Brenda Morris, 66, who brought art to her bumps and grinds and go-go dance moves in the 1960s and whose name graced a downtown night spot long after it left her husband’s ownership, died Sunday in her West Toledo home.
Mrs. Morris, who had emphysema, was released from the hospital on Saturday after being treated for a collapsed lung, her daughter, Ginny, said.
She’d already left behind the stage, cage, and platform when in 1972 her husband, George, bought the New Zanzibar at Monroe and Huron streets and named it Brenda’s Body Shop. And as he did, he told her, “‘You’re the best dancer in town, the most beautiful,’” Mrs. Morris recalled to The Blade in 2002. “‘This one’s named for you. Didn’t I tell you I’d put your name in lights someday?’ ”
Mrs. Morris added, as she dabbed away a tear: “Can you tell this man loved me?”
The women who danced at Brenda’s, under the Morrises’ ownership, were clothed, though scantily, and often wore matching outfits — and shoes and accessories.
“When he ran Brenda’s, it was a nice, clean operation, classy, just like Las Vegas,” Mrs. Morris told The Blade. “I was so happy there. All walks of life came to Brenda’s. We had doctors and lawyers, salesmen, convention-goers. George kept everyone in line. ‘You don’t touch the women in here. You keep your hands to yourself, or you’re out the door,’ he’d say.”
During that time, Mrs. Morris waited tables and tended bar. Her husband sold the business in 1974, but leaving her name intact was part of the deal. She understood. The name was well-known. Brenda’s “meant good dancing,” she told The Blade. But by the time the club lost its liquor license and closed in 1999, it was known for seediness and police raids.
“I think they had girls dance naked there after we sold out,” she told The Blade. “I never went back after that.” After Fifth Third Field was opened, the building was razed and the foundation became part of PizzaPapalis Taverna.
After her husband sold Brenda’s, the couple owned a restaurant for a while in her native Alabama. They returned to Toledo, and she was a waitress at several bowling alleys. The few customers who didn’t recognize her commented on her resemblance to Dolly Parton, her daughter said.
“She loved recalling all the memories,” her daughter said. “My dad passed away in ’96, and she was never the same again. That was the love of her life.”
She was born Aug. 17, 1946, in Pinson, Ala. She danced to the radio, and so her adoptive mother signed her up for ballet and tap classes. By her late teens, she’d been married and divorced and started dancing go-go at a Birmingham, Ala., club.
“She enjoyed being in the spotlight and performing,” her daughter said. “She loved to dance and wanted to share with people her talent.”
Mrs. Morris’ sister, Carol, lived in Toledo, and she moved north about 1964. Her first job was at the Carousel Club on Central Avenue.
“Go-go wasn’t real sexy most of the time,” Mrs. Morris told The Blade “It was the twist, the jerk, whatever dance was popular. It wasn’t just shaking yourself at people. It was real dancing. It was an art.”
She was hired by George Morris for his George’s Show Bar, downtown, one of several clubs he owned through the years.
“It was classy. We had our hair done, our nails painted. Our costumes were immaculate, custom-made, with matching shoes,” she told The Blade. “We were so put-together. Classy, not trashy. Not naked or crude.”
But she liked to shock with her wit.
“You wouldn’t know it to look at her because she was so classy,” her daughter said. “She loved to tell her inappropriate jokes. She just had the craziest Southern sayings that came to her out of the blue.”
She and her husband married Sept. 27, 1969. He died March 29, 1996.
Surviving are her daughter, Ginny Morris; son, Jeff Tomlin; stepsons, Greg, Tony, and Jim Morris, and several grandchildren.
Memorial services will be at 5 p.m. Saturday in the Ansberg-West Funeral Home, where visitation is to begin at noon.
Contact Mark Zaborney at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6182.