This gender bending performer is one we are presenting in a series to celebrate NYC Pride Week.
Ray (Rae) Bourbon (Hal Waddell, 1893-1971) was a modern style drag performer with risque, raunchy comic material and no attempt to disguise the fact that he (like his act) was gay. Consequently, his act was not successful in vaudeville in the 1920s, which had strict rules about propriety. (Initially he was part of a two man act called “Scotch and Bourbon”). Bourbon mainly played night clubs and small time vaud, and was successful through the 1940s. (That is, if you can call an act successful that was constantly raided, shut down, and interrupted by jail stays.) For a time he was a protege of Mae West’s, performing in her show Catherine Was Great.
With his career slowing down by 1956, he claimed to have gotten a sex change operation (then a new thing and hence newsworthy) in Juarez, Mexico. In 1968 he was convicted of murdering his dog walker (who had killed his 14 dogs because Bourbon’s bill was in arrears. He died in prison three years later.
There is much , much, much more to every phase of this story; read all about it in Kliph Neteroff’s article here: http://blog.wfmu.org/freeform/2012/07/murder-in-mink-crimes-of-ray-bourbon.html
Here’s a strange little record he made about the “operation”:
To find out 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 check out 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