Archive for the Drag and/or LGBT Category

Dr. Sketchy’s Returns Tomorrow: with Sammy Tramp!

Posted in Burlesk, Drag and/or LGBT, PLUGS, VISUAL ART with tags , , on November 21, 2014 by travsd

unnamed

Francis Leon: Minstrelsy’s Greatest Female Impersonator

Posted in African American Interest, Blackface & Minstrelsy, Bowery, Barbary Coast, Old New York, Saloons, Drag and/or LGBT, Variety Theatre with tags , , , , , , on November 21, 2014 by travsd

Harvard_Theatre_Collection_-_Francis_Leon_TCS_1.640_-_cropped

Today is the birthday of Francis Leon (Francis Patrick Glassey, b. 1844). Eventually billed simply as “Leon” or “The Only Leon”, he was the foremost female impersonator in blackface minstrelsy.

Let it be known that the category of the “wench” was universally popular in minstrel shows — every comedian did drag, just like every comedian did blackface in the 19th century: if you didn’t, what good were you? But Leon was different from those lowbrow clowns. He was a hardcore female impersonator in the modern, vaudeville sense. He upped the ante, by being as convincing as humanly possible in his portrayals. It was no longer necessarily about comedy, it was about beauty and histrionic ability.

He went into show biz in his early teens. Because of his training as a boy soprano in church choirs he was able to mimic prima donnas, making him a novelty in minstrel shows. Rather than laying on burnt cork, he often portrayed “high yellow” dames, i.e. mulattoes. It’s said that there were as many as 300 dresses in his wardrobe, some of them costing as much as $400 — and astounding sum in those days. He presented refined opera and ballet and was renowned for the sensitivity accuracy of his representation of the fairer sex. In 1864 he formed his own troupe. Within a decade every minstrel company in the country had a Leon impersonator. The last historical reference to him is in San Francisco in 1883. Where and when he died remains unknown.

To learn more about the history of variety theatreconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

safe_image

The Lady Had a Certain KULPability

Posted in Drag and/or LGBT, Hollywood (History), Movies, Sit Coms, Television, Women with tags , , , , , on August 28, 2014 by travsd

plain janes miss jane[1]

Today is the birthday of the late great character actress Nancy Kulp (1921-1991). Best known of course for her role as “Miss Jane” Hathaway, the love-starved spinster secretary on The Beverly Hillbillies (1962-1971), she played many such roles over the years, often as guest shots in situation comedies and dramas. Flat-chested, rail-thin, prim and proper, she seemed more than vaguely English, despite the fact that she hailed from Pennsylvania, and moved to Florida as a teenager. Originally trained as a journalist, in the early 1950s she went to work in the publicity department of a movie studio, where she was discovered by George Cukor, who encouraged her to try acting. She had many small parts in movies over the years (including many for Walt Disney), but it was her role as a bird-watching neighbor on The Bob Cummings Show starting in 1955 that forever cemented her profile as a highly eccentric — but very recognizable type.

"Be so good as to go, Jethro!"

“Be so good as to go, Jethro!”

As time went on, the iconography of the character she played gathered new shades of meaning. Just the other night, the Mad Marchioness and myself caught her in an episode of Sanford and Son. She had a recurring role on that show from 1975 to 1976  as the very whitest of white ladies, always to entrance and exit applause. People loved Nancy Kulp to death, much as they loved Tony Randall. I confess to being among the idolaters. She had so much class, and she didn’t apologize for it. She was absolutely willing to be 100% herself, to plunge right into the most vulnerable, humiliating sort of behavior for the sake of our amusement. Without debasing herself, mind you — just being human, but in the most courageous way. There is a ton to learn from the example of this actress.

And yes, she was of the L persuasion, research bears it out. I never make assumptions, as many seem to think it’s OK to do: “Of COURSE she’s this or that!” Of course, nothing. Kulp divorced her husband of ten years in 1961, thereafter secretly practicing her conviction that “Sometimes birds of a feather flock together.”, which is all she was willing to say on the subject. I guess there was more to that bird watching than meets the eye!

Here is a really nice clip of her The Bob Cummings Show a.k.a. Love That Bob. Genius!

To learn more about comedy history please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc

chain%20of%20fools%20cvr%20front%20only-500x500

To find out more about  the history of vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

safe_image

Century of Slapstick #46: The Masquerader

Posted in Century of Slapstick, Charlie Chaplin, Comedy, Drag and/or LGBT, Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film with tags , , , , , , on August 27, 2014 by travsd

chaplin

Today is the 100th anniversary of the release date of the Charlie Chaplin comedy The Masquerader (1914). The film is one of many Keystone and Chaplin comedies to be set in an actual movie studio, with Chaplin and cohorts like Fatty Arbuckle and Chester Conklin essentially playing themselves. When we first see Chaplin, he is out of make-up — probably a big treat for audiences of the time. He puts on his tramp get-up in a dressing room he shares with Arbuckle (just like real life). Then he proceeds to cause all manner of havoc, and gets chased off. Returning to the set in the garb of a woman, he entrances the director Charlie Murray for awhile. Then returns to form, eventually getting chased by everyone at the studio, and falling into a well. (When you didn’t have an ending for your Keystone comedy, “…and then everyone falls in the water” would do well enough!

To learn more about silent and slapstick comedy history please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc

chain%20of%20fools%20cvr%20front%20only-500x500

To find out more about  the history of vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

safe_image

Charlie Chaplin is “A Woman”

Posted in Charlie Chaplin, Comedy, Drag and/or LGBT, Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film with tags , , , , , on July 12, 2014 by travsd

ccwoman

Today is the anniversary of the release date of the Charlie Chaplin short A Woman (1915).

In this Essanay comedy, Chaplin plays his usual park masher, who ends up coming home with Edna Purviance and her mother (Marta Golden), whom, I must say are not very discriminating about whom they bring into the house. When the father (Charles Inslee) comes home, the Little Fellow runs upstairs and dons feminine garb as a means of escaping the house without getting his neck broken. Later after the father has made a pass at him, Charlie (now “Nora”) uses that fact to blackmail the dad into letting him date his daughter. And I must say he doesn’t make a bad looking woman!

A little over ten years ago, I worked up a screenplay with the intention of filming a re-make of this short, which is still on my to-do list as part of my series of silent comedy experiments like this one. ‘Til then, there’s Chaplin’s original version:

For more on silent and slapstick comedy don’t miss my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etcchain%20of%20fools%20cvr%20front%20only-500x500For more on show biz historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

safe_image

Arbuckle, Keaton & St. John in “Good Night, Nurse!”

Posted in Buster Keaton, Comedy, Drag and/or LGBT, Fatty Arbuckle, Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film with tags , , , , , , , , on July 8, 2014 by travsd

 1918good-night-nurse01

Today is the anniversary of the release date of the  Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle comedy Good Night, Nurse (1918), featuring Buster Keaton, Al St. John and Alice Lake. 

This short seems at least partially inspired by Chaplin’s The Cure (1917). Arbuckle plays a drunk. When we first meeting he is loitering in front of a drug store in the middle of a monsoon, fruitlessly trying to get a cigarette lit. (BTW, that woman with an umbrella who blows by is Keaton, in drag). Fatty caps off his evening by bringing home a couple of busking musicians, a tambourine girl, and an organ grinder and his monkey. This enrages his wife, who sends him to a sanitarium the next day to dry out.  Keaton plays a scary doctor(when we first meet him he is wearing a bloody smock). St. John is his assistant. They put Arbuckle under ether for some unspecified procedure. Then Arbuckle “wakes” and makes several escape attempts, one with nymphomaniac Alice Lake (who immediately wants to break  back into the sanitarium once they’re out) and one with Fatty in the obligatory drag as a nurse. Found out, he flees, and through a contrived set of circumstances winds up in a footrace, which he triumphantly wins, only to be immediately caught again by Keaton and his orderlies. Which of course all turns out to be a dream (he’s still under the ether). Pound for pound (no pun intended), one of the best of Abuckle’s Comique shorts, I think

For more on silent and slapstick comedy don’t miss my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etcchain%20of%20fools%20cvr%20front%20only-500x500For more on show biz historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

safe_image

Miss Fatty’s Seaside Lovers

Posted in Comedy, Drag and/or LGBT, Fatty Arbuckle, Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film with tags , , , , , , on May 15, 2014 by travsd

60010401150ad9176d53e0c427fc78a7

Today is the anniversary of the release date of the Keystone comedy Miss Fatty’s Seaside Lovers (1915).

This was among the first silent films I ever saw. It came on a videotape I got for Christmas in high school, which also included Love, Loot and Crash and one or two others. I think it was actually in the Beta Max format!

In the film, three mashers (Harold Lloyd, Edgar Kennedy and Joe Bordeaux) wait around a hotel lobby at a seaside resort, looking for action. Then arrives a very Scottish looking mothball magnate (Walter C. Reed), his wife Billie Bennett, and his eligible daughter (Roscoe Arbuckle in drag!).

After much fooling around in the lobby, the family settles into a room. The suitors come up. Lots of fisticuffs with Fatty , which then evolves into dancing, and soon a total melee. The father kicks them all out. Then Miss Fatty puts on her ridiculous striped bathing suit, with cap and parasol. They all frolic on on beach. Fatty falls asleep on a rock. Wakes up, surrounded by water. The tide has come in . (Did this inspire a similar scene in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang?). The three guys try to rescue her and fail.  The “surf Kops” too try, fail and fall. Finally she just makes her way back by herself. Notices her parasol is broken, starts to cry.

Now you can watch it too:

For more on silent and slapstick comedy don’t miss my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc

chain%20of%20fools%20cvr%20front%20only-500x500

For more on show biz historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

safe_image

 

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 4,503 other followers

%d bloggers like this: