Celia Putty can find the humor in just about anything. Ask anyone who's seen Putty take the small stage at Plazma for Celia Putty's Freaky Friday – the weekly drag show starring our hero and several more local drag performers.
Putty’s parents were performing musicians, so the stage is like a second home. “I’ve always played around with wigs since I was little,” she says. “As I got older, I wanted to do more comedy type things, because things are funny in drag … especially if it's glamorous drag, like that Priscilla Presley, Naked Gun type of humor.” She started at 17 with another Phoenix drag staple, Barbra Seville, with a youth drag show. When Halloween and talent shows stopped cutting it, she created the persona Celia Putty and got in on the pageant scene. She won Miss Gay Phoenix in 1994, placed in Miss Gay America, and did a show in Biloxi, Mississippi, for a year. “I learned so much, it was like being in drag school." She then took a decade off, only to come roaring back six years ago.
Putty’s numbers have included everyone from Lucille Ball (the original name was Celia McGillicuddy Putty) and Liza Minnelli to Natalie Merchant for a spell in the 1990s – "which is ridiculous," she concedes – to Lana Del Rey and even Norma Bates. In addition to the many props and lip-syncing routines Putty deals with on a weekly basis, there are also costumes to contend with – and that means you have to get creative. We won’t give away all the imaginative thrift-store finds and up-cycle tricks Putty has used here, but let’s just say: Things get weird.
“I’m like the last person on Earth who should be asked about fashion,” Putty says, “However, that being said …”
How would you describe your sense of style?
My presentation of fashion and glamour is best, if not always, served rare and glazed in chopped cheek with the lamb’s tongue left in. Sounds even better in French, “langue dans la joue.” But I flunked French, and the series is about fashion, not food. Food foils fashion anyway. Like rock, paper, scissors.
Where do you shop?
Let’s just say I’m super excited about the new Ross Dress For Less that’s coming over to 32nd Street and Indian School. It’s slightly closer than the other one. We all call it Ross Cross-Dress for Less, and you must know they have great deals. I’m sure half the stuff I have up on the rack right now is from Ross.
Last Chance is a great place …Walmart can be fun for bathing suits, specifically. One of the most expensive places I use is with Sylvia Danese over at Danese Creations on Indian School over where the funeral home used to be. And she’s a wonderful woman, really awesome, and very specialized.
I can find a lot of the things I need at the thrift stores for the types of things that I do, like I put together Velma Dinkley recently from Scooby Doo … I like to put together things like that. The Virgin Mary, for instance, is something I do at Christmas time. I went over to Last Chance and bought a white dress, and bought a blue dress, and sewed them together.
What was the last piece you got?
It was a gully suit. Do you know what that is? When you are hunting, and you don’t want the deer to see you before you kill [the deer], you wear a camouflage gully suit, which is a complete legs [and arms] and it's made out of moss. And that’s not a drag thing, but I’ve used it for drag things.
What's one of the weirdest things in your closet?
The gully suit, definitely, and I also have a fake deer that I put on a stick and carry behind me. We had to do … evil villains once for a pageant, and I was like, “Oh, I don’t want to do this. Everyone’s going to do Cruella, everyone’s going to do the Snow Queen, everybody’s going to do Maleficent." I was like, "Oh, I’m over it, I don’t want to do it. Oh wait, I could be the hunter who killed Bambi’s mom.” That was bizarre.
So, other weird things. I did collect all my panty hose for five years. I saved every panty hose that ever ran, every tight that ever ran. I didn’t throw them away because, during my Virgin Mary number – which is a take off the Discovery [Life’s] I Didn't Know I Was Pregnant – I created about a nine-foot giant umbilical cord made of panty hose … it’s creepy.
I have so many bizarre things … I have like three conjoined-twin numbers now. And you've got to be careful because with a lot of this stuff, you will offend people. Oh my God, who would’ve ever dreamed that after my conjoined twins number, someone would pull me aside and ask what I knew about conjoined twins, fetus and fetu, et cetera, et cetera? Because [Putty puts on a serious voice]: “I had been a conjoined twin, my sister was separated from me and she died.” And I’m like, “Are you serious? Let me see the scar.”
Who are your fashion inspirations?
Lana Del Rey, currently, I love her. Now some people don’t agree, but I don’t care. I love Lana Del Rey. Now, I’ve done Liza Minnelli as a character for 20 years. I love all that costume, sequin stuff. I have quite a bit of it. I usually project a very wholesome image … That’s been my image, so I have often been inspired by that wholesome girl look, kind of like the Reese Witherspoon or like Julia Roberts. I’m not very slutty like some other performers, but you may disagree when you see my first number.
What is your earliest memory of fashion?
I don’t think I ever got over that "growing up wanting to be the little girl wearing pretty things." I mean, in my opinion, if you want to dress like a girl, it’s because you like frilly things. You want to have that big dress that when you turn around, it spins around, so I was influenced by the Miss America pageants on TV. I was influenced by Lawrence Welk, I was influenced by Hee Haw at some level – but nobody knows what that is anymore, probably thankfully. I like all that stuff. I’m not necessarily the hippest person, but I’m also not wearing the same thing that people are wearing, so at least I have that.
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What is one piece of advice you'd give to people in Phoenix about fashion?
Well, they need to stop wearing flip-flops, that’s like a pet peeve of mine. I hate flip-flops. The only time I ever use a flip-flop is during a Julia Sugarbaker number where I pull one out of my purse and tell people they need to get up. I just hate them. So that’s my advice; stop wearing those flip flops ... and pajamas to Walmart. Because I love Walmart.
What are you wearing tonight?
Well, right now I’m wearing a cute little tank top that I got from Goodwill.
Anything to add?
Don’t just judge drag from what you see on TV, because just like Jerry Springer, it’s not real. If someone really wants to enjoy what drag is really like, come to one of the shows – wherever, it doesn’t have to be mine – and try to peek backstage and see what it's really like. Because we’ll all agree that it’s very different from what they project on TV.
And a possible alternate future:
There’s always that fantasy of, if I gain a lot of weight, and one day I might, that I’ll change my name to a calendar-type name like April May June.