Larry LaRue

“Shirley Temple of the Northwest” is all grown up now, and twice as busy

After 70 years in show business — in vaudeville, on television, with big bands and as a producer — Lynda Pressey lives by the creed.

The show must go on.

She learned that when she first went onstage as a 3½-year-old dancer, and at 4 when she was the “mistress of ceremonies” at USO events in Seattle.

“(Dance teacher) George Barclay took me aside when I was 4 and said I had great talent,” Pressey said. “Then he said, ‘You know, kid, you are really good for being 4 years old, but in two years you’ll be 6 and you will have to tear the audience up with your skill.’ ”

By 6 she was dancing, singing and mimicking Sophie Tucker, Judy Garland and Mae West onstage.

During World War II, she entertained military crowds as large as 10,000, and helped sell war bonds with celebrities including Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and John Wayne.

Dubbed “the Shirley Temple of the Northwest,” Pressey appeared onstage along with Sammy Davis Jr., the Mills Brothers and too many magicians, acrobats and dog acts to count.

There were television gigs, too. In Seattle, she was on “Tomtom Time.”

Now 74, happily married and living in Gig Harbor, Pressey has graduated from big band singer to a producer of shows, from a one-woman tour de force to 27 years producing “A Victorian Country Christmas” at the Washington State Fairgrounds.

That explains why her home last week was an explosion of color, fabric and feathers. There are costumes to finish, including sequined dance outfits and head gear requiring 60 to 80 feathers.

“I get sewing machines at garage sales and last week we burned out four of them,” Pressey said. “My husband went to Costco and found one on sale and bought two of them.”

Though a daughter and son-in-law bought “A Victorian Country Christmas” 11 years ago, Pressey remains neck-deep in the program. This year, for instance, she’s handling the costumes, the choreography and the “Fantastic Stardust Follies” show and will do a little dancing and singing of her own.

“Our seniors show will have a tribute to the military, six dancers from age 61 to 80, a ventriloquist and Vegas-style dance numbers,” Pressey said. “One of my granddaughters, Jessica, is singing in one show, and two others, Chloe and Kelly, will be dancing in another.”

The idea for “A Victorian Country Christmas” was all Pressey’s. She wanted a Victorian village with vintage shops, carolers wandering, a nativity scene.

Reality was a work in progress.

“When we did the first nativity scenes, we used live animals,” Pressey said. “The sheep escaped and ran through a shop filled with paper flowers. The cow was too big to fit in the set, and a donkey rolled over. One year we had three horses and they all reared.

“We don’t use animals now.”

This year, the festival runs from Dec. 3-7, with entry tickets from $9 to $11.

“We’re conscious of cost. Parking is free, and all the shows inside are free,” Pressey said. “There are more than 500 shops, trees, Santa … and things for families to do together.”

And there are the daily shows, from country-western concerts to Pressey’s Stardust Follies.

Surrounded by unfinished costumes, baskets and Christmas decorations, she said it will all come together, somehow, in time for the show.

It always has.

“I’ve produced shows for Boeing and Alaska Airlines, and in 1987 had 93 of our performers open for President Ronald Reagan at the Washington, D.C., convention center,” Pressey said.

“I’ve had both shoulders replaced. I took a terrible fall in 2007, I came out of the hospital after surgery at 2 p.m. and was onstage in Bellevue by 7 p.m., emceeing and singing.”

After a divorce in the mid-1970s, Pressey met and married the love of her life, Rod Pressey. Their combined family includes four children and a bushel of grandkids — all of them, Grandma insists, tremendously talented.

“My husband and I may write a book about relationships,” Pressey said. “He’s had two open-heart surgeries, he’s 81 and I’m 74. Every morning I wake up and see him, it’s like magic.”

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