Razzle Dazzle: Born to party

Dick Weaver with the original RDD T-shirt.

32 years ago, a group of friends created a party to celebrate Pride; now 2 of those original organizers are thrilled to see the party return

TAMMYE NASH | Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com

They might not have realized it, but when organizers started planning the rebirth this year of Razzle Dazzle Dallas, they were taking the once-annual Gay Pride Month party back to its roots.

In its later years, Razzle Dazzle was a Cedar Springs street party intended to raise money for AIDS service organizations. But at the beginning, it was a party, intended to celebrate the gay community and the gay Pride. Any money left over that could be donated to a worthy cause, said original board members Dick Weaver and Stephen Arnn, was just icing on the cake.

“Several years into it, the idea of raising money became paramount, and candidly, it did bother some of us on the original board,” Weaver said this week. “It wasn’t that we weren’t charitable, and we sure didn’t want to keep the money ourselves. But in those early years, the goal was just to put on an event that the community could be proud of and have a really good time at.”

In fact, the idea of having a good time and being out and proudly gay was the whole impetus behind Razzle Dazzle in the first place, Arnn said.

Arnn said in 1979, he and Bill Nelson, Terry Tebedo, Michael Ray Blackstock and Tony Williams were members of what was then called the Dallas Gay Political Caucus where plans were underway to have a Gay Pride Month event that June in Dallas. And those plans included a candlelight march from Cedar Springs to Lee Park, where they would have speakers, prayer and maybe some poetry.

“It was to be a ‘quiet’ evening,” Arnn recalled. “I remember that Bill and I were both staggered that a Pride weekend was centered around a candlelight march, and I’ll never forget the image of the hysterical outrage Bill had, the faux confusion about what ‘Pride’ and ‘candlelight march’ had to do with one another. The four of us immediately wanted to change the aura of ‘Pride Weekend.’”

And so they decided to begin planning an “unofficial” Pride event, he said.

“All four of us agreed that showing Pride included being happy — more than sad, a victim of our station in society — and experiencing an incredible ‘bigger than life’ evening as a community together at a party — Bill loved that word — where we’d dance, have a blast, be outrageous and show the local world that we weren’t relegated to the Cedar Springs corridor,” Arnn said. “Razzle Dazzle was born that moment, and I think that the name was thrown out that very night, although it probably became solid once the larger group evolved.”

Once the decision was made, things started happening very fast. Weaver said he was quickly pulled into the original group of about 15 organizers — a group that, Arnn said, included Howie Daire, “someone who grew up in Tyler and came from a family with oil money and a guy named David who grew up in Amarillo and owned a restaurant on McKinney,” along with Frank Caven.

Weaver said, “They [the original group of four] came to me and several others and said, ‘Hey, let’s do something.’ Each of us put up, I think it was $100 at first and then later we decided to make it $150 each. “We weren’t incorporated or anything like that. We were just a bunch of guys having a party. Today, of that original 15 or so of us, only four of us are still alive. That’s kind of scary.”

The group reserved the Hall of State at Fair Park as the party site, and they knew they needed a way to promote the event and sell tickets, just to pay expenses. So Arnn came up with a logo, they had t-shirts made up and headed down to the Cedar Springs strip to sell tickets.

Arnn said that pre-event ticket sales went okay, nothing spectacular but enough that the organizers would at least break even on their investment.

“We knew we weren’t going to lose money, but we were concerned about there being enough people in the Hall to make it a crowd, to create the excitement we were after,” Arnn said. “As Dick pointed out, no one really knew what they were buying a ticket for. It was an unknown.”

And so the time came for the party, and organizers got Weaver to park his bright blue MG out in front of the hall, Arnn said, with balloons tied all over to give those arriving a signal as to where to go.

“There were assignments for everything,” Arnn said, including rotating assignments for organizers to be standing on the steps of the Hall, taking tickets or selling additional tickets.

“It was an unbelievable, amazing scene as throngs of people arrived on the shuttles, or walked from their cars — huge crowds!” Arnn said. “It was hard to keep up.

It was thrilling, and scary from the point of keeping the money relayed away from those selling tickets and put it in a safe place.”

Weaver added, “The front door was crazy. We were taking money hand over fist. We had no idea how many would show and could not believe how many did!”

Arnn continued, “We were mesmerized standing on those steps. The image of that, of knowing that this group of guys had, in fact, tapped into Gay Pride, is an image I’ll be able to see in my head forever.”

Weaver said one of his most vivid memories of that night is of “Bill Nelson throwing glitter all over people in pure celebration. We had quite a time of it trying to get that glitter up off the floor the next day. And you know, I was at the Hall of State a year or two later, and I swear I could still see some of that glitter on the floor!

“I guess my greatest memory of that night is just of people having such a ball. This was something unique and different, just a great opportunity for the whole community to get together and do something together that was about having fun and celebrating who we were,” Weaver said.

The party to celebrate Pride had exceeded everyone’s expectations, the men said. And while profits weren’t huge, there was money left over.

“I think we had about $1,200 left when it was all over. We didn’t want to keep it ourselves, and we were all in the DGPC, and so we decided to donate the money to them,” Weaver said.

That first Razzle Dazzle was so successful, that the organizers decided to do it again the next year, and then the next, and the next — and so on, right up until 2003. The group eventually incorporated, elected a board and officers.

They took the party all over the city, holding it in various buildings at Fair Park, in the West End before it was really even the West End, at Market Hall — even at the City Auto Pound one year.

But as years passed, the specter of AIDS began to grow over Dallas, and the celebratory atmosphere of Razzle Dazzle began to change. The LGBT community was at war, and even the annual Pride party had to be geared toward fighting the battle.

“I think, honestly, that it got away from itself toward the end. I’m not making any accusations here, but maybe the people involved then didn’t have that pure love of the event. They didn’t have that spirit of celebration,” Weaver said. “But I sure can’t say it died because it wasn’t needed.

“We did go through that period when AIDS overshadowed everything,” he continued. “It wasn’t that we quit celebrating, really, but it sure took on a different tone.”
He continued, “These 25-year-olds today don’t really understand that war. They don’t understand the ’80s and the ’90s when you were seeing your best friends dying all around you. I know we still have a lot of work today, on things like marriage and ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ a lot of issues. But we have a lot of good things going on too, a lot to celebrate.

“And I hope that’s what people will do, come out to Razzle Dazzle again and celebrate

—  John Wright