Archive for the Drag and/or LGBT Category

On the Fearless Peggy Fears

Posted in Art Models/ Bathing Beauties/ Beauty Queens/ Burlesque Dancers/ Chorines/ Pin-Ups/ Sexpots/ Vamps, Broadway, Drag and/or LGBT, Women with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 1, 2017 by travsd

The legendary Broadway figure Peggy Fears (1903-1994) was born on this day.

Originally from New Orleans and later Dallas, Fears was the daughter of a wealthy banker. She was all of 14 when she ran away from home and was cast in her first Broadway show the Bolton-Wodehouse musical Have a Heart (1917). From here she went into the Morris Gest show Midnight Whirl (1919-1920). Next came three Florenz Ziegfeld shows. There are two different stories about how she came to Ziegfeld’s attention. One says she was heard singing at a country club by Ziegfeld star Helen Morgan; another (Fears’ own account) says she bumped into him in his offices (after making a concerted effort to do so). At any rate, he put her in the shows Louie the 14th (1925), the Ziegfeld Follies of 1925 and No Foolin’ (1925).

Fears was bisexual. As a young girl she is said to have attempted to elope with a cattle heir named Tom Wharton, and to have dated John Hay “Jock” Whitney. While on the Ziegfeld shows she was the lover of Louise Brooks. In her memoir, Brooks writes of the experience, and of the two of them palling around with W.C. Fields, who always had booze, in his dressing room.

Fears’ last Broadway show strictly as a performer was Rufus LeMaire’s Affairs (1927). In that year she married the real estate millionaire Alfred Cleveland Blumenthal. In the 30s, she and Blumenthal produced several Broadway shows, including the Preston Sturges play Child of Manhattan (1932), the farce Nona (1932), the Oscar HammersteinJerome Kern show Music in the Air (1932-1933), and the play A Divine Moment (1934), in which she also appeared as an actress. This is the last show she produced, and I imagine the date tells the story. We are now in the depths of the Great Depression, when Broadway was in danger of going under for good.

Next she tried her hand at Hollywood. She appears in only one film: The Lottery Lover (1935), with Lew Ayres, Sterling Holloway and Reginald Denny. It was a bit of stunt casting. In the film she plays a night club singer, a star of the Folies Bergere named “Gaby Aimee”. The film was a bit of an outlier for her. A nightclub singer was what she actually was, touring extensively throughout American and Europe for the next few decades.

Fears and Blumenthal separated, divorced and remarried several times, finally splitting up for good in 1950. In the ’50s she purchased land on Fire Island and built the Yacht Club at Fire Island Pines, which she later sold to John B. Whyte in 1966. During the Fire Island years, she was the lover of the radio actress Tedi Thurman (who may be known to some readers from Ed Wood’s 1954 movie Jail Bait). Thurman spoke of their relationship in the 2003 documentary When Ocean Meets Sky.

For more on show history, please see my book No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever fine books are sold.

Celebrating 50 Years of the Ridiculous Theatrical Company

Posted in Drag and/or LGBT, Indie Theatre, ME with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 24, 2017 by travsd

Nick Viselli and Everett Quinton During Our Recent Interview at the Tick Tock Diner

This summer will mark the 50th anniversary of the Ridiculous Theatrical Company. Our most avid readers know this is a subject near and dear to my heart. I have blogged previously about the company’s founder Charles Ludlam; about frequent Ridiculous collaborator Ethyl Eichelberger; about the company that Ludlam’s broke with, John Vaccaro’s Playhouse of the Ridiculous; about performance artist Penny Arcade, who got her start in Ridiculous productions; and about Charles Busch, who had an early affiliation with the company. The Ridiculous cast a long shadow; major artists who acknowledge the company’s influence include Bette Midler (who is also not incidentally a vocal fan of my book No Applause); John Waters, and his core cast members, such as Mink Stole; as well as Jennifer Miller’s Circus Amok; and Dick Zigun of Coney Island USA.

And yes, your humble correspondent. Most of my plays owe something to Ludlam and the Ridiculous and I usually give a shout-out where its due. (I confess I even got involved with a woman once, seduced largely by her former ties to the legendary company). It was the thrill of a lifetime when Everett Quinton, Ludlam’s successor as company artistic director and long time company member, appeared in my play Horse Play, or The Fickle Mistress at La Mama two years ago. Everett was generous enough to join me recently, along with Nick Viselli of Theater Breaking Through Barriers, to discuss their 50th anniversary celebrations and revival of Ludlam’s last play The Artificial Jungle for Chelsea Now. Read my article here.

We’ll likely be blogging lots more about this auspicious occasion, so stay tuned!

Albert Carroll: Kind of a Drag

Posted in Broadway, Dance, Drag and/or LGBT, Impressionists with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 13, 2017 by travsd

Today’s as good a day as any to tell you about Albert Carroll, an extraordinarily talented and well-known guy in his day to have become so obscure in ours. Carroll was a Broadway actor,  dancer, impressionist, female impersonator, lyricist and choreographer. Sources differ as to his birth. IBDB gives ca. 1895-1956, and a 1900 Chicago census seems to bear this out. IMDB gives march 13, 1898 through 1970, although they might be conflating him with another Albert Carroll, possibly the New Orleans piano player, who was African American. To further confuse matters, our subject sometimes rendered his name as Albert J. Carroll.

I’ve gotten some info about his earliest years from F. Michael Moore’s book Drag! Male and Female Impersonators on Stage, Screen and Television. Moore says that Carroll staged an amateur revue in Chicago when he was 16, and that when he got to New York, he performed during interludes in silent movie screenings. About his private life, or how he came to New York I’ve so far found nothing. Since his earliest credits were all with the Neighborhood Playhouse we can make some deductions about he got his start on the stage. The Neighborhood Playhouse was founded in 1915 and had grown out of youth education programs at Henry Street Settlement on the Lower East Side, which remains a center of theatrical activity to this day. Carroll’s first couple of shows with the company appear to have opened at the downtown theatre and then moved to the Maxine Elliott Theater on Broadway.  He’s about the right age to have been involved with Henry Street’s theatre programs in his late teens and young adulthood, and gotten involved with the company that way. His first professional credit was a show based around visiting British actress Gertrude Kingston in 1916. The next was a play called 39 East by Rachel Crothers in 1919, in which Carroll appeared with Henry Hull and Alison Skipworth. It was made into a silent film the following year with a much of the same cast, including Carroll.

For the next three decades Carroll was to be a star of Broadway, often with Neighborhood Playhouse productions, in over three dozen shows. He was a notable stand-out as performer, choreographer and lyricist in several editions of the revue called the Grand Street Follies, participating in the inaugural 1922 edition, as well as ones in annual editions from 1924 through 1929. Other revues he appeared in included The ’49ers (1922),  The Garrick Gaieties (1930), The Ziegfeld Follies (1931) and The Seven Lively Arts (1944). In these revues he was famous for impersonating famous actors and dancers, many or most of whom were female.  He did impressions of both John and Ethel Barrymore. He also did Pavlova, Irene Castle, Lynne Fontanne, Bea Lillie, Gertrude Lawrence, Laurette Taylor, Groucho Marx, and NYC Mayor Jimmy Walker.   Some photographs of him in character can be found of him on a blog called the Mouse Art Notebooks. He also contributed humor, poems and stories to the New Yorker between 1927 and 1930. He also acted in straight plays and comedies and even classics. His last known credits are musicals with the Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey in 1946 and 1947. After this he appears to have returned to Chicago, where he passed away about a decade later.

Several sources say the great Southern novelist Thomas Wolfe disliked Carroll, whom he met in the 1920s through the Neighborhood Playhouse’s set and costume designer Aline Bernstein, who was Wolfe’s patron and lover. (He is said to have been uncomfortable with Carroll’s flamboyant and foppish personality, i.e. he was homophobic).

Another interesting tidbit: Carroll’s younger brother Eugene “Gene” Carroll had a vaudeville career, and hosted a local television show in Cleveland for decades.

To find out more about vaudeville historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. For more on silent  film please see 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

Ruby Dandridge: In Her Own Right

Posted in African American Interest, Drag and/or LGBT, Hollywood (History), Movies, Women with tags , , , , , on March 3, 2017 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of the pathbreaking Ruby Dandridge (Ruby Jean Butler, 1900-1987). Dandridge was one of the few “pushy stage mothers” of famous performing children to achieve a substantial show biz career in her own right.

The daughter of a sometime performer (and “minstrel man”) from Jamaica, Dandridge grew up in Witchita Kansas. In 1919 she married minister and cabinet maker Cyril Dandridge and the pair moved to Cleveland, Ohio where their daughters Vivian and Dorothy were born. The perpetually jobless Cyril was soon out of the picture, and Ruby began a romantic relationship with a woman named Geneva Williams, who now became the mother figure to the daughters.

With Geneva as their manager the girls began performing as “The Wonder Children” in 1934. A third girl Etta Jones was added and their professional name became the Dandridge Sisters, which rapidly became an act of national stature, winning a Los Angeles radio talent show, and headlining at New York’s Cotton Club. Soon the girls were appearing in films like The Big Broadcast of 1936 and A Day at the Races (1937). The group broke up in 1940, with Dorothy going on to become the most successful, becoming the first African American woman to be nominated for a Best Actress Oscar, for her performance in Carmen Jones (1954).

Meanwhile, Ruby had launched her own career as well. She began as an extra in horror films like King Kong (1934) and Black Moon (1934). She became one of the voices of the racist Warner Bros. cartoon character Bosko in the mid 30s. Her squeaky voice served her well there and on radio shows like Amos and Andy, The Judy Canova Show, and Beulah, and in other cartoons such as Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs (1943) and Goldilocks and the Jivin’ Bears (1944). Her epic size (larger by far than even Hattie McDaniel) was an asset on screen as well. You can see her in such films as Cabin in the Sky (1943), Saratoga Trunk (1945), Tap Roots (1948) and A Hole in the Head (1959), as well as the tv version of Beulah(1952-53), and one season of Father of the Bride (1961-62). The bulk of her roles were maid parts, a typical indignity for the time. She also performed in the occasional stage production and night club date.

For more on show biz historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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Today’s LGBT Solidarity Rally (w/ Guest Photographer John Leavitt!)

Posted in CULTURE & POLITICS, Drag and/or LGBT, Protests with tags , , on February 4, 2017 by travsd

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I wish I could claim I hurt my foot strictly by going to anti-Trump protest marches, but, nah, I walk several miles every day and ignored the mounting discomfort, and now am strictly resting it for a couple of days in hopes it’ll clear up. That’s my “doctor’s note” for sitting out today’s LGBT Solidarity Rally at Stonewall National Monument this afternoon. BUT, luckily, cartoonist/illustrator/all-around funny guy John Leavitt agreed to take these beautiful shots for us, and so we we show our solidarity by posting them here. Thanks, John!

He started out at Julius, a bar, restaurant and historical center of gay culture:

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EUGENE O’BRIEN: STAGE, SCREEN AND VAUDEVILLE

Posted in Broadway, Drag and/or LGBT, Hollywood (History), Melodrama and Master Thespians, Movies, Silent Film, Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 14, 2016 by travsd

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EUGENE O’BRIEN: STAGE, SCREEN AND VAUDEVILLE

Today is the birthday of Eugene O’Brien (Louis O’Brien, 1880-1966).

Originally from Boulder, Colorado, O’Brien studied first to be a doctor and a civil engineer before finally ignoring his parents’ wishes to go on stage. He sang with quartets in vaudeville and acted in stock companies before getting a part in the chorus of The Rollicking Girl (1905), a Charles Frohman production. Frohman gave him a much better role in The Builder of Bridges (1909), but it was his part opposite Ethel Barrymore in Trelawney of the Wells (1911) that put him on the map. His last show on Broadway was The Country Cousin (1917).

Meanwhile he’d begun to star in films starting in 1915. Throughout the end of the silent era, he was to be leading man to the likes of Mary Pickford, Norma Talmadge and Gloria Swanson in such hits as Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1917), The Perfect Lover (1919) and Secrets (1924). When talkies came in, he retired entirely from acting, both stage and screen. He was only 47 at the time.

O’Brien was one of the top matinee idols of the late teens and twenties. He socialized with his beautiful co-stars, received tens of thousands of letters from adoring female fans, and was even sued once (unsuccessfully) for statutory rape. But all that availeth nothing — it was an open secret in Hollywood that O’Brien was gay. In retirement, he told a reporter he was “untroubled by girls, and was reveling in athletics, gardening, and most of all bachelorhood.”

For more on vaudeville historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

Who Were the Gibson Girls?

Posted in AMERICANA, Art Models/ Bathing Beauties/ Beauty Queens/ Burlesque Dancers/ Chorines/ Pin-Ups/ Sexpots/ Vamps, Drag and/or LGBT, VISUAL ART with tags , , , , , on September 14, 2016 by travsd
Gibson Girls Observe a Tiny Man Through a Magnifying Glass

Gibson Girls Observe a Tiny Man Through a Magnifying Glass

Today is the birthday of the illustrator Charles Dana Gibson (1867-1944)  — a distant relative of mine!

Gibson was born in Roxbury, Massachusetts and studied at the Art Students League in New York. By 1886 he was submitting work to Life magazine and other periodicals. In 1890 he introduced his famous “Gibson Girls”, for whom his sister Josephine was the original Muse. In 1895, he married Irene Langhorne; she and her four beautiful sisters became additional inspirations, as well as his models. He generally featured them in lightly humorous sketches, done in pencil, pen and ink, often with a caption. The Gibson Girls were modern and reflected changing attitudes towards women’s roles in their time. But the women in the images also became the beaux ideal of the day, the height of glamour and fashion. They were portrayed as powerful, cool, superior, independent, and strong (though never political; they weren’t associated with the Women’s Suffrage movement). They were always upper class and accoutered in the latest styles. Female sexual power is bursting out of them. There is an aloof spirit of mockery of the male that is irresistible to both sexes.

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Nesbit

In addition to those members of Gibson’s family we’ve mentioned, his models included Evelyn Nesbit, Jobyna Howland, Mabel Normand, and Camille Clifford. 

The craze also was the inspiration for many a vaudeville act. Texas Guinan did an act called “The Gibson Girl”, and many drag performers made a point in mimicking the look, such as Julian Eltinge, Malcolm Scott, and Bothwell Browne.

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Normand

By the second decade of the twentieth century, movies were coming in and the Biograph Girls like Florence Lawrence and Mary Pickford now held sway. By World War One, the Gibson Girl was passe. Gibson became editor of Life in 1918, and later took over ownership of the magazine as well. He retired in 1936, though he continued to paint and draw until the end of his life.

For more on vaudeville historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. For more on early film history please 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

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