Today is the birthday of Bessie Bonehill (1855-1902). Bonehill was a British music hall singing comedienne and drag king, who started out in provincial West Bromwich before conquering, London, New York, and then farther-flung realms. She started off as principal boy in pantomime, which is where she perfected her male impersonation. She first came to the U.S. to play Tony Pastor’s in 1889 and moved here in 1891. Her vaudeville career was so successful that she was able to buy a 600 acre estate on Long Island. Her travels took her all over the wild west and to South Africa but she was forced to flee that country due to the Boer War. She died in England in 1902 while visiting home.
To find out more about the variety arts past and present, including vaudeville and drag kings like Bessie Bonehill, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous