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The Legend of Mitzi Dupree

Photo Credit: Surrey Leader (Surrey, British Columbia, Canada) · 2 Feb. 1983

Some would argue that it is among the greatest compliments to be immortalized in a song. For exotic dancer Mitzi Dupree, British rock band Deep Purple bestowed her with this honour in 1987, naming a tune after her and alluding to some of her famous skills in the lyrics:

Flying to Salt Lake City

Seats 3A and B

I was down and needed a window

But in 3A sat Mitzi Dupree

Where you going boy?"

I said, "Nowhere"

She said, "I'm moving on"

I thought what is this

I cannot resist, here she is

And I've always wanted a girl with a name

A name like Mitzi Dupree

With a reputation that covered states, provinces and decades, Dupree was a legend in her time. A quick search pulls up several newspaper articles detailing her presence in bars around Alberta and BC, and more specifically, her ‘act’ which often involved ping pong balls, cigarettes, flutes, and other curious objects one would not usually associate with female exotic entertainment during the early 1980s.

Deep Purple wrote the song, Mitzi Dupree in 1987 to honour the famed dancer.

Photo Credit: Riff Relevant.

Attitudes towards exotic entertainment at the time were not as stiff as they had been in the earlier decades, but there were still many who opposed the industry — especially with an act as notorious as Dupree’s. Throughout her career, she would garner several criminal charges for it, in fact.

An article in the Calgary Herald from 1984 notes that the twenty-four-year-old Dupree (also referred to as Dupuis), whose real name was Michelle Pradia, had to appear in Calgary court to defend “two charges of performing an immoral, indecent and obscene theatrical act stemming from shows in hotel lounges in Calgary and Lethbridge.” A few years prior, she had to do the same in Kamloops court, when the RCMP charged her for violating local obscenity laws after a few performances at a local bar.

In all cases, she defended her act as humorous, “I even laugh sometimes,” she told the court in Calgary.

Others disagreed, however. One woman who saw Dupree’s show in Lethbridge said she found it degrading to all women and that “[She] was worried about the obscenity regarding youth…and the attitudes and beliefs this set up about women,” according to the Calgary Herald.

Documentation of the court cases reveals shifting attitudes towards morality and exotic female entertainment at the time, highlighting the humanity, personality and needs of the females at hand, and the associated outcomes of their work. For instance, Ron Thompson, owner of Bar-K in Kamloops, defended Dupree as a character witness, stating: “She’s not a drinker, she doesn’t do drugs. All she does is dance and shoot ping pong balls and send half her money home to her mother who has cerebral palsy,” reports an article from the Toronto Sun.

Similarly, during her trial in Calgary, the Herald reported that Professor Robert Sutherland defended her work. Sutherland, a specialist in human sexuality, told the jury that Dupree’s act was “clearly within simple erotica” noting that it did not adversely affect men’s attitudes towards violence and women. He also stated that attitudes towards erotica had shifted dramatically since the 1940s, making Dupree’s act “acceptable” in the 1980s.

It seems that Sutherland was on the right track too, as, nowadays, entertainment like Dupree’s is more commonplace, and is often referenced in movies and TV shows. The strength and fitness involved in exotic entertainment have also been praised, prompting pole dance fitness classes and competitions around the world.

Photo Credit: The Vancouver Sun (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada) · 12 Mar. 1983

More critically, acts like Dupree’s paved the way for a broadened public opinion concerning exotic entertainment and entertainers, whereby male, female and LGBTQ performances are now considered admissible, spurring famous shows in Las Vegas and movies like “Hustlers” and “Magic Mike.” The stereotypes surrounding both the people working in exotic entertainment and the industry itself are also starting to melt away, as society takes a deeper look into the lives of the entertainers, often emphasizing their successes, struggles and personalities in documentaries such as “Stripped” and “This One’s for the Ladies.”

Last year, Dr. Becki Ross, a historical sociologist at the University of British Columbia, spoke at The Vancouver Police Museum and dove into the shift in cultural values surrounding sex work and erotic entertainment, advocating more support for the people in the industry. She even received public funding for a project to document exotic entertainers’ stories, telling The Globe and Mail in 2000: "I think that the stories of the women themselves are worth recording so that we know that they can contribute to the history of entertainment in Vancouver." She also noted that she wanted the individuals to be “seen for the skilled, talented entertainers that they were.”

Regardless of the shift in attitudes towards exotic entertainment, the topic is still contentious and garners much debate about misogyny, feminism, stereotypes and emancipation. Only time will tell how the attitudes shift throughout the next few decades, but, for now, the industry remains alive, branching into digital mediums as well.

As for Dupree, not much is known about what happened to her in the decades following her heyday. Her reputation, however, lives on in music, the news and even at The Vancouver Police Museum, where we've displayed a signed piece of memorabilia in our exhibit:


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