"I need one brave person to come into the dressing room who isn't afraid to see breasts." With that quote, our fascinating interview with Lady Chablis was off to the races. Savannah's Grand Empress was suitably colorful in a raucous feature from 2008.
Featured in Faces of the South: The Trilogy Edition now on newsstands. Click here to order your copy of Faces today.
14 years after the explosive release of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
, the South's first "Lady" is still defining her own truth.
When the news reached The South
magazine office that she was willing to speak, the entire staff was abuzz. As one of Savannah's
most colorful and controversial characters, The Lady Chablis
owns an air of risque mystery most publications would long to unravel. So, we set out to decipher The Doll, (as The Lady is also known) starting with the facts:
The Lady Chablis was strutting her stuff on nightclub stages long before author John Berendt took out his pen, but it was the release of his book, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
, that created the first spark of true stardom in her career. Chablis, born Benjamin Edwards Knox, was introduced to readers across the globe as the embodiment of Savannah quirk – to oth the dismay and the delight of locals. When Clint Eastwood
directed the movie, Chablis played herself with ease, spinning the script as though it was the first time she had spoken the words.
We spent several days with The Doll as she sat for three photo shoots with the magazine and agreed to several lengthy interviews. We found quickly, however, that what makes The Lady Chablis extends far beyond a book and a movie. The truth about Chablis and the life she leads off the stage and the screen is much harder to put a finger on.
Who is she, really? The best answer we could find is both a performer and a person completely and confusingly intertwined. Each room she enteres is a stage, each moment is an act and perhaps, quite possibly, she herself has forgotten what is real.
What The Lady proved she has never forgotten, however, is a sharp tongue and a critic's eye. While we searched for the one true Chablis, she told us about her rawest opinions. What emerged, like it or not, is Chablis' personally crafter T, her truth, about Savannah, the South, gender and politics.
"As far as the residents that live in Savannah–I don't know how they feel. I know some of them are fine with me; I know some of them wish they had never heard of my name; I know that some of them are not very proud of having me as a tourist attraction…And then there are some who admire what I do, and there are some that support what I do and then there are some that come and tell me how they feel about what I have done for the City of Savannah, for myself and for everything I have touched during that era."
"This is the thing about me. During the daytime, I am Brenda Dale Knox. I am Brenda Knox during the daytime and I put Chablis away. Chablis is my job. That is how I make money. She gets on my damn nerves someitmes, but she gets it done. But I'm not Chablis 24 hours a day."
"I have no intentions of being a woman. This is not why I live my life. I love me. I love me just the way I am. The only thing I do to increase my female-look is that I take estrogen pills for my breasts. I am fifty-one years old, and I have always lived my life like this, and I always will. But it is not because I want to be a woman. I don't know wthat that would be like!"
"I don't think Savannah owes me anything, and if it did, I don't know if I would want it, because what would they give me? The key to the city? No, thank you. What would they give me? A headache? A free parking space anywhere in Savannah would be fabulous."
As we wrap up the final photo shoot on the second floor of 24e., on Broughton Street, The Lady Chablis takes a moment to take several quick shots with the crew before holding her hands high, as though about to conduct an orchestra, and asking everyone to please shut up.
"Thank all of you very much for your time and your patience. I really appreciate it. I really do. And I hope it is good, and I hope I get to do it again. I do know that I am a handful, but thank you all so much."
It is easy to imagine that this is the Genuine Lady Chablis, the one who, on or off the stage, appreciates people who appreciate her.
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