Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Fabulous Vuarnettes lose a sister

High-heeled and high-camp Sun Valley show continues on

Express Staff Writer

Photo by Andrew Kent The Fabulous Vuarnettes circa mid-1980s, including, from left, Karen Hale, Cally Galpin, Linda Badell and Cherie Kessler.

Before "Lola Motorola," Karen Sue Hale, succumbed to cancer last month, her sisterhood of "Cheetah Velveetah," "Kitty Litter" and "Fern Fein d'Buck," otherwise known as The Fabulous Vuarnettes, paid her a visit at her Iowa home.

Current Vaurnettes Cally Galpin, Cherie Kessler and Linda Badell went to see Hale with tapes, photos and a collage of her Sun Valley life.

The Fabulous Vuarnettes show has been an ongoing tradition in Sun Valley. Part vaudeville, part musical comedy and slightly burlesque, The Fabulous Vuarnettes began their high-camp, high-heeled and high-anxiety entertaining in 1981 at the now defunct Silver Creek Saloon on Main Street in Ketchum.

No subject is safe in a Vaurnettes show filled with one-liners and rewritten old jokes that emphasize, with plenty of self-deprecation, their ages, weights, husbands, ex-boyfriends, careers and physical symptoms. Updated every year, the show always includes a jab at local topics including but no limited to old age, prescription drugs, drinking and men.

"The Vuarnette sisterhood is a life force," Badell said. "Why pay for therapy when you have us? We became family, and it continues."

On and off the stage, The Fabulous Vuarnettes have always found humor in life's sometimes unfortunate and irascible situations. The group performed at Creekside, the Saloon at Elkhorn, Whiskey Jacques', the Roosevelt and countless private and corporate parties everywhere, including Hawaii, the Bahamas and Florida. The group participated in Warren Miller ski films even though Hale could not ski.

"We were on the lift lip-syncing for the film, and she got off the lift and fell back," Galpin said. "She sat at the top of Baldy and did it with grace."

Hale came to Sun Valley via Las Vegas, "following some guy, like many women do who come here," Galpin said with a laugh.

Hale was a bona-fide Vegas showgirl performing at the Dunes and traveling the world. In addition, she was the showgirl on the Las Vegas billboard welcoming visitors to Las Vegas.

Hale worked at Scott USA in Ketchum and also performed in the Whoop shows with Chris Millspaugh, which took place in Sun Valley in the 1980s. She loved the mountains and the hot springs. Her Vuarnette name, "Lola Motorola," was in honor of her mother, who worked in a Motorola factory in Illinois, saving all her money for Hale to take dance lessons.

"She was our belter," Kessler said. "She always worked with the band. Someone had to take care of the band and she was the den mother."

Hale would take care of the band because her husband, Paul Hale, was the bandleader.

She brought The Fabulous Vuarnettes their signature number, "Stand On Your Man," which the quartet continues to perform today.

"She had an amazing voice," Kessler said. "She was the most talented in the entire group."

But Hale brought more than talent to The Fabulous Vuarnettes; her years as a Vegas showgirl helped the ladies with their look and style.

"Lips on first," Badell said. "She always had perfect lip liner."

Galpin said Hale would transform from a working girl into "Lola Vavoom Vixen" with an attitude.

"She was the master of make-up, maestro of massacre and the Liberace of lip liner," she said.

Hale's ballet training and choreography were also a huge addition to The Fabulous Vuarnettes' show, whose performers show off lots of leg, wear huge headdresses and have many costume changes with several props.

Hale and her husband eventually moved to Iowa to take care of her father-in-law. She and Paul continued entertaining as jazz performers on casino riverboats.

"She could throw back a tequila, enjoyed the finest of cabernets and never turned down a good time," Galpin said. "She was married to the party master, Paul Hale."

The Fabulous Vuarnettes said there were lots of laughs and stories on and off the stage, including the time when "Lola Motorola" forgot her underwear. The show went on.

"She was funny, clever and a survivor," Kessler said. "She was sunny and bright."

An obituary for Hale is on Page A23.

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