Chapter 9, Part 2: The Sitting Down Show

Soon the opera house opened, and Marta debuted her acting and dancing talents at Death Valley Junction. It was a one-woman show, with the star of the show dancing ballet, on pointe, while performing a soliloquy. A narrative. It was the thoughts and inspirations and interesting observations of one woman. A show business woman from New York City, who had transplanted herself to a most unlikely location.

Her audience size that night was zero. Except the audience she had painted on the walls. And they loved it. It was a command performance, deserving of rave reviews. Her ovation was thunderous, followed by curtain call after curtain call.

Marta continued performing weekly this way, to her audience of zero, into the 1969 opera season. And then into the 1970 season.

One day in 1970, journalists from National Geographic magazine happened to be in the area. They discovered Becket performing her impeccable on pointe ballet, and all without an audience. It struck them as the oddest thing. It was very unique. A unicorn.

They wrote a profile about her, and it was published in two magazines that were widely popular at the time: National Geographic and Life. And this led to an international interest in the unusual Amargosa Opera House of Death Valley Junction.

Soon curious tourists from all over the world flocked to this remote locale, and Marta found herself performing to audiences that truly were sold out. Many notables began to attend, including Ray Bradbury and Red Skelton. In fact, Red Skelton became a personal friend of hers.

This was Red Skelton’s favorite room at the Amargosa Hotel. He painted this mural of juggling circus performers, for Marta.

Around this time, she opened the adjoining hotel, giving tourists a place to lay their heads before exploring nearby Death Valley. But many hotel guests came only to watch her perform ballet.

Colonnade fronting the Amargosa Hotel.

The local churchgoing ladies snubbed her, because they disagreed with her lifestyle. But she found a way to get their husbands to attend her performances. She befriended the sex workers at the brothel just across the Nevada border, and they began bringing their johns to watch her show, many of whom she recognized.

She continued performing to live audiences at her opera house for the next four decades. Age and back problems caught up with her after she turned 80, and she could no longer dance on pointe. But the show must go on, so Marta began what she called, The Sitting Down Show. In this show, she sat at the edge of the stage and regaled her audience with stories, including the story about the “not practical” lady.

Marta Becket signing autographs after her Sitting Down Show. Sorry, but this was the best photo I could get of her, due to my handheld camera, dim lighting, and prohibition against flash photography.

My wife and I watched her season opening performance in November of 2007, when we stayed at the Amargosa Hotel on a vacation to Death Valley. This was billed as her last season, and we were lucky to have reserved tickets ahead of time. It was standing-room only at the back of the theater. But we had seats.

Marta was engaging, funny, saucy, and thought-provoking, during her soliloquy. We loved it. It was one of the most unusual and memorable performances we had ever witnessed.

She changed her mind about retiring from show business, and performed again for the 2008-2009 season. Then she retired, but came back out of retirement a year later, for the 2010-2011 season. Her final performance was on February 12, 2012.

She passed away at her home in Death Valley Junction on January 30, 2017, at age 92.

Today, the Amargosa Opera House is closed, due to Covid. The hotel closed also, but has apparently re-opened. You can visit it, and even stay there, though it’s reputed that at least one of the rooms is haunted. But this historic landmark will never be the same without the impractical Marta Becket. She will always remain one of the most colorful, unique characters to have graced the Amargosa Valley.

This mural, painted by Marta Becket on the lobby wall of the Amargosa Hotel & Opera House, is her vision of the property in ruins, long after her death. Her spirit still lives on as the ballet dancing, pink sylph faintly seen hovering above the ruins, against the Funeral Mountains, in the upper right.

This is the latest installation of my series, The Amazing Amargosa. Come on back in a few days for the next installation, entitled, Chapter 10: Devils Hole. Click here to read the previous installation. Click here, to start at the beginning.


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