Billed as “The Slave of Fashion” big time vaudeville female impersonator Francis Renault would display his expensive, five-figure gowns placed in the lobby for his lady fans (vastly more numerous than even his gay fans) to admire. Born Anthony Auriemma in Providence in 1893, he began performing in his native state with a performer named Catherine Purnell, then hitched up with a Gus Edwards revue portraying one “Sunbonnet Sue”. As he got older he trod the boards in vaudeville as a Lillian Russell impersonator and first came into prominence around 1916. He was equally popular at big time vaudeville venues like the Palace and in Broadway revues like The Passing Show of 1922. In 1926 he opened his own speakeasy in Atlantic City, the Club Francis Renault. After vaudeville petered out, he catered mostly to gay audiences and rubberneckers in drag clubs for the next few decades, although he was still a big marquee name, enjoying solo shows at Carnegie Hall, and headline status at the Palace during its vaudeville revival in the 1950s. He shed his last costume in 1955.
To learn more about vaudeville, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.