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GRANT PHILIPO, THE SAVIOR OF SHOWGIRL TREASURE

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GRANT PHILIPO’S LAS VEGAS SHOWGIRL MUSEUM. In the world of entertainment there are a handful of truly creative people who naturally ooze talent and passion. They are few and far between; each generation is sprinkled with just a few of these exceptional, gifted people. One such person is my good friend Grant Philipo. Grant is an immaculately dressed gentleman, brimming with a deep knowledge of the history of burlesque, Las Vegas showgirls, and the spectacular stage productions that lavished generous helpings of glitz and glamour upon appreciative audiences for many decades.

Grant’s personality is hypnotic; in his soft-spoken bubbly manner he gushes stories from his personal experiences with legends, stars, star-makers and star-breakers.  It seems his life has always been interwoven with all of the greats, and he has built close friendships with many of them.  Stories of historic diva rivalries and other juicy tales flow from an amused man recounting his life among the legends. Other fascinating insights emerge that illustrate Grant’s kind spirit and hint at the support and encouragement he has given to stars needing an emotional boost at low times in their lives. 

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“One thing you need to understand” Grant confides as he leans forward, “is that if something happened 50 years ago that was an issue between two of these legends, it is still a serious issue for them today”.  The rivalry and competitiveness does not diminish over time.  Even at advanced ages these ladies are still defending their places in the pecking order – Glamourous and proud forever!

Grant is a wise man.  He knows the personalities well – both true and false.  He is also a very loyal man who is protective of those deserving of his friendship, and who does all that he can to help them when in need.  Grant has swum with the big fish, including stars such as April March, Liz Renay and a myriad of others from the entertainment industry, for which he continues to have immense passion and enthusiasm.

While visiting Grant at his lavish Las Vegas mansion recently it was fascinating to talk to him about his own life experiences, his interactions with dozens of famous people, and to explore the vast collection of showgirl costumes and memorabilia he has amassed – not to mention being surprised by the occasional sequined and rhinestone encrusted giant codpieces cheekily produced by Grant for shock value.  

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Upon entering Grant’s huge home, it is immediately clear that you have entered a spectacular and magical world; Giant elaborate displays are everywhere (along with enormous bowls of candies). Every wall of every room is lined with life-sized mannequins – hundreds of them.  Each one clothed in stunning larger than life genuine showgirl costumes from the top stage productions of yesteryear.  This is like no place on Earth – it is akin to walking into Tutankhamen’s undisturbed pyramid, bedecked with all of its dazzling unique treasure.

The items on display at Grant’s home are not reproductions – these are the actual spectacular garments that once graced the top stages beneath dazzling lights.  The costumes are works of art and works of technology.  They are always elaborate, and often huge; necessitating special features to enable them to be worn on stage with the wearer looking gracious and moving unburdened by their vastness. The wearers employed special techniques to enable them to elegantly perform on stage in these colossal creations with the audience oblivious to the tricks of the trade needed to facilitate the spectacle. Some items included in the collection are costumes worn by Raquel Welch, Omar Sharif, Dionne Warwick,  showgirls spectaculars such as the Jubilee, Lido, Folies Bergère, movies such as the Matrix, the list is endless. 

Some of the costumes have significant age and at the time of acquiring required various amounts of repair or restoration. There are few people in the entire world capable of tackling this task with sufficient skill.  This is where Grant’s artistic genius comes into its own (he is an award-winning artist) and his creative skill sets come into full effect.  Grant’s artistic talents, his costume making wizardry (he is a world class costume designer and maker), his knowledge of stage productions (he has personally produced many top shows), his mastery of performing (he has had a long career as a performer, and classes this as his most important contribution to the world of entertainment) and his deep passion for preserving the history of showgirls, make Grant superbly and extraordinarily qualified and capable of bringing these important historic costumes back to pristine condition, and preserving them as world class specimens for posterity – And all of the items in Grant’s collection are truly world class.

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Grant’s home is devoted to the spectacular display of these costumes – and more.  The décor of Elvis and Priscilla Presley’s hotel honeymoon suite has been transplanted into Grant’s dining room:  Priceless!  

The collection is awe inspiring; both in extravagance and in vastness. There are hundreds of costumes on display in Grant’s vast mansion – and there are hundreds (probably thousands) more costumes stored in several warehouses. Costumes include designers such as Bob Mackie, Hedi Jo Star, and many others including Grant’s Numerous designs.

 Grant uses the warehouses to keep the full collection safely secured until an opportunity is available to display the entire collection in all of its grandeur. Grant is in discussions with the authorities trying to establish a permanent public display location for the collection.  This is important; this collection is an irreplaceable slice of cultural history.  These are the authentic garments, worn by the actual stage performers, and they capture the essence of extravagant large scale historic productions. The collection is beyond a national treasure; it is world heritage level and must be preserved and made available for all to see in a worthy public setting.  Thanks to the enormous talents and passion of this great man this unique showgirl collection has been amassed and will hopefully soon become a top Las Vegas tourist attraction, along with the likes of the sin city specific Neon Museum and Mob Museum.

Grant has shared many of his wonderful memories with me.  In the future, with his permission, I would love to share some of these with the readers of BurlesqueBaby Magazine, but for now please enjoy the following photographs of Grant’s fabulous collection displayed in his magnificent Las Vegas mansion.

In closing, from one performer to another, many thanks Grant for your friendship and for your personal expense and effort in gathering and preserving this enormously important and impressive collection – You are a superstar xx

 

 

SHARON K XXX

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Celebrating the Las Vegas showgirl: An icon lives on in one group’s evolving passion project

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The Las Vegas Showgirl Museum on Feb. 12, 2016.

By J.D. Morris

Monday, June 13, 2016 | 2 a.m. LAS VEGAS SUN

The flamboyant guests in Grant Philipo’s living room are dressed in scanty yet elegant costumes dripping with crystals, feathers and glitz. They are six mannequins, carefully arranged in a tableau, standing with hands raised or hanging by their sides. Together, their elaborate headdresses and finely crafted body pieces form a cornucopia of retro glamour.

These aren’t knockoffs from a pop-up Halloween store. They’re the real deal, from authentic shows on the Las Vegas Strip. And they’re in good company: Nearly every corner in the house celebrates some physical fragment of past productions of stage and screen.

On one long table lies a silver mannequin draped in a daring gown of orange and white fur, designed by Philipo. It leaves much of the mannequin’s legs and upper chest bare, showing off an ornate necklace created for Carol Channing to wear in the film “Thoroughly Modern Millie.”

Another room brims with oversized puppet faces from “Errol Manoff’s Fantasy Factory.” Their features are eerily realistic, accentuated to an almost clownish degree by bright sequins and thickly painted makeup.

Among the living room’s decadent sextet, a gold-colored male figure wears a massive 65-pound “backpack” festooned with more than 5,000 individually wired feathers, one of Philipo’s eye-popping creations for a show he once produced at the Dunes.

His collection of more than 20,000 artifacts is so large that much of it is still in storage. The most significant elements, arguably, are the costumes from bygone Las Vegas shows such as “Jubilee,” “Hallelujah Hollywood” and “Lido de Paris.” The collection is essentially a love letter to the iconic Vegas showgirl, and the home in Paradise Palms — fittingly, a historic tract of mid-century modernism built during the Rat Pack era — is its church, under the banner of Grant Philipo’s Las Vegas Showgirl Museum.

For years Philipo led guided tours, offering an up-close look at the trappings of the sort of vintage production no longer found on the Strip. Women dressed in showgirl regalia still pose for tips on Las Vegas Boulevard, but the real thing has all but disappeared from the city’s legendary showrooms.

That’s partly what fuels Philipo’s mission to preserve retired entertainment treasures from Vegas and beyond, and to put them in a commercial space for public exploration. But this year, after an intense exchange with Clark County officials, the road to getting there became bumpier than a rhinestone-studded bra.

• • •

The seed of the museum was a swimsuit Philipo’s great grandmother wore a century ago. She was considered “very scandalous” in 1915, when she donned a sleeveless black-and-white suit with little material covering her legs. She passed it down to Philipo decades ago, and it became the foundation of his collection.

His interest in the stories reflected in clothing grew when he traveled from his native Iowa to Las Vegas in 1976 for a monthlong stay at Caesars Palace. During the extended vacation, he had an insatiable appetite for seeing glamorous shows on the Strip — and a keen memory for their fabulous costumes.

When he moved to San Diego for a job that year, he started recognizing outfits from Las Vegas shows in antique stores and yard sales. He had to have them. They were historical. And gorgeous.

“I would see these things and think, ‘Oh my God — that was in Frederic Apcar’s show!’" Philipo said. "I don’t know why I was buying them, but I knew they were important.”

A modeling job later took him to Los Angeles, where he also landed work doing rhinestoning for a costume house. He says that over nearly a decade, his work in LA put him on all sides of the stage, from designing costumes to producing and starring in shows. As his costume collection grew, Philipo says he began receiving calls from people looking to off-load show remnants.

“I had no clue what I was going to do with them. I certainly didn’t think I would have a museum,” he said. "Designers would call me up and say, ‘You know, I’ve got these things,’ or, ‘I’ve got sketches … if you want them, you can have them, because I know you’ll protect them.’”

With his stockpile of costumes, Philipo relocated to Las Vegas permanently in 1990, seeing fate in the echoes of his work in so many Strip staples: feathers, jewels, topless dance numbers. It’s where he met someone else who cared deeply about show business, someone who would prove instrumental in his quest to protect these wisps of entertainment history.

Mary Dee Mantle wasn’t a dancer. She was a flight attendant who started selling exotic garments gathered on her journeys abroad. That enterprise led to a chance encounter with Philipo, and the two became close.

Mantle — whose brother-in-law was New York Yankees legend Mickey Mantle — agreed to be an executive producer on Philipo’s Dunes extravaganza “90 Degrees & Rising.” She went on to help him produce other shows and secure more costumes. And in 2002, she bought a home in Paradise Palms to provide one roof under which Philipo could house the collection, design and build costumes, work on producing shows and sleep.

“When I was 60, I wore my first Halloween costume that (Philipo) made me, and I asked my husband, ‘What do you think of this?’ He said, ‘Oh, that’s nice.’ I said, ‘That’s not nice — It’s fabulous!’” recalled 81-year old Mantle. “And I was bit. I loved being around the showkids. I just love everything about it.”

In 2010, they opened the home for free tours. Philipo is the CEO and head curator, Mantle is the president and financial backer, and magician Dallas Fueston — “the brains,” per Philipo — is vice president of the unconventional outfit. They insist that from the beginning, they never intended to operate a commercial business, and never charged admission.

They didn’t pay for advertising, either, so awareness of the museum came largely through word of mouth and its Facebook page and website, along with a 2013 appearance on the Discovery Channel reality show “Extreme Collectors.”

CEO and Head Curator Grant Philipo, President Mary Dee Mantle and Vice President Dallas Fueston of the Las Vegas Showgirl Museum.
MIKAYLA WHITMORE

CEO and Head Curator Grant Philipo, President Mary Dee Mantle and Vice President Dallas Fueston of the Las Vegas Showgirl Museum.

Still, that didn’t add up to crowds beyond the occasional group of UNLV students, the museum crew says. Longtime neighbor Brigid Kelly, a former dancer, said she wouldn’t have known about it had she not gotten a peek inside while driving past.

“I could see the headdresses going up the stairs, and I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s show people! Show people, I know it,’” Kelly said.

At least one anonymous neighbor didn’t share her excitement. Mantle found a notice on the gate in late 2015, stating that a complaint had been filed with Clark County.

• • •

 CEO and Head Curator Grant Philipo, President Mary Dee Mantle and Vice President Dallas Fueston of the Las Vegas Showgirl Museum. Photo by:  MIKAYLA WHITMORE

CEO and Head Curator Grant Philipo, President Mary Dee Mantle and Vice President Dallas Fueston of the Las Vegas Showgirl Museum. Photo by: MIKAYLA WHITMORE

“Do you have any kind of sex parties there?” Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani asked, claiming she’d received a report to that effect.

The Showgirl Museum’s founder was stunned.

It was one of many tense moments at the February 3 hearing before the county Zoning Commission to determine if the museum could continue operating out of the house in Paradise Palms. “We’re very social people; we don’t have sex parties,” Philipo said, adding that the house did host weekly Uno parties and occasional celebrations for special events such as the Academy Awards and Halloween.

Following the county’s initial notice, Philipo and his partners had learned they needed a special-use permit to keep running tours, a process that started with an appearance before their local town board and then the county Planning Commission. Both approved the museum's application.

But Giunchigliani disagreed with those decisions and appealed the matter to the February hearing, where Philipo and Fueston presented a video showcasing the collection. They spoke about the purpose of the museum, the support they’d received from neighbors and their intent to move to a permanent site.

More than a dozen people, including retired performers, later voiced their support, citing the importance of preserving history in a city known for imploding its past.

“My dream was to come here to become a showgirl. And I did,” former “Jubilee” and “Les Folies Bergere” performer Pamela Schumacher said, fighting back tears. “I want my children to be able to see part of what I did and what I wore and how important it was, and that it’s not ... the stigma of what a lot of people think that being a showgirl is.”

Giunchigliani had previously questioned whether the museum was charging for tours, and asked if anyone other than Philipo and a roommate was renting the home (he said no to both). The commissioner also said she’d been uninvited from a scheduled visit to the museum, a recollection organizers disputed.

“Honest to God, it wouldn’t have been any worse if we had killed somebody and we were on trial,” Mantle said of the experience. “It was terrible.”

Even if the county allowed for the special-use permit, Giunchigliani said, the house would need to be brought up to code. That would likely cost thousands of dollars to rectify issues such as accessibility under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Better, she argued, to spend the money on a permanent facility.

Commissioners unanimously decided they couldn’t allow the home tours to continue — with or without admission. For now, Philipo can still show the collection to neighbors or others who happen to come over, but the commission’s vote means he can’t solicit or provide public tours.

“They have to think smart about what they want to do,” Giunchigliani told The Sunday. “I felt their emotion and tie to what they’ve collected — that’s wonderful and I commend them for it. So, figure out a way to properly share it where you don’t get in trouble. There’s a more appropriate place.”

• • •

And there's definitely an audience. With the February closure of “Jubilee” at Bally’s, after a 34-year run, the showgirl effectively stepped out of the Strip’s headlining spotlight. It’s a turning point that has been widely mourned.

The elaborate, often topless showgirl show that “Jubilee” represented began slipping from the Strip’s landscape years ago, giving way to Cirque du Soleil’s dominance as well as big-name residencies and festivals. Yet the showgirl remains a symbol of Las Vegas, as much as the Rat Pack or Elvis. Maybe more so.

Showgirls Tara Taylor, left, and Jen Vossmer join Showgirls Tara Taylor, left, and Jen Vossmer help LVCVA Host Committee Chairman Oscar B. Goodman greet tourists during a flash mob event Wednesday, May 4, 2016, at the Fremont St. Experience to promote National Travel and Tourism Week.
SAM MORRIS/LAS VEGAS NEWS BUREAU

Showgirls Tara Taylor, left, and Jen Vossmer join Showgirls Tara Taylor, left, and Jen Vossmer help LVCVA Host Committee Chairman Oscar B. Goodman greet tourists during a flash mob event Wednesday, May 4, 2016, at the Fremont St. Experience to promote National Travel and Tourism Week.

Just ask former Mayor Oscar Goodman, an official ambassador for the city through the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

“As far as the Convention Authority is concerned, myself with a martini in hand and showgirls at arm is the brand. And it represents everything that Las Vegas stands for: the glitz, the glamour, the iconic nature, the individualistic way that we’ve always done things,” he said. “The showgirls who accompany me really are the last vestige of a day that appears to have gone by, and that’s a shame, because it was an exciting time in Las Vegas where they represented all of that energy.”

Other cities may have had entertainers similar to showgirls, like the Rockettes in New York. “Minor league,” Goodman counters. He said Las Vegas was the major league for “these beautiful, statuesque young ladies who just exuded class.”

They were part of Vegas’ version of the production show, said Su Kim Chung, head of public services within UNLV’s Special Collections, which has archived numerous showgirl-related documents. “It’s really its own genre, the Las Vegas production show, and it has all kinds of special things that distinguish it, that make it different from a New York stage show or theater or ballet,” Chung said. “Maybe if people would appreciate it for its own special characteristics, they would realize that it really is worthy of study.”

Chung mentioned a signature moment in “Jubilee,” the grandiosity of its reenactment of the sinking Titanic.

Diane Palm understands the power of that spectacle well. The former “Jubilee” company manager recently completed a master’s in theater at UNLV, writing her thesis on Las Vegas production shows. She used to hear audience members talking about the grand flourishes after performances.

“People would say, ‘I had no idea it was so big;’ ‘I had no idea it was so fabulous;’ ‘I had no idea it was so great.’ … Without seeing it, you really don’t appreciate what a wonderful, theatrical type of entertainment it is,” Palm said.

But Las Vegas did not invent the showgirl.

Sultry productions at the famed Folies Bergère in Paris formed the inspiration of Florenz Ziegfeld’s “Ziegfeld Follies” in New York in the early 20th century. Ziegfeld became known for his “Ziegfeld girls,” chorus girls who predated the rise of the Las Vegas showgirl. They were attractive, stylish women dressed sexy and showy, but not nearly as over-the-top as the Vegas performers who followed.

 "Minksy's Follies of 1962" was lauded as “the show that made America blush” on the marquee of the New Frontier Hotel. The topless show was brought to Las Vegas in 1955 after it was forced out of New York for being too risqué.

"Minksy's Follies of 1962" was lauded as “the show that made America blush” on the marquee of the New Frontier Hotel. The topless show was brought to Las Vegas in 1955 after it was forced out of New York for being too risqué.

"Minksy's Follies of 1962" was lauded as “the show that made America blush” on the marquee of the New Frontier Hotel. The topless show was brought to Las Vegas in 1955 after it was forced out of New York for being too risqué.
"Minksy's Follies of 1962" was lauded as “the show that made America blush” on the marquee of the New Frontier Hotel. The topless show was brought to Las Vegas in 1955 after it was forced out of New York for being too risqué.

The rise of showgirls in Las Vegas began around the 1950s as casinos competed for gamblers, partly by staging increasingly colorful productions. Imported directly from Paris, “Les Folies Bergere” ran for nearly a half-century at the Tropicana.

“You’re looking at a history of the female body. That’s why it has cultural importance, and why we need to pay attention to it,” Ohio State University professor Linda Mizejewski said of the showgirl’s evolution. “‘Jubilee’ closing really says something about where we’ve moved, culturally, from our ideas about the female body and female bodies on display.”

Mizejewski, who wrote “Ziegfeld Girl: Image and Icon in Culture and Cinema,” said showgirls in the United States arose as part of a broader “display culture” that could also be seen in the proliferation of storefront display windows and even beauty pageants. All of those were “displaying goods that are valuable,” she said.

Today’s audiences are accustomed to seeing the female body displayed on the Internet, in music videos and mass advertising. That has arguably contributed to the demise of big production shows featuring women in skimpy costumes beneath bedazzled headdresses. “It’s everywhere,” Mizejewski said of the female shape. “The idea of simply going somewhere to look at a body on display — maybe that’s not something we want to pay for anymore.”

Karen Burns, a Reno resident and former dancer who collected costumes from Donn Arden’s “Hello Hollywood Hello,” said it is the hotels that no longer want to pay. In the Strip’s increasingly competitive entertainment landscape, she thinks resort bosses prefer to buffer themselves from financial risk, hosting independently produced shows rather than fronting hugely expensive productions on their own.

• • •

Like other Vegas touchstones, mobsters and neon among them, showgirls are now the stuff of nostalgia — but lacking the level of critical attention afforded by the Mob Museum and Neon Museum.

Yet UNLV has collected its showgirl documents, and the Nevada State Museum has a “Showgirl Wall” featuring a rotating display of some dozen or more costumes. Last year, the state museum acquired costumes spanning the entire run of “Les Folies Bergere,” as well as a series of sketches and notations that Bob Mackie and Pete Menefee made for “Jubilee.”

Karan Feder, Nevada State Museum’s guest curator of costume and textiles, said many historic garments from Las Vegas shows have been destroyed. Imports from France often had bonds that came due, and the productions had to pay up or destroy the costumes. “Shows would take all the costumes out behind the casinos in the desert and light a bonfire,” Feder said. “Except for those few pieces that were squirreled away before they were lit on fire … it’s gone. It’s just absolutely gone.” She added that with the closure of “Jubilee,” we’re on the back end of an era ripe for examination.

“There really has been a beginning and end to it,” she said.

Feder was hired to help appraise Philipo’s tribute to that era when the museum appeared on the Discovery Channel. She valued a single silver gown once owned by Dionne Warwick at $5,000 to $10,000. A group of crystal accessories — Philipo had numerous others — appraised for $10,000.

Andrew Zegers, the host of “Extreme Collectors,” told Philipo that the collection was worth $15 million. Philipo had said his costumes required an investment of $2 million to $3 million over more than 35 years.

While the state museum also preserves costumes from Strip shows, Feder says Philipo’s effort is important in part because he has collected so much more. Beyond showgirl garb, he has Hollywood memorabilia ranging from a pair of ghoulish set pieces from the film “The Matrix Reloaded” to the entire set of costumes from Broadway show “Your Arms Are Too Short to Box with God.” He has myriad Parisian jewels, which Feder describes as “cool and wonderful.”

She mused that Philipo’s collection might get around some of the limitations imposed by the traditional museum industry. “I don’t know that the state museum, for instance, would be able to have a showcase. It’s really an entirely different venture,” she said. “I think the public would love seeing Grant’s collection. I hope that comes to pass.”

• • •

A few months after facing off with the Clark County Commission, Philipo was feeling better about the outlook for the Showgirl Museum. He said “lots of people” had made donations to help it find a permanent home.

“Of course, not being able to give tours is a constant battle, because people are contacting us every day and they just don’t understand that we don’t have the ability to let them come here,” he said. “It’s very disheartening to have to tell people no all the time. But it is what it is.”

The Las Vegas Showgirl Museum on Feb. 12, 2016.
MIKAYLA WHITMORE

The Las Vegas Showgirl Museum on Feb. 12, 2016.

What’s more, Philipo said he recently received positive signals from Sen. Harry Reid, who gave the museum a commendation in December. Philipo was optimistic that the retiring senator might support the next phase in some capacity.

He seemed even more hopeful about assistance from city officials, including Mayor Carolyn Goodman. According to Philipo, Goodman has been helpful as backers consider moving the museum into a city-owned building. Philipo wouldn’t name a specific location but said if it panned out, the move would require approval from the Las Vegas City Council.

If that comes to pass, Philipo envisions the facility not only as a costume sanctuary, but also a space to provide classes on all aspects of show business, from singing, dancing and acting to costume design, construction and preservation, as well as set work. And there would be a modest showroom, where visitors could see showgirls perform in full splendor.

“Once we sign that dotted line, we will be opening our doors to students … (and) to interns, so that people will actually be able to work under me,” Philipo said. “It’s one thing to go to a college and try and learn all these different things. It’s another to actually work with someone who knows how to historically reclaim a costume and make it beautiful and new again.”

In addition, the museum’s partners are eyeing showrooms on the Strip and downtown, potentially to host a topless show Philipo sees bringing the true showgirl production back to Las Vegas. If that happens, it will only enhance their efforts to preserve an essential piece of the Vegas identity — no matter what else comes and goes from the hot stage lights.
 

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Las Vegan hopes to make showgirl museum hidden in home public

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By Mike Weatherford Las Vegas Review-Journal

June 3, 2017 - 11:59 am

A lot of people are waiting for the showgirl to make a comeback. But Grant Philipo is less patient than most.

His house is a museum, as they sang on “The Addams Family.” It takes a long time to even get to the prop sarcophagus used on that TV show when you’re roaming the costumed mannequins and memorabilia on display in Philipo’s crowded but meticulously arranged home.

“I’ve always had mannequins on display, even in my little apartments,” he says of the collection that grew from his career as a costume designer, performer and show producer.

But now it’s time for more people to see these relics of Las Vegas’ (and Hollywood’s) spangled past. Philipo is hoping the old Reed Whipple Cultural Center on Las Vegas Boulevard can be the new home for Grant Philipo’s Las Vegas Showgirl Museum.

There the showgirl would live again. Both as realistic mannequins in revolving display cases and, eventually, in a stage show that would put the costumes back on real humans in a replica of the bygone Stardust showroom.

But that new dream of old Vegas hinges on the showgirl collection winning out over three rival proposals submitted to the city for the boarded-up community center, which Philipo envisions as the perfect combo-ticket neighbor for the nearby Neon Museum.

It took only days to get close to 6,000 signatures on a Care2 petition. Philipo is hoping the city will decide this month, because it’s a chicken-and-egg situation with the financial backers who have pledged support for his nonprofit Society for the Preservation of Entertainment History.

Former casino executive Fred Doumani is ready to lead a fundraising campaign. But without a signed lease, Philipo says, “we can’t do anything.” Formal proposals were due last November, but the city staff has no fixed timetable on deciding when, or even if, one of the proposals will move forward to full council consideration.

For now, Philipo’s home near Eastern Avenue and Desert Inn Road is trapped between the city and county. For six years, he says, he was allowed to give low-profile tours by donation and by appointment (no outdoor signage or consistent hours).

“We wanted the people to realize how vitally important this was to Las Vegas. And that this art form is dying and needs to be revitalized,” he says. The house was perfect, because it’s a former residence of the late drag comedian Kenny Kerr and already adorned with plush pink carpet.

But someone complained, and the county cracked down.

“We never had any problem (with neighbors),” Philipo says. “Had the collection not gotten so big we would have fought it.” But as brim-full as the two-story, 7,000-square-foot house may be, the really big stuff — like scenic pieces from “Jubilee” — is spread among four warehouses.

Lifelong obsession

“I guess I was always fascinated by costumes,” the 58-year-old Philipo says. When he was a boy in Iowa, his great-grandmother gave him a swimsuit from 1915 that was “considered scandalous. That’s sort of the seed that started this.”

He also won an art scholarship in the sixth grade and, during a Las Vegas vacation at age 16, became fascinated by showgirl spectaculars overseen by the late impresario Donn Arden. “I fell in love with Vegas,” Philipo says. “It was the closest thing to a Busby Berkeley film.”

He moved to Las Vegas in 1980 and was set to go to work for Arden when the MGM Grand fire of 1981 rerouted him to Los Angeles. He found work at a costume house, where his art skills became an asset.

“I accidentally started designing costumes,” he recalls. “I could draw anything, but I had no clue how to sew.”

He has since picked up costumes from all the significant Las Vegas shows, from the “Lido de Paris” in 1958 through “Enter the Night,” the 1990s attempt to modernize the showgirl revue.

When the Smithsonian quickly raised more than $200,000 to repair Dorothy’s ruby slippers from “The Wizard of Oz,” the goal was not to refurbish them but to “stabilize” them and prevent further decay.

Philipo is no such purist. He rebuilds his costumes with new materials, arguing the wear and tear is “not the fault of the designer. And all of them have been so supportive of the fact that I will spend the money and the time to restore them.”

He envisions the surviving designers someday giving talks at the new museum. And former showgirls slipping back under the feathered headdresses they once wore.

“I’m sure there will be a lot of tears shed, but for a good reason.”

Contact Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288. Follow @Mikeweatherford on Twitter.

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Showgirl Museum has legs

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By Robin Leach Niche Division of Las Vegas Review-Journal

June 16, 2017 - 2:00 am

The city’s historic mascot, the iconic Las Vegas showgirl, may have disappeared from its stages but the world’s only showgirl museum is ready to show that it is an entity that has legs — and long-standing ones, at that.

Showgirl Museum owner Grant Philipo is hoping the city will give official approval this month for his collection of 30,000 artifacts to be moved from “Boylesque” star Kenny Kerr’s former mansion in Paradise Palms to the Reed Whipple building, a former Mormon church on the Las Vegas Boulevard. A decision is expected before month’s end.

I spoke with Philipo by phone this week and he told me that the expansion into a 65,000- to 70,000-square foot venue can accommodate the collection that includes more than 1,000 mannequins adorned with the gorgeous costumes of the great Las Vegas extravaganzas. 

“The value is so great that it can’t even be determined. It’s been described as “priceless,” he told me. “ Just 100 pieces of the collection were appraised at $15 million. Many of those artifacts are currently residing in four different warehouses in Las Vegas.”

For more than two years Philipo has been in conversations with Mayor Carolyn Goodman and city planners to relocate their collection. In November of 2016, the museum, along with a few others, made a formal proposal for the building. “We’re waiting for the response, which we have been told will come later in June,” Philipo added.

A nonprofit, The Society for the Preservation of Entertainment History, created for the preservation and restoration of the collection, has put together a group of private investors and fundraisers to raise the monies needed to solidify a home for the museum. Past co-owner of The Tropicana, Fred Doumani, spearheads the group. The 50-member board of the museum includes influential Las Vegas residents ranging from former hotel owners to politicians, business owners, headliners and former showgirls.

“Once we find the venue for the museum, our team is confident that we will raise the funds to complete this project successfully,” Doumani commented. “It is going to be spectacular and our team is experienced in many different areas.”

Entertainment writer and publicist Bobbie Katz added: “ The one-of-a-kind collection contains costumes from famous designers Bob Mackie, Pete Menefee, Michael Travis, Bill Hargate and others, and artifacts from producers, Donn Arden, Barry Ashton, Frederic Apcar and more. It also takes in shows from Paris, New York, Reno and Lake Tahoe, as well as movies and television shows. In addition, there are costumes and jewelry worn by such stars as Ann-Margret, Carol Channing, Raquel Welch, Lynda Carter, Rosemary Clooney, Omar Sharif and Liberace, as well as on TV shows such as “The Donny and Marie Show” and “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In.”

Philipo, the creator and curator of the museum and a former performer and show producer, has plans to include a theater that will be home to an authentic old-Vegas-style spectacular; as well as a school offering all-day full classes for those interested in learning dance, technical techniques, how to design costumes and build sets, and how to get hired for a show. The actual production show will take place at night. Philipo produced the second largest show and the second-to-last show to ever play the Dunes, “90 Degrees and Rising.”

“The museum will be a totally immersive and continually moving experience for visitors,” he said. “The mannequins will turn and there will be the authentic sets, videos, pictures, scripts, music and more. When those shows existed, the showgirl was the image that drew people to Las Vegas. Since the closing of “Jubilee ” in February last year the showgirl has still existed on the city’s website but is non-existent on the entertainment scene. We are intent on keeping her image and this incredible part of Las Vegas history alive. This museum will attract visitors from all over the world and will bring new business to whatever part of the city it is housed in.

“Each room in the museum will be themed like a specific show,” he continued. “It will be like stepping into a showroom and onto the stage. We’ll have chorus lines of mannequins and guests will be able to take pictures that make them look like they are right on stage with the casts of the various great Las Vegas shows in the city’s longtime history. It will be an up-close and personal experience. We will also give VIP tours. We aren’t going to hide the topless aspect, either.”

Bobbie confirmed the museum has received recognition from Jon Porter, former Sen. Harry Reid and Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman, and was awarded “The Coolest Museum” in one set of Las Vegas rankings.

She added: “ The heart of Las Vegas rests within the amazing entertainment history found within Grant Philipo’s Las Vegas Showgirl Museum. But home is where the heart is and all involved in this project are hoping that a new venue is in its near future. The destiny of the history of the showgirl is in the City Council’s hands.”

I narrated a video about the museum at www.lasvegasshowgirlmuseum.com and you can join the call to action to help the museum find its public venue.

Philipo started this collection in the late 70s. It got a big boost when he became friends and was hired by Liberace’s designer, Michael Travis, as Liberace’s fitting model. Travis learned of Philipo’s love for historic show costumes as well as his ability to bring them back to life. He connected Philipo with many iconic designers and show producers who offered their collections to him because they knew he would bring them back to perfection and even use them in the shows he produced.

In 1992, Philipo met and became business partners with Maryadelia Mantle, the wife of Mickey Mantle’s brother Roy, and together they produced Philipo’s “90 Degrees and Rising” at the Dunes. With Maryadelia’s help, they expanded the collection to include the Lido Jewels from Donn Arden’s show “Allez Lido” at The Stardust, plus the costumes and props from “Enter the Night.” Another friend, helped them acquire the original opening costumes from, Donn Arden’s “Jubilee!,” which debuted in 1981 at Bally’s with a cast of 140.

It is all the ultimate homage to the glitz, the glamour and the beauty of a unique Las Vegas phenomena that marked our matchless entertainment history going all the way back to 1973s “Hallelujah Hollywood” and the “Folies Bergere” shows that began at the Tropicana in 1959. The nearly 60-year tradition has to be maintained for a long time still to come.

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Stories From the Chorus Line

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Stories From the Chorus Line

Step inside the dressing room and we’ll tell you a tale...
Thursday, February 11 7:00am By Lissa Townsend Rodgers VegasSeven.com 

Grant Philipo

                                    Grant Philipo

                                    Dunes (1980s)

I had auditioned for Donn Arden three times. … I was singing in the Cub Lounge at the MGM Grand with Renee Lee—they used to have a lounge directly across the Ziegfeld Room. I got involved in designing costumes and a little while later, I was working at a clothing store called the Hotel for Haberdashery. I was doing the window displays and somebody knocked on the window and it was Fluff LeCoque, waving for me to come out and talk to her. She said, “We’re having the auditions for Jubilee!.… This is going to be a great show. We want it to be the biggest and best show ever. Please come to the auditions.” I went to the auditions, and I’m looking at these guys with my head stretched up toward the sky because they were so friggin’ tall. I didn’t get hired because, at 6 feet 2, I was the shortest guy.

Without the showboys, you couldn’t have those great numbers dancing with the women, doing the lifts and all of that kind of stuff. Showboys didn’t get all of the accolades that the women did because nine times out of 10, they weren’t used in the advertising like the women were. They used the people in their shows to basically entice people to their properties. People automatically start thinking prostitution, and it never was: It didn’t mean that you had to go to bed with them; it meant that they had someone gorgeous on their arm.

I ended up producing my own show at the Dunes in 1992, which was dedicated to Donn Arden and Frederic Apcar. Donn actually sat in the audience and cried and I was like, “Oh, my God, what’s wrong?” And he said, “Nothing. It makes me so proud to see one of my babies do something that I would have done.”

Most production numbers have five to six sections per number, and that’s something that I learned from Donn. There’s sort of a mathematical way to structure shows so that everything keeps building until you get to the end of that vignette and that’s got to be the most spectacular thing. They always used specialty acts to [allow] time to change the sets and the costumes. In my show, we were trying to show people what the shows were like during the ’60s and ’70s in Vegas, when the showboys and showgirls both were practically naked but dripping in thousands of dollars’ worth of jewels and feathers. They were a mix of eroticism with such elegance that it was really important for people to see that this was what Vegas was all about.

Read the entire article here

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Future of Las Vegas Showgirl Museum undecided

Yasmeen Hassan

6:45 PM, Jan 5, 2016

The future of The Las Vegas Showgirl Museum is up in the air right now.  

It opened in 2010, but it could be forced to close down for good. An anonymous complaint was filed with Clark County, and after investigating the county discovered the museum has been operating without a use permit.

"We're not doing it for money. We're doing it to keep the image of the showgirl alive and to keep all this history that is based in Las Vegas in the eyes of the public," curator Grant Philipo said.

It will be up to the planning commission to decide if a use permit will be used, but Philipo says he is going to fight for his museum. This is his passion, and he says Las Vegas deserves this piece of history.

"We're not out to compete with anyone. We truly believe that Vegas has enough history for a million museums, let alone the number of the museums that are here," says Philipo.

Read the ABC Action 13 News article here

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LAS VEGAS SHOWGIRL MUSEUM UNDER ATTACK!

The World's ONLY Showgirl Museum is in Las Vegas, in a Home and is now on the verge of being denied the right to continue showing this great History to guest's of their home. An "Anonymous" complaint was filed against them stating they Sell Tickets for $10 - $25.00 per person and that there are No Bathrooms.

The Facts are, this business has had a State Business License for ALMOST 6 years and has Never sold any tickets. Being also a Non-Profit, "The Society For The Preservation of Entertainment History", they only request a donation for the preservation and restoration, of the Collection. Everyone associated with this, works for FREE. Also, it should be noted the home has 6 working bathrooms!

Now, the County wants to deny or limit them from having tours! Stating it will negatively effect Traffic and Noise. They also want to limit the amount of tours per month to 4 Total and no more than 10 people at a time! This means if you want to come for a tour and have too many people, Like UNLV Students who have come in the past or others or we have met our quota for the month, then you will be denied, entry! Most tourist take Taxi's and in most cases are driven back to their hotel, as a courtesy, so they will not have to wait the extended time for a Taxi to return!

Each tourist has to make a confirmed appointment and they can NOT just walk-in, they must call for entry. Also, the tours of the Collection which includes over 150 Mannequins wearing costumes from Famous Designers, like BOB MACKIE, PETE MENEFEE, MICHAEL TRAVIS, etc... and Shows from Paris, New York, Las Vegas, Reno, Lake Tahoe, Hollywood and Stage as well as screen!

If you feel this is un-just and would be a bad decision, please help us by voicing your opinion with a signature ( First and Last Name and City & State ) showing support for this Historic Landmark of Las Vegas. The last place to see a Real Showgirl in Las Vegas when, DONN ARDEN'S "JUBILEE" Closes on February 11th, 2016!

If you want to look up the complaint you can find it:

Application Number: UC-0784-15

Owner: Maryadelia Mantle

Use Permit for a museum.

Waivers of Development Standards for following: 10 reduced parking; and 20 modified landscaping requirements.

DESIGN REVIEW for a Museum ( Private Collection ) in conjunction with a single family residence on 0.2 acres in an R-1 ( Single Family Residential ) Zone. Generally located on the west side of Gaucho Drive, 100 feet north of Sombrero Drive within Winchester. ( For possible action )

 

 

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Don't Let the Showgirl Die!


Help us keep our doors open to the public!

There are other museums with Showgirl and Showboy Costumes but in our museum, our Guided tours bring their stories back to life as you learn about everything involved! Not by reading it on a card but by someone who was a part of it, telling it like it was!

PLEASE Join Us showing your support!

As a Reminder, we need all of our supporters to attend the:

Clark County Planning Commission TUESDAY January 5th at 7:00 pm at the Commission Chambers, Clark County Government Center 500 S. Grand Central Parkway Las Vegas, NV.

Even if you have signed the petitions, we still need your support!

Bring your friends and show them that there is enough History in Las Vegas to keep many Museums Open and a shame to prevent the public from enjoying our Culture, Past and the image that made Las Vegas Famous - The SHOWGIRL!

PLEASE feel Free to SHARE this!

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Las Vegas Showgirl History Museum: Keeping a piece of Las Vegas Alive

    By:    Debbie Hall    Las Vegas Arts & Exhibits Examiner    Showgirls  are synonymous with  Las Vegas . Up until recently, extravagant productions featuring beautifully costumed women were part of the Las Vegas Strip. One man who was lucky enough to be part of Las Vegas during this era was Grant Philipo, who is working hard now to preserve this aspect with the Las Vegas Showgirl Museum.  Visiting Las Vegas for the first time in 1976, Philipo knew he wanted this to be his forever home. Shows such as “Lido de Paris,” “Hallelujah Hollywood,” “Splash,” “Enter the Night,” “Jubilee!” and “Les Folies Bergere” were all part of the entertainment along with big name headliners and the first residency shows of Sigfried and Roy and Liberace. With intricate detail, rhinestones and feathers while still barely there, the showgirl represented glitz and glamour of Las Vegas. It was during this period Philipo would start his collection of  costumes .  Moving to California, Philipo return to Las Vegas to briefly from 1980-81 when he accepted the lead male role in “Lido de Paris.” Unfortunately, while waiting for the show to open, the fire at the then MGM (now Bally’s Las Vegas) killed his deal and he moved back to Los Angeles. Philipo would begin to design costumes for the some of the top designers as well as restore older costumes.  Along with performing, modeling and producing; Philipo also has a background in art and museums. “I have been working in museum since the 6th grade when I won my first art scholarship,” he explained, “I have a love of history. Also performing in Las Vegas, I saw this as something that needed to be preserved but I never imagined I would open my own museum.”  He moved back to Las Vegas in 1990 and has called it home ever since. In his residence, Philipo would exhibit various costumes on mannequins while many remained in storage. With the purchase of a building in 2002, it was suggested to create a museum which became a reality in 2010.  Grant Philipo's Las Vegas Showgirl Museum houses actual wardrobe pieces, sets, props, costume designs, film footage, historical documents, and photos paying homage to the glamour and beauty of Las Vegas entertainment, as well as show business history from other parts of the world. The collections begin in Paris showcasing all aspects, including live re-enactments of some of Las Vegas' most famous production numbers, headliners and specialty acts. The last showgirl production show, “Jubilee!” at Bally’s Las Vegas, will close on Feb. 12 after being part of the Las Vegas Strip since 1981. The magnificent work of designers Pete Menefee and Bob Mackie is on display at the museum, which owns all of the original opening costumes of, "Jubilee!”  Due to an anonymous complaint stating that tickets were being sold and there were no restroom facilities available to the public, a hearing will be held at Clark County Planning Commission on Jan. 5 at 7 p.m. about the future of the museum. The museum holds a state business license, only asks for donations, has six bathrooms available and each tourist must make a confirmed appointment with no walk-ins allowed.  Supporters are urged to attend the Clark County Planning Commission on Jan. 5 at 7 p.m. at the Commission Chambers, Clark County Government Center, 500 S. Grand Central Parkway.

 

By: 

Debbie Hall

Las Vegas Arts & Exhibits Examiner

Showgirls are synonymous with Las Vegas. Up until recently, extravagant productions featuring beautifully costumed women were part of the Las Vegas Strip. One man who was lucky enough to be part of Las Vegas during this era was Grant Philipo, who is working hard now to preserve this aspect with the Las Vegas Showgirl Museum.

Visiting Las Vegas for the first time in 1976, Philipo knew he wanted this to be his forever home. Shows such as “Lido de Paris,” “Hallelujah Hollywood,” “Splash,” “Enter the Night,” “Jubilee!” and “Les Folies Bergere” were all part of the entertainment along with big name headliners and the first residency shows of Sigfried and Roy and Liberace. With intricate detail, rhinestones and feathers while still barely there, the showgirl represented glitz and glamour of Las Vegas. It was during this period Philipo would start his collection of costumes.

Moving to California, Philipo return to Las Vegas to briefly from 1980-81 when he accepted the lead male role in “Lido de Paris.” Unfortunately, while waiting for the show to open, the fire at the then MGM (now Bally’s Las Vegas) killed his deal and he moved back to Los Angeles. Philipo would begin to design costumes for the some of the top designers as well as restore older costumes.

Along with performing, modeling and producing; Philipo also has a background in art and museums. “I have been working in museum since the 6th grade when I won my first art scholarship,” he explained, “I have a love of history. Also performing in Las Vegas, I saw this as something that needed to be preserved but I never imagined I would open my own museum.”

He moved back to Las Vegas in 1990 and has called it home ever since. In his residence, Philipo would exhibit various costumes on mannequins while many remained in storage. With the purchase of a building in 2002, it was suggested to create a museum which became a reality in 2010.

Grant Philipo's Las Vegas Showgirl Museum houses actual wardrobe pieces, sets, props, costume designs, film footage, historical documents, and photos paying homage to the glamour and beauty of Las Vegas entertainment, as well as show business history from other parts of the world. The collections begin in Paris showcasing all aspects, including live re-enactments of some of Las Vegas' most famous production numbers, headliners and specialty acts. The last showgirl production show, “Jubilee!” at Bally’s Las Vegas, will close on Feb. 12 after being part of the Las Vegas Strip since 1981. The magnificent work of designers Pete Menefee and Bob Mackie is on display at the museum, which owns all of the original opening costumes of, "Jubilee!”

Due to an anonymous complaint stating that tickets were being sold and there were no restroom facilities available to the public, a hearing will be held at Clark County Planning Commission on Jan. 5 at 7 p.m. about the future of the museum. The museum holds a state business license, only asks for donations, has six bathrooms available and each tourist must make a confirmed appointment with no walk-ins allowed.

Supporters are urged to attend the Clark County Planning Commission on Jan. 5 at 7 p.m. at the Commission Chambers, Clark County Government Center, 500 S. Grand Central Parkway.

http://www.examiner.com/article/las-vegas-showgirl-history-museum-keeping-a-piece-of-las-vegas-alive

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