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Drag Performer Dolly Bellefleur Celebrates Twentieth Anniversary

by Hans Hafkamp in Media & entertainment , 23 december 2009

Dit artikel is ook in het Nederlands beschikbaar

‘Dolly’s A Lot Darker Then You’d Say At First Sight’

Dolly Bellefleur is turning twenty this November and this happy occasion is celebrated with the exhibition “Van hem naar haar naar Hippolytushoef: Twee decennia Dolly Bellefleur” (From Him to Her to Hippolytushoef: Two Decades of Dolly Bellefleur) in the main branch of Amsterdam’s Public Library from the 7th of November till the 7th of January.

During those twenty years Dolly Bellefleur (stage name of Ruud Douma) performed at a great variety of pink manifestations, from Europride Amsterdam/Berlin and the Roze Wester Festival, the Gay Canal Parade, Roze Zaterdag Arnhem, ‘Potten en Flikkerdag’ in Nijmegen, Pink Monday in Tilburg, the Gay Expo in Hilversum, the Rainbow Experience and several Loveballs, to the holiday week for PWA’s in Huize Ijsselvliedt, Pink Planet Haarlem, Gay Games Amsterdam, OutGames Montreal.

She’s also created a series of solo theater shows like “Dolly Bellefleur’s Service Salon,” “Dolly’s Défilé” (Dolly’s Walking Reception), “Dolly’s After Sun Show,” “Dolly’s Wonderland,” “Dolly’s Wedergeboorte” (Dolly’s Rebirth), “Made in Dolland,” “Dolland’s Glory” and “Ik wil gelukkig zijn” (I Want To Be Happy) and has “done” a lot of radio and TV. For years she also wrote columns for different gay magazines. Dolly is indeed an artistic centipede and we thought her anniversary was an excellent occasion to interview this “Beauty with Brains” who once called herself the first “Test tube baby” explaining why she’s so tall and slim.

Your career started on the 28th of October 1989 in the Anthony Theater. How did Dolly come about? Was the at the time immensely popular Dame Edna an inspiration?

“A girlfriend of mine worked as a volunteer behind the bar at the Amsterdam Anthony Theater. She said I would like the place and indeed, from the moment I walked into that little box of sweets at the Oudezijds Voorburgwal, I was sold. It was the ultimate theater; tiny and filled to the brim with frills and kitsch it had the atmosphere of Berlin in the twenties.

You could say Onno van Dijk, the manager of the Anthony at the time, discovered me. He asked me if I wanted to organize a drag show and I didn’t hesitate one second. I followed my intuition. Until that moment I had not seen a single drag show, I had never performed in a dress myself. I had no examples and no need to imitate anyone. I started the absolutely fabulous adventure of Dolly from nothing and without any restrictions and it’s been going for twenty years now.”

Fotobijschrift: Dolly in het toppunt van travestie, namelijk als man!; een foto van Dolly als Ruud Douma, die zich in het kader van het radioprogramma ‘Those were the gays’ nostalgisch heeft laten fotograferen, compleet met baret - als een soort verzetsheld? Op de barricades!?

“In that first show. ‘Vorstelijke Travestie’ (Royal Transvestites) I was the humble host announcing performances of Molly Strychnine, Viola Voila, Milly Peruque, Tina Drehscheibe, Tanja Takkewijf, Tilly Trekhaak, Mizz Mopsie, Coco Lotto, Hellun Zelluf and Zuster Carla de Boer. Right up to the opening night I was busy with casting performers, designing the decor, scraping money together, making program books and posters. I stuck the posters all through town myself and I also cleaned the toilets. Dolly personally invented multi-tasking, I did anything to make my theater dream happen.”

“I was so busy I almost forgot to make up a stage name for myself. As a first name I eventually chose Dolly, after Dolly Wilde, the flamboyant niece of Oscar Wilde. My last name became Bellefleur, which was the type of apple my grandfather’s few trees produced at his farm in the Frisian village Oldeholtpade. I thought Bellefleur sounded so poetic. Besides, an apple will always be associated with Snow White and don’t forget about Adam and Eve. They were seduced by a snake in the Garden of Eden to eat an apple from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Dolly as a forbidden fruit? La Bellefleur du Mal. I was very inspired by that idea. From the moment I crawled into that persona of a beauty with brains, I knew I had something that would set me apart from the rest of Dutch cabaret! Yet, I was very surprised by the overwhelming response of the audience. Twenty years on and Dolly is still a charming crowbar, bringing very different types of people together.”

According to the Dutch Gay Encyclopedia you were the prima donna at the Anthony Theater and you gathered transvestites around you that would paint the town red in the nineties. How do you explain the return and the popularity of drag queens, after they were generally looked down upon by gays in the seventies and eighties?

“The drag shows in the Anthony Theater were so popular because we brought a different kind of transvestite acts. Until then we’d seen the Shirley Bassey and Liza Minelli impersonations trying to look as closely as possible like these icons, but we were guys in dresses, using drag tongue in cheek as a theater technique and not as the center of it all.

The seventy-year-old poet Johan Brouwer I thought was hilarious. He was the only heterosexual wearing a flowered dress and did a ten-minute monologue. Or Arno Jacobs, who knew all the dialogues from the ‘Sissy’ movies by heart and showed up as a sultry Rubens-style empress Sissy. It was also the start of a different era.

At the end of the eighties and beginning of the nineties we lost so many young and talented people to AIDS. As a counter movement to all that misery we developed the desire to have fun, like dancing on a volcano. These were the years of the iT, where I was chosen Spring Queen in 1990, and the legendary RoXY, where I performed at many Loveballs.”

Fotobijschrift: ‘Dolly op het Rode Plein,’ foto vervaardigd ter gelegenheid van de allereerste uitvoering van ‘Hey let’s be gay,’ het lied dat ze speciaal schreef om in mei 2009 de deelnemers aan de Gay Pride in Moskou en Riga een hart onder de riem te steken

After the start at the Anthony Theater you created mainly solo programs. Was it too difficult to work together with the other divas? I’m sure they’re all strong personalities?

“No, that’s not true. After the Anthony Theater was closed by the fire department I have done several productions with colleagues like Molly Strychnine, Miss Rosa Sluyt-Spier and Shirley Tepel, we even played at the Stadsschouwburg and the Rob van Reyn Theater and the Pepijn Theater in The Hague. But at one point I did decide to go solo because I wanted to do this full-time and professionally. Most colleagues did, and still do, these shows on top of their regular jobs, which made planning a tour very difficult. It was also an artistic choice. I wanted to develop a cabaret while many girls wanted to continue the way we started off at the Anthony.”

Right from the start of your career you’ve written columns for several gay magazines. If I’m correct you wrote your first columns in “Clique” as an idea of the publisher, but afterwards you wrote for “Gay News,” “Rainbow Magazine” and “Homologie.” Do you find writing for magazines very different from writing for your theater performances? Are there specific topics for each medium?

“Yes, it’s very different. I can remember very well the first time I handed in a column. I was scared because after you hand in the text there’s nothing you can do anymore to influence the response of your audience. I mean, you very rarely hear what people think of your column at all. It’s like it disappears into nowhere. At first I really missed that response. The advantage of a column is you can go much deeper into something. In the beginning I wanted to show off my more melancholic side and the pieces were soaked in Weltschmerz and philosophy on how meaningless existence really was. One wonders if the readers of, say, ‘Gay News’ were really waiting for that, while looking through the magazine at a bar or sauna, ha ha!”

For MVS-Radio you’ve made a series of programs on remarkable gays from the past, and not just theater personalities. Why do you think gay history is so interesting?

“That show, called ‘Those were the Gays,’ was to hail homosexual heroes and pink pioneers from the past, to make sure they are not forgotten. I think the gay community is way too slack about our history while we can learn so much from our wonderful past and the inspiring life-stories from the beginning. I’ve already made beautiful radio portraits of Benno Premsela, Bet van Beeren, Jan Mesdag, Annemarie Grewel and Hugo van Mondfrans.”

Many of your texts are inspired on current affairs. Can you get really worked up about something in the news, the drama of the day?

“Oh yes, it’s as if it only gets worse. I think I’ve inherited that from my parents. Social engagement was breast-fed. My mother cycled Mother Theresa-style through my native village, Huizen. I can’t stand injustice and indeed, I may even have the naive idea my song texts and performances contribute to a better world, if only a tiny little bit. When it comes to that I haven’t changed much over the years because as an eight-year-old I wrote this endearing little poem: ‘Tell me what’s the difference between black and white? Tell me why black people don’t have any rights? If they changed their color would that be enough? Would that change the hate against them into real love? I have a dream Martin Luther used to say...’”

Some time ago you did an interview with politician and professional human rights activist Boris Dittrich. Do you want to extend your activities in the direction of a talk show perhaps? What attracts you in that idea?

“Over the past years I’ve had the privilege to interview a great variety of people for my radio show ‘Dolly’s Bonte Woensdagavond Trein’ (broadcasted by MVS), but also during my performances all over the country and the TV show ‘Kort Amsterdams Live’ (broadcast by AT5), so yeah, Hilversum, here I come. Why not do a talkshow? At least I’m really interested in the stories of my guest, which cannot be said of most interviewers on Dutch TV. The chance this will really happen, I think is really small. The macho TV managers still suffer from dress-phobia!”

One of the drag artists I remember carrying the torch of drag during the seventies and eighties was Sally Bowles, who also did talkshows at one time, and wrote a column too. You also worked with her. How do you remember Sally Bowles? I think she quit performing, or did she?

“So nice of you to mention her. I’ve always had a lot of appreciation for this ‘Amuseuse,’ as she liked to refer to herself. Chapeau! There’s nothing as difficult as what she did for over thirty years: perform on a weekly basis in a bar. I mean, I’ve performed on a weekly basis for a year in café De Bak in Rotterdam, and Frenz in The Hague and I eventually stopped because I thought it was too much to perform every week again for almost an identical audience. There were times I felt like an entertainment machine, not an artiste. After a year I thought I’d given all I had to give and quit. It was time for a new challenge.

In 1993 I toured Holland with the production ‘Dames om the smullen’ (Ladies You Could Just Eat) with Sally and Dolly Dolfijn, who died of AIDS too. Fortunately they didn’t behave like divas, it was wonderful to share the stage with them. We had a grand finale of this tour in De Kleine Komedie, with an after-hour performance in the night.”

“Sally might not perform so regularly anymore but she hasn’t gotten rid of her wigs yet! On the sixth of December she’s one of my guests at the ‘Hakjes Pakjes Avond’ (Heels and Presents Evening) at the Theater of Words at the Public Library of Amsterdam. For once I will return to my roots and be the host of a whirling revue with performances by Dion, Duo Wilde Orchidee, Gerrie Hondius, Magic Patrick, Milly Peruque and Tilly Trekhaak”

Have you ever considered to create another personality; perhaps a darker type, both in appearance as well as nature, in contrast with the ever blond and lighthearted Dolly?

“The platinum blond look has become my trademark, come on, you wouldn’t ask Queen Beatrix to change her hair either? Never change a winning team and besides, Dolly’s a lot darker then you’d say at first sight. Looking back on the past twenty years I think I’ve often flirted with death. In the performance ‘Made in Dolland’ for example, I was contemplating suicide in order to join many a legendary star like James Dean, Marilyn Monroe and Judy Garland, and also Fien de la Mar.

In shows like ‘Dolly’s Wedergeboorte’ and ‘I Want to be Happy’ I wasn’t happy and gay all the time. To quote Heinrich Heine: ‘Humor is but a crystal that only takes shape in sharp and enduring pain. The healthy just elbow each other and laugh out loud, and are always baffled, even a little offended when they read later that comedian such and such in a fit of melancholy has drowned himself.’ There you go, is that dark enough? Ha ha!

Some time ago you asked people for photos, videos and other material documenting two decades of Dolly through a call in Gay News. Did you get some unexpected stuff? What will be the content of the exhibition at IHLIA-Homodok (International Gay & Lesbian Information and Archive)?

“Through that publication I’ve found a very special painting and a few photos I didn’t know existed! My mother always said to me: ‘You’re not for the broom, you were meant for the pencil and the brush.’

Maybe that explains why I’ve invited so many artists to make something special for this exhibition. The lyrics of ‘Roze Planeet’ (Pink Planet), ‘Hey, Let’s be gay,’ and ‘Those were the gays’ have been wonderfully illustrated by multi-talents like Marlies Visser, Flos Vingerhoets and Gerrie Hondius. Visual artist Chrystl Rijkeboer has gone to town with my legs! I will also show the first Dolly cartoon by Wilbert van der Steen with the title: ‘Wat doe je eigenlijk voor werk?’ (What Do You Do For A Living?).

The cooperation with Wilbert was so inspiring we’re thinking of a monthly version. I will also show a lot of photos, and costumes my personal couturier Tycho Boeker and I have designed over the past years, a few paintings, et cetera. And don’t forget there’s an extensive program. For all the ins and outs I gladly refer to my website”

Bijschrift: Logo van het radioprogramma ‘Dolly’s Bonte Woensdagavond Trein’

Would you like to make a closing statement?

“Well, as I’ve been touring the country as some sort of the national symbol of Dutch Drag over the past twenty years, too many of my glamorous colleagues, such as Vera Springveer and Hellun Zelluf, many friends and one dear uncle have succumbed to AIDS. Designer Tonnie van Doorn will create a little home altar to remember them. During the entire exhibition visitors can add photos of the loved ones they’ve lost to this disease. So if there’s someone you’d like to remember or honor in this way, pick out a nice photo and give it a special spot!”

“Oh, and what I also think is really special is that this exhibition has been made possible by very generous gifts of very dear fans! Thank you for being a friend! There will be a time you come to the conclusion, friendship is most definitely not just an illusion!”

Dolle Donderdagen in december / Crazy Thursdays in December

Lokatie / Location: IHLIA-Plein (zesde etage OBA / sixth floor Public Library)
Entree: gratis / Free Entry
Zie je als een berg op tegen de feestdagen? In de donkere dagen voor Kerst en Nieuwjaar zal Dolly Bellefleur, i.s.m. het Dolly Instituut voor Ambulante Geestige Gezondheidszorg, spreekuur houden.
* Not looking forward to the holidays? In those dark moments before Xmas and New Year’s Eve Dolly Bellefleur and the Institute for Ambulant Funny Relief will have walk-in consultations at mentioned times:

24 december: 12.00 – 16.00 uur / noon – 4 p.m.
31 december: 12.00 – 16.00 uur / noon – 4 p.m.



In the New Issue of Gay News, 322, June 2018

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