Archive for drag king

Gypsy Byrne: “Pleasantly Boyish”

Posted in Drag and/or LGBT, Singers, Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc., Women with tags , , , on June 23, 2013 by travsd

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This gender bending performer is one we are presenting in a series to celebrate NYC Pride Week.

According to vaudeville encyclopediast Anthony Slide, Gypsy Byrne was a fixture of New York night clubs and vaudeville houses in the late 1920s. Of a 1928 performance, Variety said “She makes a cute boy and while not actually attempting to fool the customers is pleasantly boyish in her brown suit and mannish slouch hat.”

To learn more history about the history of vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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And don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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Ella Wesner: Captain Cuff

Posted in Bowery, Barbary Coast, Old New York, Saloons, Drag and/or LGBT, Singers, Singing Comediennes, Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc., Women with tags , , , , , on June 22, 2013 by travsd

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 This gender bending performer is one we are presenting in a series to celebrate NYC Pride Week.

Ella Wesner (1841-1917)  began as a ballet dancer in the late 1860s, and was for a time the dresser of Annie Hindle, from whom she learned the art of male impersonation. She became a hit at Tony Pastor’s singing adaptations of English music hall songs; the one she became most associated with was “Captain Cuff”. She also made a big splash in San Francisco’s Barbary Coast at such venues as the Bella Union. According to historian Laurence Senelick, author of the excellent book The Changing Room, from whence most of this post derives, she may have been the lover of Josie Mansfield the former lover of Jim Fisk, with whom she started a cabaret in Paris called the Cafe Americain. Wesner was buried in drag.

To learn more history about the history of vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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And don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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Annie Hindle

Posted in Bowery, Barbary Coast, Old New York, Saloons, British Music Hall, Drag and/or LGBT, Women with tags , , , , on June 22, 2013 by travsd

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This gender bending performer is one we are presenting in a series to celebrate NYC Pride Week.

Annie Hindle (born circa 1847) is considered by many to be the first modern drag king. An orphan child, she was taught be her adopted mother to sing and presented  to the public starting around in age five in Hertfordshire, England. She began to specialize in male impersonation when performing in London music halls to allow her to sing some of the songs that were written from the point of view of a man, and it grew popular.

In 1867 she began to tour saloons and variety theatres in the U.S. She was briefly married to comic singer Charles Vivian (one of the founders of the Elks), but it was over within months. According to historian Laurence Senelick, author of the terrific book The Changing Room, from whence most of the research for this post derives, Hindle may not have allowed the marriage to consummated, and Vivian, in turn, may have beat her. It was after that experience that she began to change her appearance even more drastically in a conventionally male direction, lowering her voice and shaving so that her downy facial hair would coarsen into stubble. She sang macho songs in her act such as “Racketty Jack” and “Do Not Put Your Boots on a Man When He’s Down”. Military numbers were especially popular in the post-civil war era.

In 1886, she married the last in a long line of her female dressers in an official ceremony (giving her name is Charles). Annie retired with her wife and reverted to female dress. Her bride Anna died in 1891. Within months Annie turned up performing her act in a Troy, New York beer garden, and she married for the third time, this time to a woman named Louise Spenghel. It is not known when Hindle died.

To find out about  the history of vaudevilleconsult 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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And check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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Florence Bindley: Male Drag, Then Back to Dresses

Posted in Broadway, Drag and/or LGBT, Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film, Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc., Women with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 25, 2013 by travsd

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Originally from New Jersey, Florence Bindley (1868-1951) made her name initially as a male impersonator in both American vaudeville and English music hall in the 1890s. Her first Broadway show was The Captain’s Mate (1894), but her hot streak came about a decade later with A Midnight Marriage (1904), The Street Singer (1904), The Belle of the West (1905), The Girl and the Gambler (1906) and In the Nick of Time (1908). (As the poster for her biggest hit The Street Singer above demonstrates, by then she had given up the drag). She was to marry actor Darwin Karr, who acted in Hollywood film from 1911 through 1922. They both passed away in Los Angeles, Karr in 1945, Bindley 6 years later.

To learn more history about the history of vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

safe_image

And don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc

chain%20of%20fools%20cvr%20front%20only-500x500

Bessie Bonehill: Principal Boy and Beyond

Posted in British Music Hall, Drag and/or LGBT, Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc., Women with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 17, 2013 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of Bessie Bonehill (1855-1902). Bonehill was a British music hall singing comedienne and drag king, who started out in provincial West Bromwich before conquering, London, New York, and then farther-flung realms. She started off as principal boy in pantomime, which is where she perfected her male impersonation. She first came to the U.S. to play Tony Pastor’s in 1889 and moved here in 1891. Her vaudeville career was so successful that she was able to buy a 600 acre estate on Long Island. Her travels took her all over the wild west and to South Africa but she was forced to flee that country due to the Boer War.  She died in England in 1902 while visiting home.

To find out more about the variety arts past and presentconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. 

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And don’t miss 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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Kathleen Clifford: The Smartest Chap in Town

Posted in Broadway, Drag and/or LGBT, Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film, Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , , , on February 16, 2013 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of Kathleen Clifford (1887-1963). She began her career when still a teenager, in musical comedies such as the 1907 show The Top o’ the World. By 1910 she was supplementing her Broadway success touring vaudeville as one of America’s premier male impersonators. Initially because the vogue had originated in music hall, she allowed people to think she came from England (she was from Charlottesville, Virginia). Like Vesta Tilley and others, she wore a top hat and tails, billing herself as “The Smartest Chap in Town”. For awhile she worked in a two act with female impersonator Bothwell Browne. 

Starting in 1917 she also had a film career (one of her most notable films was the 1919 When the Clouds Roll By with Douglas Fairbanks), but by the early 30s, both her movie and vaudeville careers wound down.

To find out more about the variety arts past and presentconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. 

safe_image

And don’t miss 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

chain%20of%20fools%20cvr%20front%20only-500x500

On Male Impersonator Ella Shields

Posted in British Music Hall, Drag and/or LGBT, Singing Comediennes, Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc., Women with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 26, 2011 by travsd

Ella Shields (born this day in 1879) was a male impersonator and a rare American export to the British music halls. A Baltimore native she started out in a sister act in American vaudeville in 1898. Billed as the Southern Nightingale, she crossed the puddle to try the halls in 1904. It wasn’t until six years later that she donned male drag (to fill in for an act that called in sick) and was such a hit that she stayed that way. It is speculated that Julie Andrews (whom she knew and performed with early in her career) based her character in Victor/ Victoria on Shields.

One of the major songs she was associated with was “Show Me the Way to Go Home”, well known to modern audiences as it is sung by the three main characters in Steven Spielberg’s Jaws. (“How do those guys all happen to know that song?” I’ve always wondered.) But her most popular number, written especially for her in 1915 by her then-husband William Hargreaves was “Burlington Bertie from Bow”. And it was this number she was singing in 1952, when she was stricken onstage with a fatal heart attack. Here’s her singing that song:

To find out more about these variety artists and 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.

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