The Lady brings her act to town

Theater: Dishing with the Lady Chablis, you know, dears, of `Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil' fame, reveals her thoughts on Clint Eastwood, retirement homes and sex change operations.

October 07, 1999|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

"What's your full name?"

"The Lady Chablis. ... It's a stage name," she said. "I'm a showgirl."...

"What was your name before that?" I asked.

"Frank," she said. -- "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" by John Berendt

Five years ago, the Lady Chablis (who was born Bernard Edward Knox in Quincy, Fla.), was just another Georgia showgirl. Then John Berendt featured her -- and the Lady does insist on the feminine pronoun -- prominently in his best-selling book, "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil," a true story of murder and eccentricity in Savannah, Ga.

Lady Chablis portrayed herself in the 1997 film adaptation, directed by Clint Eastwood. Among the benefits fame has brought her are television appearances on shows ranging from "This Old House" to "Good Morning America," where she fried chicken with Joan Lunden; and the publication of her autobiography, "Hiding My Candy," for which she received a six-figure advance.

Now the Lady is on the road, touring in "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil -- The Concert," which will be presented at the Lyric Opera House at 8 p.m. tomorrow. An evening of music composed by Savannah's favorite son, Johnny Mercer, the concert also includes an appearance by Emma Kelly, "The Lady of Six Thousand Songs" in Berendt's book.

As her bus pulled into Baltimore yesterday, Lady Chablis kicked off her heels and engaged in a bit of girl talk.

What effect did the book and movie of "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" have on your life?

They made it so I can go shopping all the day. They made it possible so I don't have to think twice about shopping, and they exposed me to people who are not familiar with someone like myself. So I think they educated a lot of people. People are more trusting of someone like myself.

Were you pleased with the way you were depicted in the book?

Oh, yes, yes, yes. Everything that John Berendt wrote about me in his book is true except for one thing, except my name is not Frank and never was. That was my father's name.

What was Clint Eastwood like to work with?

Just what you would think -- a perfect Southern butch gentleman. He was a gentleman, first of all, and he was sensitive, nothing like you would think of Dirty Harry, but he was very serious about what he was doing. How fortunate for me to work with one of Hollywood royalty and one of the butchest men in Hollywood.

Now that you have some financial security, what do you plan to do with your money (besides shopping, of course)?

I'm opening Chablis' Souvenir and Gift Shop. I'll sell everything, baby, everything I can possibly think of. I'll take things like I wore in the movie, different pictures taken with different stars, and put them in glass cases and display them. I'll sell T-shirts, postcards, my book, recipes, Southern jellies with my name stamped on it. You know how they take roasted nuts and put them in brown paper bags? I'm going to have the bags stamped, "Chablis' Nuts."

Is it true you're considering starting a gay retirement home?

That is one of the primary things that I'm going to do because I think it's very important, my being gay myself, ... in my older age, if I'm so blessed, I will have no children to take care of me. My parents have already passed, so they can't take care of me. I always thought about what I would do when I was older. What a wonderful thing to open a retirement center for gay elderly people. ... I'm going to have the senior citizens sitting around beading dresses for me. That will be one of the things they do in crafts.

Why do you prefer being called a female impersonator instead of a drag queen?

Because that's what I do. Everything about me I learned from the female. ... If I had to label myself I would label myself "more than a woman." I live this way 24 hours, and everything about me I learned from females, and I was raised by five beautiful black, strong women. So this is my compliment and thank you to women.

But you're not interested in having a sex change operation?

I don't need all of that. I am very happy. I have been given this gift for femininity, so what would I go and mess with the Lord's work for?

What will you be performing in tomorrow night's concert?

I can't tell because there will be no reason for anyone to come. Just as in the book you weren't sure what I was going to do, in the movie you weren't sure what I was going to do, and in the jazz concert, I can say the same thing -- you're not sure what I'm going to do. I'm the total package, girl. I do everything.

Music

What: "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil -- The Concert"

Where: Lyric Opera House, 140 W. Mount Royal Ave.

When: 8 p.m. tomorrow

Tickets: $25-$45

Call: 410-481-7328 or 410-752-1200

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