Mar 24, 2010

Nita and Zita

The other day I found a section in a book about these two fabulous New Orleanians. I vaguely remember a story in the Times Picayune when Zita died, and I was fascinated then, but the information was scant. In the intervening years, there has been a bit more interest.

Needless to say, this city is famously full of such characters, but these two women are especially interesting to me. I hope one day someone decides to examine their lives more, make a film, or a book perhaps. In the meantime, I think I might just take a trip to see what their house is like on Dauphine St. now, if I can find the address.

Here are a few quotes from a great introduction to them online, part of a play about them produced a few years back:

"Flora and Piroska immigrated to the U.S. from the Jewish shtetl of Nagybanya,
Hungary, in 1922 to pursue their career as "international dancers," performing
under the names Nita and Zita. Photos indicate that their act combined burlesque
and acrobatics. Together, they performed all over the United States, and, as far
as we can tell, Shanghai, Panama, and perhaps Paris and Egypt. The sisters were
known for carrying their elaborate, handmade clothes and costumes with them in
two steamer trunks.In the late 1940's, the sisters settled in New Orleans and
became quite reclusive...."

"Their home became their refuge. They painted their entire house -- inside and
out -- in brightly colored sponge patterns, and painted most of their furniture
with intricate spider web figures. On the rare occasions that they did leave the
house, they dressed in fine handmade clothes of their own design.Flora and
Piroska died in 1985 and 1991 respectively. They are buried in the pauper's
section of Hebrew's Rest Cemetery in New Orleans. The only people present at
Piroska's funeral were a Rabbi and Betty Kirkland, the sisters' next door
neighbor.... "

"Nita and Zita lived in their house on Dauphine Street in the Faubourg Marigny from approximately 1947 until their respective deaths in 1985 and 1991. They were known for making all of the repairs to their home themselves, including repairs to the roof. Always resourceful, they fixed the floor of their home with tin can lids hammered in with tiny nails, and covered over holes in the wall with fabric. If they were known for their diligent work ethic, they were NOTORIOUS for their wild aesthetic: they painted their entire house, inside and out, with wild, abstract patterns. Bead curtains hung in the archways of their house, and photos of them in their showgirl prime lined the walls. In photos of Nita and Zita taken in their home when they were older, the painted walls and bead curtains give the effect of a fantastic nightclub or shimmering stage."

"The house was literally packed with thousands of pieces of handmade clothing,
hundreds of photos of Nita and Zita performing, handmade bead curtains, handmade
placards advertising Nita and Zita performances, and more...."

(Here's a dress of theirs that was offered for sale a while back, now sold. )

You can read more here and


mrpeenee said...

One day I shall return to NOLA and you and I can take up as the new Nita and Zita. I get to be Zita.

jason said...

What makes you think I'm waiting?

BrooksNYC said...

Jason, what a post. I'm mesmerized! I've never even heard of these women, which is strange considering how many elderly relatives I had from that generation. No one ever mentioned them.

The girls did retire a long time ago. Maybe the city just forgot about them. What a story.

Do you have the address on Dauphine? I'd love to pull it up on Google Maps....

I wonder if they attended temple? If we ever meet, let's go to Hebrew Rest Cemetery and pay our respects!

Ur-spo said...

I love New Orleans; and I love stories of people such as this. What a fabulous city!

Margaret said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Margaret said...

EBay has 1 of their exquisite dresses, and actually priced reasonably.

As of 2005 their shotgun house on Dauphine was being used as an artist's studio, but more research as to the exact address.

Never heard from my Nola relatives about the sisters, but then again I never asked! Now, I will.

Apparently the sisters liked to sunbathe 'au natural' and conducted group exercise classes for 'mature women' at their home.

There has to be a movie made about these 2, and done accurately.

Jason, thank you for your post and letting us know that Nola's mystique is still alive.

ayem8y said...

I wanna be the shady showbiz agent that promises, “This is it girls, the big break we’ve been waiting for” and “Finally we’ll arrive in style” and then delivering venues like Hoboken and Topeka by freight train.

I recall reading something about them before but I can’t help thinking their careers would have been huge had they been Siamese.

mojo said...

2608 dauphine st I worked as a fashion designer for 4 years in this space up until one year ago many traces of these magic "sisters" remain on many levels there

Anonymous said...

It's like Grey Gardens, but these two actually did something.

FelixInHollywood said...

Wowie Zowie! A movie would be great; I would just be terrified about the casting.

IF it ever happens and IF the casting gods are listening, please use unknowns who actually have the talent and physical resemblance to the sisters.

Kim Hambric said...

I've always desired to be a character. Looks like I've got a looooong way to go. Thanks for sharing a bit of their story.

Now I've got another excuse to cruise googlemaps.

Jill said...

YOU should write the book!

Margaret said...

It was right around the corner from my grandparent's house on the 600 block of Desire St., which I'd visited in the late 1950s-60s.

Mojo, can you share any other insights?

Jason, thanks again for this blog! Yes, you should write the book.

BrooksNYC said...

Google Maps is too loosey-goosey, and since I can't see numbers on the houses, I'm not sure which is THE house. Oh, well.

It's a sweet block, though.

Miss Janey said...

Completely fascinating! Doing something sequins as a full time lifestyle!!!

MJ said...

I believe this was just before duct tape was invented.

Imagine the fun they could have had with DIY with THAT!

Anonymous said...

Loved it, loved it, loved it!

Thanks for sharing.

Dean Grey said...

So very cool, Jason!

I'm wondering who owns the house now and how much of it is intact!


NitaZitaNoLa said...

Oh....they did use duct tape...I have their lamp...repaired with thin strips of silver duct tape to match the silver spiderweb design painted ontop of the burgundy paint splotched with crimson.....

jason said...

Very cool, NitaZitaNoLa!
They were well ahead of their time.
And welcome!

NitaZitaNoLa said...

Hi Jason...
and so...
if your interest list is anything to go by...
are you...!
I wonder if we have met....?
Tony D is a facebook friend...
and Burne -Jones...well it's too late for him....
and Lloyd Weber has sucked most of his astonishing work into a private vortex...
I thoroughly enjoyed reading your list...!!
I do see names the average American would not be familiar have piqued my interest...
I also relate to the cat with it...!!

jason said...

I wonder too.
Are you by any chance in NOLA???
Who knows.

I have a big old book about Tony D's right here in bed with me now, as a matter of fact.