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When I sat down with actor and drag performer James “Gypsy” Haake and Carnival Cabaret producer Dan Gore—also Haake’s manager—they placed a portfolio on the table.

It was packed with photos from Haake’s days at the La Cage Aux Folles dinner cabaret on La Cienega Boulevard in Los Angeles, with stars including Dudley Moore and Hugh Hefner. Also included is what Haake said is a rare photo of Dear Abby and Ann Landers together—with him in between.

Haake, 82, recently came out of retirement and is performing as Gypsy once again. He will be emceeing Carnival Cabaret shows at Oscar’s Café and Bar Dec. 29-31.

Haake began his career as a Broadway performer after he graduated from high school in New Jersey. He had experience in a local theater; he lived there during the summer, he said, painting sets and dancing in shows. After taking part in an open audition, he was cast in his first show at the age of 19.

That first show led, in a sense, to his name “Gypsy.”

“Dancers, both boys and girls, who dance in the chorus are called ‘gypsies,’ because they go from one show to another,” he said. “I was cast in a show called Wish You Were Here that had a swimming pool onstage, and that’s where Florence Henderson got her start, and she was 19 also. She sang and got the lead song. Jack Cassidy was the star, and I went (on) to other shows after that.”

By the time he was 30, Haake had retired from dancing and opened a cabaret in Manhattan called Gypsy’s; notable actresses such as Christine Ebersole and Nell Carter performed there. Haake was at the club until 1978.

“The disco and the drug scenes came in,” Haake said. “No one was going to the big cabaret clubs, and they all closed.”

He befriended John Waters’ leading lady, Divine (Glenn Milstead), after seeing him perform in a theater in the early ’70s on the Lower East Side of New York in a show called Women Behind Bars. However, Waters and Haake were not a fit.

“He didn’t like me at all,” Haake said. “He said I was way too mainstream, because I didn’t curse, and I wouldn’t eat shit like Divine did in Pink Flamingos.”

In the ’80s, Haake began appearing in films and TV shows. He was noticed by Mel Brooks and his wife, Anne Bancroft, and was cast as Sasha in To Be or Not to Be.

“The interesting thing about my film career is 90 percent of the time, I had the best directors,” he remembered. “Sidney Lumet directed me in The Morning After, Robert Altman in Tanner ’88, and Mel Brooks? You can’t do better than that. ... Everything I learned, I learned from Anne Bancroft in eight months.”

Divine died in 1988, on a day when he and Haake were supposed to get together for lunch. At the time, Haake was working on the set of Troop Beverly Hills. Divine had been selected to play the role of Uncle Otto on Married With Children. Instead, Haake took the part, and appeared in one episode.

“It was very hard to replace him,” Haake said. “Not only that, but sitcom television is so different from film. It was very difficult; plus, I was used to film.”

Haake’s drag career didn’t start until later in his life—when he became, oddly enough, an instant fashion model.

“It’s not like anyone else that does it. I had never been in drag, and I was 50 years old,” Haake said. “Vivian Blaine took me to Neiman Marcus, and she bought eight gowns (and) shoes. Agnes Moorehead had died, and we replicated her makeup and the eyebrows, and that’s how it went on. Designers would give me clothes, (and) flew me to Paris to do a Chanel show. By then, I was pretty famous.”

Haake’s drag routine is certainly unique. He doesn’t sing, and he doesn’t imitate anyone. Also, in his words: “No wigs and no tits.”

Gore further explained what makes Gypsy a rarity among drag performers.

“Gypsy is mainly an emcee,” Gore said. “It’s his emcee style that’s been so popular. It’s hard to believe that his performance in La Cage Aux Folles was as popular as it was. It wasn’t a gay bar; it was a very high-end cabaret that attracted very high-end clientele, wealthy clientele, and conservative clientele. Gypsy was the emcee in between the acts and impersonated celebrities. This was before social media, before e-mail, and before any of that. It was actually a phenomenon, because the power of word of mouth was a prevalent thing. Designers would come in and see all the celebrities in the audience, and it was packed to the hilt, and maybe 20 percent were current celebrities. They’d see Gypsy wear the dresses and were in awe, and they would make him dresses so he could tell the audience what he was wearing.”

Gore said he focuses on quality when he puts together his Carnival Cabaret shows, which feature a variety of drag performers.

“When you go to a drag show at a gay bar, there’s no director, and there’s no structure,” Gore said. “People are working for drinks or $20. We’re not striving to earn tips; we’re striving to push a higher level of theater involving men portraying women onstage. Everyone who is performing in this show isn’t from here, because the people in this town are not at the caliber of talent I would use, and they don’t have the ability to be in a structured show; they’re just used to dollars in their tits. There’s nothing wrong with that, though, because that’s where I get my acts, and then I tell them what we do, and I see potential in a lot of people.”

Haake said that at the age of 82, he still enjoys doing what he does, even after a handful of retirements.

“I do enjoy it, especially for someone at my age,” he said. “As far as living in the past, I’m talking about my past. I don’t literally live in it. People I knew such as Lana Turner are dead now and have gone before me, and I’m very current. When I open here, it’ll be like my first night (ever performing). That’s where my mind goes: It’s my first gig, and here we go! I’m always the alpha; I’m never the omega.”

Carnival Cabaret takes place at 6 p.m., Monday and Tuesday, Dec. 29 and 30; and 5:45 and 9 p.m., Wednesday, Dec. 31, at Oscar’s Café and Bar, 125 E. Tahquitz Canyon Way, in Palm Springs. Tickets are $24.95 for the show only on Monday and Tuesday (starts at 7 p.m.), or $49.95 for dinner and the show. The early dinner show on Wednesday is $69.95; the late dinner show is $99.95. For tickets or more information, visit carnivalcabaret.ticketleap.com.

Published in Local Fun

GREEK ISLANDS CAFÉ MOVES UP THE STREET; DÉLICATESSE COMING SOON

After not even a year at 117 La Plaza in downtown Palm Springs, Greek Islands Café has moved up the street to the spot that used to house Mykonos Greek Restaurant.

You can’t miss new digs, at 139 E. Andreas Road, thanks to the bright-yellow building. Even cooler than the building, though, is the restaurant’s gorgeous courtyard. I stopped in a couple of days before the “official” Nov. 16 grand opening for lunch, and was completely enchanted by the lovely space. (At one point, a tiny kitten zoomed under my chair!) And then there’s the food: The gyro sandwich I had was fantastic.

For more information, call 760-413-3811.

It appears Greek Islands’ move has set off a game of restaurant musical chairs: There’s now a sign in the restaurant’s old La Plaza space that touts the expected January 2014 opening of Délicatesse, a restaurant offering German meats, gourmet cheeses, French pastries and other European goodies. The fare will be available for in-house dining, for take-out and on party platters.

Yum! We’ll keep you posted.

THE COPA SET TO OPEN IN DECEMBER

The Copa—the sister nightclub of the ever-popular restaurant Tropicale, which sits right next door—should open its doors at 244 E. Amado Road in Palm Springs sometime in December.

An email went out to The Tropicale’s regular customers on Nov. 20 promising that the Copa’s opening was “just a couple of weeks away,” and referring folks to www.copapalmsprings.com. That website is chock full of information: “In a throwback to old Palm Springs’ nightclubs, the Copa is fashioned around an elevated performing stage and a stunning U-shaped bar lined with leather barstools, upholstered booths and gilded cocktail tables,” it promises.

It seems The Copa will offer a series of themed nights: “Stardust Swingers,” with swing, jazz and ballroom dancing on Monday; pop and country classics on Wednesday; music from the ’70s and’80s on Thursday; modern club nights on Friday and Saturday; and salsa/Latin dancing on Sunday.

Cliché alert: But wait; there’s more! Further sleuthing led to another website, www.coparoomtickets.com, which is selling tickets to performances by actor/comedian Leslie Jordan (Peanut!) on Thursday through Saturday, Dec. 19 through 21; comedian Judy Tenuta on Friday and Saturday, Dec. 27 and 28; and other performers going into January.

Since this is the restaurant news column, we should mention that The Tropicale’s full menu will be available at The Copa.

Watch the aforementioned websites for more details.

MIRAMONTE GOES GAGA WITH GINGERBREAD

Like gingerbread? Then you’ll want to check out the Miramonte Resort and Spa’s Gingerbread Village, debuting Friday, Nov. 29.

Varied gingerbread buildings—all of which must be at least 51 percent edible—will be on display in the Tuscany Foyer starting at 6 p.m., Friday, Nov. 29. They were all made by kids, adults, businesses or pro bakers/chefs who entered a contest for a good cause: The proceeds are being donated to the Desert Cancer Foundation.

Catch the Gingerbread Village through Dec. 26. It’s just one of the many holiday events taking place at the Miramonte, at 45000 Indian Wells Lane, in Indian Wells.

Visit www.miramonteresort.com/holidays.php for more.

IN BRIEF

Wang’s in the Desert, at 424 S. Indian Canyon Drive in Palm Springs, celebrated its 10th anniversary with a reception on Thursday, Nov. 21. … Las Casuelas Terraza, at 222 S. Palm Canyon Drive in Palm Springs, is getting into the holiday spirit by offering pomegranate guacamole. We’re not sure that regular guacamole needed sprucing up, but this “seasonal tradition” will be available through December, or as long as pomegranates are in season. … Chez Pierre Bistro is latest incarnation of Pierre Pelech’s eponymous restaurant, and it’s now open at 74040 Highway 111, at Portola Avenue, in Palm Desert. It replaces his old Town Center Way digs. Get more info at www.chezpierrebistro.com. … Oscar’s Café and Bar, 125 E. Tahquitz Canyon Way in Palm Springs, celebrated the opening of its remodeled dining room with a ribbon-cutting on Wednesday, Nov. 20. … The dates have been set for Palm Springs Desert Resorts Restaurant Week: May 30 through June 8, 2014. The 2013 incarnation was 17 days long, which means the 2014 version will be a week shorter. Find more info at www.palmspringsrestaurantweek.com.

Published in Restaurant & Food News

Wreck-It Ralph left me a little cold. A lot of folks predicted it would win the big Oscar prize for animation, but I correctly predicted that Brave (a better movie) would be the victor.

There’s a lot of potential in this arcade throwback about a giant video-game character (voiced by John C. Reilly) who yearns for a better life as a “good guy,” and abandons his “bad guy” game post. There are some cool retro-game sight gags (but not nearly enough!) and some clever twists, but this one falls substantially short of greatness.

I did enjoy Sarah Silverman giving voice to a little-girl character who wants to be a racecar driver, and Reilly voices his character with charm. I just the film a little tiresome as it wore on, and I grew tired of it in the repetitive second half.

There were some major laughs in the group-therapy sessions (I love the zombie!) and some cute stuff between Reilly and Silverman, but overall, the film is surprisingly tedious. Like too many animated films these days, it tries to get by on frantic action rather than story. It’s not a bad movie … it’s just a movie I didn’t like very much.

Special Features: The best special feature would be “Paperman,” the animated short that preceded the film and got its own Oscar nomination. You also get a short behind-the-scenes look, and some deleted scenes. This is a surprisingly lackluster disc effort from Disney. 

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Ben Affleck wasn’t nominated as best director for the movie that eventually went on to win the Best Picture award at the Oscars. We all know this by now.

However, surprisingly few people have made a big stink about Affleck’s failure to receive a nomination for best actor in Argo. He is the one who spends the most time, by far, onscreen, so wouldn’t it stand to reason that he should’ve been nominated for his performance? That performance was the driving force behind the best picture, right?

I don’t think Argo should’ve been nominated in any of the major categories, including picture, director and actor. It’s a fine film, and Affleck continues to make very good movies, but this wasn’t the year’s best picture. Heck, it didn’t even make my personal Top 20.

The movie has a nice retro feel, and features great work from Affleck, John Goodman, Bryan Cranston and, to a lesser extent, Alan Arkin. Arkin received a Best Supporting Actor nomination, another nom the film didn’t deserve.

I was about 11 years old when the Iran hostage crisis went down; Affleck was around 7. So some of his earliest memories probably involve how embarrassing and frustrating this time in American history was.

Argo is very good movie, but it isn’t a great one. That said, I think Affleck has some great movies in his future.

Special Features: This is a Blu-ray package in which the special features are actually better than the movie. A director’s commentary with Affleck is highly informative and entertaining, as is a picture-in-picture feature you can run for the entire film. This feature includes many of the actual hostages and participants in the rescue. Some other decent behind-the-scenes featurettes and an archival documentary on the rescue mission round things out to make this a great disc. 

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

This week, The City ponders Google's attempt to bring the Internet to our field of vision 24/7; Roland and Cid meld Oscar Pistorius and the Academy Awards; Red Meat offers tips on construction with milk crates; and Jen Sorenson refuses to sit idly by.

Published in Comics

I remember watching the Oscars back when Johnny Carson hosted. This was before I knew the whole thing was bullshit; I would get all excited when those envelopes were opened, and even when stupid Paul Williams showed up singing a song.

Even though the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences usually doesn’t get it right with the awards, I still look forward to the show, especially when that idiot Billy Crystal isn’t hosting it. This year, the host will be Seth MacFarlane. Should be interesting, and perhaps delightfully profane.

Here are the nominees, along with my predictions. Drink chocolate milk every time I get one right, and regular milk when I get one wrong. (I don’t endorse alcohol-drinking games.)

 

Best Picture

Amour

Argo

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Django Unchained

Les Misérables

Life of Pi

Lincoln

Silver Linings Playbook

Zero Dark Thirty

Let’s immediately eliminate Amour, Beasts, Django and Life of Pi. None of these films have a chance.

Zero Dark Thirty had the momentum going into awards season, but that momentum has shifted significantly, probably thanks to stupid Ed Asner and his lame comments. (Go to Hell, Lou Grant!) A few months ago, I would’ve thought Les Mis (my personal favorite of the bunch) had a good shot, but I think it’s going to get beat, because everybody hates Russell Crowe.

That leaves Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook and Argo. Admittedly, I would’ve gone with Lincoln or Silver Linings a recently as a month ago, but with the Directors Guild, Screen Actors Guild and Golden Globes all giving awards to Argo, I’m thinking it’s Argo for the win.

Snubs: This is a pretty good crop of nominees. Since there’s room for 10, a nom for The Impossible would’ve been nice, or perhaps Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom.

Should win: Les Misérables.

Will Win: Argo.

 

Best Actor

Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook)

Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln)

Hugh Jackman (Les Misérables)

Joaquin Phoenix (The Master)

Denzel Washington (Flight)

Washington and Phoenix have no chance, and I ain’t talking football. This is a race between Cooper, Jackman and Day-Lewis. Cooper was brilliant, but my vote would go to Jackman’s incredibly durable, tear-jerking performance in Les Mis. However, I think Day-Lewis will nail down his third Oscar for his Honest Abe. I didn’t like Lincoln, but I must acknowledge he was wonderful in the movie.

Snubs: When I picked my five favorite actors at the end of 2012, four out of the five nominated were on my list, with the exception of Denzel Washington. I would’ve liked to see Liam Neeson in that slot for The Grey, a performance that didn’t get the accolades it deserved.

Should Win: Jackman.

Will Win: Day-Lewis.

 

Best Actress

Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty)

Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook)

Emmanuelle Riva (Amour)

Quvenzhané Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild)

Naomi Watts (The Impossible)

Dammit, when is Naomi Watts going to win an Oscar? It’s not going to be this year, but it damn well should be. Her performance in The Impossible, a movie many have not seen, is jaw-dropping.

Even though she is the clear winner in my eyes, all of the performances nominated are deserving. Wallis is miraculous in Beasts; Riva is devastatingly good in Amour; and Chastain is a solid anchor in Zero. Lawrence is terrific in Silver Linings—and I believe she will win the Oscar. She has the momentum now. I would’ve never picked her a couple of months ago, but after the Globes and SAG awards, it looks like it is all hers.

However, don’t underestimate the age factor. Riva, 85, could sweep in and upset.

Snubs: Once again, another well-done category, with four of the five matching my Best Actress list. I loved Wallis, but I would’ve nominated Mary Elizabeth Winstead in her place for Smashed.

Should Win: Watts.

Will Win: Lawrence.

 

Best Supporting Actor

Alan Arkin (Argo)

Robert De Niro (Silver Linings Playbook)

Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master)

Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln)

Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained)

Enough people dislike Django to disqualify Waltz, and the same goes for Hoffman in The Master. Arkin is fun in Argo, but his performance was not Oscar-worthy.

De Niro was back in fine form for Playbook, and I think he’s the most deserving of those nominated. But Jones keeps racking up awards for his dull turn in the dull Lincoln. Nothing he does in the film is different from what he did in The Fugitive. (It’s basically Tommy Lee Jones starring as Tommy Lee Jones in Lincoln.)

Ah, screw it, I’m predicting a De Niro upset.

Snubs: Sam Rockwell was extraordinary in Seven Psychopaths, as was Edward Norton in Moonrise Kingdom.

Should and will win: De Niro.

 

Best Supporting Actress

Amy Adams (The Master)

Sally Field (Lincoln)

Anne Hathaway (Les Misérables)

Helen Hunt (The Sessions)

Jacki Weaver (Silver Linings Playbook)

Anne Hathaway is going to win, and she deserves it. There’s no reason to discuss any further.

 

Best Director

Michael Haneke (Amour)

Ang Lee (Life of Pi)

David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook)

Steven Spielberg (Lincoln)

Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild)

Well, if Argo is going to win Best Picture, and Ben Affleck didn’t get a director’s nomination, what in the heck happens here?

Steven Spielberg wins his third Best Director Oscar, that’s what. While I love Spielberg, I think Lincoln is a rare misstep for my hero. Of this group, I would have to say Ang Lee is the most deserving. But it’s Spielberg all the way.

Snubs: Affleck, Tom Hooper for Les Mis and Kathryn Bigelow for Zero Dark Thirty are all surprising omissions—especially Bigelow and Hooper; both directors outdid their previous Oscar-winning efforts. How Les Mis got snubbed here is beyond me. The cast sang live, for Christ’s sake.

Should Win: Lee.

Will Win: Spielberg.

 

Best Animated Film

Brave

Frankenweenie

ParaNorman

The Pirates! Band of Misfits

Wreck-It Ralph

This is a tough one. While I found Brave to be quite charming, a lot of folks found the whole “mom turns into a bear” thing stupid. I don’t think Pirates stands a chance, although it deserved the nomination. Wreck-It Ralph is my least-favorite in this bunch, and I suspect it will be least-favorite among voters, too.

I’m thinking Brave will continue a long legacy of Pixar victories, although my personal favorite in this bunch is ParaNorman. ParaNorman was innovative, creative and slightly demented, a true standout.

Snubs: Nothing really got snubbed here, unless you inexplicably worship Hotel Transylvania.

Should Win: ParaNorman.

Will Win: Brave.

 

Other predictions:

Best Original Screenplay: Zero Dark Thirty

Best Adapted Screenplay: Argo

Best Cinematography: Life of Pi

Best Costume Design: Lincoln

Best Production Design: Les Misérables

Best Sound Mixing: Les Misérables

Best Editing: Zero Dark Thirty

Best Sound Editing: Zero Dark Thirty

Best Visual Effects: Life of Pi

Best Makeup: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Best Original Song: “Skyfall,” Skyfall

Best Score: Argo

Best Short Film, Animated: Paperman

Best Short Film, Live Action: Asad

Best Documentary (Short): Redemption

Best Documentary (Feature): How to Survive a Plague

Best Foreign Language Film: Amour

Published in Reviews

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