Archive for drag

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

Stars of Vaudeville #944: Berta Beeson

Posted in Acrobats and Daredevils, Circus, Drag and/or LGBT, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 2, 2016 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of Berta Beeson (Herbert “Slats” Beeson, 1899-1969). Billed as the Julian Eltinge of the Wire, Beeson was a cross-dressing tightrope walker. It is not known whether Beeson was gay, straight, trans, or what — it is only known that he dressed up like a woman to do a highwire act.

Originally from Summitville, Indiana, Beeson started out working at his local vaudeville house. He debuted with the Sells-Floto circus in 1917 as “Mademoiselle Beeson, Marvelous High Wire Venus.” When Bird Millman retired from Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey in 1925, Beeson was her replacement. He retired from performing 11 years later, but continued to work for the circus as an advance man. Check it out: there’s an entire blog devoted to Berta Beeson. Read it here. 

To learn more about  old school show biz especially 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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Century of Slapstick #87: Charlie Chaplin as “A Woman”

Posted in Century of Slapstick, Charlie Chaplin, Comedians, Comedy, Drag and/or LGBT, Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film with tags , , , , , on July 12, 2015 by travsd

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Today is the 100th anniversary of the release date of the Charlie Chaplin short A Woman (1915).

In this Essanay comedy, Chaplin plays his usual park masher, who ends up coming home with Edna Purviance and her mother (Marta Golden), whom, I must say are not very discriminating about whom they bring into the house. When the father (Charles Inslee) comes home, the Little Fellow runs upstairs and dons feminine garb as a means of escaping the house without getting his neck broken. Later after the father has made a pass at him, Charlie (now “Nora”) uses that fact to blackmail the dad into letting him date his daughter. And I must say he doesn’t make a bad looking woman!

A little over ten years ago, I worked up a screenplay with the intention of filming a re-make of this short, which is still on my to-do list as part of my series of silent comedy experiments like this one. ‘Til then, there’s Chaplin’s original version:

For more on silent and slapstick comedy 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 etcchain%20of%20fools%20cvr%20front%20only-500x500For 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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Pride Week: On Some Queer Vaudevillians

Posted in Drag and/or LGBT, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 26, 2015 by travsd

 

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Savoy & Brennan, the Grandmothers of Them All

In celebration of Pride Weekend (now upon us) and today’s Supreme Court decision in favor of same sex marriage, a quick mini-post to connect you quickly to posts on Travalanche about some well-known queer vaudevillians. Just click on the links below to learn more about each act:

Nazimova

Savoy and Brennan

Clifton Webb 

George Kelly

Karyl Norman

Rae Bourbon

Bothwell Browne

Edgar Allan Woolf

Paul Swan

Ella Wesner

Annie Hindle

Tommy Martelle

Vardaman

The above list contains folks we are pretty certain had same-sex proclivities. But of course, the realm of drag is much more ambiguous: the list of drag performers who were either sexually “straight” or we-just-don’t-know is much, much longer, but I think we can all agree that the gender bending nature of cross-dressing qualifies them for the broader category of “queer”. We’ve a whole section on drag on Travalanche, you can browse through it here (a lot of the film clip links are now dead – -I need to do some house cleaning soon).

To find out more 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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Penny Arcade: The Excerpts

Posted in Burlesk, CULTURE & POLITICS, Drag and/or LGBT, Indie Theatre, PLUGS, Women with tags , , , , , , on May 18, 2015 by travsd

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As we promised in our earlier piece on Penny Arcade, we here share some of the other things we discussed that didn’t make it into my Chelsea Now/ Village piece:

On the development history of, and plans for the current show Longing Lasts Longer: 

We started work in June of 2014. It’s a work in progress. I’ve always developed my pieces in front of audience. I’m one of the only people who actually does that. We have the four performances at Joe’s Pub. Then we’ll be getting ready for the Edinburgh Festival August 25-30, and then the Soho Theatre in London. Then hopefully we’ll come back here to remount a full production in 2016.

On working with long-time collaborator Steve Zehentner: 

I’ve been working with Steve for 23 years. I first met him at PS 122 when he came to shoot the video for Bitch! Dyke! Faghag! Whore!  He said he had never seen a show where it changed every night because of the improv. He became a kind of dramaturg for my work. We work on everything together. I do most of the writing. He does a small percentage of the writing and devises the sound score. But I  pick the songs I want to use. And we both co-direct the piece. He is probably the overall structure guy; I’m the detail person.

On drag, burlesque, showmanship, and connecting with the audience: 

Drag is any costume that you put on — including people who dress up to go to their office job. In the ’80s and into the ’90s, my work was very costumed, with wigs and costumes, make up and glitter. In the 90s, I stopped doing that and started dressing in black.  When some of the dancers I work with saw video from the ’80s, they were shocked. It never occurred to them that I used to have costumes and characters and had rock bands and I sang. Performers evolve – look at someone who’s been a performer for a long time like Jackie Gleason or Bob Hope, you look at their work from the ’50s or ’60s, and then you find out they did music hall, vaudeville. As a performer you go through many different incarnations . I identify most with 1950s comedy writers. I try to make jokes, something will make people laugh in a way that means something, not just crass below the belt humor. I like that [my work] is quotable.  I like work that has more life to it than just me on stage…

Bitch! had a lot of erotic dancing in it. Stripping is an art form. I stripped to Lenny Bruce’s speech on obscenity. Other people developed their own thing through the ’90s and ran with it. But burlesque has become annoying. Ubiquitous. Every 22 year old does it now. But instead of political and anarchic neo-burlesque like Dirty Martini and Julie Atlas Muz do, it’s become like a cheerful burlesque lite.  It’s very Victoria Secrety.  There is no influence of [that kind of] burlesque on my work. I was always interested in down and dirty erotic female dancing. Real erotic dancing, which one usually sees at the lower end of the class spectrum. It’s a feminist art form. It’s the only thing devised by women that controls men, unlike practically everything else. I love erotic dancing with a tribal hypnotic trance background.

I love vaudeville. I love real entertainment. I’m an aficionado of that sort of thing. I hate reality style entertainment, like reality tv where they investigate reality with a microscope instead of making stuff up and being whimsical and fantastical. I never forget that I’m an entertainer, I’m not a journalist or an essayist. I try to give the audience some bang for their buck.  It’s cultural analysis you can dance to. [At Longing Lasts Longer] the audience will be rocking in their seats.

The general public are the producers of my shows. People support the work by buying tickets. The audience is really interested in original art and I love them being the producers. I love that feeling when you look out in audience and you know everyone in that audience. It’s a way to come together. People say,  “I laughed, I cried, you talked about what I think about.” We all have same thoughts. My job to dig a little deeper.  Lee Breuer of Mabou Mines came to see my show. He said he had never been to see a show where people “called out” so much. People identify with what I’m talking about. It’s like a revival meeting.

Longing Lasts Longer opens at Joe’s Pub tonight: tickets and info here. 

Century of Slapstick #83: Miss Fatty’s Seaside Lovers

Posted in Century of Slapstick, Comedians, Comedy, Drag and/or LGBT, Fatty Arbuckle, Harold Lloyd, Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film with tags , , , , , , on May 15, 2015 by travsd

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Today is the 100th anniversary of the release date of the Keystone comedy Miss Fatty’s Seaside Lovers (1915).

This was among the first silent films I ever saw. It came on a videotape I got for Christmas in high school, which also included Love, Loot and Crash and one or two others. I think it was actually in the Beta Max format!

In the film, three mashers (Harold Lloyd, Edgar Kennedy and Joe Bordeaux) wait around a hotel lobby at a seaside resort, looking for action. Then arrives a very Scottish looking mothball magnate (Walter C. Reed), his wife Billie Bennett, and his eligible daughter (Roscoe Arbuckle in drag!).

After much fooling around in the lobby, the family settles into a room. The suitors come up. Lots of fisticuffs with Fatty , which then evolves into dancing, and soon a total melee. The father kicks them all out. Then Miss Fatty puts on her ridiculous striped bathing suit, with cap and parasol. They all frolic on on beach. Fatty falls asleep on a rock. Wakes up, surrounded by water. The tide has come in . (Did this inspire a similar scene in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang?). The three guys try to rescue her and fail.  The “surf Kops” too try, fail and fall. Finally she just makes her way back by herself. Notices her parasol is broken, starts to cry.

Now you can watch it too. It’s on youtube; check it out.

For more on silent and slapstick comedy 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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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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Charlie Chaplin has A BUSY DAY (in drag!)

Posted in Charlie Chaplin, Comedians, Comedy, Drag and/or LGBT, Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film with tags , , , , , , on May 7, 2015 by travsd

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Today is the anniversary of the release date of the Charlie Chaplin film A Busy Day (1914).

This one is priceless — priceless! Directed by the man Mack Sennett himself, this is one of his patented “improv at a real event” shorts, set against the backdrop of a real-life wharf opening in nearby San Pedro, California. Why do I say “priceless”? Chaplin plays a woman in the film, from beginning to end, in drag.

Charlie plays Mack Swain’s bothersome wife. There is a lot of Kid Auto Races at Venice business with a newsreel camera, several fistfights, some silly dancing, and in the end Ambrose (Swain’s usual Keystone character) can’t take it any more and throws the Mrs. off the dock.

Silent comedy is definitely a field where brevity is the soul of wit. This one clocks in at six minutes.

For more on comedy 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 Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etcchain%20of%20fools%20cvr%20front%20only-500x500To 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

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