The Background of Bunny Breckinridge

You could well be forgiven for assuming that the appearance by John “Bunny” Breckinridge (1903-96) as the alien commander in Ed Wood’s Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) was the man’s only claim to fame, but that is far from the case.

Breckinridge was a weathy socialite, the namesake and great-great grandson of U.S. Vice President (under Buchanan) John C. Breckinridge, who later became a Confederate army general and was himself the son of Thomas Jefferson’s second attorney general, also named John Breckinridge. The Breckinridges were a prominent political family, especially in Kentucky, with hordes of Senators, Congressman, State legislators, judges, and so forth among their ranks. Another of Breckinridge’s great-great grandfathers was Lloyd Tevis, the founder of Wells Fargo Bank. Thus there are many who might say that being part of this important family was Bunny’s primary significance.

Born in Paris, Breckinridge attended Eton and Oxford, hence that extraordinary accent. While in England he had acted in some Shakespeare, as one does.

But Bunny has yet another claim to fame, one that plenty might elevate above all the others. He was openly queer at a time when that could land you in the pokey. He performed a drag act in Paris nightclubs in the ’20s, during which time he briefly married Roselle du Val de Dampierre, the daughter of Robert Henri du Val de Dampierre, a French Count. He fathered a child with Roselle, Solange Breckinridge (that name is too good but this was 20 years before Genet wrote The Maids). She later married into the aristocracy, as well. Her first husband was Comte Lionel de Bruchard. Breckinridge moved to San Francisco after his divorce, and was known as a local character for decades. He acted in fringe theatre productions, performed in nightclubs, and held court at his home. He wore women’s make-up and clothes in public at a time when such things were dangerous. He was arrested a couple of times for “perversion” and was even placed in an asylum for a time. In 1956, he was living in a Hollywood apartment with Paul “Kelton” Marco and David Demering (both also in Plan 9), and that was how he came to Ed Wood’s attention and was cast. He lived long enough to see himself portrayed by Bill Murray in Tim Burton’s 1994 Ed Wood. And speaking of the creator of Glen or Glenda… for a time, Breckinridge had been interested in getting his own sex change operation. Gore Vidal (another gay member of a prominent Southern political family) interviewed him about it. The result of course was Myra Breckinridge, which of course is Bunny’s OTHER major claim to fame. How audacious of Vidal to retain the surname. Those old Southern ghosts must have spun in their graves!

And if they did…I know a man who has just the plan to revive them…