Faith — her legal name — died April 7 at a nursing home in Washington. She was 96 and had congestive heart failure, said her husband, Jude Crannitch. Faith, her bugle, her Statue of Liberty headdress, her fabulously fruitless campaigns and her belief in the power of art to heal the ills of poverty in her adopted city enlivened D.C. politics for four decades.
Born Faith Dane, she starred for many years in a stage show that spanned burlesque, jazz, dance, calypso, comedy and performance art. She hit it big in the Broadway and film productions of “Gypsy,” for which the lyricist Stephen Sondheim created a role based on her long-standing cabaret act.
Her tryout to be in the show, which is based on the life of stripper Gypsy Rose Lee, was “one of the most spectacular auditions ever in the history of Broadway theater,” John Wallowitch, who played piano at the audition, told The Washington Post in 2002.
Faith appeared in a sequined gown, which she slipped out of to reveal a flesh-toned body stocking. She had performed her spoof of a stripper act hundreds of times, at variety shows and nightclubs from Nassau, Bahamas, to Miami to New Orleans to New York, and now she aimed to do it on Broadway, saluting, bumping her hips and blasting her raspy, huge voice.
At the end, she doubled over, pointed her rear toward the producers, and blew her bugle at them between her legs.
She got the part of Miss Mazeppa, and Sondheim wrote her a song, “You Gotta Get a Gimmick”: “Once I was a schlepper, now I’m Miss Mazeppa . . . With my revolution in dance / You gotta have a gimmick, if you wanna have a chance . . . If you wanna bump it, bump it with a trumpet.”
Premiering in 1959, “Gypsy” ran for 702 performances. Faith played her role in the 1962 movie version as well. Bosley Crowther, reviewing the film for the New York Times, deemed her performance “hilarious.”
After she moved to Washington in 1979, Faith was a perennial presence at public events, tooting her horn and shouting slogans at candidate forums, bars, street festivals and on horseback, riding in parades even when she was specifically banned from doing so. She interrupted President Bill Clinton at a rally for D.C. statehood in 2000, playing her signature “Reveille” fanfare on the bugle and cracking up Clinton, who waved away anxious security agents when they approached her.
She ran for mayor variously as an independent, a write-in candidate and a standard-bearer of the D.C. Statehood Green Party, appearing on the ballot as “Faith.” She ran, most recently in 2014, because, she said: “We’ve become the international business brothel of the world. I feel that Washington makes Vegas look like the Vatican. And I wasn’t going to be one of the people who don’t do anything.”
Her speeches veered sharply from typical political rhetoric. She explained to The Post in 2002 that she was running because “God planted me here as a nuclear suppository up the Devil’s colon.”
She never quite prevailed at the ballot box — she won 423 votes in 1994, 430 votes in 1998 and a personal best of 1,476 votes in 2010 — but she was a voter favorite at election forums, where her bugle calls were often greeted by a lusty mix of cheers and groans. Crowds did not, however, tend to encourage her when she’d promise to “strip for statehood.”
“Faith was on a mission to transform the world through art and God,” her husband said in an interview. “People may have seen her as a court jester, but Faith always told the truth.”
Or, as Faith herself put it, “Behind every clown’s mask, you may find some wisdom.”
On the campaign trail, she sang her platform, which included a proposal to solve the city’s problems with “arts around-the-clock,” a festival of free performances and an arts training program “that can lure people away from drug and alcohol abuse and crime.”
To the tune of “We Are the World,” she serenaded campaign audiences: “We are D.C., we’re getting shafted/ With no respect from Congress, no votes/ our children are getting drafted.”
In the 2002 election, Marlon Brando endorsed Faith for mayor. They had been friends since 1946, and a biography of Brando called the two a romantic item. Faith insisted to voters that they were “devoted friends, but we weren’t lovers.”
Brando traced his fondness for Faith to a long-ago incident when they were together at a party and “somebody made some untoward remarks about me . . . and she grabbed this guy and broke his nose.”
Faith Dane was born on Oct. 3, 1923, in Brooklyn, where her parents were teachers. Raised in an Orthodox Jewish home, Faith felt called to Christianity after she heard Bach’s St. Matthew Passion at age 13, and she eventually embraced all religions, Crannitch said.
After high school, Faith briefly attended college, but the lure of show business pulled her into a long series of gigs, from Neptuna the Mermaid’s understudy in a sideshow at Coney Island to dancing in the chorus in New York stage shows and on early TV variety programs starring Milton Berle, Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin.
She developed a cabaret act that included dance, improvised comedy, burlesque and a piano medley that included Chopin, Bach and Debussy, performed in a body stocking. But steady gigs were hard to come by, and her personal life was sometimes erratic. She was briefly married to John Fallon, who was so smitten by Faith that he left his studies to become a priest, Crannitch said.
Even as she made her way in show business, Faith was politically involved. She spent years pushing to copyright her choreography in “Gypsy,” claiming that the producers had taken credit for the burlesque routine she had used for decades. A judge ruled that the song “You Gotta Get a Gimmick” succeeded “only through talent and ingenuity of the song writer.”
In the early 1960s, while she was leading a calypso dance act in a carnival in St. Croix, she met Russell B. Johnson, the former attorney general of the U.S. Virgin Islands. They married, and in 1964, she ran for a seat in the islands’ legislature. Her signature campaign tool was her bugle. She lost and moved back to New York, her marriage broken.
In 1975, she met Crannitch, an artist and musician 30 years her junior. He said he fell in love as she told him about her plan to solve the problem of lions eating zebras by developing soy bean zebras. They married in 1986 and settled in the District.
Crannitch is Faith’s only immediate survivor. Her two previous marriages, to Fallon and Johnson, ended in divorce.
Well into her 80s, Faith was putting on a show. Underneath a gold trench coat, she attended a Broadway opening in a gold fishnet tunic worn over a body stocking, with silver ankle straps.
In 2007, she tried to win back her old part in a “Gypsy” revival on Broadway. Appalled that the directors would not consider her at age 83, she filed an age discrimination complaint. The producers said they did not feel compelled to grant Faith a private audition, and she was welcome, as any union member was, to attend a public audition.
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