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The Interview

The Interview: Doris Dear

The Interview

Hi there Doris! I am very excited to be sitting down with “The Perfect American Housewife” although I think you would be aghast if you saw the shape my apartment is in right now.

Oh darling, it is so lovely to be in the rumpus room with a warm cup of special tea talking to you! Everyone needs Doris Dear to help them “straighten up” things!

It’s gotten a bit chilly out here in the city the last few week so a cup of tea sounds lovely. Most of my other interviewees are more concerned with “spilling the tea” as the kids say.

Oh those kids today! How I adore youth and all of it’s wonder and beauty. They have the world ahead of them just waiting for them to grab it as they wish. I myself have grabbed many an opportunity in my day and since I just turned sixty, I am certainly not slowing down! It seems like everyone wants to spill the tea, I prefer to sip mine slowly.

Sixty? I find that hard to believe! Either you have a great skin routine or a great plastic surgeon. Either way, I want to know after we finish!

*Laughs* It takes good genes (I prefer ones with a bit of stretch!), a bit of grease, a good whisky sour and a lot of doctor visits!

Well before we head down for a drink and a doctor’s visit, let’s learn a bit more about you first, shall we? Where does your origin story begin?

Well, I have been a professional full time working actor for 41 years. I have been very lucky to have never had to work another job. After working for Disney, cruise ships, large hotel revues and living overseas, I started a TV career which lasted 12 years. Then I became a TV producer and then came back to theater as an actor and now Broadway producer. I had done the occasional “drag”, (what actor hasn’t), but then decided I wanted to explore drag more as an extension of my acting career.

My mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and after watching her slowly decline over five years I needed a way to “deal” with it. She was an amazing beautiful woman. She was a Vogue model in the late forties and fifties and then gave it all up when she met the man of her dreams, my father. Her name was Taffy and my father was Duke! it kind of writes itself. They were the perfect mid century modern couple. Beautiful, the center of social circles in Staten Island. Saturdays were spend in the rumpus room downstairs in our home drinking manhattans and whisky sours, smoking lots of cigarettes and celebrating life. I wanted to share the beauty and philosophy of Taffy. She was a fierce fighter of woman’s rights and equality for all. She had rules changed in NYC to protect women and children.

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How did the character of Doris Dear come about then?

I wrote a show in a theatrical cabaret style and decided after working through it that doing it as “Ray” was boring but doing it as “Doris Dear” who would be Taffy’s daughter opens up the form of storytelling I wanted to do. 

So how much of your mother is actually in Doris Dear?

Oh, I would say about seventy five percent is Taffy and the rest is Ray. When my sister Nancy saw me do my first show, she said it was eerie how much I looked and acted like mommy!

Your family life sounds like a cross between Mad Men and Stepford Wives. How do you make that relatable to a modern audience in a much faster paced and diverse world?

*Laughs* You hit on the nose there! The fifties and early sixties, which my show sort of “lives” in, was a crazy time. I have people say to me all the time “I wish we lived back then”. Although Doris Dear is certainly a fifties housewife, I do it with a very heavy wink and a smirk. It was a time when women, gays, people of color and other groups had no rights whatsoever. Change was coming, and we are stills struggling to make that change stick! The stories I tell in my shows are all true stories of growing up with Taffy and Duke. (I have a lot of material to pull from… they were really something!) and I use reference materials like books and magazines to illustrate the points I am making. Then I combine that with songs and music. I try to do everything from a positive angle. I try to keep the “Library” closed. I want the Doris Dear world to be a happy place. A place to laugh, sometimes shed a tear (that happens in my Mother’s Day Shows often) and to leave smiling.

My audience tends toward a slightly older age group than most drag shows. My audience is mostly over forty and straight couples, although that has been broadening over the years. I am getting more and more younger gays there. I get many people coming to my show who would never step into a gay bar show. More times than not they fall in love with Doris and will tell me that they want to live in my “world”. I try to keep up with the modern world and work in small references throughout the show to remind people that I’m not totally lost in that time period. Doris can be a “modern” gal but she will never do a “death drop”! *Laughs*

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As someone who had a wealth of experience in the entertainment industry, how do you feel like your drag differs from some of the younger queens in the city who emerge on the scene with their musical theater degree still hot off the presses?

Ahhhhhh… and another hundred people just got off of the train. *Laughs* Youth is really about owning the world. When you are young you think you know better, you think you “do” better, are more talented and have the city by the balls (excuse my language). I think that its really the way you should be in many ways. How else can you survive this wonderful city of ours. That said, respect for what came before you is ALWAYS needed. To be a success in the entertainment industry, meaning to make your living, you have to work hard every day. You have to love it, live it, be it. You have to be “authentic”. New York City gets an endless pouring in of talent every day. It is amazing how much talent is out there.

When I am doing my variety shows I am blown away by the talent that drops into my rumpus room to share with me. BUT… what one must know, is that it isn’t just about talent. There is so much more involved. Yes, you must have talent, and you must work on making those talents better every day. But always remember that the best singers, best dancers, best actors,  aren’t always the ones who become successful. There is so much involved with working in our industry. You have to love it more than anything. You have to think “I can’t imagine doing anything else”. It is also ever changing. I could never do at 60 what I did at 25! You have to be able to change with the times, constantly upgrading what you do and changing how you do it. When I was in my 20’s and 30’s it was much easier. There was no internet, so if there was an open call only locals showed up, now with the internet casting calls go out and people from around the globe can audition!

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Also, and most importantly, it is all about professional relationships.  You must build those and cherish them. I would say that a very big part of my success was because of my work ethics and my strong relationships that I built with people in the biz! Also, to be clear, success is measured in many ways. Each one has their own definition. When I talk about success here I am talking about paying the bills with your talents. It was once said in front of me to another drag queen, those who can’t make it as an actor or singer become drag queens. That is so false!!!

So what is the biggest thing you know now that you wished you had known when you got started? 

That’s an interesting question, one I was discussing just yesterday with my musical director. When I was in my twenties working amongst people who went to Juilliard and other high learning institutions, I felt less than them. They knew so much about their craft that I did not. I felt like I had to work ten times as much to achieve the same outcome. I wish I had a little more confidence in my talent, but at the same time, it made me work really hard, and here I am forty one years latter still making my living doing what I love. So maybe it was better the way it went. I tend to not play the “coulda, woulda” game, otherwise I would get all wrapped up in it.

So tell me about your shows you have coming up at the lovely Triad Theater on West 72nd here in New York City.

This is the 3rd year of my annual holiday show “The Doris Dear Christmas Special”. I wanted to recreate the feeling of those TV variety specials I watched as a kid with Taffy and Duke. Judy Garland, Andy Williams, The King Family… all those fun filled specials. I am the hostess and my friends drop into the rumpus room for a chat and a drink. We share stories and sing! I have some amazing guests this year! All award winning singers… Lina Koutrakos, Lisa Yaeger, Rick Jensen, Steve Doyle, Sean Harkness and an amazing girl group known as ‘Those Girls” who are debuting two brand new holiday tunes for my audience. It’s a seventy five minute show. I love doing this show. And this year I was asked to do three shows.

I am also excited to be working with the Alzheimer’s Association of New York City and will be donating a portion of the proceeds of the show to them. I will also be taking donations at the door for them. As I said before, the world has been good to me, I have had a fulfilling career and I have a great partner so I felt it was times to give some of that back.

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If there is anyone outside the city that can’t make the show but would like to contribute, is there some way they can help too?

Oh yes! The Alzheimer’s association has s eat up a page to make donations through Doris Dear. You can contribute here!

And for those people who DO want to attend, when are the shows and how can they get their tickets?

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The shows are Dec 19, 20 and 21st at 7pm at the Triad Theater on west 72nd Street. Tickets are $39 plus a 2 beverage minimum. People can go to my website for more information or go directly to the Triad Theater site.

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And while we doing all these plugs, where can the children find you on the interwebs these days?

*Laughs*  I have my website above which is constantly updated, they can join my mailing list which I promise I do not flood the inboxes with junk, I am on IG under Dorisdearny, and on Facebook as Doris Dear.

So after you get through this holiday season, what is next for Doris? Do you still have things left on the proverbial drag bucket list?

Ahhh of course!! I am really excited to be heading to London in late spring to attend the Ascot races in the Royal Enclosure! I am working on a new TV pilot for a major streaming service and a political “art piece” with a world famous artist to talk about our world and how we as humans must become more respectful  and accepting of each other. Doris has lots more to do and she isn’t letting anything stop her!

Not to spring this on you out of nowhere but are ready for…….THE LIGHTNING ROUND??

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Oh boy… lets go for it!

Must Have makeup item?

Coty Airspun translucent powder.

4 AM post show food craving?

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Pizza….Grandma slice.

The best part of drag?

The Hair!

The worst part of drag?

The heels.

Most surprising thing about you that people might not know?

Well I already gave away my age, so I guess I escorted Elizabeth Taylor for a day in Washington DC when I was her dancer in a show about MGM.

Queen you would pay to see?

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Oh dear! Are there any you don’t pay for? I mean if you go see any queen and don’t drop at least a $5 tip in her bucket, you shouldn’t be there!

Guilty Pleasure?

Watching  That Girl on Amazon Prime. I just can’t get enough of Marlo Thomas, I’m obsessed… “Oh Donald!

Last movie to make you cry?

Superman the Movie (The original with Chris Reeves) When he flies it’s like every dream I had as a kid came true.

Death Row last meal?

Pan fried dumplings… lots and lots of pan fried dumplings.

Disney character you relate to the most?

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Br’er Bear… when I went to work at Disney, I wore that costume for a day and realized I am all that, shy (yes, really!), and wanted to make everyone feel good! Oh and carry a big wooden club!

Final question, most embarrassing song on your phone?

English Muffins and Irish Stew!!! *Laughs*

Okay so we’re going to have to the judges for this but……yes, it looks like you survived THE LIGHTNING ROUND!

*Laughs* Gee thanks darling! This old bird is not as quick as she used to be!

Well my dear, it looks like we have just about reached the end of our time together. I hope your show and fundraising efforts are both a big success. Before we retire to the rumpus room for whiskey sours, do you have any final words of wisdom for the universe?

Never give up, never give in, be true to yourself and please, be kind to each other! I’m shaking up that cocktail as we speak!!!

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Written By

(she/her) Despite being a drag journalist for over a decade, Chiffon only recently realized that she missed a golden opportunity back then to change her drag name to Rhoda Story.

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