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3 for the Show : Del Rubio Triplets--in Hot Pants, Go-Go Boots, Blond Poufs--Have Now Become High Priestesses of Their Own Culture Cult

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Here’s how you can tell them apart:

In any photo, Milly’s on the left, Elena goes in the middle and Eadie’s on the right. Milly is the one who answers the phone, Elena’s in charge of publicity and Eadie does their hair.

But all three sing. All three play guitar. And all three will be girls, girls, girls until the day comes--if it ever does--when they’re suddenly old women.

Three gals. Three guitars. One birthday.

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After years of languishing in show-biz obscurity, the Del Rubio Triplets are doing what they were born to do, having been born with great efficiency, whap whap whap one after the other in the space of one tidy half hour, more moons ago than they care to mention. By the triplets’ reckoning, they were born to sing James Brown in hot pants, go-go boots and big blond poufs. Their mission has been so consuming that they long ago dispensed with the rewards that could have come with their glamour-girl figures, forgoing husband and children for far greater goodies:

They’ve now become high priestesses of their own culture cult, seniors in minis who strum and sing “I Feel Good” and “Walk Like an Egyptian” to thunderous applause from nightclubs to nursing homes.

They’re the camp darlings of A-list Hollywood parties, trilling in celebration of Paul Hogan’s birthday and the wrap of “Back to the Future Part II.” They’ve permeated L.A. gay culture so deeply that ardent fans like to give Del Rubio soirees where everyone runs around in hot pants and blond bouffants. The entertainment? The Del Rubios’ album, of course, a 1989 effort that garnered mixed reviews for their quavering renditions of “Fever” and “Hey Jude.” (They’re shopping a new one that takes on the Rolling Stones’ “Under My Thumb.”)

Some of their recent coups have had all the panache the mass media can confer--spots on “Golden Girls,” “Late Night With David Letterman” and, their most treasured appearance, “Pee-wee’s Christmas Special.” Next up, the triplets will be playing the Santa Monica Improv for at least a month of Wednesdays starting Feb. 20.

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“I was just real excited by them the first time I saw them,” says Paul Rubens, the person behind Pee-wee Herman. “They’re one of a kind. Or three of a kind. They’re just so unique.”

The Del Rubios have arrived.

But first they survived. Which is fitting because here in Hollywood, happy endings are even happier when they follow a requisite period of toil and trouble. And Lord knows the Del Rubios slugged through decades of anonymity, paying enough dues to bankroll a small nation.

So if, just before the credits roll, they’ve finally managed to live happily ever after, then they will tell you there can be only one reason for it--that being three was meant to be.

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“It’s obvious that we were meant to serve God by being together,” says Eadie in the Del Rubios’ rat-a-tat rapid cadence. “It reminds me of the blessed Trinity and the sense that each one is individual, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. But the three together is God. That’s the same thing with us three. Each one is individual and it’s our individuality that makes the act what it is. But it’s the three together that make the act.

“The three make the whole. We’ve sensed that ever since we were little kids, that the three make the whole.”

Three matching women lumber into the Carson Retirement Center lugging guitars and microphones. Their hair is the color of champagne and it falls in an upside-down question mark that bobs just above their shoulders. Their still-slim figures are revealed in red leotards and blue-jean hot pants trimmed with red fuzz. Their very long legs end in white go-go boots-- circa “Hullabaloo"--which are trimmed with white fuzz.

It is one day after Christmas--the 14th such holiday the triplets have entertained Carson home residents. In December, they can play as many as four hospitals and homes a day, not to mention nightclubs and parties. This is peak Del Rubio season.

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At Carson, the triplets buzz through seasonal warhorses like “Silent Night” and “Drummer Boy” and then throw in a round of “Hava Nagila” for symmetry. Every now and then a retiree leaps up to lurch about in solitude by the microphones. The steady hum of Del Rubio patter links each number. And in the course of one such chatty interlude, Eadie rests her fingers lightly on her guitar and explains something you need to know about the Del Rubios:

“There was a little old man and he had been feeling horribly, really sick the whole week. He didn’t want to go into the recreation room, but they forced him in. And he sat there in a glum mood with his head down as if to say, ‘Well, if you’re going to make me sit here and listen to a concert, I’m just going to defy you and pretend I’m not the least bit interested.’

“Anyway, I walked in first and all of a sudden his eyes started traveling up my leg and he goes, ‘Wooooooooow!’ And then Elena came in and he said, ‘Wow! Wow!’ And then Milly came in and he said, ‘This is heaven.’ When it was over he asked us to hug him.

“That’s why we wear the little hot pants, because when we first started doing convalescent hospitals, the nurses always told us the men make the worst patients. So they put all the men in the front row and they just love the little hot pants and the long legs and the little white boots. It makes them feel macho. All of a sudden, the adrenaline starts flowing.”

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It turns out that juiced-up old men aren’t the Del Rubios’ only fans. After the show is over and people begin trickling out, a frail woman with hair the color of gravel goes over to Milly.

“I’m just tickled to see you,” says Grace McDougal, clasping Milly’s hands in her own. “It’s so much fun and happiness that I have a hard time going to sleep at night.”

The Del Rubios’ story says something about the mystique and mythology of Los Angeles, but in a curious way. It’s about the Hollywood thing gone askew.

The triplets learned their most important lesson at an early age: Timing is everything.

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Milly popped out at a quarter to noon. Elena and Eadie followed in 15-minute intervals. The setting, say the triplets, was a hospital in the Panama Canal Zone.

Eadie: “Daddy always liked to buy two extras of everything. So when the nurse told Mama she had triplets, she said, ‘That figures.’ Wasn’t that cute?”

Mama was “pure American,” says Milly. Daddy was part Scottish, part English, part Spanish and all attorney. His international practice prompted the family to straddle Panama and Washington, D.C., until the girls grew up, they say. The girls were dressed alike, much to their dismay. And they were raised to be ladies, although for a long time they didn’t always attend the church they could see through their dining room window in Panama.

Then they got to Hollywood.

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Milly: “Our Catholic faith really deepened when we came out to Hollywood by ourselves and decided we needed daily Mass to have strength to face this jungle world of show business. We were only 17 1/2 and we wanted God to protect us from sinning. And I’m telling you the faith just grew and grew.”

The sisters had first visited Los Angeles at 14, mainly because their father was sick of hearing them talk about “movie stars, movie stars, movie stars,” as Elena puts it, and he was hoping they would get the Hollywood bug out of their system. That summer, he drove them around Bel-Air and Beverly Hills so they could stare at noteworthy pedestrians.

Milly: “Those were the days that the stars were walking. Big stars.”

Eadie: “Beverly Hills wasn’t what it is today. It was a little, small community. It was adorable. Precious. You’d see the movie stars on horseback or bicycles on Sunset Boulevard, and you’d go down Beverly Drive and see them go into the shoe store. Daddy would just park the car on Beverly Drive and read the newspapers while we would just look. It was the thrill of our lives to see Judy Garland or Marilyn Monroe.”

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Milly: “We really were star-struck and we still are.”

Glamour was the thing. Glamour was mystery. Glamour was movie stars. Glamour was being kittenish. Glamour was Marilyn.

But mostly, glamour was being blond.

Elena: “Daddy brainwashed us with blond hair. He married a brunette, but I’m telling you, he was insane over blond hair. He never told us anything about blondes being so wonderful. It was just us watching him put the brakes on to watch the blonde cross the street.”

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A month after they left high school, the sisters, who’d been born brunettes, decided to correct that genetic oversight.

Elena: “We went to the beauty parlor. We just told the girl, ‘We’re going blond but not all at once because we’re going to Mexico for the Christmas holiday and our father will drop dead if he sees us.’ And I said just a few little drops of peroxide. Instead of putting two, she put in about eight or 10.

“It still wasn’t blond as far as we were concerned, but it definitely had the highlights of being blond. So then we got scared to death when we were on the plane. We were just beginning to go down into Mexico City, so we went into the bathroom and wet our hair, anything to make it look darker because we said, ‘Daddy’s going to die.’

“I saw him look at Mama when we got home. He said, ‘What worries me is that Mexico isn’t used to blondes like that, and they might think you’re cheap, and I don’t want my friends to think my daughters have gone Hollywood.’ ”

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Too bad, Dad. The sisters finished the deed and moved to a modest apartment on St. Andrew’s Place, near the Wiltern Theatre. And they found out just how hard it can be to go Hollywood.

Elena: “For some reason we were not meant to get any help. It was like standing in the middle of Grand Central Station in New York and saying, ‘In which direction shall I go?’ We couldn’t get into the movies because we’d already found out that being triplets doesn’t mean a damn thing. With photography, you can do tricks.”

The Del Rubios taught themselves how to sing so they could work nightclubs and hotels from Los Angeles to Australia. And they dropped their glamour-free real name--Boyd--in favor of Del Rubio, which made their preferred hair identity official: Rubio means “blond” in Spanish.

Elena: “Almost all the Latin people would meet us backstage and call us the rubias . And it sounded so pretty. So I said that would be a name for us.”

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Eadie: “We put the Del in front because Del Rubio is so much prettier than just Rubio. It’s more musical.”

Milly: “More continental.”

Elena: “I also like the name because all the letters are on top. There are none that go down.”

They learned to belt out no-fail numbers like “Misty” and “Stardust” in three-part harmony. In those days, they dressed in gowns elegant enough to suit the torchiest songs.

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Then one evening in the late ‘60s, their mother had a stroke while she was watching a performance. The triplets dropped out for a while, and when they emerged they retooled their act. They’d performed for their mother as she languished in a hospital in New York City and discovered they quite liked the venue. They started playing hospitals. Then they added nursing homes to the list.

They switched to hot pants to perk up the men. And when their supply of vintage go-go boots ran out, they tracked down a guy in Upstate New York who still makes them. The Del Rubios made it their business to make him a fan, and now he plies them with free go-go boots in white, gold and silver.

But the person who plucked them from obscurity was Allee Willis, a Grammy-winning songwriter (“Neutron Dance”) and arty party maven who happened onto one of their brochures in the summer of ’87. Willis hired them to entertain at a party where they performed “Neutron Dance” with the Pointer Sisters. That multifamilial pairing sparked the sensation that tipped them into crossover territory.

“I’m attracted to people who have unique and peculiar talents and they were like the pinnacle of that,” says Willis. “And they seemed to be a lot happier than a lot of people I know who have No. 1 movies and records.”

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The Del Rubios are grateful to Willis, but ultimately they give credit where credit is due. Says Milly: “God is our agent.”

Three identical cans of Del Monte low-salt stewed tomatoes sit on the washer at the entrance of the triplets’ triple-wide mobile home in San Pedro. Soon the cans will be dispatched to wherever unwanted tomatoes go. “I don’t like them without salt,” sniffs Eadie.

Steak, however, is another story.

Milly: “If we’re eating dinner at a restaurant, automatically the three of us are going to choose steak because we all adore steak.”

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And martinis. And ice cream, but only chocolate and vanilla. The Del Rubios eat the same things so they can stay perfect Size 10s. But Lord help the sister who comes between them and their figures. Sometimes that’s Milly, the one with the sweet tooth.

“She’s impossible,” says Elena. “Every time she passes an ice cream parlor she wants a cone. And every once in a while, I say, ‘Go ahead and take your cone,’ and we two don’t. That makes her furious because if she’s going to do an extra two or three cones a week, she’s gonna gain more weight.”

If the Del Rubios are among the very few senior citizens who can wear hot pants with impunity, they’re also the picture of innocence. They don’t date these days, and they sleep under a giant crucifix.

Eadie: “We went through enough with boyfriends. Any boyfriend any one of us ever had and I know twice with me, if I started getting serious, they’d say, ‘Now is the time to cut down on some of that rehearsal and cut down on some of those shows and spend more time with me. You’re always with your sisters.’

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“I said, ‘Let’s get something straight. There are three things ahead of you: God comes first in our hearts. My sisters come second. Music comes third and you’ll be fourth. And if you don’t want to do things that way, let’s forget the whole thing.’ ”

Eadie whoops.

“That’s why we’re all single.”

Or triple, as the case may be. And how much more pleasant to spend one’s life with someone else who sees the same things as “cute,” “dahling” and “precious.” They love their Pacific view, three-bedroom mobile home, which is so huge and built-up it isn’t going anywhere. They share it with their cats, Fred and Ginger, and their cars, Jezebel and Bambi.

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Elena: “Bambi is Disney’s little deer, so that’s why we call her Bambi, because she’s our little dear.”

Bambi, a 1971 Plymouth station wagon with 396,000 miles on it, has accompanied the triplets to so many nursing homes and parties that she’s practically a fourth Del Rubio.

Eadie: “One little patient said in a cute way, ‘Who’s going to break down first, you three, the guitars or the car?’ Then she said very sweetly, ‘I don’t think that you three will ever break down.’ Wasn’t that cute of her? “


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