This gender bending performer is one we are presenting in a series to celebrate NYC Pride Week.
Ella Wesner (1841-1917) began as a ballet dancer in the late 1860s, and was for a time the dresser of Annie Hindle, from whom she learned the art of male impersonation. She became a hit at Tony Pastor’s singing adaptations of English music hall songs; the one she became most associated with was “Captain Cuff”. She also made a big splash in San Francisco’s Barbary Coast at such venues as the Bella Union. According to historian Laurence Senelick, author of the excellent book The Changing Room, from whence most of this post derives, she may have been the lover of Josie Mansfield the former lover of Jim Fisk, with whom she started a cabaret in Paris called the Cafe Americain. Wesner was buried in drag.
To learn more history about the history of 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.
And don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc