Conjure this: a witchy burlesque show and psychic reading performed monthly at a haunted venue in Los Angeles. Not just a scene from a Jess Franco film, this evening of entertainment—called “Belle, Book, and Candle”—is the work of iconic artist, punk rock legend, poet, gifted psychic, and professional dancer, Pleasant Gehman. I knew Pleasant well in the ’90s when we performed together on every stage in LA. We belly danced, performed burlesque, and go-go danced with our trio, called Girls Marked Danger, on tour with the Go-Go’s, B-52’s and Paul McCartney. Now, twenty year later and currently quarantined in her Hollywood bungalow with her cats (appropriately named Ghost and Beeper), I spoke with Pleasant to find out how “Belle, Book, and Candle” came to be.
It all began with a dream.
Shana Leilani & Pleasant Gehman, aka Princess Farhana. Photo: Hovik Gengosian
It was 2017, and Pleasant Gehman, also known as Princess Farhana, decided to take some time off performing and just write. Pleasant is a prolific writer, with several published books of poetry including Senorita Sin and Princess of Hollywood, as well as nonfiction books The Belly Dance Handbook and Showgirl Confidential. She’s also written articles for publications such as L.A. Weekly, The Hollywood Reporter, Variety, and Spin. One fateful night, she had a dream about a witch burlesque club that resembled the Zodiac Club, the beatnik witch club in the 1958 film, Bell, Book, and Candle, starring Kim Novak.
Soon after the dream, a dancer named Shana Leilani called Pleasant/Princess Farhana for private burlesque lessons. Both women are professional dancers and professional psychics, and it turned out they knew each other from The Green Man, a well-known “Metaphysical Shoppe and Apothecary” in Hollywood. Pleasant told Shana about her dream of a bewitching show that combined occult-inspired burlesque performances with real rituals and psychic readings Together they decided to make the dream a reality. They called the show “Belle, Book, and Candle.”
The two started looking for venues that had both a stage and quiet areas for psychic readings. Pleasant was thinking of the haunted LA restaurant, El Cid, but she didn’t pursue it at the time. After months of going from club to club, unable to find the perfect venue, Pleasant had another dream. In this one, she woke up with these words screaming in her head: “Call Lina Lecaro, she will help you.”
Years before, Lina Lecaro was an intern at the LA Weekly, where Pleasant was working as the gossip columnist. Now, Lina was the Weekly‘s Culture and Entertainment Editor. Pleasant hadn’t talked to Lina in years, but she contacted Lina and told her about the idea Lina was enchanted. She asked Pleasant to name her dream venue. Pleasant said El Cid and the phone went silent. Then Lina quietly said, “Did anyone tell you that I just became the booker for El Cid last night?”
“Belle, Book, and Candle” had found its home.
Left: Vanessa Burgundy on stage. Right: Diamond Debbie as voodoo queen Marie Laveau. (Photos: Daniel J. Sliwa)
The Haunted Restaurant
El Cid has a notorious history and is known in LA to be haunted. It is built on the same site as D.W. Griffith’s first movie studio from the early 1900’s, where he filmed Intolerance, with its infamous Babylon set. In the 1930s it became the Jail Café, complete with bars on the booths, wait staff wearing black and white stripes, and drinks served in tin cups to the likes of Clark Gable and Jean Harlow. The building even had a watchtower. In the 1950s, El Cid was taken over by flamenco dancers, who turned it into a Spanish tavern with heavy ornate carved furniture and Spanish windows. Throughout the years, many workers, performers, and wait staff at El Cid have reported ghostly experiences, like things flying off shelves, disappearing props, floating beer bottles, and doors locking and unlocking by themselves. Current staff refuse to close the place down alone because of the hauntings.
For “Belle, Book, and Candle,” guests enter El Cid at street level and proceed down winding steps, surrounded by lush overgrown plants and twinkle lights. At the bottom of the winding path, guests enter the glamorous vintage restaurant/nightclub with its raised stage and working curtains. Here they can sit down and order dinner and cocktails. There are various patios where guests can lounge,order drinks, or indulge in sessions with Tarot Card readers, South American Shamans, or psychics who specialize in Numismanti, (fortunes told with coins). There are even cocktail divinations, with psychics telling fortunes by looking into drinks. Guests can also purchase candles and oils handmade by witches, supplied by the sponsors of the show, local occult shops, The Green Man or Pan’s Apothika.
Left: Coven Of Ashes performs a blood magick ritual. Right: Sam Franco (Photo: Matt Odom)
When asked to describe the show, Pleasant used the words “Dark, Goth, Fetish, Witchy, Beautiful and “full of dark witchy glamour, sinister fairy tales and supernatural fantasies”.
Every show is a curated blend of real ritual and burlesque performances, with themes created by Pleasant and her co-producer, Shana. Lina Lecaro acts as DJ, spinning a web of magic with a wide range of music, and go-go dancers called “Go-Go-Ghouls” of every gender, who interact with audience members. Audience participation is part of the night. Prominent local magic practitioners lead group rituals onstage that include performers and the audience. Past rituals include the Go-Go Ghouls handing out small pieces of paper and asking guests to write something on it, and then later in the night, guests were instructed to burn it. Another time, a witch went through the crowd asking people to hold a thin rope that ended up looping around the crowd to eventually form a pentagram. Pleasant says for the quiet psychic rooms, they have had everything from Tarot Card readers to Numismanti to South American Shamans.
According to Pleasant, the show has become so much more than she envisioned. In addition to burlesque fans, pagans from around the world and entire covens meet up at “Belle, Book, and Candle.” The show has evolved over time and incorporated an increasing number of esoteric themes. Asked for a few of her personal favorites, Pleasant named, among others…
During an Ancient Egyptian night, Shana performed as the cat goddess, Bastet, with Cleopatra onstage reading the Book of the Dead while Bastet rolled around on top of the book and batted at it with her paws. Kira Von Sutra danced to dark metal wearing an Anubis mask and ended her performance covered in blood.
Left: Shana Leilani (Photo: Matt Odom). Right: Kira Von Sutra as Egyptian god Anubis (Photo: Paul Koudounaris)
Famous witch, Madame Pamita, danced as Medusa, with her back to the audience looking at them through a handheld mirror. During another memorable show, water sprite contortionists, mermaids on giant clam shells and wizards practicing magic who take off their beards and robes and to reveal themselves as beautiful women.
During a Crucible-inspired show, Penny Starr Jr. entered the stage dressed as a Puritan with a scarlet A on her dress. She stood and read from a Feminine Manifesto, then stripped off her puritan costume to “Shame” by Gladys Knight and the Pips, followed by a dance to “Bad Reputation” by Joan Jett.
Famous Turkish dancer, Ozgen, started his act by putting on lipstick in a mirror while wearing a huge ruffled flamenco skirt and proceeded to do a gothic flamenco belly dance with a cape, bringing the house down.
Marcella Kroll, a well-known witch, did a prosperity spell that ended with her picking up a gun that shot out $100 bills, and then of course, the unforgettable night the Coven of Ashes performed with their… well… coven of 8-15 people, and did a channeling/automatic writing act that included suspension, chanting, soundscape, and real blood magick—the kind that requires tarps and pathogen safety people to be present on site.
Then there was the time Pinky Deville thrilled the audience with her lookalike Lily Munster act.
Normally, “Belle, Book, and Candle” takes place at El Cid on the third Wednesday of every month. Needless to say, COVID-19 has impacted the schedule, so if you are interested in the show, be sure to check their Facebook page for updates. Until then, light your candles, pour yourself a glass of blood red wine, and let the belles ring your bell.