This is a timeline of Drag Queens and Female Impersonators. It is a continuing project as part of the Imperial Palace blog at http://imperial-palace2013.tumblr.com Please feel free to add drag-related events to the timeline which you feel are worth mentioning. Click on "Add Event" to make an entry.
Created by imperialpalace on May 23, 2013
Last updated: 08/21/13 at 08:22 AM
Tags: drag queens drag history drag queen history drag
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From the Imperial Council of San Francisco's Facebook page:
JOSE JULIO SARRIA
12 December 1923 - 19 August 2013
It is with deepest sympathy and heaviest of hearts we announce the passing of the beloved founder of our San Francisco and International Court Systems, Jose Julio Sarria. Jose passed away peacefully in Albuquerque, New Mexico at 7:02am this morning.
Absolute Empress 1, aka The Widow Norton, now prepares for his honored final journey and internment here in San Francisco. Once arrangements have been completed, an official announcement regarding all services, honors, and details will be forthcoming.
In November 2012, Logo announced that Jinkx Monsoon was among 14 drag queens who would be competing on the fifth season of RuPaul's Drag Race. He was inspired to audition after seeing Sharon Needles on the fourth season of the show. Monsoon won the main-challenges for the episodes "Snatch Game" and "Drama Queens." For the "Snatch Game," he impersonated Edith Bouvier Beale, who was known for appearing in the documentary Grey Gardens. Monsoon also impersonated third season contestant Mimi Imfurst for the episode "Lip Synch Extravaganza Eleganza." As part of RuPaul's Drag Race, Monsoon sang on the "We Are the World"-inspired song "Can I Get an Amen?" The song's proceeds helped benefit the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center. Monsoon also holds the record for most consecutive weeks being in the top, at 8 weeks. On May 10, 2013, Monsoon was named the Season 5 winner of RuPaul's Drag Race, winning the title of "America's Next Drag Superstar."
in a recent article by Lee Moran of the New York Daily News, a drag queen beauty pageant runner-up attacked the winner on stage!
The contestants of Miss Gay San Juan 2013 engaged in the slugfest when a sore loser thought judges had announced the wrong winner. But instead of taking it out on them, the rage got taken out on the crowned winner.
It was handbags at dawn for these diva drag queens. High heels and wigs went flying as the runner-up attacked the winner of Miss Gay San Juan 2013 in Tarapoto, Peru, on Wednesday, June 26th.
The encounter reportedly began when the runner-up freaked out after thinking the wrong drag queen had been crowned the winner.
Local media said the crowd was shocked at the fight that took place during the Miss Gay San Juan 2013 event in Peru, which is otherwise a refined and elegant pageant.
Launching into a vicious attack, footage shows the pair grappling and wrestling with each other — still on stage — in front of a stunned crowd.
Local media reported that the audience was so engrossed in the fight that it took “some time" for security guards to separate the warring performers.
Canadian drag queen Daytona Bitch is being accused of racism.
A Canadian drag queen is furious for being fired from Toronto Pride after being accused of performing in ‘blackface’.
Daytona Bitch claims he was fired in an email from the marketing company that booked her for her 24 June performance.
According to 26 June email from Diamond Integrated Marketing, the performance was against the organization’s ‘longstanding commitment to diversity’.
The performer said the character, a black American psychic called Miss Cleo, was not offensive or even an example of blackface.
Speaking to Xtra, Bitch said: ‘I asked a couple people if it was offensive because it’s not blackface in my eyes.
‘I went to theater school. I know what blackface is. It was not a minstrel show. I was doing a character.
‘The people I asked at Crews & Tangos thought it was hilarious that I was dressed as a big fat black woman.’
The performer planned to read people’s fortunes as part of the act, but before the end of the night, photos were already circulating on social networking with some calling it a ‘racial minstrel show’.
Bitch wants ‘to apologize to those I offended’ but is now worried about ‘physical threats’ she has received on social media.
‘Now I don’t feel safe walking down the street,’ he said. ‘I’ve had a couple of threats from people’.
‘I feel that drag is supposed to be controversial, and it has been from the start,’ Bitch added. ‘The line exists to slightly dip your toe over. Maybe I went a little too far. I didn’t think I went too far.’
In November 2011, it was announced that Needles had been selected to compete as a contestant on the fourth season of RuPaul's Drag Race. The series premiered on January 30, 2012, and Needles was an instant stand-out for his "ghoulish" fashion sense and unconventional make-up choices. On the night of the premiere episode, Entertainment Weekly columnist Tanner Stransky hailed Needles' macabre style as "drop dead genius" and rhetorically asked "Is Sharon Needles the most 'sickening' (a drag term for 'fabulous') contestant ever?"
Throughout the fourth season of Drag Race, Needles endeared himself to audiences and became a favorite of the media, judges and viewers alike for his quick wit, confidence and humility as well as for his "transgressive" aesthetic. On March 27, 2012, Lady Gaga tweeted – "Sharon Needles looks FABULOUS 2night on drag race. Very Born This Way outfit/fame monster wig. Any rentals for my tour? #needthatbodysuit."
However, Needles himself admitted that he was ambivalent in believing that he could win stating, "(B)eing a comedic, campy, shtick queen and seeing how far those types of queens made it in past seasons, I would have been shocked if I made it past the first day."
In a departure from previous seasons of Drag Race, where rumors of previous winners had leaked before the final episodes could air, the decision was made not to pre-tape the finale episode announcing the season's winner. Instead, RuPaul decided to give fans an opportunity to voice their opinions as to who should win before taping of the final episode on April 25, 2012. For the taping, three outcomes were filmed announcing each of the "final 3" as the winner, with the true outcome only known to RuPaul and a select few involved in the editing. The finale episode aired on April 30, 2012, when it was announced that Needles had been crowned "America's Next Drag Superstar"
Presenting his drag alter-ego Raja, Amrull auditioned for the third season of the reality program, which included an endorsement from Adam Lambert on his audition video. Raja entered the Drag Race workroom dressed in club attire and wearing a beanie that had a giant cyclops eye on it. Highlights include wins in the first mini challenge and main challenge of the season, impersonating Tyra Banks, winning the cake couture challenge, winning the RuPaul-apalooza challenge, and lip synching for his life against contestant Carmen Carrera. Known for being one of the "Heathers" (a clique composed of Raja, Carmen Carrera, Manila Luzon, and Delta Work; taking its name from the popular cult film, Heathers), his attitude and numerous challenge wins were often criticized by other contestants. In the final episode, after a lip sync battle with Manila Luzon, Raja was declared the winner of the show's third season and crowned America's Next Drag Superstar. Since winning Drag Race, Raja has been performing at various venues throughout the United States. As part of his duties as the third season winner of Drag Race, he toured the U.S. and Canada on Logo's Drag Race Tour in 2011, which is sponsored by corporate sponsor Absolut Vodka.
At the time he won the title, Ross was one of the youngest contestants to appear on RuPaul's Drag Race; he was also one of the few contestants on the show who never had to lip sync in order to avoid elimination prior to the season finale.
Benet won the title of "America's Next Drag Superstar" on the first season of Logo's popular reality series, RuPaul's Drag Race, which premiered on the network in February 2009. Benet's prizes included an l.a. eyeworks print ad campaign, US$20,000 from Absolut Vodka and MAC Cosmetics, a fashion spread in Paper magazine, and a spot on the national Absolut Pride tour. In 2011, he appeared in two episodes of RuPaul's Drag U where he served as a drag professor.
The first season of RuPaul's Drag Race premiered in the U.S. on February 2, 2009 on Logo. Nine contestants were selected to compete in the running of becoming "America's Next Drag Superstar". The winner of the first season won the following prizes: a lifetime supply of MAC Cosmetics, be featured an LA Eyeworks campaign, join the Logo Drag Race tour, and a cash prize of $20,000. One of the nine contestants to compete on RuPaul's Drag Race was determined by an audience vote via the show's official website. The results were announced in early September 2008. The contestant to win this honor is Nina Flowers from Denver, Colorado. Nina Flowers went on to win Miss Congeniality. The theme song playing during the runway every episode is Cover Girl (Put The Bass In Your Walk). The winner of this first season of RuPaul's Drag Race was BeBe Zahara Benet.
On Nov. 27, 1999 Finocchio's world famous revue closed its doors after 63 years and countless wigs, fans, feathers and false eye lashes. Veteran performers are quick to point out that they were not drag queens, rather they were illusionists, female impersonators hired for their singing and dancing talent. There was no lip-synching at Finocchio's. Mostly gays playing for a straight audience, these performers were on the forefront of gender politics in the U.S. The Finocchio family ruled the cast with an iron hand. Morals clauses were written into every contract, though drug use and moonlighting with Stage Door Johnnys was not uncommon.
One salacious story from Finocchio's vet Ray de Young details his post-performance tableside visit with Victor Rothschild and his wife Vera-Ellen who danced onscreen with Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly. It was the mid-1950s. With V-E tucked into her Fairmont Hotel bed for the night, Rothschild returned to Finocchio's and offered de Young an apartment plus expense account to move to New York and entertain Rothschild privately at his discretion. De Young declined to be kept and refused to leave San Francisco with Rothschild.
For most the of the venue's run, transsexuals were not hired. The Finocchio's wanted performers to enter the theatre as men and leave the theatre as men in order to further the venue's mystique as a house of illusion. Later, these policies were relaxed and eventually, biological women were hired to perform here.
Trick is a 1999 American gay-themed romantic comedy film written by Jason Schafer and directed by Jim Fall. Trick appeared at the Sundance and Berlin film festivals in 1999.
To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar is a 1995 American comedy film, starring Wesley Snipes, Patrick Swayze, and John Leguizamo as three New York drag queens who embark on a road trip. The film's title refers to a totemic autographed photo of Julie Newmar that the trio carries with them on their journey.
RuPaul recorded dance/house albums which included Supermodel of the World. They were released through the rap label Tommy Boy, spawning the dance track hit "Supermodel (You Better Work)". The music video was an unexpected success on MTV channels, as grunge and gangsta rap were popular at the time. The song peaked at #45 on the Billboard Hot 100. It further charted on the UK Singles Chart, peaking on the top 40 at #39. The song found the most success peaking at number 2 on the US dance music charts (known as the Billboard Hot Dance Music/Club Play chart). Airplay, heavy rotation of the music video on the MTV network and television appearances on popular programs like The Arsenio Hall Show popularized the song.
Vegas in Space is a 1991 science fiction/comedy film, directed by Phillip R. Ford and released by Troma Entertainment, about three male space travelers who must become women in order to complete a secret mission on the all-female planet Clitoris. Deliberately campy, the film was written by, and starred, Doris Fish, one of San Francisco's most noted drag queens.
As "Queen of Manhattan," RuPaul's job was to keep the party going and that's exactly what she did.
RuPaul's first prominent national exposure came in 1989 with an extra role dancing in the video for "Love Shack" by The B-52's.
Sylvester's partner, Rick Cranmer, became aware that he had become infected with the HIV/AIDS virus in 1986. With no known medical cure, his health deteriorated rapidly, and he died in September 1987, leaving Sylvester devastated. Although he recognized that he too was probably infected, Sylvester refused to have his blood tested, only noticing the virus' first symptoms when he developed a persistent cough. Beginning work on an album that would never be finished, he moved into a new apartment on Collingwood Street in the Castro, and tried his best to continue performing, even though he became too sick to undertake a full tour. Hospitalized for sinus surgery in late 1987, upon returning to his apartment he began to be cared for by his mother and his friend Jean Tracy, while other friends came to visit him; he would proceed to give away many of his treasured items to his friends, and would write up his will. He refused to take zidovudine, an antiretroviral drug which had serious side effects. Having lost a lot of weight and unable to walk very far, he was pushed along in a wheelchair at the 1988 Gay Freedom Parade in the Castro, just in front of the People with AIDS contingent; along Market Street, assembled crowds shouted out his name as he passed. The subsequent 1988 Castro Street Fair was named "A Tribute to Sylvester", and although he was too ill to attend, crowds chanted his name to such an extent that he was able to hear them from his bedroom. He continued to give interviews and took part in AIDS activism, in particular highlighting the devastation that it was wreaking in the African-American community. In an interview with the NME, he stated that "I don't believe that AIDS is the wrath of God. People have a tendency to blame everything on God".
For Thanksgiving 1988, his family came over to spend the holiday with him, by which time he was becoming increasingly bed-ridden and reliant on morphine to ease his pain. He proceeded to die in his bed on December 16, 1988 at the age of 41. Sylvester had already planned his own funeral, insisting that he be dressed in a red kimono and placed in an open-top coffin for the mourners to see, with his friend Yvette Flunder doing his corpse's makeup. He wanted Jean Tracy to sing at his funeral, accompanied by choirs and many flowers. The whole affair took place in his church, the Love Center, with a sermon being provided by Reverend Walter Hawkins. The event was packed, with standing room only, and the coffin was subsequently taken and buried at his family's plot in Inglewood Park Cemetery.
On March 7th, 1988, Divine was in Los Angeles staying in the Regency Hotel, located at 7940 Hollywood Boulevard. He was in town to film his first episode of Married…With Children. The night before he was due on set, he had dinner with friends. Afterward, he returned to the hotel. Before entering room number 261 he leaned over the balcony and sang "Arrivederci Roma" to his friends. This was at 6pm. Divine was notorious for being on time, when working When he didn’t show up the next morning for his shoot on the show, people became very concerned. His manager Bernard Jay went to the hotel at noon to check on Divine, and used his passkey to get in. That’s when he found him. Dead, nude, and covered with a blanket. He died in his sleep of heart failure. He was 42 years old.
RuPaul is: Starbooty! is a low-budget underground film trilogy starring and co-produced by a then-unknown drag queen RuPaul. Because it was produced on a very low budget, various posters, advertisements and video covers alternate the spelling between "Starbooty" and "Starrbooty".
A mini album which included three old songs RuPaul recorded with "Wee Wee Pole," plus two new songs, the title track and "Mr. Totally."
Hosted by co-creator Lady Bunny, the festival was held in its first years in Tompkins Square Park. According to Lady Bunny, the event began spontaneously in 1984 after a group of drag queens (along with Wendy Wild and a couple of Fleshtones) became inebriated at the nearby Pyramid Club and decided to put on a show in the park.
Robert Warren and Todd Butler, two guys who were currently attending RuPaul's old high school, Northside, asked Ru to join the band they were forming, "Wee Wee Pole." "Wee Wee Pole featuring RuPaul and the U-Hauls..." played the local new wave/punk club circuit and became very popular. Ru had also been evicted from his apartment and was homeless all of that year.
RuPaul's official start in show business, with the appearance of "RuPaul and the U-hauls" on "The American Music Show." "The U-hauls" consisted of RuPaul and his two girlfriends, Robin Prows and Josette Glasper-el.
The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence made their first appearance on Castro Street in San Francisco in 1979. Their approach and appearance was not new or extraordinary for the place or time. Starting in the 1960s, the Castro District began transitioning from a working class Irish Catholic district going through significant economic decline. A gay bar opened on Market Street and gradually, gay men began to migrate to the neighborhood.
Sylvester's fame increased following the release of his solo album, and he was employed to perform regularly at The Elephant Walk gay bar in the Castro, an area of San Francisco dominated by the local gay population. He became friends with Harvey Milk – known locally as the "Mayor of Castro Street" – who was the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California, and performed at Milk's birthday party that year. In the spring of 1978, Sylvester successfully auditioned for a cameo appearance in the film The Rose, starring gay icon Bette Midler. In the film he plays one of the drag queens singing along to Bob Seger's "Fire Down Below", in a single scene which was filmed in a run-down bar in downtown Los Angeles.
Deciding to begin production on his second solo album, subsequently titled Step II (1978), Sylvester was particularly influenced by the genre of dance music known as disco which was then becoming increasingly popular across the western world. Disco was particularly associated with the gay, black and Latino communities in the U.S., and dominated by female African-American artists such as Donna Summer, Gloria Gaynor and Grace Jones; Sylvester would admit to initially being skeptical regarding the seriousness of disco, but recognized its increasing commercial potential. Once again produced by Harvey Fuqua and released on his Fantasy label, Step II contained a number of disco songs, including "You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)", written by James Wirrick, and "Dance (Disco Heat)", written by Eric Robinson, both of which would also be released as singles.
Both singles proved commercial hits both domestically and abroad, topping the American dance chart and breaking into the U.S. pop charts. The album itself was also a success, being certified gold, and was described by Rolling Stone magazine as being "as good as disco gets". In one instance, Sylvester was rushed to London, England, at only four hours notice to give various performances and capitalize on the chart success of "Mighty Real" in Europe; he proved hugely popular in the city, being mobbed by fans and performing at a number of different nightclubs. Back in the U.S., Sylvester began to appear on television shows to advertise his music, appearing on Dinah Shore, American Bandstand, Rock Concert and The Merv Griffin Show. He also undertook a series of tours across the country, opening for both The Commodores and Chaka Khan, and performing alongside The O'Jays, War and L.T.D. As a result, he earned a number of awards, and performed at several award ceremonies.
Female Trouble is a 1974 dark comedy film co-composed, filmed, co-edited, written, produced, and directed by John Waters starring Divine, David Lochary, Mary Vivian Pearce, Mink Stole, Edith Massey, Michael Potter, Cookie Mueller, and Susan Walsh. The film is dedicated to Manson Family member Charles "Tex" Watson. Waters' prison visits to Watson inspired the "crime is beauty" theme of the film and in the film's opening credits, Waters includes a wooden toy helicopter that Watson made for him.
THE VERY FIRST MISS GAY MISSOURI AMERICA PAGEANT WAS HELD IN OCTOBER 1973 AT THE HOLIDAY INN DOWNTOWN ST. LOUIS AND HOSTED BY FOUNDING PAGEANT OWNER, LANA KUNTZ. MGMA STARTED AS A SPIN OFF OF THE MANDRAKE BALL HELD EACH HALLOWEEN, AND CONSISTED ONLY OF A WALK ON GOWN AND TALENT COMPETITION. OUT OF A FIELD OF 17 CONTESTANTS, JULIE TOMORROW WON THE NIGHT WITH TWO AMAZING OUTFITS: GREEN CAPE WITH MATCHING DRESS AND HER BLACK AND WHITE FEATHER BOA DRESS SHE DONNED FOR A BARBRA STREISAND NUMBER. JULIE WOULD PERFORM THROUGHOUT THE MID-1970s BEFORE RETIRING FROM THE ART FORM. WHAT MANY DIDN'T REALIZE WAS JULIE PERFORMED ON STAGE TO PAY HER WAY THROUGH COLLEGE. ONCE FINISHED, SHE HUNG UP HER GOWNS - BUT SHE REMAINS MGMA 1974 - THE QUEEN WHO STARTED IT ALL.
Approximately thirty-eight years ago, in Nashville, TN, Norman Jones (a/k/a Norma Kristie), was the first man to be crowned as Miss Gay America. Through the vision of Jerry Peak, the original owner of the Miss Gay America Pageant, Norman Jones, Miss Gay America Emeritus, not only desired to enhance the art of female illusion as a competitor but also to one day create his mark in history as promoter in the art form.
After the New York bomb, the Cockettes came back to San Francisco and performed their final show in the summer of 1972, "Journey to the Center of Uranus". At this time Divine, star of films by noted filmmaker John Waters, joined the group, thus making her San Francisco debut. In that show Divine performed her song "The Crab at the Center of Uranus" while dressed as a lobster.
Pink Flamingos is a 1972 transgressive black comedy exploitation film written, produced, composed, shot, edited, and directed by John Waters. When the film was initially released, it caused a huge degree of controversy due to the wide range of perverse acts performed in explicit detail. It has since become one of the most notorious films ever made. It made an underground star of the flamboyant drag queen actor Divine. The film co-stars David Lochary, Mary Vivian Pearce, Mink Stole, Danny Mills, Cookie Mueller, and Edith Massey. Produced on a budget of only $12,000, it was mostly shot on weekends in Phoenix, a suburb of Baltimore, Maryland. After screenings at universities across the U.S. including Harvard College in 1973, the film was distributed theatrically by Saliva Films, and later by New Line Cinema and became a nationally known film.
In November 1971 the Cockettes, minus former Cockettes (now the Angels of Light), were booked for performances at the Anderson Theater in New York City. The venue had no sound or lighting systems and needed a curtain. The stage was also twice the size of the Cockettes usual one so all the sets had to be rebuilt from scratch in six days. They opened with "Tinsel Tarts In a Hot Coma", a send-up of films about Broadway in the 1930s. According to accounts of the time, "Everybody who was anybody" came to the Cockette's New York opening, including such celebrities as John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Liza Minnelli, Truman Capote, Gore Vidal, and Angela Lansbury. Also attending were Andy Warhol and his own infamous gender-bending drag performers Holly Woodlawn and Candy Darling. But with the Cockettes' loose San Francisco magic, the opening night was a disaster (New Yorkers expected a tightly performed show). And in the theatre things went from bad to worse when Angela Lansbury walked out on the show, soon followed by Andy Warhol and most of the rest of the audience. After the show Gore Vidal quipped, "Having no talent is not enough." Apparently the New York professionals did not view the group as talented.
What had seemed so fabulous in San Francisco did not translate well in New York City. Also, the group did not have ample opportunities to rehearse, so their performances in New York were not their best. Of course, no one told New Yorkers that the Cockettes were rather anti-rehearsal. For the Cockettes, the idea was to have a blast onstage with the true spirit of Hollywood. For San Francisco, the Cockettes, in the late 1960s, were beautiful, funny, liberating, psychedelic messengers from the gods. For most New Yorkers, it was "You've got to be kidding!," and the celebrities the Cockettes had so wanted to impress were not impressed. Later, the Cockettes tried to explain their New York failure by commenting "the New York audiences did not understand us," (although it appeared perhaps New York had understood them). After a week of disastrous "Tinsel Tarts..." playing to empty houses, they performed their original musical "Pearls Over Shanghai" for the remaining 2 weeks of their contract, and the Village Voice gave it a rave. But it was too little too late. Sylvester and his band was the lone exception but he disassociated himself after several nights on advice from his business friends.
During their first year the Cockettes were not paid for performances, although tickets to the shows sold for $2.00, the proceeds going to the theatre owner (during the first year the Cockettes sneaked many audience members into the theatre free through the back door). The reason for the lack of interest in payment was that the group, having come out of the Haight Ashbury hippie community, was not then focused on money. Later, when Cockette audiences began to consist of celebrities such as Truman Capote and members of European royal houses, the group insisted on being paid by the theatre owner. Even so, the amounts eventually paid were minimal.
In early 1971, over differences in philosophy, the group split into two separate groups, the Cockettes and The Angels of Light. The Cockettes continued to work as professional performers while the Angels of Light chose to do free theatre without admission charge.
In 1971, The Cockettes released the short film Tricia's Wedding, lampooning the wedding ceremony of Richard Nixon's daughter, Tricia Nixon; Nixon's chief of staff H. R. Haldeman arranged a secret screening of the film for White House staffers.
By 1970, though, Sylvester had exhausted his Los Angeles options--"a drag queen, a transsexual, a gay guy." In San Francisco, pursuing an identity that could encompass all three, he quickly advanced to the head of the wildly countercultural drag troupe the Cockettes on the strength of his more than adequate singing voice and penchant for entertainment value.
Multiple Maniacs is a 1970 comedy film by American cult filmmaker John Waters; his second feature film. The film features several actors who were part of the Dreamland acting troupe for Waters' films, including Divine, Mary Vivian Pearce, David Lochary, Mink Stole, Edith Massey, and Cookie Mueller. The title pays tribute to Herschell Gordon Lewis's 2000 Maniacs, as John Waters states in his book Shock Value.
On New Years Eve, 31 December 1969, at the Palace Theatre in San Francisco's North Beach neighborhood, Steven F. Arnold let the Cockettes perform as part of his "Nocturnal Dream Show", a showcase of underground films, in exchange for free admission. The show soon became a "must-see" for San Francisco's hip community. Combining LSD-influenced dancing, set design, costumes and their own versions of show tunes (or original tunes in the same vein), the Cockettes took to the stage every 6 weeks, performing prior to the Saturday midnight "Nocturnal Dream Show". Show titles included Gone With the Showboat to Oklahoma, Tinsel Tarts In A Hot Coma, Journey to the Center of Uranus, Smacky & Our Gang, Hollywood Babylon and Pearls Over Shanghai. Word quickly got out that nothing like these shows had ever been seen before, and within a few months the Cockettes were getting enormous attention from the media. Not only hippie magazines, such as Earth and Rolling Stone, wanted stories on the Cockettes, but also mainstream magazines such as Look, Life and Esquire were anxious to do features as well.
Divine became involved with Waters's acting troupe, the Dreamlanders, starring in early Waters film Mondo Trasho
Small pockets of activism grew throughout the 1950s and 60s, however the gay rights movement is often though to have begun in 1969 at the Stonewall Bar in New York. It was the only gay bar in New York at that time. It was owned by the Mafia and on June 28th, 1969, the police conducted one of their raids. Raids were common at the time, and if a (gay) women wasn’t wearing at least three items of ‘feminine clothing’, they were arrested. Those in gender opposite clothing were submitted to humiliating ‘gender checking’ and arrested.
This raid, however, did not go as planned, and many, particularly the lesbians and drag queens, began to fit back. Many believe riots were instigated after drag queen Sylvia Rivera threw pennies and quarters at police. Three nights of riots ensued, which included another drag queen, Marsha P. Johnson smashing a police car window with her hand bag.
It was the first time gay people had come together as a community, and the events at Stonewall ignited widespread, worldwide LGBT activism. In 1970 the first ever gay Pride happened. It’s because of these drag queens, and these people, that we have many of the freedoms we enjoy today.
Drag queens, hustlers, and transvestites were sitting in Compton's Cafeteria in San Francisco when the police arrived to arrest men dressed as women. A riot ensued, with the patrons of the cafeteria slinging cups, plates, and saucers, and breaking the plate glass windows in the front of the restaurant, and returning several days later to smash the windows again after they were replaced. Professor Susan Stryker classifies the Compton's Cafeteria riot as an "act of antitransgender discrimination, rather than an act of discrimination against sexual orientation" and connects the uprising to the issues of gender, race, and class that were being downplayed by homophile organizations. It marked the beginning of transgender activism in San Francisco.
Crowned Queen of the Beaux Arts Ball in 1964 by the Tavern Guild, Sarria, stating that he was "already a queen", proclaimed himself "Her Royal Majesty, Empress of San Francisco, José I, The Widow Norton". Sarria devised the name "Widow Norton" as a reference to the much-celebrated citizen of 19th century San Francisco, Joshua Norton, who had declared himself Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico in 1859. Sarria organized elaborate annual pilgrimages to lay flowers on Norton's grave in the Woodlawn Cemetery in Colma, California. He purchased a plot adjacent to Norton's and plans to be interred there.
Sarria's assumption of the title of Empress led to the establishment of the Imperial Court System, a network of non-profit charitable organizations throughout the United States, Canada and Mexico that raises money for various beneficiaries. Sarria is much revered within the hierarchy of the Imperial Court System and is affectionately and informally known as "Mama" or "Mama José" among Imperial Court members. The "José Honors Awards" are presented to Imperial Court dignitaries and others in a bi-annual banquet held in Sarria's honor.
The Disquotays, "a cross between a street gang and a sorority" who nurtured Sylvester's genius for grand entrances, which was exceeded only by his genius for drag itself: a little something stapled out of aluminum pie tins to dazzle the Watts Summer Festival, or "a babydoll dress, windowpane stockings, and square-toed, big-buckled Pilgrim shoes."
RuPaul was born in San Diego, California. His name was given to him by his mother, a Louisiana native. The "Ru" came from roux, an ingredient used in gumbo.
Glen or Glenda is a 1953 exploitation film written, directed by, and starring Ed Wood, and featuring Bela Lugosi and Wood's then-girlfriend Dolores Fuller. The title was originally I Changed My Sex! and is often given as Glen or Glenda? but the question mark is not present in the film itself. A new musical score for the film was composed in 2010 by Michael Penny.
The film is a docudrama about cross-dressing and transsexuality, and is semi-autobiographical in nature. Wood himself was a cross-dresser, and the film is a plea for tolerance. It is widely considered one of the worst films ever. However, it has become a cult film due to its low-budget production values and idiosyncratic style.
In the 1950s, Milton Berle was known to us as Mr. Television or Uncle Miltie. He was the Star in the Texaco Star Theater. Slapstick comedy was his domain. A popular variety artist in the heyday of vaudeville, Miltie, to everyone's delight, brought vaudeville to television. Tuesday nights belonged to Uncle Miltie. He would walk out to greet his audience, clad in the wildest costumes—often in drag.
Sylvester James (Los Angeles, September 6, 1947 – San Francisco, December 16, 1988), better known as Sylvester, was an American disco and soul singer-songwriter. Known for his flamboyant and androgynous appearance, he was often described as a drag queen, although repeatedly rejected such a description. Responsible for a string of hit singles, in the late 1970s, Sylvester became known in the United States under the moniker of the "Queen of Disco".
Harris Glenn Milstead was born on October 19, 1945, at the Women's Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. His father, Harris Bernard Milstead (May 1, 1917 – March 4, 1993), after whom he was named, had been one of seven children born in Towson, Maryland to a plumber who worked for the Baltimore City Water Department. Divine's mother, Frances Milstead (née Vukovich; April 12, 1920 – March 24, 2009), was one of fifteen children born to an impoverished Serbian immigrant couple who had grown up near to Zagreb, Yugoslavia, before moving to the United States in 1891.
The well known movie version of Charley's Aunt starred Jack Benny (1894 - 1974), a one-time vaudevillian cum radio personality cum TV star, who was never above donning women's clothes to get a laugh. Based on the original play, the movie version, according to the blurb on the old videocassette sleeve, "stars Benny as an Oxford undergrad who agrees to help his friends circumnavigate a strict university dating rule by acting as their chaperone."
The club's history began back in the Roaring '20s, when founder Joe Finocchio opened a speakeasy on Stockton Street on the edge of the seedy Tenderloin District. The place featured female impersonation even then. The club went above-ground with the repeal of Prohibition in 1933 and moved to the trendy North Beach nightclub district in 1936. Most gay men and lesbians today don't think of professional female impersonator clubs as being particularly queer, but in the days before gay liberation they provided valuable semi-public social spaces for sexual minorities to congregate.
For decades, Finocchio's was a world-renowned venue. Hollywood stars frequented the club, flying up to San Francisco from Los Angeles to see themselves being impersonated -- as Tallulah Bankhead did in the accompanying photo. Ms. Bankhead is joined by members of the show, including Elton Paris (left) and Lucian Phelps (3rd from left). It's worth noting the mixed-race audience, a rarity in the era of segregation.
The phenomenon of the Great War drag show is somewhat perplexing. Some argue that soldiers were not just laughing at the gender-bending performances but were actually aroused by the shows. A broad array of explanations are offered for the cross-dressing phenomenon, ranging from desires for the portrayal of normalized femininity, to sublimation of homosexuality.
JG Fuller's Troop Morale (Oxford, 1990), notes the importance of music shows to the soldiers when they were at rest, and among these theatrical revues, drag shows were fairly common. Analyzing a broad range of soldiers' journals, Fuller writes that , "curiously these female impersonators seem to have generated considerable sexual excitement. He quotes one of the men in the ranks as claiming, "judging from the way [the men] sat and goggled at the drag on stage it was obvious that they were indulging in delightful fantasies that brought to them substantial memories of the girls they had left behind them in London, Manchester, Glasgow, wherever."
Apparently, many impersonators did not make a caricature of their roles, but played their parts with candor. Fuller notes that many journals accounted for the realism of the concert party "girls". One soldier wrote that, "it all seems to show that English beauty is essentially masculine." Fuller is more critical of the illusion: "judging from the photographs, it shows the intensity of the desire to believe."
Fuller wonders why this desire to believe in the gender-bending charade was so strong with the relative ease of access to women in the rear areas. It is true that after the spring of 1917, troops may have gone for weeks without seeing a woman in the farms, hospitals, shops and estaminets. Yet, Fuller suggests that the appeal of the entertainers was likely, "their emphasis put on glamour [not] the sheer fewness of females." He notes that "peasant girls, working hard at practical tasks with their menfolk away, were often the reverse of 'feminine' in the restricted sense of the age." A quote from an Australian journal lamented, "Women of shattered Picardy, Why are your boots so flat and vast?"
Of this desire for fancy femininity, Fuller writes, The trappings of elegance and luxury were the negation of war and squalor and, as such, a potent fetish of peace. The female impersonators therefore took care over the fripperies, having lingerie sent out, or going on special leave to London or Paris to select the items themselves. On stage they sang the sentimental songs which represented the greatest frippery of all, asserting the idealized stereotype of soft and vulnerable romantic femininity.
Historian David A Boxwell, in his article "The Follies of War: Cross-Dressing and Popular Theatre on the British Front Lines, 1914-1918" Modernism/Modernity 9.1 (2002) 1-20, disagrees with the thesis that drag performance was strictly a desire for idealized heterosexual relations. He identifies two forms of female impersonation which had already developed on British stages by 1914. He notes that, "Mimicry was most visibly embodied in the pantomime "dame" tradition, a comedic effort to render the female form in its most hypercarnivalized manner: the grotesque, oversized, and voracious body of the raddled, "ugly" woman presented on stage out of a misogynistic animus" (Boxwell, p. 13). The other form of impersonation was mimesis, which historians have traced back to the 1860s. Mimesis represented "idealized femininity as closely as possible.
Boxwell argues, "the complex dynamics of men objectifying other men as women does not occur completely within a heterosexual matrix." Boxwell's argument is formed in analysis of the HC Owen quote that, "it all seems to show that English beauty is essentially masculine."
[Owen] may well have intended to define female beauty in masculine terms, to suggest that British women were at their most beautiful when they most looked like men. The slippage that inheres in the statement effectively eradicates women's existence: male beauty not only exists, but cannot be conceived of in anything other than "masculine" terms. Thus there was an ineradicable trace of homoeroticism at the heart of drag during the Great War.[...] A man watching another man in drag must, at some level, self-reassuringly avow that the "woman" has a penis. But this act of speculation threatens to put the male spectator beyond the boundaries of the heterosexual matrix.