Guests entering American Legion Hollywood Post 43 were treated to a special evening when Pin-Ups on Tour performed their 24th show after travelling through an impressive 21 states over five weeks. The group hosted their last event at the post, the place where Pin-Ups on Tour started.
Pin-Ups on Tour is a World War II variety and burlesque show that recreates the magic of the 1940s when America came together in support of troops, including the memorable pin-ups that were painted on the side of airplanes to lift the spirits of the men fighting.
On the summer evening of July 13, it was like guests stepped into another era at Post 43 with vintage pin-ups milling about and a variety of singing, dancing and comedy. The post, already known for its entertainment history, was filled with a fun atmosphere of times past as the Pin-Ups on Tour show is a good time for a great cause.
“Without the support of our home Post (43), we would never have been able to start this tour,” said Julia Reed Nichols, Pin-Ups on Tour founder, producer and performer. “We will forever be grateful to The American Legion for taking a chance on those first few events and letting us bring in our unique brand of troop support to their members.”
Since their first road show in San Diego last September, the group has performed at more than 60 locations across the nation, including American Legion posts, music halls, saloons and many veterans homes and memorials.
“Since that first event, we have partnered with other (Legion) posts across the nation and always feel at home when performing on a Legion stage,” Nichols said.
Pin-Ups on Tour evolved out of Nichols’ work with the nonprofit Pin-Ups for Vets. “I met the founder of Pin-ups for Vets (Gina Elise) at one of my events and fate took over from there. We started to work on different projects together, including burlesque fundraisers,” Nichols said.
Nichols worked as a producer for a company that handled big Hollywood fundraisers and moonlighted at burlesque clubs in Los Angeles until she quit her job to focus on producing sexy charity events.
“When we started to post these events online, the media and general public started to take notice. We were getting request from veterans across the nation to bring our show to them, and I decided that this was something I could make happen.”
Nichols’ father was a captain in the U.S. Air Force who taught her to respect anyone who stands up and says, “I’ll serve.” These events are her way of showing gratitude and connecting with a community she cares about. “I love the veteran community, and I am so grateful for the sacrifices servicemembers make to keep our country safe and free,” Nichols said.
In addition to providing low or no-cost entertainment for veterans as part of their morale-boosting mission, proceeds from the shows support their work entertaining veterans inside and outside VA hospitals.
“When I started producing shows for veterans, all the performers in our cast volunteered their time to entertain our nation’s heroes. They are some of the most talented and compassionate people I know,” Nichols said.
“The hospital visits are the heart of our organization. In the hospitals, we put on a show and spend a few hours visiting patients at their bedside. Supporters at our shows can donate gifts and Pin-Up calendars for us to bring to these veterans. Hospitals can feel very isolating when you are stuck there, so we ask our audience members to leave a note for the veteran that will receive their gift. We want them to know that someone is thinking of them. These special moments one-on-one with the veterans are what it is all about.”
“It is an exhausting balancing act right now but it is all worth it.” Nichols said. “It was a whirlwind and the best thing I have ever done. Our lives were drive, show, sleep. It was exhausting but at the end of the day we got to connect with thousands of our supporters face-to-face. Their words of encouragement mean the world to me, and I look forward to continually developing this show for them. Nothing beats seeing an audience enjoy your work and this tour gave me the opportunity to see that.”
The cast and crew are what make this performance group extraordinary. Most of the girls met as burlesque performers in Los Angeles so they have names like Dixie, Siren and Bunny. And many of the performers are veterans themselves and several are Legion members. Buddy Watson and Dianna Wilson were both part of the recent road trip and are from American Legion Post 43 in Hollywood. The Pin-ups met Watson, their “tap dancing sailor,” at their first event. “Buddy is the only man in our cast, which I’m not sure is a blessing or a curse for him,” Nichols said.
“It’s a sisterhood with one brother,” Watson said. “I never had sisters growing up and I now have seven of them. To be part of this group is pretty amazing; I've always dreamed of being able to tour the country.”
Watson, a tap dancer, singer, Navy veteran and local Californian, describes Pin-Ups on Tour as a very vintage and classy entertainment.
“It’s like the 1940s Bob Hope USO tours, along with the risqué burlesque, that all of these girls are great at providing. It's a fun time,” Watson said. “ It takes you back to another place where entertainment was purely about providing people with joy and getting their mind off of the troubles of what's going on in the world.”
Watson started tap dancing on street corners and in restaurants and cafes while he was stationed in San Diego. He works hard at staying true to how tap dancing was performed in the 1940s, and he performs to music from artists like The Andrew Sisters. He tap dances to a version of “Singin’ in the Rain,” and he has a VJ Day routine with a tap dance derived from the famous photograph of a sailor kissing a woman in Times Square.
As a member of The American Legion, Watson found it interesting to visit posts across the country. “They all have their little niches that they’re great at,” he said. “It’s just really cool to be at these places and have some of the older generations come up and say, 'Wow, your Elvis is spot on or Gene Kelly, I love Gene Kelly.’ For me, even being able to bring people back to that time, it makes me happy that all the hard work I've put in over the past several years has paid off. It makes me want to stay in tune and keep working hard and get even better so I can perform for even more people.”
The Pin-Ups also tour with support members, including tour manager and Army veteran Dianna Wilson. “She basically runs our life for us on the road,” Nichols said.
Wilson left a production job to tour, “which for me was about giving back to my brothers and sisters who served,” she said. “This was more important and it was worth it, tenfold.
“We have lots of fun. We're all crammed into this tiny little van, 15 passenger van, basically the backseats taken out and all of our stuff goes in there. As we sell merchandise and stuff, that opens up a little bit and it becomes less like a sardine can. We'll drive for four or five hours, set up at the location where we’re going to be performing at, do the show, get back in the van and head to a hotel, sleep for the night and repeat. But it’s fun; everyone is easy going.”
Wilson added that “it’s amazing to work with people that have generous hearts and have a passion, and we all do it for similar reasons. Those of us who served are giving back to our brothers and sisters and the rest of the group it’s a family member served, a brother, a sister, a dad, grandparent or boyfriend, girlfriend. These people mean something, and we know the sacrifices that they made because there were sacrifices. Especially with the older veterans, they didn't really have a choice. It was like you come over here, stand in line, put on a uniform. Here's a gun. My generation, and these newer generations, we have a choice. We make that choice and it’s a brave choice, but the older ones, they were just picked.”
Wilson has learned what the important things are in life while on tour. “It’s not money, it’s not how many friends you have, it’s the quality of the friends you have, it’s the quality of life that you lead and the kindness that you show others,” she said.
Legion member and Air Force veteran Shannon Corbeil gave her debut performance on July 13 with “Pin-Ups on Tour” in what she calls the welcome home event from their national tour. Corbeil joined The American Legion this year and quickly got involved with both Pin-Ups for Vets and Pin-Ups on Tour.
“I think it's wonderful that (Post 43) is their home,” Corbeil said. “I love getting to see them perform, and I’m getting to know the performers more and more. It’s really showing just how big the (veteran) community is.”
Corbeil added that the audience is supportive. “Men are bringing their wives, women are bringing their husbands, and people are bringing their friends. They like to come, they like to support the performers, they like to support the vets and it's a lot of fun. I'm very proud to support organizations whose mission it is to help take care of veterans.”