BIO: Danielle Colby a fellow collector and lover of burlesque is a co-host on the History reality show “American Pickers.” Leslie and her developed a bond over shared history of women performers from the past and Danielle has a vast collection of clothing and costumes. She has a passion for the stories behind the clothes. “The beauty lies in the story,” she says. Here now are some of her stories:
Not so long ago I stumbled upon a gorgeous lot of vintage, mid-century burlesque costumes from an extraordinary dealer, Cindy at “Petticoats Plus,” a great vintage Etsy shop. I’m so impressed that Cindy had the forethought to take down some history on this talented designer/dancer that these lovely garments belonged to all those years ago. Not only did she inquire about the history, when I asked if she could possibly find out any more information, she gladly put me in touch with the dancer’s family! I was honored to speak with this dancer’s son and daughter-in-law. Because of Cindy at “Petticoats Plus” we have history on one more previously unknown dancer! These ladies are all too often lost from the limelight in a whisper and hush outro. Well… I’m not about to let that happen again! I’ve spent years collecting and caring for vintage burlesque costumes and tracking down their history. Today, you will see the unearthed costume collection of Midway Burlesque Star, Fay Parker!
‘Fay Parker’ grew up as Frances Gaito, the eldest of 12 siblings in West Virginia. Fay was a true performer from her early days. As a young lady Fay Parker started her Burlesque career at the ’Greater Corey Carnival Show’ in Alabama, where she met the love of her life Lee Parks, from Florida.
Fay had 2 sons that she was deeply invested in raising. She took pride in her dance and carnival career while caring for her boys with her husband, Lee, at her side – Hell, he even ran her ticket booth!
Fay and Lee continued to tour after she had her first son, Bill at the tender age of 21. Bill traveled with mom and dad, helping sew beads onto mom’s dresses and being entertained by the beautiful showgirls, who helped look after him till he left the carnival life at 5 years old. Bill reminisced about how one day when he was just a toddler and got lost at the carnival, a distraught Fay called security and searched with the other burlesque dancers, when finally at a loss she approached the ticket booth at the show tent to hear her little Billy giggling, hiding inside the booth! Bill’s wife Carol tells me that the girls would dance for him to cheer him up if he was bored or needed entertaining. She adds, “He always did like a floor show, ha!” Bill says that his mother always provided a laid back environment and that he had fun on the road. It sounded like these carnival folks were also his family.
Fay painstakingly handmade all of her costumes and was deeply inspired by costuming as you can see throughout her collection. You can tell that everything that she made was quality and the best that she could find. She was no rag tag performer, this woman wanted to sparkle on stage! I’m touched at how well preserved her costumes are. That much wear and tear on these garments, and they’re still intact and usable.What a rare find! I own many of her costumes, each one brimming with her bubbly personality. Fay lifted the spirits of locals by performed at Elks Lodges and Lions Clubs in Pittsburgh when she wasn’t on the road performing.
Fay moved to Pittsburgh when she was 26 and performed for Republican women’s lunches, well into her ‘60’s as she was very active in politics, especially the last 15 years of her life while living in Raleigh, Missouri.
She was an Eastern Star and her husband Lee, a Mason. Were it not for arthritis Fay would have never stopped performing. She worked with Boy Scouts and was a Cub Scout leader.
Fay’s husband, Lee, passed in 2003. The mother, dancer and patriot, Fay Parker passed away one month shy of 99 years young just last year in 2016, directly following the passing of her youngest son. I’m sure that loss took its toll on her heart as she was such a devoted mother and grandmother.
I have truly loved getting to know her life story through her exquisite, vintage, handmade creations. Thank you “Fay Parker” for shining your light on us!
Thanks, great article.
Michele padilla(ehlers)(as in Clinton,Iowa)
Nice article…keep em comin….love the history part of dance..and Burlesque!
Danny as the boys call her is a beauty for sure and a treasure for sure….gorgeous for sure !
Very interesting such a beautiful lady
Lovely tribute to Fay! Thanks for taking such great care! <3 Cindy @ http://www.etsy.com/shop/PetticoatsPlus
Mrs colby i am a big fan of yours i watch american pickers most to see u hehe u have a wonderful personality would like a autograph pic of u would gladly pay for it thank you stephen
Love the story. Thanks for sharing!
Danielle keep up the good work! I love learning the history of your finds and collections.
You are my husband Jimmys fantasy girl. We love you on Pickers. Would you be so kind as to send my husband a signed photo. The one of you on the couch would be great. His name is Jimmy