Since World Aids Day on the first of December, the Amsterdam Museum will prominently showcase a number of new acquisitions till January 31st. They are costumes worn by the legendary Hellun Zelluf, the stage name of Geert Visser (1960–1992), in the illustrious “Gay Dating Show.”
The attention for Hellun Zelluf elicited an elated response from Dolly Bellefleur by recalling a song lyric (unfortunately some of the rhyme disappears in translation), which she explicated with a reverie about the disturbing times in which Hellun Zelluf, with her characteristic hair antenna, took up the fight against AIDS:
“I’ll only be dead when you forget about me / The drag queen chanted in her coffin / The poor sod has no idea / That not a single person misses her / Those were the gays my friend / They once fought so fervently / Against taboos and drab clichés / But after their golden age / They passed into oblivion / Those were the gays / Oh yes those were the gays...”
“These are some of the lines from ‘Those were the gays,’ a song I wrote to call out never to forget our pink pioneers. I’m very pleased that this fate has not befallen on my former colleague Hellun Zelluf, who performed in my very first show in the Anthony Theater in 1989, and is being Honored with a small exhibition in the Amsterdam Museum. I met Hellun in turbulent times in Amsterdam. Friends and colleagues were dying in large numbers because of AIDS. From the moment this disease reared its ugly head, for me, those letters stood for ‘Altijd In De Stress’ [Always In DiStress].
For years, love literally mortified me. Each morning, I anxiously wondered if I would read yet another funeral notice in the newspaper. The good thing about Hellun’s ‘Gay Dating Show’ was that AIDS and safe sex were made a subject of discussion without a warning finger and with a lot of humor. Twenty years later, I’m still spreading Hellun’s message of Lu-lu-lu-love. Let love rule! Gay, straight, lesbian, transgender, or bi? We are family!,” says Dolly.
Hellun Zelluf was supported by a colorful group of like-minded. It consisted of her mother Bep von Zelluf, the drag character of Joost Mous, who had been actively involved with the queer theater group De Softies in the 1970s; Vera Springveer, the alter ego of Charles Lücker (1965–2008); Coby Genezijde (Marco de Koning; 1948-1995); Agnetha Immergeil, the flamboyant creation of actor Richard Dreise, who later introduced homosexuality in a much more niggling way to the Dutch viewer as Brian Mulder in “Goede tijden, slechte tijden”; and various others, with renowned names as Mizz Mopsie, Coco Coquette, Viola Voilà, and of course, palatable leather slave Beestje Freek.
Hellun Zelluf started her career in the eighties with performances in the Anthony Theater in Amsterdam, where Dolly Bellefleur also scored triumphs. Sometime later, she hosted the drag show “Club Chique” in discotheque Mazzo. “Hellun Zelluf was glamorous, witty, mean, charming, intelligent, tacky, and sometimes even sweet,” Paul Verstraeten wrote on the death of Geert Visser in “Homologie.” So it didn’t come as a surprise she moved on to television, something that was easily done on the Amsterdam cable network. From 1990 on, she hosted on the local Salto channel from the Mazzo the “Hellun Zelluf Show,” which was later rechristened as the “Gay Dating Show,” a very popular quasi love quiz with performances, interviews and information about AIDS.
As Helm de Laat recently recalled in his e-newsletter GLIMP, she “did have something to nag about [...] the endless meeting culture of the medical establishment, which primarily lead to an endless series of brochures that ended up getting recycled.” The stereotypical image of the pitiable HIV victim and the tragic AIDS patient was skillfully dismantled by the “Gay Dating Show.” The show’s producer Paul Verstraeten remembered in “Homologie”: “In the beginning, Hellun had to overcome some aversion to the serious attention AIDS was going to get [...]. This was understandable, as Hellun was HIV positive and was using her entertainment activities not be reminded of it too much. But after the first shows, she saw how well the promotion of safe sex was working, and she dove into the theme with all her heart.”
For the new immigrant Jennifer Hopelezz, Hellun Zelluf’s activities were a revelation at the time: “I had just moved to Amsterdam with my girls in the early 90s when I discovered Hellun Zelluf’s ‘Gay Dating Show’ – it was quite an eye-opener to see all that on TV! For us it symbolized Dutch openness and frankness, quite the opposite from the environment we had left behind in Australia. Personalities like Hellun as well as Fabiola who combined drag with a political or social message were important role models and sources of inspiration for my family & me.”
The Amsterdam Museum has recently included some of Hellun Zelluf’s costumes in its collection. The costumes were designed, made and donated to the museum by designer Tycho Boeker. With his studio Prince Charming, Boeker has also been responsible for Dolly Bellefleur’s costumes for almost twenty-five years now. Earlier this year in an interview with Reijer Breed for this magazine, Bellefleur confessed: “My body cannot bear other creations. Ich bin von Kopf bis Fuss auf Tycho eingestellt. We are like two peas in a pod. Figuratively speaking!”
Hellun Zelluf’s costumes and an AIDS memorial quilt will be exhibited at the City Guard Gallery from December 1, 2013 to January 31, 2014. See for more information www.amsterdammuseum.nl.