PalmSprings.com Spotlight: An Interview with James “Gypsy” Haake

PalmSprings.com Spotlight: An Interview with James “Gypsy” Haake

James Haake never imagined he’d find fame and success dressed in outlandish women’s clothes. After dancing on Broadway, he opened a club in New York called “Gypsy’s” and his wicked sense of humor and A-list crowd made the club a hit. Gypsy then moved to Los Angeles and starred in the cabaret version of “La Cage aux Folles” in Beverly Hills for 11 years. Celebrities were a constant fixture at “La Cage” and Gypsy got to know them all, and soon Gypsy was cast in movies, including “To Be or Not To Be,” “The Morning After,” “Troop Beverly Hills,” and “Clifford.” Gypsy has also been seen on TV in “Married with Children,” “Dynasty,” “Matlock,” “Max Headroom,” and numerous others. After traveling the globe starring in myriad productions, and then many years performing in Lake Tahoe, Gypsy moved to Palm Springs, but not to retire…

Kate Buckley: Gypsy, I have to ask. How did you get your famous nickname?

James “Gypsy” Haake: Dancers on Broadway are called “Gypsies” because they travel from show to show, from musical to musical.  And so when Chita Rivera would call me “Gypsy,” the name stuck.

KB: What was your first job in showbiz?

JGH:  A musical in 1951 called “Wish You Were Here.” I was 19 years old and danced in the chorus.  I auditioned through an open call and was cast.

Gypsy with Boy George at La Cage Aux Folles in Beverly Hills, 1980s.
Gypsy with Boy George at La Cage Aux Folles in Beverly Hills, 1980s.

KB: After then you opened your eponymous New York club. I bet that was quite an experience! How did that come about? Any stories you can tell?

JGH:  I was too old to dance in my 30s and wasn’t getting any work so I took a waiter job at cocktail bar on the east side of New York called the Painted Pony.  I entertained the patrons while I served drinks. Wayland Flowers also got his start at this same bar.  He would entertain guests with his infamous puppet “Madame.”

One night, two people came in who wanted to open a cabaret on the Upper East side.  They offered me a deal with a lot of money so that I would entertain there and thus “Gypsy’s” was born.  It became a big deal in the late 60s into the late 70’s before disco became popular, and the cabaret scene was being phased out.  Great talents got their start there: Christine Ebersol, from “Amadeus,” Nell Carter from “Ain’t Misbehavin,” and Jane Oliver.

KB: You then made the move to LA where you starred in the cabaret version of La Cage aux Folles in Beverly Hills for 11 years. And that was the show that propelled your career from the stage to the screen. Was there a moment when you thought, “Boy, I’ve made it big!”?

JGH:  When I was cast in Mel Brook’s feature film “To Be Or Not To Be,” I felt like I was on my way.

KB: How did you land your first film role?

JGH:  One night Mel Brooks and his wife, Anne Bancroft, came into La Cage Aux Folles.  I later was brought into Mel’s 20th Century Fox office, and they signed me on the spot.

Carrie Fisher (L) and Penny Marshall (R), with Gypsy at La Cage Aux Folles in Beverly Hills, 1980s.
Carrie Fisher (L) and Penny Marshall (R), with Gypsy at La Cage Aux Folles in Beverly Hills, 1980s.

KB: You’ve worked with some notable celebrities—Mel Brooks, Shelley Long, Jane Fonda, Joan Collins, and Stephanie Powers, just to name a few. Do you have a favorite?

JGH:  Anne Bancroft was my favorite out of everyone I worked with.  She coached me on this first casting and was very dear to me.

KB: And what brought you to Palm Springs?

JGH:  I was brought out to Palm Springs by my friend, producer Dan Gore, in 2006 and never looked back.  I was living in upstate New York at the time and never returned after moving to Palm Springs.  I opend a show in 2006 in Palm Springs, then 2008 in Lake Tahoe, and now, at 82, am ready for my close up in the showroom planned to open in 2015.

KB: Which brings me to your current project.  At and age where most people open little more than mail from AARP, you are opening another club! You’ve compiled a crack team of producers (Dan Gore), directors, choreographers (Luis Camacho of Truth or Dare and Bird Cage), as well as a cast of professional female impersonators. Tell me about the impetus to dive back into the entertainment biz at the age of 82.

JGH:  Dan Gore is ready to bring me back to the stage.  He believes whole-heartedly in my ability—and age!—to have me return to the stage.  He has been focused on this return for years now after I retired in 2009.  My prostate cancer is not active, my legs still work, and I have air in my lungs, what else should I be doing?  I’ll tell you: Doing what I do best—and that is making people laugh and bringing smiles to everyone’s faces.

Palm Springs Showroom Rendering
Palm Springs Showroom Rendering

KB: And I understand there’s a way for the community of Palm Springs and beyond to give you a hand with this endeavor. Tell me about that.

JGH:  This year, my team and I embarked on a campaign to raise capital to complete the funding for our new theater in Downtown Palm Springs. We are happy to report that we have received substantial initial funding, and that current donations are now going toward a complete build out model of the retail location desired.  People can support this venture and be part of this dream—and part of Palm Springs Entertainment History.  For decades people have enjoyed the Palm Springs Follies, and we will be happily replacing the void that has been left by their departure via a state-of-the-art dinner showroom.

KB: Tell me about additional current projections. Any upcoming shows we can catch in Palm Springs?

JGH: The Dinner Showroom opening in Central Palm Springs (with a major Palm Springs restauranteur—to be announced soon!), plus Jonny Mikes Productions and Mercury Film/Television currently negotiating option deal for “DRAGOSAUR!,” a reality show based on my life and return to the stage.

KB: What do you love most about Palm Springs?

JGH: I enjoy clean air and the casual living.  The surroudings are peaceful and there is energy everywhere…and I am ready to turn it on!

About Kate Buckley

Kate Buckley is a brand strategist, premium domain broker and consultant, interviewer, storyteller, visual artist, and award-winning poet & writer. She’s worked in media and marketing since 1997, holds an MFA in Creative Writing, and is the author of A Wild Region (Moon Tide Press) and Follow Me Down (Tebot Bach). A four-time Pushcart Prize nominee, her awards include a Gabeheart Prize and the North American Review’s James Hearst Poetry Prize. She was most recently shortlisted for the Bridport Prize. A ninth-generation Kentuckian, she’s made her home in Southern California since 1998.

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