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An Interview With David de Alba

| Jan 19, 2015
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David de Alba has spoken with many stars of the female impersonation world and his interviews with them help us to learn what it was like in the golden age of female impersonation. Today we turn things around and present an interview conducted by Linda La Blanche with David de Alba. Ms. La Blanche is a music reviewer who had interviewed David in 2002. Today we bring you a second interview she conducted with him in 2008.

LLB: David, our last interview took place in your Arizona home in 2002, with plans to return to the stage and move to the entertainment and convention capital of the world, Las Vegas. Although in our last meeting I began going over the most recent events in your life and career, this time, I’d like to start at the point we left off in Arizona and work forward. Did you finally relocate to Nevada?

David: Yes, my parents Heri, Sr. and Tila sold their home first … they lived less than half a block from us and moved to Henderson, Nevada. We used to go every weekend to visit and help them until our home sold. Finally when it did sell we encountered (as did my parents when they had to buy in Southern Nevada) that houses came on the market and the same day had several offers. It was getting too expensive to buy anything because of the demand, houses got higher and higher in price. Finally after running back and forth from Arizona to Nevada every few days trying to find a home to buy, we put an offer on a very lovely home which we lost, though we gave them what they were asking for … then finally we did get the house we are in now. If only we could have bought at the present time. There are hundreds of houses to choose from and are practically given away compared to the horrible prices they were when we had to buy.

LLB: As cumbersome as it is to move for anybody, relocating to a new city with a definite goal in mind is most exciting. After the clouds from settling down in your new home cleared up, did you find it exciting to re-establish your show business career in this city?

David: After settling down in Las Vegas I started sending all kinds of promotional stuff with letters to theatrical agents, nightclubs, and even to some established stars working in town to see if any of them would open a door for me. Phone calls, e-mails, DVD promotions, visiting places in person, etc. … nothing … but what I found even worse and more hurtful (and even my mom Tila agreed with me) was that none of the established gay magazines and periodicals would bother to even give me an interview. or at least a welcome sentence in their theatrical gossip columns … so unalike in The Bay Area where the gay and heterosexual oriented newspapers and magazines always mentioned me with praise. There I was interviewed often on the radio and TV local shows, offering me a chance to even do a singing segment … oh those were the days.

After many hard bumps in the road a path started to open for me and a few engagements came about.

LLB: Your Las Vegas stage debut took place on October 21, 2004 on the Las Vegas Now show with Dennis Bono. Please tell us about this experience and how it felt to be back on the stage?

david001David: The only thing I can remember fondly of that experience was that my dear old friend and FI Robin Price and Laurie Knight who had never seen me on stage and who flew all the way from Seattle, were present at my performance. Robin who had seen me many times before at Finochio’s said to me after the show that he was very glad he had seen me one more time on stage after so many years. He had not seen me in person after we had left Northern California for good in 1989. I was supposed to be interviewed by Dennis Bono and it was taken out; I did a wonderful version of By Myself and it was also deleted from the broadcast. I really felt treated like an ‘Old Shoe’ and the excuses given to me why this and why that … too long to explain here. I was fortunate anyway, that there was a crew from a TV station in Pahrump and I was interviewed backstage. They also filmed my singing sequences from the audience. That was very nice. By the way, the audience was very nice to me and I even signed a few autographs after the show.

david002LLB: I don’t believe you ever experienced singing to a group of senior citizens only, and one of your venues was a concert at The Women’s Club of Sun City, Summerlin in Las Vegas on March 16, 2006. Was this different than performing for a general audience?

David: Oh yes, I have performed before while in The Bay Area outside Finocchio’s at such Senior affairs, and they were a lot of fun too. The only thing was that the sound and lighting was terrible at this particular function, so I had to work extra hard to properly convey my act on stage.

LLB: One of your greatest successes was your “A Tribute to Judy” concert at the Winchester Cultural Center on January 28, 2007, which sold out long before the scheduled concert date and left many people in line outside the theatre. Tell us a little about this wonderful day.

david003David: Yes, that concert was one of my best and is available on DVD. Not only was it a wonderful audience that appreciated me a lot, but to have author and historian James R. Smith come all the way from Northern California in person with his wife to do a special introduction on stage was great. Unfortunately after that success, the people in charge of booking the theater never asked me back; and mind you, even the Las Vegas Review Journal came to my home to do an interview and photograph some of my Judy Garland Memorabilia. This is to show you that there is a deep set homophobic attitude that still prevails in this city, no matter how well one does and no matter what a stellar theatrical past one has.

LLB: The concert “A Live Tribute to Judy Garland” at the Nicholas Horn Theater in Las Vegas on September 23, 2007 was plagued with problems in spite of the intensive publicity provided by the college, including a freezing temperature inside the theater and poor attendance. What do you consider was the mayor flaw of this venue?

David: First of all I was told by the people in charge of booking shows there that most of the time getting to fill that theater even half way was never easy for past shows they have had. I even saw there a wonderful opera in which the theater was half empty, even though many tickets were given free through the Craig’s List. Though they have a marquee and your name goes up a few days before your show, it is hidden from the street so no cars driving by can see it, just the college students, and I was told they hardly ever attended shows presented at the main theater where I was booked. What did some harm too was that the main AC/heater system was not working properly and I was told before my concert, at a previous show the heater went wild and it was so hot people left the theater. In my case it was the reverse; the AC went wild and it was freezing … so cold that some people walked out even before I started to perform. How I got through singing with frozen vocal chords was beside me, though I begged the janitors to please fix the problem, I was told they did not have the key to the AC/heater machine! I thought I had heard every excuse in the world from the mouths of Eve and Joe Finocchio while my stay at their famous club, but this was the ultimate! In spite of all of these problems, my old friend and co-worker from Finocchio’s, Lavern Cummings, came with some friends to see the show.


LLB: One of your most recent successful concerts was at the Whitney Library Concert Hall on June 28, 2008. I can vouch it was a huge hit because I saw it in DVD, and your performance was one the best. I also enjoyed your interaction with the public as you related show business anecdotes. Could you tell us about it?

David: I had very good attendance at that show, plus someone from The Las Vegas Review Journal came to photograph me on stage and write a commentary for the newspaper. I did have for the first time in my life a guy who was either drunk or on some type of drugs who heckled me, not in a bad way, but he was disturbing my performance and the others near him. After being there for half of my concert the security guards finally escorted him out of the theater. One thing I will never forget was that this was the last concert where my mom Tila would be present. After I finished my first song she got up and said in Spanish: “Heri, (that’s my real name) please never leave me alone! I guess she had a premonition she was going to die soon. Some friends that were seated next to her calmed her down and I explained to the audience what my 92 year old mother had said to me. (Newspaper photo, Tila seated front row, second from right.) Again this concert was recorded and a DVD was made of it.

LLB: In spite of your professional schedule and settling down in your new home, you and your partner Paul managed to vacation in Hawaii in 2004. There, you met with a very dear old friend and fellow performer, the beautiful Holly White. This must have been an emotional meeting after so many years; was it mutually enjoyable?

David: Paul decided since we could not sell our Bullhead City, Arizona home, to take off a week and go to Hawaii. He had been there before he met me, but I had never been there. What was most enjoyable from that trip was to see once again after many years, my dear friend, entertainer Holly White with whom I had the pleasure to work with at Finocchio’s. One time she joined Paul and I to see the new version of the movie, King Kong. Another time Holly joined my mom Tila and I for a spiritual session in the San Francisco area. Later on when I had my website going I interviewed Holly for my own ‘Celebrity Interviews Series’.’ Holly still remains one of the sweetest people I have ever encountered, especially in the entertainment field.

david005LLB: Both of your parents were always an important part of your life; in fact, your family came together to America from Cuba, and thereafter lived close to each other no matter where you went. Considering how the difficulty of staying together would pose a challenge to other families due to various factors, how did you manage to do it?

David: Yes, we were always a very close knit family since our days living in Cuba, and to make this long story short, when my parents moved from Chicago to San Francisco, and while living in The Bay Area they, and Paul and I too, moved quite often because we wanted to improve our homes, better locations, better lots, etc.. We always tried to stay a few blocks from each other and my mom worked with me for years in my popular hair salon in San Francisco “Heri The Hairstylist”. I would kid my mom then saying to her that if she were to die I may as well disconnect our phone because I have no one else to talk to.

LLB: Could you tell me a little about your father’s sudden passing in 2004?

david006David: Well, though Heri, Sr. and I had different tastes in many things, he was always a very good father and provider and when she told him that his son was gay, he said to her that if anyone were to offend me he would fight for me. What I remember most about him is that he was always ready to party and was a very happy, optimistic person, quite the opposite of my mom. He also loved pretty women and Tila told me when they were in Cuba and recently married, if his agile eyes caught the sight of a pretty woman he would tell Tila: “Isn’t she pretty? Don’t you like her? (or something like that) and Tila would reply to him: “I don’t like women Heri, I like men” and that was the end of that. Mom Tila, Paul, and I always lovingly and kiddingly labeled my father ‘the playboy’, after all this was the way in our Latin countries men were raised then but my parents remained married together all of their lives and though they were not ‘Romeo and Juliette’ they did love each other in their own special ways.

He really loved the time when we lived in San Francisco, because my father being a heavily rooted Cuban, found a very nice Cuban Club. He visited it every day and there he longed with a few older Cubans for the Cuba they knew and had left behind. By the way, I got to perform twice at that club and it was packed when I did my concerts. My father knew I liked showbiz and did not mind it at all.

I always took care of cutting and tinting his hair because he hated gray hair and I even did his hair a day before he passed away. This was so sudden and a massive heart attack. Paul, my mom and I thought he would live forever. He was 97. He never acted like an old man and actually walked faster than Paul and I. My mother was the one who never got over his death and she followed him three years later.

LLB: I understand that after this tragic event, your Mom Tila came to live with you. Was it easy for her to adapt to her loss, and for you to have to look after her in such close contact?

David: After my father’s sudden passing Paul and I insisted that my mom should evacuate their home in Henderson. While it took a long time to sell she moved into a lovely master bedroom suite we have in the downstairs of our two story home. I remember quite well how I took very seriously how to prepare that room for her, putting her familiar photos around her, in the huge closet putting in order her day, evening wear, coats, belts, purses, then in the dresser drawers putting in perfect order her underwear, socks, stockings, etc., and in the make-up drawer all the cosmetics, brushes, etc..

We told her she would never have to cook, wash dishes or clean her room. Paul prepared her special meals and I took care of the rest, and as always I would do her hair, nails, make-up and anything that dealt with personal grooming. Paul constructed for her in the backyard, a lovely gazebo and surrounding it, beautiful trees, plants and flowers of all types.



We walked every afternoon for at least one hour and talked about our golden past in California, the present and even the future. Little did I know her days were numbered and she would die on the 14th of July. To this moment it seems like a nightmare that has no end … dismantling her master bedroom and giving to charity her personal belongings, (though I kept a few chosen items), remains one of the most painful memories aside from seeing her die slowly at the hospital.

LLB: You and your Mom Tila shared a common bond: both were animal lovers. Besides the obvious pleasure pets provide their owners, they also require maintenance. Do you mind caring for your pets and can you describe your family of pets?

David: My mom and I always loved all sorts of exotic birds and dogs. We even rescued homeless dogs while living in The Bay Area. We always had between her household with my father, and ours, Paul and mine, such pets as German Shepherds, Pekingese, Chihuahuas, Pomeranian, etc. and all sorts of birds, from canaries, finches, cockatiels, to parrots, a cockatoo and conures.

LLB: What is the often mentioned “Tilarium” in your home?

David: Before Tila passed away she knew that I would be left alone with Paul because all of our family members that were close to us, friends, my theaterical work fans and faithful hair customers were dead, and because I always loved pets, Tila with her money helped convert the atrium in our home into an aviary for me to house any old or distressed bird in need of a home and TLC. Thank God she got to see it before she passed away. We call that room appropriately TILARIUM in her loving memory, and how I sing and cry in that room as I feed my birds. Losing my mother was like losing a very fine violin. Now I am just the bow with no instrument to play.

LLB: You’ve produced several CDs since 2002. Have they helped you gain a new audience here in Las Vegas?

David: I recorded all my CDs knowing that with the lack of big money needed in order to promote a CD in newspaper and TV commercials or being a guest on a big TV talk show, they would be hard to sell, especially nowadays with all this new type of Rap (music?). My CDs are there for proof when I die that I did come from the so called old school of female impersonation where we sang live and not pantomime. My web site actually is about all types of valuable theatrical information, but because it is free, people take it for granted and it does not seem to promote my career nor any sales of my CDs or DVDs, but while my partner/Webmaster Paul is alive it will remain on the air. Once he passes on my site will come down.

I am thinking next year 2009 of going to a printing company and have most of my Web site printed out and made just for me into a gigantic “Coffee Table Book” so someday when my site is off the air, I will have this wonderful legacy that Paul has created for me. I know it won’t be cheap, but a worth while investment.

LLB: One of the pleasures you enjoy is the occasional visit of old acquaintances, especially those of your fellow performers who live out-of-state or abroad, such as Jan Britton, Libby Reynolds, Les-Lee and Coccinelle. Some of them have passed in the last few years, and with them, some of the great ”Golden Age” of female impersonation keeps fading into oblivion.

David: Well, Jan Britton I did get to meet at our home because Robin Price brought her here. Libby Reynolds I never got the pleasure to meet in person, just over the phone and e-mails. As you know I interviewed her for my web site. Les-Lee was before my site and also Coccinelle, but they both have special Tributes on my site. Robin Price I did interview for my site, one of the best interviews ever, and also Libby Reynold’s was too. I found out that a lot of these older female impersonators I knew, though their names appeared on theatrical promotions when they were performing, none of them had an actual interview given to them. Thank God I did then, because now that they have passed away there is something left about them for others to see and appreciate. As of recently from Finocchio’s, Jacquie Phillips, Libby Reynolds, and Robin Price unfortunately have passed on.

LLB: Understandably, your friends passed due to old age, but so many of the young (and not so young) artists are dying due to drug-related problems, which of course, lead to reckless living and an untimely end. How do you feel about the young generation’s lifestyles and their FI artistic interpretation?

david008David: Linda dear, I don’t keep in touch with the so called now FIs because we have nothing in common theatrically speaking. As these wonderful FI performers from the past, and other excellent singers I knew and appreciated, like Judy, Ella and the likes pass on every day, my world seems to shrink more and more.

LLB: Do you have any future plans for performing in Las Vegas?

David: I hope someone from The Whitney Library calls me back in 2009. The entertainment director Tim Clark told me that he was going to bring me back because I did a very good job on stage and audience members wrote very favorable comments when they left the theater after my performance this June of 2008.

David: But you know what is wonderful for me to know, that my mom got to see it before she died, and that I have been documented in four different books published here in the USA. They praise my Live Judy Garland Tribute, and also one of the books speaks about my own personal International Act ‘Boy-Chic’. If I were to pass on today, at least I know that the memory of my past will live on.

LLB: And inquiring minds wand to know what three wishes would David de Alba have in these difficult times?

David: My first wish is to have Paul alive for a long time; then it would be nice if some peace comes into my broken heart; and surely, if I can continue to perform periodically, that would be great for my own soul . . . and I know Mom Tila somewhere in Heaven Above would love to see me keep singing because she always supported my career and truly loved the performing arts!

LLB: David, It’s always a pleasure to talk to you. So many good and not so good things occurred in this short span of time since we last talked, and you’ve managed to enjoy the good ones and overcome the not so good ones. Having gone through your very own ‘baptism by fire,’ I know you will always be a survivor. Be well and good luck to you.

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Category: Impersonation, Transgender History


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