outspoken Trump supporter – and these both created contention about the process in their own way. Obviously, public outcry is what triggered the change.
Dan Gore seemed motivated to create a bond with me to engender his trust with the goal I believe to attract money, investors, contacts and ultimately audiences for Carnival Cabaret. The Carnival Cabaret Show had been in production for a few months located at Oscar’s Cafe and Bar after having debuted at the Spa Resort Casino on June 22, 2014, which is an entertainment venue and showcase. Dan Gore started engaging me by inviting me to daily hikes in the local mountains, as well as frequent dinners and numerous social activities. In other words, we were attached at the hip! After giving me a verbal contract, Dan gave me the green light to begin planning and fundraising for Gypsy’s “star project,” while also casually putting forth the idea of a “coming-out party” to introduce me to the public as the new addition to the show. This was an opportunity to stimulate interest from my fans, supporters and connections.
The “coming-out party” was going to be a big event. A month and a half before, I started rehearsals every weekend with Luis “Xtravaganza” Camacho and two backup dancers. We also had a showgirl outfit that was designed and fashioned by a famous Los Angeles drag queen clothing designer, and then completed by Kevin Wiley. I initially remarked to Kevin and Dan that I felt the design made me look fat and was unflattering, but I am a trouper and a bit of a comedy/shock queen, so I made it work.
Then Dan Gore seemed to begin to stall on the coming out party. No dates were set, no promotions were done, and no flyers were printed up or distributed either locally or regionally. Noticing this, I suggested to Dan that the party also be a fundraiser also Gypsy’s star, and finally a date was set for April 1st. Certainty this was of no coincidence being on April Fool’s Day!
The party was on and would be held at Temple Isaiah in Palm Springs. Willie Rhine was approached by me about providing food for this soirée, as Willie was associated with the popular and trendy restaurant Lulu’s in downtown Palm Springs. He made it happen, in part due to his relationship with me and (with some conjecture on my part) having to do with Willie feeling bad about the abrupt cessation of a planned venture with Dan Gore. Dan Gore has repeatedly bad-mouthed Willie after the joint project between he and Willie fell apart. Also, I have witnessed on certain occasions Dan clearly trying to seduce Willie’s partner Albert. So I was very grateful that Willie stepped up to help with this event.
I felt an event like the party was a great time to re-educate the world as to the persona of Gypsy. I invited local dowagers and socialites to see Gypsy to remind them, along with the local senior population of the sorely-missed Palm Springs Follies years not-so-long past. A local variety show comprised of “over fifties” professional singers and dancers, The Follies, not related to La Cage Aux Folles, ran in Palm Springs for 22 years and had only closed in 2014, leaving a huge chasm in the local entertainment scene for dance and musical reviews. Carnival Cabaret was poised to seize the opportunity to attract retirees, tourists, and of course the local gay population.
I filled the room at the Temple with friends, fans, and supporters, and my parents came to see the unveiling of my new role. A videographer friend of mine, Shirl Berwind, had also produced a video of me to play at the party. There were even photographers from the media there to take pictures at this important Palm Springs social event. Even with the best efforts put forth - unfortunately, the video Shirl made wouldn’t play for some reason, and Dan Gore would not let her or anyone else try and remedy the problem. Shirl ended up being livid, and rightfully so, after investing her time and money into this production.
Despite what appeared to me to be the start of a pattern of sidelining me, the party was a success. Gypsy hosted and performed her role as Mastress of Ceremonies and the Carnival Cabaret regulars performed - Kevin Wiley, Patrick Ross, Logan Duncan, and a requisite Cher impersonator. Dan Gore also presented Gypsy with a special recognition award for the “Oldest Living Working Drag Queen” that he had documented with Guinness Book of Records. I had decided to ask Gypsy backstage to be my “Drag Mother” (it is a tradition with drag queens to have a drag mother or mentor), and Gypsy agreed. Her response was “Sure, I will be your drag mother. But I could be your drag grandmother.” Always quick-witted and fast on her feet, Gypsy then dashed off to continue the party.
I performed a number during the show which started my tradition of fundraising for charities called “Pass the Purse.” During the “Pass the Purse,” donations were requested for Gypsy’s “star” on the Walk of Stars. A purse was passed as I entertained in a showgirl outfit and blonde wig, contrary to Dan Gore’s directive that he did not want me in a blonde wig. Nearly half the money needed for this star was raised at the party. Grace Robbins (Harold Robbins widow) and Jo Anne Horwitz (wife of an entertainment attorney) also wrote checks and gave generously. Certainly by the atmosphere there that evening, it was clear that the party was a major success. The Tour de Force came at the end when five queens did the reveal finale made famous by La Cage Aux Folles, and then inevitably made famous at Carnival Cabaret.
After that evening, the first show for me at Carnival Cabaret was slated to be held the next weekend. At that show, I provided the show-opener “A Little Party Never Killed Nobody,” lip-synching to Fergie’s high energy hit song, and accompanied by two dancers. I would also become a regular in the show finale “reveal number.”
It was becoming clear that lack of money and cash-flow was a real problem for Dan Gore and the Carnival Cabaret. Realizing this, after the first show, I knew that Dan Gore was probably never going to pay me, so I offered an idea to him, “I can make your dream come true [Carnival Cabaret], but you need to make me a partner.” Dan Gore met with Luis “Xtravaganza” Camacho, his business partner, and they agreed to make me a partner. Dan Gore’s apparent goal was always the money and people connections that I could bring, not necessarily my stage presence or talent; which later on became crystal clear to me. In other words, Dan Gore wanted me to promote the show and get people in seats in the audience. He was determined to make his show work in Palm Springs and in my observances, it didn’t appear that he cared who he used or manipulated to make his show a hit.
The three of us did a video agreement stating that I would be a 40% owner, Luis 15%, and Dan would have 45%. A provision to this agreement was that Dan Gore was the only one to ‘produce’ what went on stage, meaning what acts, choreography, and so forth. That video agreement later vanished, but a subsequent paper contract was written, and months later a partnership agreement was drafted and agreed to, with an LLC as the Carnival Cabaret name was established. Defined in the agreement was my major role of Promotions and Public Relation of all things concerning Carnival Cabaret.
According to the agreement, I was to create an upbeat and positive reputation for the show Carnival Cabaret along with my new business partners Luis Camacho and Dan Gore. This was to include public appearances, promotions, attendances at “Gay Pride Week,” all “Parades,” distribution of flyers and brochures, and so forth. Along with my own money and resources, I began to promote Carnival Cabaret.
My tour-de-force was, and is Social Media. A constant stream of photos, videos, and live feeds kept Carnival Cabaret in my followers’ minds. Tie-ins like my lunches or Sunday dinners with Gypsy were always added and tagged ‘Carnival Cabaret.’ Hours upon hours were spent creating and editing posts. I engaged a system of paid “boosts” to reach a greater audience. This is done through targeting a market segment and/or a specific demographic. It was entirely my time and expense devoted to social media outreach…after all I was a co-owner. This ferocious approach to social media is truly an art form, and created an amazing aura for Carnival Cabaret, resulting in increasing numbers of patrons for every show. These efforts were, without a doubt visible, and probably a source of aggravation to Dan Gore, who ultimately did not want me to succeed.
Other endeavors included creating marketing flyers, a banner display hanging from the light posts all along Palm Canyon in downtown Palm Springs, the purchase of a van that one of the owners of Oscar’s, Mike “Mikey” Meier agreed to wrap in Carnival Cabaret Regalia, using images of the show’s stars and Oscar’s logo. The campaign to get Gypsy a star on the Walk of Stars was also ramped up to a fever pitch. In my full drag finery, I would whiz up and down Palm Canyon on a Segway each Thursday night to promote Carnival Cabaret - often times in scorching triple-digit heat during the Village Fest which is held every Thursday evening in downtown Palm Springs.
I was usually on the Segway before the show, then I performed the opening number and then hit the streets again only to return just in time for me to perform in the show’s finale.
The “star” crusade ensued with newspaper interviews with the Desert Sun and several local gay publications. Gypsy and I did radio interviews with local celebrity Joey English. Gypsy also announced at the end of each Carnival Cabaret show that he was getting a “star.” I would do a “Pass the Purse” offering each show to help raise funds.
Now, during this period, Dan Gore’s demeanor had been changing, but most noticeably ever since the party. He was critical of almost anyone who wasn’t in the room, and was visibly combative in front of staff, partners, the entertainers, with Jeffrey Schmidt, who was the co-owner of Oscar’s. In addition, the downtown light post banners became a point of friction between Dan Gore and me. Dan Gore wanted the banners to feature Frankie Kein’s image, as Dan was trying to woo this world renowned “Marilyn” impersonator to be a regular at Carnival Cabaret. I indicated that since I was paying for the banners, I thought the images on the banners should be split between the Carnival Cabaret “girls” in the show, and with Frankie Kein folded into the mix of dozens of banners. Frankie Kein eventually left the show after a short stint, allegedly because of me; however, Frankie was supposedly being offered a solo show by Dan Gore and when that didn’t happen, it was then that he left.
Dan Gore had privately spread the word to Kein, Oscar’s owners Jeffrey Schmidt, Mike “Mikey” Meier, as well as to the Carnival Cabaret entertainment regulars that I was the “Money Guy/The Messiah.” Although I contributed a considerable amount of money to this show, I was not an investor, underwriter, or a bank. My role according to our written agreement was to perform and promote the show. I viewed these “wedge rumors” as helping Dan Gore to relieve his personal uncertainty and anxiety, and of course then have a scapegoat when things would ultimately go bad. He routinely spoke negatively about Jeffrey Schmidt and instructed me not to talk to him, which lead to the beginning of many personal relationship split-ups. The owners of Oscar’s even gave Dan Gore a place to do his show. “What a gift,” I said to Dan…but all he heard in that conversation sadly was his own tirade about Jeffrey.
Dan Gore seemed jealous of my relationship with Mikey Meier. Mikey said, “Without this show, there would be no Oscar’s.” Mikey subsequently showered me with gifts, such as a beautiful jacket and artwork, simply out of his generosity. Mikey loved me, the girls, the show, and all the glamour, and was grateful and showed it. Mikey was generous with everybody! An example of Mikey’s big heart was when Dan persuaded Mikey to gift $5,000 for Carnival Cabaret’s use. Dan decided the show needed a proper curtain and a better functioning stage, and these two important aspects certainly did result in a huge improvement to the professionalism of the show. Although, after Mikey had given him the $5,000, Dan said to me, “I should just keep [the money]! I earned it. I’m tired of selling my ass to pay for this show!” At this point, Dan began floating the idea he should get paid by the owners of Oscar’s as a manager, once again excluding me as a business partner. This compounded the fact that I virtually never got paid a dime for being in the show, nor for producing or promoting Carnival Cabaret.
Ultimately, the new stage and curtain were installed. I referred a couple of carpenters and handymen to build the stage. They were never fully compensated by Dan Gore, which led to resentments towards me, as I had brought them in to do the work. Happily, Mikey was absolutely thrilled with the new Carnival Cabaret look. And, Gypsy’s niece who came in from Los Angeles said, “It looks like a real showroom now!”
Gypsy’s “star”, promotion included TV, radio, and print media. I suggested a “roast” of Gypsy, an idea which everyone loved, and it too was planned. The Hard Rock Hotel was approached about the roast, and the venue was determined. The funding for the “Star” had already been raised and the star placement was planned. I looked at several locations for the placement of the star, including in front of Lulu’s, and on the corner of Tahquitz and Palm Canyon in the very heart of a Palm Springs. Those spaces were taken so I suggested, “…what better than to be in front Oscar’s...” I pulled some strings and we decided that the roast would become a fundraiser for the Desert AIDS Project (DAP), since all of the “Star” monies had already been raised.
Plans and productions ensued and the pieces started to come together. Dan Gore did do the “heavy lifting” I would have to say, by getting in contact with celebrities important to Gypsy’s life story and getting them on board. Some of these included actress Connie Stevens, who had been Gypsy’s blind date at the opening night of La Cage Aux Folles back in 1981; Lainie Kazan - the actress known for films like “My Big Fat Greek Wedding;” Margaret O’Brien - iconic film, television, and stage actress memorable for her role in “Meet Me in St. Louis;” and Ruta Lee - film, television, stage actress, and dancer, best known for her appearance in the musical “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.” Tommi Rose, a local drag icon, was supposed to be one of several personalities roasting Gypsy at the event. Michele Cinque, the former owner of Toucan’s, which is a local gay bar known for its drag shows, and where Tommi performer, had bought a table at Gypsy’s Roast event clearly demonstrating Toucan’s usual community support. Michele undoubtedly wanted to be a part of this special night and to cheer on their own Tommi Rose – as Tommi Rose is the impresario of “Tommi Rose and the Playgirls” at Toucans. Tommi has a 40-year career performing in drag, beginning his early career at the infamous Finocchio’s located in San Francisco on Broadway Street.
In a Desert Sun article published weeks before the roast, Gypsy was quoted as saying “I am not a drag queen,” attempting to explain the acts at Carnival Cabaret. He said “They think our show is female impersonators. What it is, is celebrity impersonators.” He went on to say, “Female impersonators sit at the bar at Toucans and hope for a dollar bill to be stuck up their ass.” Gypsy, whether being flippant or not, created a stir as Tommi of course, found the remarks offensive and insulting. Tommi then refused to do the roast after reading the article.
A circle of opposition ensued. I talked Tommi back into doing the roast…then Dan and Gypsy didn’t want him back, as Gypsy always followed Dan’s lead. Tommi posted on Facebook he was doing the roast after all; and the final result had Tommi out and upset with me – Luis avoiding me, Gypsy feeling smug, and Dan Gore acting like the innocent bystander in it all, smirking.
Tommi had previously indicated to me that he didn’t want anything to do with Dan Gore. However, Dan as usual somehow made it out to be my fault that Tommi quit. Dan Gore owed Tommi money and had allegedly bad-mouthed Tommi on several occasions. Dan Gore did eventually pay Tommi, knowing Gypsy wouldn’t last forever and Tommi, with his experience as a host and entertainer, would be a logical choice to replace Gypsy.
The night of August 23, 2015, over 200 people walked the red carpet at the Hard Rock Hotel for the roast, where good-natured celebrity guest comedians, soap stars, and actresses took the stage with Gypsy and had a marvelous time. I opened the show by driving Gypsy into the venue in my pink sparkle Cadillac. Gypsy entered onto the stage donned in a red tulle cape, pink dress, requisite skullcap (his trademark) and his signature, overdrawn exaggerated makeup.
Dan Gore stated that night, “We’ve made it.” That night - I was never acknowledged by my business partners (Dan Gore and Luis Camacho), or by Gypsy as a partner, promoter or producer of Carnival Cabaret. In fact, besides driving Gypsy on stage and unveiling his bust, (more on that later), Dan told me that I wasn’t going to be part of the show or roast of Gypsy. The division and poisoning of psyches, which led to the ultimate parting of company, had already set in, and permeated the event, as well as the “Star” dedication the next morning. At the “Star” dedication in 100-degree heat Dan, Gypsy and I sat in the front row respectively, while television news cameras documented the event. Gypsy’s star dedication on the Palm Springs Walk of Stars was a fait accompli.
Dan Gore appeared like he wished he was anywhere but there. Just prior to the star dedication Dan Gore and I had also done a personally uncomfortable interview with Nicholas Snow for his blog, who was there to document the event as well. Nicolas said to me, “Alfie, you sure have turned up the volume about Carnival Cabaret!”
Gypsy stated at his star dedication, “We’re here to stay, we’re here for the community.” The donation for DAP however, ended up being a rather embarrassing and pitiful $1,000.00 remaining from Gypsy’s roast – embarrassing because DAP had generously shared their mailing list with us to get the word out about Gypsy’s roast. Later on, the donation was presented by Dan Gore, Gypsy, and me to the Desert AIDS Project. The extravagant production costs, including hotel rooms for the celebrities, plus meals, and massages for some of the luminaries, depleted the sponsor and ticket revenue to nearly nothing.
Much earlier before the roast, my friends Michael Ralke, and David Reese, news director of KMIR (the local NBC affiliate) at the time, came to see the show at Carnival Cabaret. I was jazzed knowing that this link to David could result in something to help promote the show. David loved the show and remarked, “Why is the showroom not full?” He wanted to help.
Thus, the idea of a 30-minute special was soon proposed after David met Gypsy and the girls after the show. David then arranged for a news crew to come and interview Dan Gore, Gypsy, and I, along with some of the show’s stars. KMlR promoted Carnival Cabaret through a special interest piece and extensively promoted the upcoming star dedication for Gypsy and covered the star dedication and proceedings. KMIR’s parent company, later that year, even negotiated a trade for their corporate Christmas Party at Oscar’s for 100 people - in exchange for advertising running from New Year’s and into the new year.
In addition, a Carnival Cabaret special was soon to be in production with David Reese and Thalia Hayden, a news anchor at KMIR, who helped narrate and produce the special. David Reese is a four-time Emmy winner and looked at this project as possibly being eligible for an Emmy consideration and perhaps a GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) Media Award.
However, Dan Gore began to drag his feet on the special, which became indicative of the alienation occurring between Dan Gore and me. KMIR wanted to film the two of us together, but we ended up doing separate interviews. David Reese really wanted the two of us on camera together, but unfortunately that never happened, because Dan Gore kept avoiding a joint interview. It was during this time and late into the filming process that I said to David “I think Dan’s trying to get me out of Carnival Cabaret. He’s planning something, because something is wrong.” I asked David to fast-track the special on Carnival Cabaret if he was able. David made an announcement shortly thereafter as to when the special was going to air.
The plan at KMIR was to run it on several occasions and time slots over an extended period of time. Dan Gore heard about this and was very upset and asked me “Did you pull the trigger on this?” Dan asked for a meeting with David Reese and was going to try to keep it from airing for whatever reasons. David apparently acquiesced to Dan Gore’s request, but David also informed Dan that KMIR owned the rights, and for Dan not to underestimate the fact that they had spent around $20,000 in production costs, with zero investment risk from Carnival Cabaret. David said KMIR would air the special, but agreed to just one single airing. Remember that David’s goal was to submit the special for an Emmy and it had to be aired on television at least once, so the Carnival Cabaret special did air on a scheduled time slot on KMIR. It was accidentally aired again in the middle of the night, and Dan Gore called David Reese and reamed him. David indicated that it would never happen again.
Gypsy had remarked prior to the star dedication, “The star on the street, if it doesn’t turn into revenue, it will not have been worth it.” The star, along with KMIR’s promotions, contributed vastly to the success of Carnival Cabaret during this time. My efforts to make this happen, along with my ferocious activity on social media (posting pictures, live feeds from backstage, and videos from social events) turned the show around and seats were being filled.
Promoting Gypsy was as much of a priority for me as was the show. Gypsy and I regularly walked red carpets and appeared together at numerous events, like the White Party Palm Springs (the largest gay festival in the world, started by Jeffrey Sanker in 1989), where we were stunning Divas in our dazzling white apparel. The official opening party of Eight4Nine restaurant (a chic new restaurant opened during this time by my friends Willie Rhine and John Pascal), featured photos of Gypsy and me in the “Gypsy Room.” The extraordinary photographs by co-owner and renowned celebrity photographer John Pascal, were a work of art. John had approached me months before the opening about doing a photoshoot. Dan Gore was opposed to the positive aspects of the whole photoshoot, and remarked that John Pascal was trying to exploit Gypsy.
I’m sure everyone in business is about promotion, and I have been told that the “Gypsy” room is now the most requested room for reservations. Dan ultimately agreed to the photo shoot after Gypsy begged him. The opening of Eight4Nine was a huge Palm Springs social event, and when the photo shoot finally happened - it turned out to be a big success. People raved about the photos, which resulted in further exposure for Carnival Cabaret, so all around it was a good thing for all involved. Gypsy signed one of the photographs of her and me “To a real “star.” Love, Gypsy 2015” and presented it to me.
Dan Gore had previously told Gypsy, (who told me), to keep me busy and out of his hair. So, Gypsy and I began to be seen everywhere together. Regular bon vivants in every sense of the words. Eight4Nine lunches, Lulu’s on Sunday nights for dinner, and interviews where I recorded Gypsy for an autobiography. The autobiography was to be a collaborative effort between Gypsy, Dan Gore, and myself. Gypsy was on the local CBS station interview show “Eye on the Desert” with local TV personality Patrick Evans; one of the reasons was to keep Gypsy in the spotlight, which was my number one priority. Gypsy often remarked that he was happy Dan Gore had found someone like me to work with, and that he finally had a partner he could trust.
The crescendo of my public relations push really culminated at the Gay Pride parade, which is at the very beginning of November in Palm Springs. I had arranged for four cars in our contingency, convertibles of course (!), and an army of flag bearers holding poles with the banner that were originally located on the streetlight posts downtown. Some confusion occurred and at the last minute I didn’t have my headdress. Dan didn’t want me in a blonde “Arial” wig, so Kevin Whiley quickly fashioned another wig for me. Luis was a sweetheart, and ran back to Oscar’s and got my headdress.
One area I had to navigate was the fact that the NBC affiliate station KMIR was in the parade and wanted someone from Carnival Cabaret to ride with them, as they had been doing a lot of promotion for Carnival Cabaret at that time. Dan Gore left the decision up to me who would ride with KMIR – me or Gypsy. Any decision I made, I later realized, would backfire on me.
I decided that Gypsy would ride with KMIR at the beginning of the parade. Gypsy gave me a funny look, and I now believe it was because Dan had somehow spun it. Our position in the parade was near the end, and I rode in my Cadillac, in the first car out of the four. Cee Cee was in the second, and the other girls rode in the following cars, a Maserati and two Jaguars. It was spectacular!
After the parade, our girls performed on a stage erected in the street in front of Oscar’s. I know I was having a great time…it was a blast. All Dan Gore could say to me was, “Why are you acting so crazy?” I was beginning to see, I was being fed a big dose of crazy.
You must understand, that in the beginning, my relationship with Dan Gore was good. Dan would tell me “You’re doing great. You’re doing exactly what I want, promoting the show.” And for months, Gypsy would always announce that Dan Gore and I were the fantastic co-producers of Carnival Cabaret, at the end of each show. Later on as things began to become less amicable between he and I, Dan would specifically direct Gypsy to not conclude the show anymore with these acknowledgements. Unknown to me at the time, this was a harbinger of things to come.
Ironically, right around New Years of 2016, and after the huge party for KMIR and extensive promotions on KMIR, Carnival Cabaret got the boot from Oscar’s. You might say that Carnival Cabaret got the hook, so to speak. At that time, Dan Gore and Jeffrey Schmidt had had another loud major disagreement (one of many) about a show Jeffrey wanted to do at his place of business, which led to Jeffrey subsequently kicking out the Carnival Cabaret show. A chaotic evening ensued where Dan Gore wanted to take down the stage curtains (that Mikey had essentially paid for) and keep them. The mayhem and upheaval that resulted from that night would portend that more trouble was in store.
Jeffrey had lawyers there to videotape the event and the police were called, resulting in the Carnival Cabaret troupe being escorted off the property. That fateful evening, Carnival Cabaret took all of their costumes, props, wigs, and makeup, but not the curtain. A tug of war over the curtains took place the next day between Dan Gore and Jeffrey Schmidt – and, the curtain stayed. Dan, Gypsy, a couple of interns, a few of the “girls” and I, ended up at International House of Pancakes (IHOP) after the curtain incident. The night before the blowup, Dan had approached me and expressed his opinion that we should “pull the show.” I told him “No, no, no!!!” Dan was distraught. I responded with, “We are just going into high season … we made it through the summer.” I further explained that I was there as an owner with the intent to make Carnival Cabaret work.
At that time, Dan had already got into an argument with Jeffrey, and I said “If you have to eat crow, do it.” My personal thoughts at the time were that Dan Gore sabotaged the show at Oscar’s in order to get rid of me. And the IHOP meal experience was bizarre at best! Dan made it sound like he decided to pull the show from Oscar’s. Then he talked about doing a roadshow and suggested in the days that followed that I might think about doing a show in Portland, Oregon (my old stomping ground from my youth) and that he would help support it. I wanted no part of going on the road or going back to Portland; and I felt like I was being banished to the hinterlands.
I later found out that Dan Gore had not been enforcing the “2-drink” or the “1-drink plus an appetizer” minimum at Carnival Cabaret, apparently to sabotage Jeffrey Schmidt the co-owner of Oscar’s. Dan Gore’s actions – based on these and other actions – could be construed as ostensibly trying to wrestle Oscar’s away from Jeffrey, and ultimately get rid of me. Why? Oscar’s had been in serious financial trouble several times, and Mikey had come in and infused cash at least once to try and save Oscar’s. Dan Gore’s later actions seem to bear out the notion he was trying to steal Oscar’s - and this was publically witnessed in lengthy litigation between Dan Gore and Jeffrey Schmidt, visibly played out in the local media and press.
Dan Gore had repeatedly called Jeffrey and Mikey alcoholics to their faces and told them they shouldn’t be drinking at Oscar’s. These comments did not bode well with either of them, particularly with Mikey, who pushed back and ultimately endorsed the Carnival Cabaret ouster.
The Sordid Essence of Carnival Cabaret
Finances for Carnival Cabaret were certainly an ongoing problem. He did not attend the show some nights reportedly in order to procure funds and ensure the “performers” would at least get paid. Whether this is true I cannot attest to, nor was I witness to. This is based solely on comments made to me by Dan Gore. I am aware however, that the girls always got paid.
The Carnival Cabaret party finally returned to Oscar’s a couple of months after the banishing. Michael Andrunas orchestrated the return to Oscar’s to do one more show, which then was followed by another, and another. During the hiatus prior to returning to Oscar’s, Dan and I were looking at other venues, including the old “Blame It On Midnight” restaurant and club space, the former Staples building on Palm Canyon, and the future “Central Market” restaurant yet to open. Barbara and Jerry Keller, owners of Lulu’s restaurant and also personal friends, had seen the show. Dan was interested in them as investors, or even to possibly move the show to Lulu’s. In my opinion, I never would have let the Keller’s invest or take on the show at this point considering the way things were going.
A couple of make-up shows were staged at Zelda’s Nightclub, and at the Riviera Hotel to meet contractual obligations during our two-month-plus absence from Oscar’s. The glaring problem was that there were no capital investors to back the show, just the hope that the owners of these available business properties would “pony-up” and underwrite everything. The ongoing illusion or should I say delusion was that the show is the star, a sort of “Born in the Trunk” mentality.
“But, it’s all in the game and the way you play it. And you’ve got to play the game you know.”
A Star Is Born (1954)
The reality was that sadly, the Carnival Cabaret show struggled continuously to make ends meet. I was literally the only one putting money in for promotions and other similar type expenses. Gypsy exclaimed once, “I am careful about how I handle Dan. Jesus Christ, doesn’t he have $100 for me?” Gypsy asked me, “See if Dan has $30 for me, for my driver.” Gypsy also said “If Dan can’t pay me this week, I will have to dip into my social security to pay my credit cards.”
Gypsy was Dan Gore’s cash cow, or his means to an end, but he often treated Gypsy badly. Meaning, Dan Gore didn’t treat Gypsy like the star he was, unless it was for Dan’s benefit. Dan made 84-year-old Gypsy schlep his own costumes and accessories back and forth from his dressing room to a storage area before and after every show. I finally suggested “Why don’t we put a lock on Gypsy’s dressing room to help him out?”
I also suggested to Dan one time that we talk to the owners of Oscar’s about naming the free-standing Octagon Bar, in the front corner of the property at Indian Canyon and Tahquitz Way - “Gypsy’s” for a visual presence and to honor Gypsy. It would be reminiscent of the old “Gypsy’s” in New York. Dan didn’t like it; he didn’t want Gypsy to be too big, too visible. Now, as a promoter, I couldn’t fathom this thinking. What better thing to do than bring the attraction to the show’s real star?
I also expressed to Dan that when we were eventually making money, we should figure out a way to take care of Gypsy, who was after all, 84-years-old at the time, for the time when Gypsy can’t work anymore. Dan said to me, “Oh no! We’re shipping him off to his niece in Los Angeles when that day comes.” Dan’s treatment of Gypsy was continually a mystery and completely baffling to me. Gypsy - “The Icon” of stage, screen, and television, was being directed by “The Producer” Dan Gore, but it almost felt to me as if Gypsy was being treated like he was back in the chorus line, like his early career in the 50’s, and not the star.
Gypsy drank excessively at times before the show (one can understand why), and I often tried to meet him in the Octagon Bar. I would order hors-d'oeuvres for him to eat, and get the bartender to water down his drinks with the hope of getting something in his stomach prior to going on stage, so he would not “break a leg” - literally. During one particular performance, the noted drag illusionist and Emmy award-winning makeup artist Glen Alen was in the audience. Unfortunately, Gypsy was sloshed that night, slurring his words, losing his place, and mumbling. Later after the show, Glen expressed that he felt embarrassed for Gypsy.
The next day Gypsy caught a heel in a crack in the stage floor, resulting in a sprained ankle. We were all sitting at a high-top table and I suggested that Gypsy sit on the stage, and we would bring hats, headdresses and costume changes – and make a theatrical thing of changing his outfits right in front of the audience. Dan hated the idea. Dan Gore snapped at Gypsy, “If you can’t go back on stage, I’ll replace you,” and walked away. Gypsy, for the first time I had ever seen, was extremely angry. However, star that he was, Gypsy visibly reeled it back in and agreed to perform in the show that night.
On another evening, Gypsy came back to my dressing room and expressed that he was feeling lethargic during the past several shows. Later after I was dressed and ready to go on, I went to Gypsy’s dressing room for our usual kiki (more “drag queen speak” meaning a chit-chatty gossip session) and a break-a-leg routine. Gypsy told me “I can’t go on.”
He was sick, vomiting and slumped over in his makeup chair. Paramedics were called, and Gypsy was taken to the emergency room. The show must go on, so I performed my opening number and then attempted to emcee, but I just wasn’t seasoned enough. Dan Gore came out and explained to the audience what happened and brought on the first act. I asked Cee Russell (who plays Whitney Houston and Dionne Warwick) to host, and Cee did a great job. Gypsy was treated at the hospital, and ultimately released to home.
Gypsy required numerous doctor’s appointments after this episode, and eventually required surgery for a heart valve replacement. This meant time off from the show for Gypsy. Tommi Rose was brought in to cover for Gypsy and he just blossomed. He sang, performed, and did a wonderful job. Dan Gore had curiously told me when he and Gypsy first went to the hospital, “I have spies keeping an eye on you to see how you’re handling things.” Concerned or creepy, Dan always had a cryptic way of communicating!
I was glad to help Gypsy during this period of the surgery and the following recovery. Gypsy had nursed me at an earlier time when I went through surgery. Gypsy stayed with me at my home and watched my wonderful pug Petunia; Gypsy was great moral support.
Dan had previously given me some La Cage aux Folles memorabilia which Gypsy noticed and was upset about. Why did Dan give me those important La Cage Aux Folles memorabilia and Gypsy’s Oscar’s materials then? To titillate me and/or to upset Gypsy? Dan later asked for the memorabilia “gifts” back.
To compound things, Dan Gore had told Gypsy, who relayed it to me, “You don’t have to do that.” referring to Gypsy coming and staying with me during my recuperation. Another attempt on Dan Gore’s part to split friendships and allegiances, I believe.
I have previously said that I told David Reese I thought that Dan Gore was trying to get me out, or was planning something, that something was wrong. It was about that time, after a year of performing at Carnival Cabaret, that I announced that I was stepping down from performing to make more time to promote, network, and reach out to investors. Dan was absolutely very okay with this move. Although he did periodically bring in possible investors to the show, I was usually not invited to meet these people. He told others associated with Carnival Cabaret that the potential investors he was talking to were not interested, “…if I was still involved…” This created more divisiveness and continued to taint people’s opinion that I was the bad guy, holding back Carnival Cabaret’s success.
My last performance, to be honest, was emotional, and, memorable. Jose Esparza, who Dan had hired to be a production assistant, created an amazing finale. He had balloons, confetti, a poster that had been signed by everyone in the cast, and a beautiful pink fondant icing cake with my Arial Trampway image on it. The attention to detail was heartwarming. Dan had told Jose not to do any fanfare for my last show, and interestingly enough, Dan was conspicuously absent for this show and event. It eventually turned out that Dan Gore was preparing to backstab me; he gave me the ax about three months later. Timewise, before and after my final show, a few things began to surface which I can look back now and see they definitely appeared to me as omens.
I believe demonstrating his disregard for me, and Luis for that matter, in March 2016 Dan, without consulting either of his business partners or co-members in the Carnival Cabaret, LLC., made a promissory note with Dean V. Licter and James D. Smith for $10,000.00 - and signed it on behalf of the Carnival Cabaret, LLC.
Specifically, the money was to be used to produce off-site production shows of Carnival Cabaret, and not for the Carnival Cabaret show in Palm Springs. The timing was such that it was a little over two months following the boot from Oscar’s. Dan eventually told me about the loan, and I demanded a meeting with him and Luis. At that meeting, Luis was unaware of the loan as well, and, essentially dumbfounded and very upset, he remained silent except for a comment of “You’re going to pay that back?”
The funds were never used for their intended purpose. Dan placed $5,000.00 of the money down on a liquor license for Blame It On Midnight. When it appeared Jeffrey was losing Oscar’s, he later got the money back from the ABC, The California Department of Alcohol Beverage Control. Dan Gore had been keeping his eyes on Oscar’s and jumped at this opportunity. I am unaware of any repayment of the $10,000 to the gentlemen mentioned above.
Around this same time and out of the blue, Pinky Merengue, a local drag queen, called me to congratulate me on buying Oscar’s Cafe and Bar. I was confused and shocked. Something was terribly wrong! I went right over to Oscar’s and confronted Jeffrey Schmidt and Dan Gore. Allegedly Jeffrey told Dan Gore he was about to lose Oscar’s, to which Dan replied that there were mystery investors coming in to buy Oscar’s, and the lawyers were handling it.
A couple months later, Queen of The Desert, a local fundraising drag show event and party benefiting DAP was in its third year, and took place at the beginning of June 2016. Gypsy was asked to be a judge that year, along with Delta Work (as featured on RuPaul’s Drag Race - Season 3) along with other local personalities. I had finessed this opportunity and honor and worked extensively toward getting Gypsy in to be a judge. Several local drag queens entered to compete in the competition for the title of “Queen of The Desert.” Gypsy quipped several times before this event, “I suppose I’ll have to vote for Tommi Rose,” who had entered as a contestant. Gypsy remarked, “If Tommi doesn’t win, I will get blamed for it.” Gypsy did vote for Tommi, giving him all “10s” across each category - and Tommi, incidentally, did win that year.
At the event, Dan Gore was visibly irate about the table that Carnival Cabaret had received. He later told me he reamed David Brinkman, CEO of DAP, “…a new one…” Later on during the event, David Brinkman came up to me, while I was in dressed in drag as my Arial Trampway persona – and he apologized profusely to me. I was perplexed about his apology, before I realized that Dan had probably made it seem as if I was the one who was upset.
Around the same time as Queen of The Desert, I dressed as Arial Trampway and had heads turning at a Beverly Hills fundraising event for Hillary Clinton at the home of Creative Artists Agency (CAA) Super Agent, Bryan Lourd. I attended this fundraiser with my friend Sean Borg, and I have to say I captivated attention at the event!
Some fellow attendees included Melanie Griffith, Rachel Zoe, and even Anna Wintour, Editor-in-Chief at Vogue greeted me at the door. An amazing photograph captures Anna Wintour looking back at me with a “who was that” expression on her face! “Arial” ended up getting a splendiferous photo with Hillary Clinton that ultimately became the image on my “Drag Out the Vote” T-shirt. The photo became a promotional device for Carnival Cabaret as well, on my social media through my Arial Trampway Facebook page. Arial Trampway is the drag personality I had been publicly identifying as, prior to joining Carnival Cabaret.
Soon after this event Kim Waltrip, Producer, Director, and President of Wonderstar Productions and I met at the Palm Springs restaurant Trio. We discussed a “Real Queens of Palm Springs” reel to pitch as a reality television show. I explained to her that she would need to go through Dan Gore to get access to Gypsy. Kim did go to Dan, who evidently said he wouldn’t do it if I was involved. Dan reportedly said to Kim “You need me more than I need you;” and Kim told him to go screw himself. When I talked to Dan Gore about the reality show he confirmed his feelings expressed to Kim, and said “If you sign papers releasing your interest in Carnival Cabaret, we can talk.” I was stunned, angry and deeply hurt by his off-the-cuff remark. The first real overt statement that Dan Gore wanted me gone.
In the midst of all this, I had a luncheon meeting with Kathleen Bennett, owner of Resort Marketing, who at that time was also Board Secretary and Event Chair for the Palm Springs Walk of Fame, the entity structured to select the honorees for stars. Kathleen tossed out the idea of me getting a “star” on the Palm Springs Walk of Fame. I was thrilled, and we thought that the spot right next to Gypsy’s star would be fabulous and would be built-in publicity because both stars would be in front of Oscar’s. A second “star” I thought, would show that Carnival Cabaret had made it.
Processing all the previous series of events that transpired, I became convinced that I should fast-track my star dedication. This I did, by raising money from family, friends, and everyone I could think of to pitch in. I previously stated regarding Gypsy’s star, that the fee for getting a star is $10,000.00 in Palm Springs. It has since gone up to $15,000.00. I also did a Live Magazine article with a cover photo and a picture spread inside to “claim my seat” (my place at Carnival Cabaret).
When Jeffrey Schmidt found out I was getting a “star,” and apparently coming to the conclusion that he was getting nothing from Dan Gore, Jeffrey came to me to see if I’d buy him out. Jeffrey had privately been speaking to Dan about taking over Oscar’s. And although I considered it, I ultimately decided that it would be too much of a headache. Dan Gore, around this same time, asked me for a meeting at Starbucks, which ended up being a meeting about my “Star.” He came into the meeting with very negative vibes and energy. He stated he was extremely upset about my potential star. He said “If anyone deserves a star it should be me, or, Luis.”
I had to assume that Dan was poisoning Gypsy’s opinion of me because I could tell that Gypsy’s attitude toward me had changed and not for the better. I also felt that Dan had begun spinning his comments to make Gypsy upset. Gypsy had moved in with Dan Gore at this point, and one evening Gypsy was at the Octagon Bar after a show. I approached Gypsy and he blurted out “I called the “star” people and I need to explain.” Gypsy’s demeanor clearly indicated that he had been put up to it. I said to him, “There’s no need to explain. I still love you, I know what you said.”
According to Gypsy, Dan Gore had convinced or manipulated her to contact the committee and try to sabotage my vetting process. Kathleen Bennett had already contacted me and told me everything that Gypsy had said to her. Specifically, that I should be eliminated as a candidate for a star.
At this point, Dan Gore had stopped being a business partner and was now an arch rival. Dan’s adversarial attitude toward me, sadly, made it difficult for me to have any more contact with Gypsy. Dan stated to me “You are not part of the show anymore and not a producer either.” And he made it perfectly clear his decision was all about my potential “star.” I no longer felt like I could even go to Oscar’s and avoided even going near the place.
Over the course of my last three months with Carnival Cabaret, there had been a dramatic shift in Gypsy’s behavior. At Eight4Nine one evening, Gypsy questioned me in a very negative tone about the Hillary Clinton event, and asked “What is this Arial Trampway page on Facebook?” I explained that my account existed long before Carnival Cabaret. This questioning came, I am sure, due to Dan Gore’s meddling. Dan had attended MTV’s VMA awards in Las Vegas, the same weekend of my Hillary Clinton event in Beverly Hills. And, Dan was reportedly pissing himself when he heard about my escapades! So many things were going wrong at this point, so I decided to take it upon myself to do some fun public events to save and maintain my reputation.
This is when I started “Drag Out the Vote,” a fundraising event for Hillary Clinton that included the production of my now infamous Hillary T-shirts. This is something Dan Gore and Gypsy evidently had negative discussions about. However, despite this sentiment, I got them to take pictures in the Oscar’s dressing room of Gypsy holding up the Hillary T-shirt, which did end up on social media.
After this, Dan Gore called another Starbucks meeting with me, along with Luis “Xtravaganza” Camacho. Dan expressed that, “We want to buy you out with an I.O.U. and Luis will guarantee it.” Dan then asked me to “name my price.” I expressed to Dan that wasn’t what I was there to do. I gave a year and a half of my life for Carnival Cabaret, and felt we were creating something amazing together. Dan’s only response was “Give me a cash offer.” I threw out a number in a flippant way, but there was something else I really wanted to know. I looked at Dan and said to him, “I want to talk about why you are poisoning Gypsy against me.” Dan Gore was immediately furious. “Oh, no! We’re done!” he exclaimed. He also demanded that I not come down to Carnival Cabaret anymore. He then threatened to get a restraining order against me, and have me arrested.
A short time later, Patrick Ross (Joan Rivers) and I were chatting on social media. He asked if I was “going to give the Gypsy tapes back.” It was the first time I had heard about Dan’s suspicion that I had not provided all the tapes he had requested. It appeared that Dan had yet again gotten someone else to do his dirty work. The tapes apparently were deleted when Dan was transferring them from one computer to another and he blamed me. I attempted to find them, however, I am not a computer expert, and it appears they were lost forever.
Several weeks earlier I had requested to meet alone with Luis “Xtravaganza” Camacho in Los Angeles where he lives, and tried to get his perspective on things. I had a huge list of questions which I read to him over the next hour. Luis was always very quiet and offered very little, and clearly he was not interested in getting involved in the controversy at this point at all. After the breakup, I also met Mikey Meier at Lulu’s, along with my friend Sean Borg, whom I asked to attend as a witness and for support.
Mikey was evasive about any sale of Oscar’s. Jeffrey Schmidt however, did come around after I was kicked out and it became clear that Dan Gore was trying to screw him. Jeffrey explained how Dan was trying to steal Oscar’s, and he tried to rope me into a lawsuit against Dan Gore, but I wanted no part of it. A lawsuit then ensued between Dan Gore and Jeffrey Schmidt which continued for years. Tragically, Mikey Meier took his own life in September 2016.
After Dan’s “I will have you arrested statement,” my friend Sean Borg, writer and former producer on TMZ, advised me to get a lawyer. Dan had been contacting news agencies and telling them that I was no longer with Carnival Cabaret and apparently spreading misinformation about me. I talked to attorney Steven Heath in Los Angeles, who had been recommended to me by Sean Borg. Heath created a letter requesting my reinstatement and a demand for documents related to the Carnival Cabaret LLC, specifically invoices, receipts and outside agreements. Dan Gore complied in part by providing some of the documents. Then he took his actions underground.
I had been vetted and approved for my star and all the funds had been raised, and I scrambled to find an alternate spot for my “star.” I looked at Lulu’s restaurant and at Eight4Nine restaurant, which was still just in its first year. I knew the owners of Eight4Nine of course and knew the star would bring them a lot of publicity. They agreed, and we picked the date of September 6th, 2016 - my 47th birthday! Despite the continuing summer heat, the event was a smashing success with a large crowd. KMIR, the local NBC affiliate, covered the entire event with David Reese and Thalia Hayden hosting.
Even though Dan Gore had told me I was no longer with Carnival Cabaret and no longer an owner, Live Magazine had already done an article about my “Star” and the dedication party which was being hosted by Live Magazine. The party originally was supposed to take place at Oscar’s. Dan Gore had threatened to sue the “Walk of Stars” organization and so the the Live Magazine party was moved to Eight4Nine, and hundreds of people attended, even with the location change, thanks to social media.
I arrived in my Cadillac “Hair Force One” being driven by my friend Sean Borg. I would have to say that it was the best and worst day of my life, and I had to emotionally muster every fiber in my being to be present and “on” that day. The irony of that day was not a coincidence; I had made the Star dedication for Gypsy happen, and full-circle it was my time to get a Star. I would have been thrilled if Gypsy had been at mine! Being severed from Carnival Cabaret was devastating, and the final blow was the loss of my friend Gypsy, who I wouldn’t see again for almost two years.
My parents were in attendance and I have to say they were so proud. Television cameras, reporters, dignitaries, friends, and fans all assembled to make my birthday, and Star dedication, one of the most memorable days of my life. Like a well-rehearsed show, the dedication went off without a hitch. From the invocation by Dr. Sharon Stroud, to Mayor Robert Moon reading the Proclamation, singing by several performers – to finally the unveiling of my Star. Along with the After-Party, the event miraculously started, and ended, like a command performance.
I personally donated $500.00 to DAP that day as well. Dan had managed to get the “Walk of Stars” staff to influence city of Palm Springs to change the customary proclamation meant for me, and to remove the name Carnival Cabaret. The week after the ceremony the City of Palm Springs put Carnival Cabaret back on the proclamation and Mayor Moon signed the new one due to my efforts.
For the first year after I left Carnival Cabaret, I had no more contact with Dan Gore. He continued to tell people, (who then told me), that he was being sued by me and that I was “sue happy.” In addition, Dan had contacted Dugan, my aforementioned friend who originally took me to La Cage Aux Folles, to pry out of him how I was getting my money. This is how Dan found out about my settlement with Red Lobster, which Dan repeatedly referred to as “Red Robin” to his coworkers.
This references an HIV discrimination case that I had settled back in 1990. Dan started telling people about my Red Lobster settlement, which he used to be hurtful because it was really no one’s business but my own. The Red Lobster experience was a painful and horrible time in my life. Dan portrayed my confidential settlement as a figurative weapon against him, saying that I had tons of money to make his life miserable through legal means. Dan, “the victim” was now in full force. Dan had also somehow created a rumor that when Gypsy was legally served while performing on stage one night that it was due to me. It wasn’t, in fact it was directly related to Jeffrey Schmidt’s lawsuit.
Dissolving the LLC has never been done to this day. Dan filed an extension with the IRS for 2015. I have been trying to figure out on my own the status of the LLC and tax returns. Further, Dan wanted all of the assundry memorabilia I had received back. I have a signed poster from La Cage Aux Folles that I kept, as it is signed and addressed to me. There was a bust sculpture of Gypsy presented to Gypsy at Gypsy’s roast. The artist and fan of Gypsy’s made the bust, and had another one made “just in case.” One was given to Gypsy, and the artist expressed an interest in selling the other, as he needed the money. I purchased it for $800.00. It is still proudly displayed in my home.
Dan Gore didn’t do Carnival Cabaret for quite a while. His reasoning was that I was suing him and it was preventing him from doing the show. This created a distraction to make it look like I was at fault, once again. Dan agreed to pay Jeffrey for the business, but when Jeffrey was out of town Dan filed a restraining order against Jeffrey and stopped paying him. Dan put negative stories in the press about how Jeffrey was trying to financially ruin him through litigation, and ultimately Jeffrey was forced out of his business completed.
Upon meeting Dan Gore, my first impression at the time was that he was charming and engaging, while still somewhat reserved. However, I inevitably realized that what he really is not a nice person at all. He is a true Svengali. Initially, I was thrilled to be in his show, however, I had some distrust of him from the very beginning. However, he could charm the pants off of you as most Svengali’s are capable of – and do. I sadly expected the business relationship to last for years. Dan said he was going to make me a star. In fact he even said it front of my mother who snapped back, “My son is already a star!” You have to understand that I never took Carnival Cabaret for granted. We were making history! And, I can look back now and see that all the while Dan was a master manipulator, as that Svengali, who still managed to put on an amazing show every night.
The show, Carnival Cabaret, is all about Gypsy “Mother Dust,” I came on board to be in the cast, but my focus changed and I knew I should do everything I could to promote the Carnival Cabaret show, and Gypsy and his career. The Gypsy “star” on the Walk of Stars, and the interviews we recorded at Lulu’s on Sundays, to all the personal things we did together is what I most remember from my time with Gypsy. Audiences fell in love with Gypsy. And being a part of the resurrection of his career was a huge honor.
I was and still am a huge fan of Gypsy! We became thick as thieves and very close. We shared a mutual respect. Gypsy would tell me that our time spent with one another was “…always just like old times...” We were kindred spirits. The loss of this friendship due to Dan Gore was, and still is, devastating to me.
Working with the “girls” was a thrill, and an amazing education. Every single one of them was generous. Cee and I had a common bond, Kevin was very easy-going, Patrick was a blast to be around, Logan I greatly respected, Frankie I was in awe of and so enamored with, Manuel (Frankie’s performing partner in his “Liza” numbers) was a sweetheart, and Jay (who played Lady Gaga) was absolutely adorable. They are all true talents at their craft and in a couple cases pure geniuses at illusion and impersonation. I miss working alongside them all.
I have always had the option to pursue Dan Gore legally. My personal advisor at the time questioned, “Do you want to go through with this?” I instead decided to go forward with my life and continue to create and expand my persona as “Arial Trampway.” After a period of time to heal from this turmoil and loss, I received an offer to launch a Drag Brunch at the Hard Rock Hotel in Palm Springs. Located right across the street from Oscar’s and Carnival Cabaret, my show ran for nine months and became the talk of the town. I was very proud of the engagement.
Jose Esparza started working with Dan Gore (and Carnival Cabaret as a production assistant) shortly before I was forced out. Jose also left Dan Gore for his own reasons (not getting paid being just one of them) and stepped in to produce my show at the Hard Rock Hotel after David Reese, who had been flawlessly producing the show, took a prestigious job at Fox 11 in Los Angeles. Over time Jose divulged to me that Dan had been obsessed with me and my pursuits. Due to this obsession, apparently Dan falsely reported me to Facebook repeatedly for months in an attempt to get my account suspended. He created and used fake Facebook accounts to achieve disrupting my “Live” feeds from backstage and during my show at the Hard Rock, was grossly interfering with my lifeline to the public and essential to getting people to attend the show. He also repeatedly sent letters to, and phoned the Hard Rock Hotel management (which they awkwardly and unhappily relayed to me) in an attempt to sabotage my show. He threatened my public relations employee, Michael, who was driving my Pink Hummer. On one occasion, Dan Gore came to the driver’s window while Michael was driving and said “I am dangerous. I don’t want you driving past Oscar’s and Carnival Cabaret.”
I have been personally concerned for both Michael and myself, based on these threats and other things I had specifically heard during my time at Carnival Cabaret about Dan. He also sent the Hard Rock management a personal ad and photo of me I had allegedly placed in the media. Dan Gore had also been spooking me on social media. “Spooking” can be described as looking at social media posts with an obsessive interest. There are apps that can be downloaded to track who is “spooking” you; and yes I now have one of these apps.
I recently saw Dan Gore at Lulu’s restaurant after 2018’s Queen of The Desert pageant. I was in drag and accompanied by Tyra 007 Sanchez, winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 2. Gypsy was with Dan, as well as Joey English and a few others.
Gypsy and I exchanged kind words, while Dan kept his face down in his food and said nothing. Later that month, the city of Palm Springs had a hearing to review the process of assigning “stars” on the Walk of Fame.
Dan Gore attended that meeting, and after our near-miss a couple weeks earlier and two years of no contact, he went in front of the council and spoke surreptitiously about my star. “A name no one knows and possibly no one really cares about in concrete,” he proclaims “not even a star, really.”
He went on to state,“My show's name is on it… while my name appears nowhere.” He expresses to the city council his self-proclaimed dismay with the star. “Verification before validation… Validating truth and not falsehoods.” And I have to say, Dan Gore, this is why you are not the one with a star.
I will admit here, that I did not do everything right when I was with Carnival Cabaret.
What I did do however, was give it my all – my heart and soul.
And I will always cherish the relationships there and of course, the audiences that were so giving and enthusiastic.
Thank you to my social media followers and fans for coming to see me at Carnival Cabaret. Carnival Cabaret is definitely one of my proudest achievements.
Life is once again a cabaret!
In November 2018, I hear there had been a huge blow-up at Oscar’s, and that Gypsy was out of the show. I debated and pondered and prayed about calling Gypsy to see how she was. After a couple of weeks, I finally called my old friend James “Gypsy” Haake who was back in Los Angeles. He answered and knew it was me immediately. He said, “I suppose you heard what happened.” I did my best to convey that I loved him and supported him in any way I could, and that I would be there for him if he needed me.
He finished our conversation by simply stating “I’m retired! I should have stayed retired when I was in upstate New York!”
End of Take.
End of Scene.
End of Show.
It should have not have finished this way for a man with such an illustrious career.
The one, and only, Gypsy.
© 2019 Alfie Pettit. All rights reserved.