Hometown News

Burlesque legend leads quiet life in suburbia

By Samantha Joseph

Staff writer


Little things hint that Camille Sands isn’t like the other housewives in her aerobics class.

She walks in sporting over-sized glasses, platinum hair and shorts that reveal longer legs than anyone else in the room.

“You don’t know who she is?” a woman whispered one Wednesday. “She’s a very famous burlesque dancer, in the Hall of Fame and everything.”

At the height of her career, Ms. Sands, now 65, was the highly sought-after Cosmic Queen Camille 2000, “the girl for yesterday, today and tomorrow.”

She performed in designer gowns, which she slowly peeled off in carefully choreographed routines, under lights that were professionally handled.

She posed for elite photographers, caused a stir by traveling with seven trunks, and once had a Japanese television crew follow her, reality TV-style, long before that genre ever became popular.

“People think it was nude dancing. That’s not burlesque,” she said. “Burlesque was risque, naughty, but nice. You had to have a gimmick.”

Hers made her famous in her field, and gave her a 20-year career that included acting roles in movies and television shows.

She acted alongside Burt Reynolds in “B.L. Stryker;” appeared in 13 episodes of “Miami Vice,” where she played Doris Gumble, worked with rock star Iggy Pop and appeared in Porky’s II and Alan Carr’s remake of “Where the Boys Are.”

“I did a lot of work, for not being a trained actress,” Ms. Sands said.

Exotic World Museum in Hallandale, Calif., credits her with introducing “aggressive art” to burlesque, with her notorious tribute to the Marquis de Sade.

And when Liz Goldwyn, the granddaughter of Paramount Pictures and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio honcho Samuel Goldywn, wanted to write a book about burlesque, she tracked down Ms. Sands, who was by then living a quiet life on a tree-lined street in Fort Pierce.

Ms. Goldwyn featured her in “Pretty Things – The Last Generation of American Burlesque Queens.” The book was later the basis of an HBO documentary.

“It takes a lot of practice for glamor to look this effortless,” Ms. Goldwyn said. “A burlesque queen’s art is timeless. She’s a goddess, a reminder of the good old days, when a little was left to the imagination.”

But getting to the top of her profession was grueling.

“I wanted to become a headliner, so what I had to do was get the top-name photographers, famous designers, hire a choreographer. You had to have the right names, so people knew you were legit and deserved the money and position. You had to start traveling. I had the most beautiful prop work you’ve ever seen,” Ms. Sands said.

“To be the star, you also had to look better than everybody. You needed a flawless body.”

She also needed the right past.

“I’m from Alabama, honey. I’m a little southern belle, but I kept that a secret during my career. My agent told me, ‘Never tell anyone where you’re from, because it will make you seem stupid.’ So I never told anyone,” she said.

But during her retirement, Ms. Sands is taking the opposite approach. She’s written a tell-all book, “Cosmic Queen,” in which she describes her life in burlesque.

“I didn’t make it seem like we were all angels, because we weren’t. I wrote it raw. I just changed some names, so the real gangsters I worked for wouldn’t kill me,” she said. “I told my mother not to read my book. It’s just nothing a mother should read.”

Drugs on movie sets, death threats, limousines and A-list stars were part of everyday life.

These days, when she’s not writing, Ms. Sands spends her time operating an Okeechobee-based motorcycle leather business called the Cosmic Hog Pen.

She also accepts invitations to events that celebrate burlesque, as part of a new movement to rejuvenate the art, thanks to new stars such as Dita Von Teese.

“The new generation loves me. They say, ‘You opened the door for us,’ and it makes me feel good,” Ms. Sands said. “All the legends are dying like flies, so it’s good that younger people are trying to preserve as much as possible. I’m glad there’s this revival, because it lets me be Camille 2000 one more time, and I love it. I wish I had documented a lot more, but I was just having fun.”

Now, newly widowed, she returned to the stage after a more than 25-year absence to perform a tribute to her husband, Eddy.

“He was the love of my life. He was a gentlemen and kind. He was just so good to me,” she said. “When he died, I just wanted to die, too. Dancing was the only thing that kept me going.”

Over wine and grapes at her home on a recent evening, Ms. Sands is surrounded by scrapbooks, newspaper clippings, photographs that show her socializing with famous people, elegant gowns and elaborate costumes.

“I’ve done a lot of things,” she said.

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