PORTLAND- The curtain went up Thursday night on the story of a colorful character from Portland s past.
Gracie Hansen died more than 25 years ago. She endured more hardship than most of us can imagine. She battled diabetes and cancer. She also had an alcoholic husband and lost six babies.
Through it all she entertained, even though she admitted she couldn t sing, dance or act.
She also ran for Governor the year Tom McCall was reelected. Portland writer- director Don Horn is bringing her story to life in Gracie at the Sanctuary Theatre for Triangle Productions.
In all my research I didn t meet one person who didn t like Gracie Hansen, he said. She was a graceful warrior and this is her third act.
Actress Julianne Jaffey transforms into the woman described as larger than life.
Hansen s first act was in Morton, Washington. She was a bored housewife who started the Morton Follies to get herself out of a rut.
Her next stop was the 1962 Seattle World s Fair. With $90,000, she convinced the board to allow a cabaret show.
There were topless girls in the Seattle show, so some thought she was a madame but I don t think she was, explained Horn.
Eventually, she brought her bawdy brand of entertainment to Portland s Hoyt Hotel.
She took a flea bag part of town and made it the place to be for nine years, said Horn.
Hansen s Roaring 20 s Room attracted stars like Johnny Carson, Anne Francis and Duke Ellington.
The play s choreographer Terry Brock danced for Gracie at the Hoyt.
She was eccentric, just one of those legends. With her bling and feathers. People just didn t dress like that, Brock remembered.
The play features some of Gracie s own outlandish costumes and accessories.
Horn said he knows her extravagance over the years hid tremendous pain and that s why hers is a story he needed to tell.
She fought cancer and diabetes. She also lost six babies. She faced so much adversity and still deep inside said 'I can do it.'
The show runs through the end of May and will then hit the stage in Seattle to mark the 50th anniversary of the World s Fair.
Some nights when I m in the back of the theatre, I feel her there, Horn said with affection.