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Volume 21/Issue 4/2003

39th Annual Bourbon Street Awards Sponsored by Oz & Bud Light

The Thirty-Ninth Annual Bourbon Street Awards Show, the ultimate costume contest will be held on Mardi Gras Day, March 4, 2003 at 11am.

The location is the corner of St. Ann at 800 Bourbon St.

Johnny Chisholm and Oz/New Orleans, as well as Bud Light brings us this fantastic contest. Award categories include: Best Drag, Best Leather, Best Group and the grandest award, Best of Show. There will be a first, second and third place award given for each of these categories.

Celebrity emcees will feature the talents of Oz mega circuit star Bianca Del Rio and Oz Calendar Boy Contest hostess Blanche DeBris.

The Bourbon Street Awards, well into its fourth decade, has hosted some of the most exciting and extravagant Mardi Gras costumes ever seen, and a bit of controversy as well.

In 1963, the late Arthur Jacobs, then owner of the Clover Grill was facing declining revenues, as were other businesses in the Lower Quarter, at that time. "This end of the Quarter, around Bourbon and Dumaine had a bad reputation in those days. Things around here have come a long way," Jacobs recalled. Jacobs began, and oversaw the event until 1974, when he conceded the show to Tommy Hopkins, the owner of Cafe Lafitte in Exile, located across the street from the Clover Grill. During Jacobís tenure with the Awards, he faced a good bit of opposition because of the participation of female impersonators. "A big shot reporter tried to degrade the Awards with a feature in a New York magazine in 1964. He inferred that the show contributed to moral decay. The city was no help either with its additional restrictions and rules. Iím happy the city fathers have taken a different view today," Jacobs said.

During the 60ís and early 70ís the contest drew thousands of people to the corner. Japanese, German, British, and French film crews recorded the show for their networks. In 1971 Darlene Jacobs, Arthur Jacobís daughter, and noted local attorney, emceed the show, which was later televised on the BBC.

"In 1967 there was a beautiful boy from New York who won Best of Show," Mr. Jacobs said. "His impersonating a woman was so well done, viewers and judges alike could not tell that he was a man."

"Iíve always felt the contestants were the stars of the show," commented Jacobs. "Iíve turned down movie stars, musicians - even Al Hirt was refused access during the show. Pete Fountain came before the show one year and played for an hour, but once the show started, the contestants had their moment," Jacobs remembered.

The now legendary "Parade of Cleopatra" featuring Houston entertainer Torchy Laine as Cleopatra, won "Best of Show" three consecutive years, 1977 through 1979. Cleopatra, whose litter was born by numerous body builders, was preceded by Egyptian musicians, food and wine bearers, slaves, and one year followed by a tiger and its handler. This spectacle earned the Awards contest the title of "The Largest Free Show of Mardi Gras." Jacobs laughed, "We had to make Torchy a judge so he wouldnít compete."

When Tom Wood bought Cafe Lafitte in 1974, the Bourbon Street Awards were assumed with the bar. Escalating production costs and more restrictive city guidelines threatened the Awards, but the Show went on. The late Ed Smith, a favorite emcee of the show, well known locally for his flamboyance and humor, produced - in his own name - the requisite permits for the show in 1982 and 1983. He staged it at the corner of St. Ann and Bourbon. To avoid conflict with Smithís show, Wood decided not to compete. "Everyone knew it as the Bourbon Street Awards anyway" Jacobs noted. "Contestants from all over the world came to participate and model their costumes."

When Smith fell terminally ill in 1984, the Awards were not staged, but Jacobs proudly recalled, unofficially, contestants returned to Dumaine and Bourbon to show off their costumed creations. 1985 brought the Bourbon Street Awards officially back home to Cafe Lafitte in Exile at Dumaine and Bourbon.

In 1986 the Awards were relocated to the corner of St. Ann and Burgundy.

In 1994, American Chronicle did an hour long segment on Mardi Gras titled "Farewell to the Flesh" and the Bourbon Street Awards got great coverage.

In 2002, the Awards were acquired by Johnny Chisholm and Oz/New Orleans, and moved back to Bourbon St. for the first time in 16 years. MTV and loads of international media outlets featured the awards for viewing around the World. Catch the Awards at the corner of 800 Bourbon St. and St. Ann every year.

The 39th Annual Bourbon Street Awards will be "The Best Free Show of Mardi Gras."

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