Burlesque legend Kitty West, also known as Evangeline the Oyster Girl, passed away Sunday (8/18/19) at the age of 89. Born Abbie Jewel Slawson in Mississipi, Kitty ran away to New Orleans at age 16, where she began dancing. Her signature act, rising out of an oyster shell like Venus from the sea, made her a headliner for many years at Bourbon Street’s Casino Royale.
It was there the incident she is perhaps best known for took place — feeling their star was less of a draw, Casino Royale brought in another aquatic-themed act, Divena, who performed as a mermaid in a water tank. Divena was billed above Kitty, so one night, Kitty attacked the tank with an axe during Divena’s act, bursting its wall and spilling water (and Divena) across the stage. The resulting publicity boosted both their careers.
Although she retired from the stage in the early 1960s, Kitty was a generous and active mentor to New Orleans performers in the 1990s and 2000s, passing on her act and her stories to a new generation of performers.