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8.20am: Carmen's staff remember a kind, fun boss

Thu 15 Dec 2011 In: New Zealand Daily News

8.20am: Two of the late Carmen Rupe's original staff members from her Vivian Street, Wellington, days are remembering Carmen as a mix of humble, bold, naiive, gracious and fun. Carmen, 75, died in Sydney at a quarter to six this morning NZ time following a prolonged decline since she fell early this year and underwent a series of hip operations. "She was a forerunner, she was making the statement about sexuality before you could make a statement like that... she was challenging to middle New Zealand," says Wayne Otter who, as Ella, was one of the first staff at the legendary Carmen's International Coffee Loungewhich opened in the late 1960s. "She was one of the first to declare that she was here and she wasn't going to hide. And in the end I think she had most people's respect. Maybe grudging respect, but respect none the less. People could look at her and think 'Well, maybe people like that aren't so bad after all.'" Nicolle Duval and Carmen A lot of transsexuals got their first job on stage at Carmen's, says Otter. "She was fine to work for. There was never much pay but it was enough to stop us getting picked up by the police because in those days if you couldn't prove you had a legitimate means of support the police harassed you." Nicolle Duval, who became a headliner of the famed Bloomers Review in Auckland worked at Carmen's Coffee Lounge and did the glamour shows when the nearby nightclub, Carmen's Balcony, opened, agrees with Otter. "She was very good to her staff, always very proud of her girls." Duval says Carmen had a hard time running her businesses. "There was always drama at her venues... fights, break-ins, the boys from the Hutt giving her and the staff a hard time. And some people could be quite unkind, even to her face. But she just ignored the smart remarks and digs that people aimed at her and sweetly replied 'And how are you?' and that kind of thing. She was bold and she was fun" The Coffee Lounge, Carmen's first venture initially opened only during the day but wasn't doing well, says Duval. "It was in what was then a very dodgy area of town and it hadn't really caught on. But when word got round that it was opening at night and was an entertaining place to go it just took off." Duval says she was just fourteen years old when she first met Carmen, on Auckland's Ponsonby Road. "A friend took me to her house, knocked on the door and this young Maori man opened the door and said 'Hello.' When he saw who it was he ducked behind the door and in less than ten seconds the wig was on and there was Carmen. It was so quick! Duval says she is deeply saddened to lose "such a fun, very kind, friend." You can discuss this New Zealand gay community news story and post your memories and messages in the Forum.    

Credit: Daily News staff

First published: Thursday, 15th December 2011 - 8:17am

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