LAS VEGAS (CN) – The Burlesque Hall of Fame aka the “Stripper Museum in the middle of the Mojave Desert,” has come to blows with one of its former board members, whom it claims stole its identity and props to mount a competing venue.
The Burlesque Hall of Fame was founded in 1955 by Jennie Lee, a burlesque performer who also established the Exotique Dancers League of North America as a burlesque entertainers’ trade union.
Lee hosted gatherings for “members of the burlesque league” at her California home and night club “since at least as early as 1957,” according to the federal complaint. “These gatherings have included an awards element, recognizing excellence in the field of burlesque.”
Lee announced plans for the Burlesque Hall of Fame in 1965, and invitations were sent out.
Lee owned both The Blue Viking and The Sassy Lassy nightclubs in San Pedro, Calif., the latter of which is “widely recognized as the first public home of the ‘Burlesque Hall of Fame,” the complaint states.
The Sassy Lassy name and trademark has been used ever since on T-shirts, matchbooks and programs to promote reunions and burlesque events.
Lee and her husband, Charlie Arroyo, bought a 40-acre plot of land in Helendale, Calif., in the 1980s with the “intent of building ‘Jennie Lee’s Exotic World,’ incorporating a permanent burlesque museum, a ‘striptease school’ and a retirement community for elderly exotic dancers,” according to the complaint.
Jennie Lee died in 1990 “before her plans were fully realized.”
In 1990, former exotic dancer Mary Lee “Dixie” Evans moved to Helendale to care for Jennie Lee, and after her death, worked with Arroyo to help Lee’s dream become a reality.
They created the “Miss Exotic World Pageant,” “intending to draw attention to the art of burlesque and the fledgling Burlesque Hall of Fame Museum,” the lawsuit states.
The museum was incorporated as a California Public Benefit Corporation in 1998.
In 2000, Laura Herbert, a current board member for the Hall of Fame, first heard of this “stripper museum in the middle of the Mojave Desert,” and visited with her then-boyfriend, defendant Luke Littell, also a board member and pageant producer.
In 2002, Herbert launched a Miss Exotic World website to promote the pageant, and it became a “hub of the burgeoning neo-burlesque movement” with 1,800 members strong, the lawsuit states.
The event and museum outgrew the ranch, however, and Herbert and Littell sought out new locations for the pageant and museum, finally settling on East Fremont Street.
The show ran from 2006 to 2009 with increasing popularity. It was through staging the show at the Celebrity Theater that Herbert and Littell met defendant Frederic Apcar Jr., then part-owner of the theater, who said he was a member of a “well-known and affluent Las Vegas entertainment/show producer family,” according to the complaint.
Although the Hall of Fame and Apcar and Littell did not enter into a formal agreement, it was understood that in 2010, Apcar and Littell would produce the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend at the Plaza Hotel on Fremont Street.
After producing the event, the two “took possession of certain property belonging to the [Burlesque Hall of Fame], including items of the stage set and props from the event, memorabilia, T-shirts and other merchandise,” the complaint states.
Apcar and Littel also failed to pay the $30,000 minimum to the Burlesque Hall of Fame as promised, the plaintiff claims.
“When Apcar and Littel realized that the [Hall of Fame] would not sanction their handling of the 2001 Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend and pageant, they surreptitiously entered into their own contract with the Plaza Hotel for their own burlesque event,” thereby precluding the Burlesque Hall of Fame from “holding its event there a second time,” the lawsuit states.
“More egregiously,” the lawsuit states, “Apcar and Littell used their prior connection with the 2010 Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend and pageant to induce the Plaza Hotel to host the event in 2011.”
The Burlesque Hall of Fame says that Apcar and Littell have advertised their own 2011 burlesque event for the same weekend that the Hall of Fame intends to hold its event, and are using its Sassy Lassy Burlesque marks without permission.
The defendants are “taking in application fees, vending, retail and advertising fees and other income amounting to tens of thousands of dollars under the guise that their burlesque show is affiliated with and or sanctioned by plaintiff’s original and renowned Burlesque Hall of Fame,” according to the complaint.
Several burlesque pageant performers and attendees are boycotting the plaintiff’s event because of the confusion as to “which is the ‘real show’ and ‘to wait and see who is still standing in 2012,'” the Hall of Fame says.
It wants the defendants ordered to stop using its marks, and seeks compensatory, consequential, statutory and punitive damages for trademark violations, cybersquatting, unfair competition, deceptive trade practices, and breach of contract.
The Burlesque Hall of Fame is represented by Mark Tratos with Greenberg Traurig.