Thanks be to my intrepid wife who introduced me to British drag star Danny La Rue (Daniel Patrick Carroll, 1927-2009). Sh’d come across a reference to La Rue in a mystery novel she was reading and we subsequently fell down a rabbit fole of old Youtube videos. La Rue was a big star in the UK whose fame never crossed the puddle so it came as a happy discovery to us.
La Rue called himself “a Comic in a Frock”. I wonder if he was any relation to Albert Carroll? Maybe it’s in the genes! Irish-born, he was raised in Cork, then in London (where the family home was destroyed in the Blitz) and in Devon. He began apeparing in drag in school shows and in theatricals while serving in the British Navy. Nightclub and revue appearances in the West End and elsewhere led to national exposure on TV variety programs. He did impersonations of Judy Garland, Elizabeth Taylor, Zsa Zsa Gabor, and Marlene Dietrich (and later Margaret Thatcher) and was in annual demand as a pantomime dame. He was in the original West End production of Oh! What a Lovely War as a replacement (in a female role). In 1968 he had a top 40 hit in the UK with the old music hall number “On Mother Kellys Doorstep” (later his theme song). In 1969 he was in a BBC production of Charley’s Aunt and became the first male drag star to give a Royal Variety Performance. In 1972 he starred in the film Our Miss Fred, his only genuine movie vehicle. Other odds and ends include playing the title role in a 1982 revival of Hello Dolly! and the stepmother in a 1986 tv production of Cinderella. In 1987 Viking published his autobiography From Drags to Riches. In 1993 he was on Mr. Bean! In 2002 he was awarded an OBE.
Starting in 2006 La Rue was plagued by a series of strokes as well as cancer of both the throat and the prostate. They finally finished him in 2009. Youtube has tons of clips of this great entertainer. Interestingly, he didn’t always do drag, there are many clips of him in conventional male threads, a la:
For more on show biz history, please read No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous