Archive for female impersonator

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

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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Francis Leon: Minstrelsy’s Greatest Female Impersonator

Posted in African American Interest, Bowery, Barbary Coast, Old New York, Saloons, Drag and/or LGBT, Variety Theatre with tags , , , , , , on November 21, 2014 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of Francis Leon (Francis Patrick Glassey, b. 1844). Eventually billed simply as “Leon” or “The Only Leon”, he was the foremost female impersonator in blackface minstrelsy.

Let it be known that the category of the “wench” was universally popular in minstrel shows — every comedian did drag, just like every comedian did blackface in the 19th century: if you didn’t, what good were you? But Leon was different from those lowbrow clowns. He was a hardcore female impersonator in the modern, vaudeville sense. He upped the ante, by being as convincing as humanly possible in his portrayals. It was no longer necessarily about comedy, it was about beauty and histrionic ability.

He went into show biz in his early teens. Because of his training as a boy soprano in church choirs he was able to mimic prima donnas, making him a novelty in minstrel shows. Rather than laying on burnt cork, he often portrayed “high yellow” dames, i.e. mulattoes. It’s said that there were as many as 300 dresses in his wardrobe, some of them costing as much as $400 — and astounding sum in those days. He presented refined opera and ballet and was renowned for the sensitivity accuracy of his representation of the fairer sex. In 1864 he formed his own troupe. Within a decade every minstrel company in the country had a Leon impersonator. The last historical reference to him is in San Francisco in 1883. Where and when he died remains unknown.

To learn more about the history of variety theatreconsult 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 #856: Vardaman

Posted in Drag and/or LGBT, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , on January 17, 2014 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of the female impersonator Vardaman (Mansel Vardaman G. Boyle, 1877-1945).

Vardaman was born in Santa Cruz, California and raised in Butte, Montana, where he first worked as a store clerk, stenographer and book-keeper before getting involved in local amateur productions where he donned his first skirts. This led naturally into vaudeville. From 1903 to 1913 he was working some of the top houses of the west and midwest, billed as “Vardman, the Auburn Haired Beauty” and “Vardaman, the Gay Deceiver”. In 1913 he embarked on a word tour that included the U.K., South Africa and Australia. In 1916 he toured the U.S. with the burlesque company The Champagne Belles.

By the the 1920s he was getting long in the tooth and no longer able to pull off a Pretty Little Miss. For a while he tried vaudeville under the handle “LaVardy” but by 1925 he had packed it in. For some years he lived with film star J. Warren Kerrigan. For a time he also lived with the family of Flint, Michigan theatre owener Louis Sunlin, as a live-in private cook. He passed away in 1945 in relative obscurity.

To find out more about 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 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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Stars of Vaudeville #778: Bert Errol

Posted in British Music Hall, Drag and/or LGBT, Silent Film, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 11, 2013 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of Bert Errol (1883-1949). Starting around 1909 Errol became the most successful female impersonator in British music hall. From 1910 through 1921 he also made frequent appearances in big time American vaudeville as well, which must have caused a certain amount of confusion, what with Bert Savoy and Leon Errol running around at the same time. To forestall whispers about homosexuality, Errol included his wife Ray Hartley in his act. When he got older and past the point where it was impossible to create the illusion that he was a beautiful young woman, he worked as a pantomime dame. You can see him “Ring His Changes” in this 1922 British Pathe film here:

http://www.britishpathe.com/video/ringing-the-changes

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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Stars of Vaudeville #733: Tommy Martelle

Posted in Drag and/or LGBT, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , on June 27, 2013 by travsd

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

There is a dismaying dearth of biographical information readily available on female impersonator Tom (or Tommy) Martelle that I have been unable to uncover. This despite a huge amount of ephemeral evidence of his success on the stage in the nineteen teens and twenties: reviews in newspapers, advertisements, posters, and sheet music featuring his name and image. Billed from the outset as the “The Boy in the Pretty Gowns”, his career began circa 1911 and he appeared both on the vaudeville stage and in musicals. (It has been claimed that he appeared in Eltinge’s The Fascinating Widow but IBDB doesnt back this up). But he toured the country with his own musical shows with names like The Gay Young Bride, The Fashion Girl, Some Girls and Glorious Anabelle. Then, just as mysteriously as he arrives, at the end of the 1920s, he vanishes. Any new information would be welcome!

Meantime, there’s this excellent page (visually, at any rate) on the Queer Music Heritage web site: http://www.queermusicheritage.us/drag-SH-martell.html

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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Stars of Vaudeville #731: Gilbert Sarony

Posted in African American Interest, Drag and/or LGBT, Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , on June 25, 2013 by travsd

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

Gilbert Sarony (sometimes rendered Saroni) was remembered as one of the earliest and funniest of the vaudeville female impersonators. He sprang out of minstrelsy (where the minstrel “wench” was a popular specialty.) As late as 1882 we encounter him playing a role like “Senator Johnson, an Aged Negro”. By the 90s he was convulsing audiences in vaudeville however, usually in the character of a talkative old crone known for the catchphrases “I thought I’d die!” and “Goodness, girls, was I embarrassed!”

From 1901 through 1904 he appeared in several short comedy  films for the Edison Company in the character of “The Old Maid”, with titles like “The Old Maid in the Drawing Room”, etc. He died in 1910.

And now, here’s one of those early films, The Old Maid Having Her Picture Taken (1901):

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.

safe_image

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

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

 

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