Geezers gone wild
Dirty old men? Nah, they're seasoned performers who get (mostly) naked, usually for a good cause. This time it's animals.
By ANNE LINDBERG
Published October 26, 2006
The pinnacle of Fred Clausen's career is a little hard to define.
His most notable role was in the early 1960s, playing Al Capone's bookkeeper on the television serial The Untouchables. Being an extra in The Fugitive was pretty good, too.
Now, at 76, Clausen remains committed to theater, but in a much different way. He founded a group of mostly senior men who raise money for charity - by taking their clothes off.
Clausen's Forever Young Dancers pose for revealing calendars and strip in an all-male revue. The baby of their group is in his 40s.
Nowadays they're rehearsing for their next show, Nov. 5 at St. Petersburg's Palladium Theater.
"The Forever Young Dancers GONE WILD!" will benefit Wildlife Haven Rehab, an Odessa nonprofit group that rescues and rehabilitates sick, injured and orphaned Florida wildlife.
The show will play off the animal concept, said Eddie Fink, spokesman for Wildlife Haven. As it says on the flier advertising the show: "Take a walk on the wild side, where costumes provide the 'bear necessities.' "
Clausen, a native of Lake Geneva, Wis., began his show business career singing and dancing at county fairs and conventions.
When he grew up, he owned three beauty schools but refused to give up the theater. He relished the occasional "extra" role and figures he's been in the background of hundreds of television shows and movies. He also was in Summer Stock with Harrison Ford.
His latest venture was partly influenced by the film The Full Monty. It was the topic of conversation at a party when a friend suggested that Clausen give stripping a try.
"I thought, 'Why the hell not?' An old buck can do what these young guys can do," Clausen said.
The Forever Young Dancers were born in 1997. Members come from across Pinellas and all backgrounds.
Largo resident Dick Baker, 72, met Clausen at church. Baker, retired after 30 years in the telecommunications industry, still works selling real estate.
Said Baker: "I heard people talking about it. ... I didn't know what they took off and kept on."
For the record, the men don't bare all. They usually strip down to G-strings or use strategically placed props.
Baker's three children and six grandchildren have taken his hobby in stride.
"I guess they think it's funny. I gave them a calendar," Baker said. On viewing the calendar, one of his grandsons said, "Oooooh, Pop-pop."
Baker said he has no time to think about his state of undress when he's in front of an audience because he's too busy counting steps.
Jerry "Jay" Hamill, 69, was Clausen's next-door neighbor in St. Pete Beach. He now lives in St. Petersburg. He began as the group's announcer and became a dancer when another one quit the troupe.
Hamill said he has no problems dancing nearly nude.
Clausen "always says I have exhibitionist tendencies," Hamill said. The real trick, he said, is to focus on and play to one audience member.
"It's fun," he said.
Clausen recruited Mike Caraway, 64, when they met at a Halloween costume party. Caraway was dressed as a pumpkin.
"It wasn't all that revealing, so I don't know what gave him the idea," Caraway said. "I said, 'I'm retired. I can do this.' "
"This is my alter ego coming out," said Caraway, a retired St. Petersburg engineer.
Cheeks to jowls
Fun aside, being a Forever Young Dancer takes work. There's not only the practicing to do and the choreography to learn, but the guys have to watch their boyish figures.
"I just stay away from things that aren't good for me," said Clausen, who says he has been on the Atkins diet. "I watch my weight."
The troupe's popularity started its ascent a few years ago after the Gulfport Gabber wrote about their appearance at a friend's birthday party.
"We had 'Happy Birthday' written on our cheeks," Clausen said.
Since then, the group has played at various bay area venues and raised thousands for charities.
The guys have also been on Jay Leno's Tonight Show and on the Jenny Jones and Maury Povich shows. Their first calendar was written about in USA Today. The calendar now on sale is their second.
They even have groupies.
"They follow us from show to show," said Hamill, who adds that he has gotten some dates from fans.
Sometimes the groupies shove dollar bills into the guys' G-strings. That money, like all raised by the dancers, goes to charity. The men pay for their own costumes, or what there is of them.
Baker said the group is especially popular with the "red hat ladies." The Red Hat Society is a social network of women over 50 who are known for wearing red hats and purple dresses on their outings.
Baker said he ran into a group of them after a show at Applebee's on Fourth Street N in St. Petersburg and was mobbed.
"The ladies like us," Baker said.
Marilyn Waltz, queen mother of the West Coast Queens Council of the Red Hat Society, believes Baker.
"Our Red Hatters can get risque sometimes," Waltz said. "What happens with the Red Hatters (is that) sometimes they can revert back to being naughty girls. I think that's a good way to put it."
Waltz said she has heard of the Forever Young Dancers but has not seen them. Yet.
Upon hearing that the dancers are scheduled to appear at the Palladium, Waltz said, "I might even try to drum up some business. I know a lot of them would enjoy it. ... They like to have fun. It's like seniors being at recess."
But the dancers are not for every Red Hat lady.
Elise Gorski, 75, a member of two Red Hat groups, the Lively Sassy Classys and the Royal Dames of Treasure Island, said she'd rather spend her money seeing scantily clad men in their 30s, 40s or 50s.
"Their bodies sag. I'd rather have one that just got off the treadmill," Gorski said. "If I'm going to look, I want to look at something gorgeous that has teeth, that has hair ..."
That's part of the fun, according to the guys.
"We're the Chippendales with wrinkles," Hamill said.
Most of the women who attend the shows get the joke, they said. The best shows are the ones with an all-woman, or almost all-woman, audience, Hamill said. A few drinks and they're off, he said.
"It's fun," he said. "They all come up and they want their pictures taken with us."
The guys dream of performing for one special woman, though, Baker said. "We'd like to shake our booty for Oprah."
If you go
The Forever Young Dancers GONE WILD! show is scheduled for 2 p.m. Nov. 5 at the Palladium Theater, 235 Fifth Ave. N, St. Petersburg. Tickets are $14 or $12 for seniors 65 and older. Proceeds will benefit Wildlife Haven Rehab. of Odessa.
- For information about the show or tickets, call 822-3590 or go to www.mypalladium.org.
- For information about Wildlife Haven, see www.wildlifehavenrehab.org.
- For information about the Forever Young Dancers and their newest calendar, the Naughty Florida Boys 2007, see www.foreveryoung dancers.com.