The one constant at "Jubilee!" during its 28-year run has been stage manager Ffolliott "Fluff" LeCoque, on hand six nights a week to run the show. Not unlike "Jubilee!" itself, the 85-year-old LeCoque is an icon in the history of Las Vegas entertainment.
LeCoque first hit town in 1947, making $35 a week in a dance line that filled in for Liberace between sets. Las Vegas didn't impress: "It died during the week, just busy on the weekend with L.A. people in to gamble."
Las Vegas was simply a stop along the way in her dancer's itinerant existence. She had graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in theater and ambitions for post- World War II Hollywood, but she turned to dance. The next decade included 18 months in Paris and a stint at a mob club ("I prefer to refer to it as the Syndicate," she corrected, primly) in Cincinnati. But as she moved around, a growing Las Vegas kept pulling her back.
In 1958 she landed at the newly opened Thunderbird Hotel. A choreographer named Donn Arden, who had made his first splash at the Desert Inn in 1950 ("he built a line of girls who were all fair-skinned, elegant, a big hit even though they couldn't dance"), was now shaking up the town with an imported edition of "Lido de Paris" at the Thunderbird, the first act with topless dancers. And while "I worked covered," LeCoque was named Miss Thunderbird, appearing in ads for the hotel with the shocking show.
She stayed with Arden for 40 years in show after show as principal dancer, ballet mistress, choreographer and company manager, as "Hello Hollywood" begat "Hello Hollywood Hello" begat "Hallelujah Hollywood!" Quick to acknowledge his influence on her life, LeCoque is protective of Arden's memory, though she admitted "he could be vitriolic" to work with.
While about the most gracious person you could hope to talk with, dancer toughness and management firmness was in LeCoque's voice at all times. Like many veteran bosses used to ruling a roost, LeCoque expressed bewilderment and sadness when asked about change over the years.
"First, I had to change. We're working for companies now, not individuals, so you have to adjust your style. I'm not allowed to yell at anybody anymore, it's just not done. I used to be bossy -- not mean but demanding. Those days are gone.
"But," she brightened, "the show's still here and I'm still here."
-- Christopher Smith