Tuesday, January 7, 2014


The Screamin' Sirens

Since the age of four, all I ever wanted to be was the Flamenco dance on the inside of the Muriel Cigar box. She was beautiful: long auburn 1940s hair, a tight black corset, yards and yards of tulle and black lace mantillas. The moment I was old enough to defy my mother, the Flamenco dancer kicked her way out of me in flying skirts, fishnet stockings and gypsy hoop earrings. I even died my hair a brassy shade of red, which the hookers in my old New York neighborhood referred to as “Puerto Rican Blonde”. Everyone spoke Spanish to me – even the lady at the DMV handed me the Spanish test without asking. But the only thing I knew how to say was “si”, so I got into a lot of close calls in Spanish Harlem, which was where I
was living at the time. Men hovering around the produce stands would kiss the air as I walked by and make comments so sly-sounding I didn’t have to speak Spanish to know what they meant.

After moving to Los Angeles in the mid-1970’s, I discovered the legendary El Coyote. The restaurant was a Hollywood  landmark  that had opened in 1931, and  over the years  had hosted  famous diners such as John Wayne, Princess Grace Of Monaco,  Loretta Young, and Ricardo Montalban. I discovered El Coyote while reading about the Tate-La Bianca  murders…apparently  Sharon Tate and Jay Sebring  had their last meal there!  I decided I had to try it, and walked into  an amazing den of lurid black velvet paintings flanked by brightly colored crepe paper flowers, seashell-trimmed mirrors, and chandeliers encrusted with  glass grapes…it looked like a Tijuana brothel in the late 1950’s, and I was hooked! 

The aging hostess and all the waitresses wore  flowers in their hair and voluminous   ballet folklorico  dresses, their layers of petticoats swishing  as they delivered trays of the strongest margaritas in town  to eagerly patrons. The  running joke was that after a double margarita, you’d never notice that the tostadas  were covered with canned string beans and rancid Thousand Island dressing; after two of them, you’d never notice that your prince was a frog!  El Coyote was  full of broke  artists, has-been B-Movie stars, elderly couples, and punks.  My friends and I immediately became regulars, joking that the “secret ingredient” in the margaritas must’ve been Qualuudes- they were that strong.

In full Sirens drag,wearing my Adelita t-shirt
When  I started  my all-girl  punkabilly band The Screamin’ Sirens, our every day look was  saloon girl corsets with  leather and denim biker jackets ,  studded belts  worn over over gay, rick-rack trimmed square dancing skirts or voluminous Mexican skirts, all topped off with a  thrift store kid’s cowboy hat ....or a sombrero. The effect was punky  huera  version of La Adelita, the symbol of the Mexican Revolution. We were so into the La Adelita image, we even called our first album, released in 1984, "Fiesta!".

 At El Coyote, any time I got up  to go staggering to the Ladies Room after my second or third  margarita,  patrons would wave me over, yelling their drink orders to me.  I was always mistaken for being  a cocktail waitress.
 Finally, this became  my own personal last straw, and I decided at that point to – what the hell? – celebrate  the whole California Girl thing and go blonde. My hairdresser sympathized with me as I told her about the perils of being a cigar-box Flamenco dancer incarnate. Three excruciating bleaches later, I was an all-American, Malibu Barbie  platinum blonde.

“There!” I cried triumphantly, 
“No more El Coyote waitress or  Carmen Miranda for me! No more Lupe Velez! Good-by Rita Moreno, Delores Del Rio! Adios, Chita Rivera! No one will ever think I’m a Latina again.”

Just outside the salon door, a shrunken old woman with large earrings, Aztec cheekbones and a mouth full of gold teeth  confronted me.

“You just get your hair done?” she asked.


“Oooooh,” she signed, breaking into a smile,

 “Aaay, you look so beautiful… just like Charro!”


 The story you’ve just read is from my first  book “Senorita Sin”, which is currently out of print…though  copies of it show up frequently on Amazon and eBay.

 My latest book, “Showgirl Confidential: My Life Onstage, Backstage And On The Road, is available here:

Photo by Dusti Cunningham, Design: Natasha Vetlugin

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