Chapter 7 - Janet - Muse and Showgirl

Julian Ritter - Las Vegas Fantasy

The Showgirl has long been the iconic image of Las Vegas.  Emblematic of the unattainable, the fantasy, and the dreams of both men and women worldwide they were swathed in ermine, mink, and sable. They dripped gold lame', diamonds, and crystals, in barely there couture costumes that no mortal woman could dream of wearing.  Their allure bespoke a secret known by only a few. They were pampered and toasted, desired and protected. They were the royalty of Las Vegas and all who came to Vegas knew that `The Showgirl’ was the one common thread that kept all the dreams and fantasies alive. 
Janette (Janet) Boyd was a Las Vegas Showgirl and lead performer for twenty-nine years. She was also a model for world renowned artist, Julian Ritter.  I met Janet, through Julian Ritter, when I commissioned Julian to paint what would become his last big Las Vegas Showgirl painting, `The Las Vegas Fantasy.' Julian had garnered worldwide attention for the Silver Slipper Collection of paintings which hung at the old Silver Slipper Casino, owned by Howard Hughes.

Julian Ritter - Las Vegas Fantasy

I had breakfast with Janet, and her husband Larry Williams at Cafe Bellagio, in the Bellagio Hotel, Las Vegas.  Janet explained to me that the cafe is located on the grounds of the old Dunes Hotel, almost right where the stage had been.  It was the very stage where she performed in `Casino de Paris.’  It is, Janet remarked, "Sacred Ground.”  I enjoyed breakfast as Janet recounted some of her storied career.

Behind the scenes it was very hard work creating all that allure and fantasy.  The average career of a Showgirl was about seven years. Ten years tops!  The pay was actually mediocre, about $150.00 a week, plus endless hours of dance classes, rehearsals, and promotions. Those extra hours were unpaid, and part of the job.  


Janet Boyd remains the `Iconic Nude Showgirl.’ She stood six foot two on point, tall and straight, with a perfect torso that some said resembled the Venus de Milo. When she walked through a room heads turned, and a hush would fill the room. Her alabaster skin was perfection rivaled only by the marble used by Michelangelo.  Her face a most beautiful combination of high cheek bones, big doe eyes set wide apart, straight nose, pouty pink lips, all framed in long lustrous flowing red hair.  Julian Ritter pronounced her derrière as the most perfect he'd ever seen. Her legs were insured for over a million-dollars and said by the Lord himself, to go "all the way to Heaven."


Janet danced in Las Vegas for twenty-nine years, in a classic tale of starting in the chorus line and working herself to the top.  She was trained in dance from a very young age. Janet credits her mom, Helen Purdy, for all the years of ballet training and dance classes as the single most important factor in her success and for being able to dance so long.


Julian Ritter - Las Vegas Fantasy

Born and raised in Everett, Washington.  By her own words, she lived an idyllic life in a small town.  She developed a love of horses early on, and attended an all girls private Catholic school, 'Holy Names Academy.’ and was a happy beautiful teen-age tomboy. She moved to Southern California at fourteen years old when her mom came to take care of family friends after they were in a terrible car accident. She was not happy about the move to California yet adapted well and made new friends quickly with her outgoing personality and wit.


She learned to Belly Dance and at fifteen, was off to Chicago to perform as `Zubeda' at the Six East Club. Later that year she would dance in `Harem Holiday,’ in Riverside, California.   At sixteen and lying about her age, she auditioned for Frederick Apcar's, `Vive Le Girls,’ and got her first job dancing topless at the Melodyland Theatre, in Anaheim, California.  The shows choreographer would be the legendary Ron Lewis


Janet Boyd danced in all of the iconic venues in Las Vegas and in some of the biggest shows in the town’s history. Frederic Apcar took her to Paris to train and dance in the original `Casino de Paris,’ in Paris, and to dance in the show when it opened, for the first time ever outside of Paris, at the Dunes Hotel in Las Vegas. 


Janet had been Julian Ritter's model and muse for many years and was known as the most photographed woman in Las Vegas, having been photographed numerous times by photographers such as Robert Scott Hooper and Rollie Hendrickson. She was photographed for every magazine around from Fabulous Las Vegas to Playboy (4 times), and for numerous articles and advertisements. Janet was the subject of two Playboy articles by Dan Greenburg, and one of the featured dancers in the 1986 Documentary "Stripper,” directed by Jerome Gary.  She was featured in shows, promotions, and exhibitions, including a retrospective of Hooper's work at the University of Las Vegas.

Julian Ritter - Las Vegas Fantasy Photo by Robert Scott Hooper
Julian Ritter - Las Vegas Fantasy Photo by Robert Scott Hooper

She danced for some of the biggest name Producers in Las Vegas, including Frederick Apcar, Harold Minsky and Barry Ashton.    She danced at the Silver Slipper and became a solo star, as `Astradella.’  Janet was the last `Nude Showgirl’ hired by Harold Minsky himself.  In one of the most scandalous shows ever staged in Las Vegas she stared in an erotic dance duo called Double Exposure, with Francine Farrar, at the Fremont Hotel.  


Janet danced in the Reno production of Bal Du Moulin Rouge, and then in Las Vegas for another legend, Walter Painter. She was one of only five Reno performers selected to be a part of the Moulin Company when the show moved to Las Vegas. Bal du Moulin Rouge was the last big original production in Las Vegas with original costumes, music, choreography, and live orchestra.

 The show opened on the biggest Stage in Las Vegas, at the Hilton International, on the very stage where Elvis appeared. Over the years, Janet was seen by every big name in the business and called `most' of them by their first names. Sammy Davis Jr., Dino, Elvis, and "Mr. Sinatra.”

 She hung out with Baron Hilton, at one of his birthday parties, talking about glider planes, after she popped out of his birthday cake, topless. It was at the International Hotel that Julian and I, got to see her perform in the Bal Du Moulin Rouge, in 1984.

Julian Ritter - Las Vegas Fantasy Photo by Robert Scott Hooper

Most fortuitous for me, Janet became muse and model for artist Julian Ritter, and circa 1973 posed for Julian, in Summerland, California, for what would become the most iconic showgirl portrait in history, simply known as `The Portrait of Janet.’  The painting stands almost eight feet tall.  Julian introduced me to Janet in 1984 when he and I were in initial discussions about a commission, which when completed would become known as `The Las Vegas Fantasy.’  Janet would model for Julian again with me and three other showgirls.

Julian Ritter - Las Vegas Fantasy Photo by Robert Scott Hooper

For all the fame, glamour, and beauty her story is one of struggle, determination, and a will to be the best person she could be.  When I asked her how she handled the adoration and claims to beauty she laughs heartedly and demurs by saying, `I was really a `Tomboy.'


Today, Janet Boyd lives in Southern California, married to an internationally respected Estate and Tax Attorney, Larry Williams. What she is most proud of is raising a daughter as a single working mom. A daughter who has become a highly successful young woman in the world of advertising.

Janet is now Vice President of the Long Beach Shakespeare Company where she continues to promote and fundraise for the Company. She also does speaking engagements at various functions around the country. What one might expect of a Nude Las Vegas Showgirl, is not what one might get when talking about Janet Boyd. She was, and remains today, an emblematic figure of the glamour and beauty of Old Las Vegas.


*Photos provided by various sources, and used with permission .




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