Saturday, January 14, 2012

Bandleader Doc Scantlin and His Wife's Lifelong Struggle with Autism

She wears a red tulle dress with a tight bustier with sequins that frame her impressive decolletage, a plume of tulle flowing down the back of her legs. A red-feathered headdress shivers upon her blond updo, above a pale face with striking red lipstick. She’s Chou Chou Scantlin, a songstress built like a Barbie doll, crooning “As Time Goes By.” Behind her, Doc Scantlin, her husband, leads his Imperial Palms Orchestra , a 15-piece, 1930s-themed band that has been a fixture in the Washington area for more than 20 years.
Tonight their audience is members of the Scottish Rite Freemasons, a mostly over-50 group slowly filling the massive Washington Hilton ballroom. As the tempo picks up, couples self-consciously take to the edges of the dance floor, while Doc — dapper with a pencil mustache and white tails and spats — tells corny jokes and sings standards such as “Night and Day” and “Minnie the Moocher.” Chou Chou (pronounced “shoo-shoo”), 58, flirts with the men in the audience, rubbing one man’s bald head and exclaiming, to his tablemates’ delight, “More skin to kiss!” When Doc starts playing “Paper Moon,” she pulls two men in suits onstage and says, “This is Lou and Bill! They’re going to blow bubbles for me!”
In truth, there’s little separation between the two personas onstage or off. Stop in at their bayside Calvert County home unannounced, and you’ll find Doc, who’s 65, in a bow tie, pressed pants and shirt. It’s how he has dressed his whole adult life.
With a perfect figure, Chou Chou looks years younger than her age, a youthfulness exaggerated by a breathy, sweet-as-pie voice that always sounds as if it’s on the verge of a giggle. But her disposition is particularly striking, considering the tragedy she has dealt with and her lifelong struggle with autism.

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