Burlesque History Lesson: Vancouver’s Hidden Horror Sweetheart

As much as I’d like to believe at times I’m an innovator with my craft, it’s hugely egotistical of me to think that way. As an artist, I’m constantly drawing inspiration from everything around me and channeling it into something I feel uniquely mine. More or less. In the past month I’ve met a non-gentic twin of mine (amazing photographer Renee Robyn), capered with latex-wearing contortionist clowns, and read through some books regarding Vancouver’s history. It would seem I’m not the first to emerge from the burlesque world to find herself in the horror genre. My reading and research into my own local lore showed me there’s really nothing new under the moon, and that there was a lady from my own fair city, many decades ago, who lived the cabaret life, moved onto film, and roosted in horror legend. A vampire lady loved by all, revered in tattooed ink, visual art, and a cult icon, this woman was born and raised in my own fair city of Vancouver.

Margaret Yvonne Middleton was born in Vancouver in 1922 and raised in posh Point Grey. In those days, waterfront property was not the hot-ticket item of the jet set that is thought of now. The genteel and well-heeled lived in the British Properties, Mount Pleasant, and Point Grey. Margret was born to her mother, Marie DeCarlo, who had been an aspiring actress and ballet dancer, running away from home at the age of sixteen to pursue a life on the stage. She met Margret’s father, a Australian by the name of William Middleton who later abandoned his young family when Margret was only three. She lived with her grandparents and upon her entry into grade school it was discovered that she had a lovely singing voice, and she found solace onstage as a performer.

Her mother, with memories of her own aspirations, moved them to Los Angeles where Margret was enrolled in dance school but after their visas expired found themselves back in Vancouver. However, stage mama Marie took them down for frequent trips to LA but in 1940 Margret won the title of ‘Miss Venice Beach’. With her new title, she was employed as a dancer for the Florentine Garden by uber-showman Nils Granland, but the immigration officials swooped in and sent her back to Vancouver again. Mr. Granland, for his merit, approached the immigration authorities and pleaded to allow him to sponsor her. She was granted re-entry in the USA and after a short stint at the Florentine Gardens moved onto contract work in films.

Modelling 'Canadian Print'. I think cannabis leaves interspersed with Maple leaves is more appropriate...

Modelling ‘Canadian Print’. I think cannabis leaves interspersed with Maple leaves is more appropriate…

What about the horror and the burlesque, I hear you ask? Ah, children, therein lies a special connection. Whilst Margret cooled her heels an awaited her return to LA and Hollywood, she worked in Vancouver clubs. Back in the heyday of neon shining brightly on slick, wet Vancouver streets, this dame was as femme fatale as you could hope for a place like Terminal City. Back in the 40s Vancouverites liked their entertainment and was a major stop on the West Coast circuit for both entertainers and vice. Adopting a handle that most will be familiar with, Margret became Yvonne De Carlo, but was still ‘Peggy’ to her friends. It was under that moniker that she performed first as part of the chorus line at the Palomar and an usher at the Orpheum theatre. The next time she’d return to Vancouver would be after making Hollywood films such as Salome, Where She Danced, Criss Cross and The Ten Commandments.

The sixties came, with their kitsch and fun. From this was born in 1964 one of two television families that the horror set felt they could model their own families after: The Addams Family, and The Munsters. Both ran the same two short seasons, but as the vampire Lily Munster and matriarch to a houseful of monsters, Yvonne De Carlo shone and is fondly remembered. She gave warmth and depth to creatures though cold and inhuman and loved her big fella, Herman, unconditionally, and set an archetype for television wives to come with tolerance towards their husband’s ridiculous antics (*cough* THE SIMPSONS/FAMILY GUY*cough). With fan art ranging from air brush work to tattoos, she is literally etched into our collective unconscious, born from the streets and cabarets of Vancouver.

The legacy to neonate showgirls with a horror bend begins...

The legacy to neonate showgirls with a horror bend begins…

And with the number of horror-showgirls this town produces, it looks like the she set the bar and gave the rest of us happy inspiration. Sleep well, Ms.De Carlo.



Little Miss Risk

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September Sass

The dog days of summer are starting to fade, and the golden hour is happening a little earlier each night. With the summer winding down, I’m gearing up to get my gear off, and the trees will be doing the same with their blushing leaves. There’s been shows booked, reservations made, and now it’s time to get down to the business of sass…

Sat. Sept. 6th

Restricted Entertainment presents

Zombiewalk afterparty: House Of A 1000 Corpses

(gorelesque performance)


Thurs. Sept. 11th

Sweet Sip Thursday – Burlesque At The Keefer Bar

(burlesque performances)


Fri. Sept. 12th

Accordion Noir Festival

(burlesque performances with Maria In The Shower)

Sun. 14th

Vancouver Fringe Festival – RISK Awards



Thurs. 18th – Wed. 24th

Fantastic Fest

(running around, and generally being a nuisance while some features I’m in are screening)


See you from the stage and on the road, lovers and sinners!



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Unicorn Pride

I’ve never seen faery tales as childish or immature. Maybe it’s because I grew up in a matriarchal household, and learned Scottish folklore at my maternal grandmother’s knee at an early age… But it was indoctrinated into my young mind about the value of the fantastic. Fae and folks in these tales weren’t the stuff of fluff and fuzzy golden dreams; there was light but there was darkness, too. Balances between viciousness and compassion. It wasn’t about being rewarded simply for being pretty or fair; these stories told often showed that in spite of these favours, that you had to suffer to gain strength of character to combat adversity when faced with it. The true wonderful nature of these stories were not that these things could occur, but rather taught the value of a promise kept, going through hardships to gain a reward, and being true to yourself, even at a difficult cost.

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I don’t think I officially ever came out as bisexual to my family. It’s not that I didn’t mean to, it’s just when I was in a long term relationship I mentioned to them, it was usually with a man. I always assumed that they knew I was bi, and loved people for the qualities they had, no matter what their gender, and that it wasn’t necessary for me to make a big deal of it. For once in my life, I was subtle about my choices. I think that at the back of my mind I knew that no matter what, they’d accept my preference and support it. But like all things I’ve had the luck to encounter in my life, I’ve not had a family I had to explain this hardwiring to, or worse, justify myself to them. It still makes me smile to think that this was never something spoken, but I’m sure my family has always known, and even if unspoken, accepted.

There is a sadness though, that I feel when I hear people tell me that this has not been their experience. That when they have gathered courage to share their true selves with their family that they’ve been cast out, cursed, and told never to darken their door again. How dare they… it was as if they had deliberately decided to be that way to frustrate and embarrass their families. Although, to be honest, I fail to see how this is an embarrassment to one’s kith and kin. As if having someone who is gay, trans or bi is somehow a poor reflection on other individuals in that family. But then again, I don’t understand humans much, and this complicated way they have of thinking. I feel sad for anyone who would eschew their own children on the basis of something they had no control over, rather than celebrating that they trust and love you enough to share it with them.


Much like the protagonists in these old folk tales, these unwanted children have to leave their homes and go out into the world, shape shift, endure a series of hardships to grow and finally, hopefully, find happiness. I honestly hope each and every one has one hundred dazzling days for every dark hour they had to endure. So sayeth this Scary Gothmother. It won’t be easy, but it’s not impossible, and worldwide, slowly these lost souls find their ways back to the others like them, where some have had a lot of difficulty and others less, but they find one another and others like them who welcome them.

There is a term in science that when a species spontaneously births a new genetic trait that is favourable, it’s referred to as a ‘hopeful monster’. I love that term. I like to think of fantastical creatures like mermaids, dragons, and unicorns as hopeful monsters from the days of when those original folk tales were told, and taught people the value of being different within their societies. It also does my heart good to hear people in the LGBT community referred to as unicorns. It makes me hope that maybe people now view these hopeful monsters as the magical creatures that they are, and embrace and celebrate them, rather than casting them out.

The road isn’t easy. Old fairy tales told me that, and even in the oldest of old, it was never about sitting around, waiting for someone else to rescue you from your unhappiness. The most recurring themes I’ve seen are that you must be content with your own company, so that when others around you doubt you, have unkind words, or cast you out, you’ve your own strength of that self’s company and character to help bring you to the place you really belong.

Pride is happening this weekend in my province’s capital in Victoria. It’s the edge of the Western world, where the Lotus Land ends before the big splash of the Pacific Ocean. It’s my hope that the hopeful monsters, the unicorns, the lovers, and loved ones all gather there, and show that sometimes you really can live happily ever after.

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Little Miss Risk

Photos: Shimona Henry

Make up by Teresa Bussey of Dead Heaven Make Up Design.

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Mermaid Medicine

When I’ve been travelling lots as I have of late, I can never resist one thing to calm me in the name of consistency. No matter what port of call, or wherever I roost for the night, a soak in the bathtub is always in the high order. Regardless of whatever postal codes you run up when you are abroad, submerged under warm water, you may as well have never left home. I find this calmness in a returning home ritual whereby I baptize myself in Vancouver’s Pacific Ocean and remind myself why I pay so much money to live in this particular glass and steel garden. I’m not alone in finding a soothed soul under water.

Deep therapy...

Deep therapy…

Our bodies, for lack of a more poetic phrasing, are just big old water balloons. Our grey matter, muscles, blood all require a large portion of H2O to survive. With the weight of the water in our bodies driving our gravity, it makes sense the draw we have to water. Beaches, lakes, rivers and oceans tend to be places where we and other species gather for food, refreshment and recreation. But there is something that tugs along to water that comes from a deeper emotional place. The sound of rain or waves breaking on the shore has been employed as a relaxation technique in ashrams and spas alike, and both have a quieting effect on the brain. The joy of being surrounded by sea, forest, sky that lets us get deeply into our own heads without with the white noise of urban heartbeats made of traffic patterns, computers humming, and distant stereos.

Any port in a storm, as they say...

Any port in a storm, as they say…

When we remove ourselves from modern distraction we find it easier to achieve a meditative state. We become more open and accepting of positivity and empathy. Cognitive scientists have begun studying the ‘blue mind’ phenomena where being in nature triggers ‘happy juice’ in the brain. They’ve discovered that where water is concerned the happiness factor is increased by six points on the 100-point scale as compared to the brain in cityscapes.

Mermaid lounge session

Mermaid lounge session

So with science telling us proximity to water makes us powerfully happy, and a litany of books, poems, songs and paintings doing the same, it makes sense that when you feel a little broken or rudderless, that being near, or in my case in, water can vastly improve your outlook on life. When dipped in water the actions of catecholamine neurotransmitters, which are the hotline to stress signals in the brain, shape shift to levels that are similar to the effects of meditation. Even thoughts of water have been attributed to an improved calmness. Hydrotherapy has been a major key to our evolution: fresh water for refreshment and ocean for travel and food. We are as connected to it and reliant upon it for growth as a child is to its mother with implied umbilical memories.

Topless in the bottomless

Topless in the bottomless

It is part of this that resonates so deeply with my mermaid side. I don’t just desire to be near water; I crave it. I live in a city that is set as a coastal rainforest and where rain saturates us regularly. I grew up in a village that was a seaside swamp and spent every moment available on my grandfather’s boat. As soon as I could (and my mother allowed) I was swimming in the ocean, alongside our family’s boat every time we moored. I never felt more at peace then I do when I’m next to water, unless I’m in it. The life I’ve led has been very colourful, and when the rich tapestry that is my life feels close to unraveling, submerging is the only things that soothes the fraying strings.

Between two worlds… how I roll.

Between two worlds… how I roll.

There is a collection of shamanistas that I know. Contemporary witch doctors who live in the city as opposed to high on a mountainside. We frequently talk back and forth about healing ideas and concepts, one of these being animal medicine. The idea behind animal medicine is that we can use an awareness to connect to certain animals which have traits and characteristics that can help you process anything from emotional pathways to divination. In different cultures, creatures of fantasy such a dragons and phoenixes make regular appearances in animal medicine. My merging of worlds – shamanista meets mermaid – has been very beneficial to me in keeping my day to day sanity.

Safety in going deep.

Safety in going deep.

When I hang between worlds, under water and just below the surface, I can feel the physical shift in my head. The stress melts away as I feel the water whoosh over where I imagine my gills to be. I open my eyes under the water and look at the underside of the surface, and look at myself reflected back. It’s more clarity than I’ve had looking in any mirror, and has a tendency to release answers that might have been blocked by my stressed out brain. It’s the best balance I can strike. Donning the fins, or even just the bikini, and letting the water sluice over my body and brain, I can feel that cortisol and epinephrine levels drop and I can allow for calmness to seep in.

Kraken's got nothing on me...

Kraken’s got nothing on me…

I’ve always felt strong mermaid medicine. Thankfully now I can understand more fully the phenomena which I have always felt through the research of scientists looking at our relationship to water. And hopefully, now, I will be able to pass this medicine along to more and more people.

Shall we swim?

Shall we swim?

Who wants to go swimming?


Little Miss Risk






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Talking To People

I’m the worst for trying to talk to people. When left alone at a party where I don’t know anyone, I usually follow a specific formula: a) Check out the bar/drink situation b) wander around rudderless looking for a group to join like a social remora c) go outside to see who is smoking what, and if I can hustle anything combustible. I usually repeat this cycle until I’ve either made a friend and maybe run into someone I know, or until I’m very intoxicated. Either way, I’ve come to the general conclusion that I suck when it comes to trying to fit into a crowd.

This social awkwardness of mine isn’t anything new, but certainly hasn’t gotten much less difficult with age. In elementary school I eschewed the playground for the library and fantasy books to outdoors. High school I was referred to by my crush as ‘the dragon lady’ and not all in a complimentary manner. But where I used to be the lone comic nerd/sci fi geek at whatever acedemic institute I was attending, I now have peers. This is especially true when at a convention. I may not had anything to say to a stranger but with that Tardis, Spiderman, Tarman CosPlay, all of a sudden there’s a starting point and away you go. It’s wearing your heart on your sleeve, a real life personality profiling. However, when the characters are somewhat more, shall we say, less cartoonish, it can be somewhat more of a challenge to ascertain who is playing what.

Jessica and I ham it up on the Ward and Al show on Sirius

Jessica and I ham it up on the Ward and Al show on Sirius

For two weeks, I was out east in Toronto. We recently wrapped filming on a movie titled Save Yourself, directed by the amazing Ryan M. Andrews. While I was close with my co-actor, Jessica Cameron, I found myself the odd man out since most the cast and crew had worked together in previous times. However, since the majority of the time I saw them was on set, and in character, it was hard to tell where the line blurred. When after filming while doing some post at Post City Sound, I didn’t recognize the sweet Tianna Nori. I was used to her character, rock and roll vixen Sasha, not this sweet little thing who gave us a case of the giggles. But the last two weeks she’d been in character the whole time. Some would say method, I’d say extreme CosPlay. But I’m sure if she found me difficult to relate to, dressing and acting as Sasha likely made it easier for us to connect. Despite all this, I came to adore my fellow thespians in their costumes as much as out of character… which is just as well. I shan’t spoil the film for you but let it be said that Ry Barrett is a scary fellow when it suits him.

Sasha and Crystal on the set of Save Yourself

Sasha and Crystal on the set of Save Yourself

I left on the 31st for Calgary where I met up with Jessica again. We were both guests as the Annual Calgary Horror Convention, and talking to people was be relatively easy at that one; it’s not often you see someone dressed as Jason and you can’t have at least an idle conversation regarding slasher films. And out of our elements and offset, many of my contemporaries who are in the horror film business are, when not making nightmares, delightful people to converse with. The organizers had put together an outing for us guests on the Friday taking us up to Banff. Up on the local summit we caused a hullabaloo with our general presence, but it was fun sneaking off with Jessica for an upside down twerk photo session. Inspired by my buddy Blondtron who’s mantra, ‘set your pussy free’ as caused a chain of photos taken in this regard in a sort of one-upmanship.

This is all Blondtron's fault. Jessica took the photo, all ninja-like.

This is all Blondtron’s fault. Jessica took the photo, all ninja-like.

Eventually all guests and con goers find equal ground. I spoke at great length with a young man who’d never seen American Mary who shared an interest and a passion for the rogue taxidermist’s association. I’m sure information was exchanged elsewhere, and a few more smiles happened. And if you need a conversation opener at these things, my two lines of conversation I’d lead with is ‘what’s your favourite creature feature?” or ‘where is the most interesting placed you’ve vomited in?’. I guarentee things will move forward and never look back from there.

Doing Ed Woon moves at Calgary Horror Con

Doing Ed Woon moves at Calgary Horror Con

You’re welcome.

Twitter: @SaveYourselfMVE

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SaveYourselfMovie

Twitter: @YYCHorroCon

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CalgaryHorrorCon


Little Miss Risk

Posted in Miss Risk, Random Banter, Save Yourself | 1 Comment