published Friday, January 11th, 2013

Colby more than a pretty face on 'American Pickers'

Three years ago, Mike Wolfe asked his friend of 10 years, Danielle Colby, to help man his store while he and pal Frank Fritz were on the road for a new television show in development. That show, "American Pickers," has made stars out of all three people.
Three years ago, Mike Wolfe asked his friend of 10 years, Danielle Colby, to help man his store while he and pal Frank Fritz were on the road for a new television show in development. That show, "American Pickers," has made stars out of all three people.
Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

If You Go

* What: Danielle Colby at O'Reilly World of Wheels Custom Auto Show

* When: 5:30-9 p.m. tonight

* Where: Chattanooga Convention Center

* Admission: $15 adults, $5 ages 6-11; $2 discount on adult tickets purchased at an O'Reilly Auto Parts Store

* Information: www.worldofwheels.net

What are the odds of turning a chance encounter at a yard sale into a national TV gig?

That's just how Danielle Colby says she met Mike Wolfe more than 10 years ago. They were both eyeing the same "find" and struck up a conversation.

Wolfe and his buddy, Frank Fritz, are the popular pair who star in the History Channel's top-rated "American Pickers." The Laurel and Hardy-like duo travel the country, scouring basements and barns for collectibles and treasures, then explaining to viewers the value of their finds before driving on to the next pick -- rather like a drive-by "Antiques Roadshow."

Their discoveries are resold either to collectors or through their store, Antique Archeology, which Colby manages.

"There are rumors as to whether the business is real or if it's just for TV. It is real, we actually do work there, we do depend on it for our livelihood," Colby says in a phone interview earlier this week from Chicago.

Colby says that, three to four days a week, she makes the two-hour trip from her home in Chicago to work at Antique Archaeology in LeClaire, Iowa. Viewers know she was also the driving force behind opening the pickers' second store in Nashville, which she says she frequently visits. She also owns her own store, 4 Miles to Memphis in Chicago, which her husband and niece run.

Colby says it's not unusual for fans at meet-and-greets -- like the one she's doing tonight in Chattanooga -- to bring in items for her inspection, but she's quick to add "the boys know so much more about antiques than I do as far as value goes.

"I do the best that I can. I am really awesome with Google."

While Wolfe and Fritz are the stars of "American Pickers," fans will readily say that Colby is the brains behind the operation.

"They may go out and find the stuff, but she runs the company," says viewer Thomas Rayburn, an East Brainerd resident. "The thing I like about her is the way she takes a lot of mess off Frank and Mike all the time. Like the time she needed a car or a raise and they bought her that little mini car." (Colby called it a clown car in the episode.)

"Mike and Frank are average guys, and she's anything but average-looking," says Rayburn.

Indeed, her cat-eye makeup, boho fashion style and tattoos give Colby an edgy look that sets her apart in television. Wolfe has said in interviews that Colby's unique look is one reason he hired her for the show, not to mention her business savvy.

Although her body is a palette for more than 30 tattoos -- so many even Colby says she has lost count -- she's adamant that it's not just gratuitous ink.

"I'm not one of those tattoo collectors out to collect as many as possible. I have certain people I like to collect work from and, when the moment hits me just right, I will have a piece done," she says.

Jack Pendergrass, of Rite of Passage on North Market Street, recognized Colby's tats as custom work designed exclusively for her.

"Every last one has special meaning," Colby concurs. "A lot of them, unfortunately, are about death and love and people I've lost. A lot of my body is a memorium of sorts. I just want to make sure to carry these people and moments with me the rest of my life. All of them are about my loved ones."

Lala Hartline, owner of Evermore Galleries on Shallowford Road, says Colby's two most prominent tattoos are called a chest piece. They include a turquoise and rose design resembling a necklace around her collarbone with a cheetah pattern beneath.

"My sister and I used to do Roller Derby together," explains Colby. "She is crazy about flowers so my tattoo artist designed it to bring the two of us together."

The cheetah-skin tattoo, meanwhile, represents the close affinity she feels for the wild animal.

Viewers frequently hear Wolfe call Colby "Dannie D" on the show and she explains that the nickname is one that her "dad's best friend gave me growing up because my dad drove an old diesel Mercedes."

"That name has stuck my entire life," she says, noting that it was her name when she was in Roller Derby and is now the name she uses in her act as a burlesque dancer, aka stripper.

"When I get onstage, the performance matches that name; it's not a frilly and delicate show," she jokes.

Her burlesque career is a startling pursuit for a girl who grew up in the strict household of Jehovah's Witness parents. But Colby is passionate about the performance art, even though she says it has caused an irreparable separation from her family. She says she spends countless hours studying the moves and techniques of burlesque legends in old video because she wants a "classic, vintage, vaudeville take on stripping."

about Susan Pierce...

Susan Palmer Pierce is a reporter and columnist in the Life department. She began her journalism career as a summer employee 1972 for the News Free Press, typing bridal announcements and photo captions. She became a full-time employee in 1980, working her way up to feature writer, then special sections editor, then Lifestyle editor in 1995 until the merge of the NFP and Times in 1999. She was honored with the 2007 Chattanooga Woman of ...

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