Archive for the Drag and/or LGBT Category

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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Stars of Vaudeville #1014: Eugene O’Brien

Posted in Broadway, Drag and/or LGBT, Hollywood (History), Melodrama and Master Thespians, Movies, Silent Film, 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, My Family History, 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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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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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

Stars of Vaudeville #955: Marjorie Main

Posted in Broadway, Comedy, Crackers, Drag and/or LGBT, Hollywood (History), Movies, Vaudeville etc., Women with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 24, 2016 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of the great Marjorie Main (Mary Tomlinson, 1890-1975). The daughter of an Indiana minister, Main started out in vaudeville, on the Chautauqua and Orpheum circuits.

She broke into films and Broadway at around the same time, with extra roles in the 1928 play Salvation and the 1929 film short Harry Fox and His American Beauties. Throughout the 1930s she alternated her time between Broadway and movie roles. Her large size, matronly carriage and distinctive voice (which would have been excellent for cartoon voiceovers), made her eminently castable, and she worked constantly until she retired. She was often cast as rich dowagers in her early years, but she was especially adept at plain-spoken, fussy, earthier types so she eventually specialized in playing ill-tempered domestics and landladies, and (because of her country accent) especially frontier women in musicals and westerns, almost invariably comical ones.

She is in Stella Dallas (1937), both the stage and screen versions of Dead End (1935-1937), and both the stage and screen versions of The Women (1936-1939), five films with Wallace Beery starting with Barnacle Bill (1941), Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), The Harvey Girls (1946), Summer Stock (1950), Friendly Persuasion (1956), and of course the film series she became best known for, Ma and Pa Kettle (1947-1957) (read more about that series here). And this is just the tip of the iceberg; she gave memorable turns in dozens more movies than this.

While she was briefly married, Main admitted in an interview to having had lesbian affairs, one of which is widely believed to have been with Spring Byington. Her last performance was in a 1958 episode of Wagon Train. Her last public appearance was the year before she died, at the world premiere of the MGM compilation film That’s Entertainment. 

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.

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Stars of Vaudeville #949: Bill Tilden

Posted in Drag and/or LGBT, Sport & Recreation, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , on February 10, 2016 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of tennis great “Big Bill” Tilden (1893-1953). Long a symbol of the Roaring Twenties, Tilden was the World #1 tennis player from 1920 through 1925, won seven U.S. championships, and a long list of other impressive sounding accolades I am too tennis illiterate to properly understand or appreciate. But what I do know is vaudeville, and Tilden like so many of his era, was bit by the bug. In 1928, he toured with a sketch a sketch called “A Night at the Tennis and Racquet Club.” The following year he was said to have visited London and U.S. theatres with a monologue “in one” wherein he recounted his tennis experiences. Tilden was said to have a star personality, and he hobknobbed on the courts with the likes of Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks. Later, scandal tarnished his image (he had a weakness for underage boys) and it damaged his career.

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.

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