Guys In Girls' Garb

Discussion in 'The Front Parlor' started by LizzieMaine, Jan 2, 2018.

  1. vitanola

    vitanola I'll Lock Up

    Gopher Prairie, MI
    Though I've never made a particular study of party records I've acquired quite a number over the years simply due to their ubiquity. A plate of Burbon's which was often issued under the title "Her First Music Lesson" is one of the funnier bits, though of course it doesnt hold a candle to the "Canadian Record", sometimes known as "The Battle at Trillblow".

    That said, by the mid-1930's the sorts of acts had become quite specialized, and rather out of the mainstream. Such was not the case in the first decades of the last century. Julian Eltinge, who made his Broadway debut in 1904, was a star of the first rank, anchoring numerous popular Brodway successes, repeatedly headlining at Keith's Palace, and receiving $5000 a week playing Keith time in the two-a-day Vaudeville. In the 1910-1920 decade there were at least three other such impersonators in the top rank of the profession, though Eltinge was the acknowledged master. Heck, he even had a major (and surviving) Broadway theater named after him in 1912.

    This type of entertainment was immensely popular in the years before the Legion of Decency (so called) held the nation in its thrall.
    Last edited: Jan 10, 2018
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  2. LizzieMaine

    LizzieMaine Bartender


    The Eltinge became a burlesque house in the 1930s, which couldn't have pleased Eltinge himself, given his reputation as a "clean" family-oriented performer. After Mayor LaGuardia cracked down on the burly-Q, it became a moom pitcha house, renamed the Empire, and remains such today.


    In addition to a Broadway theatre bearing his name, Julian Eltinge also had his own line of licensed merchandise, including his own personally-endorsed beauty products.

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  3. :p

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  4. LizzieMaine

    LizzieMaine Bartender

    Female impersonation was also not uncommon in radio. There were several male performers who were well-known for performing female roles on the air, notably Marlin Hurt. He had been a member of the novelty vocal trio "Tom, Dick, and Harry" in Chicago radio during the 1930s, and it was while with this group that he developed a distinctive, nasal female voice characterization. He fooled around with this voice for a while and in 1939 joined the cast of Red Skelton's program as a sassy Jewish character called "Gypsy Rose Levy." This didn't last long, but he continued to use the basic voice with other dialects on various programs. By 1941 he'd settled on an African-American dialect, and was calling the voice "Beulah." He joined "Fibber McGee and Molly" in 1944, and Beulah became a national craze -- during the live broadcasts he'd stand with his back to the studio audience until "Beulah" got her cue, and then he'd whirl around and bellow, in a perfect A-Flat, "Somebody bawl fo' Beulah?"

    Hurt spun off into his own program in 1945, but he died of a sudden heart attack during its first season, and was replaced by another young white man, Bob Corley -- who could do a close imitation on the voice, but wasn't as clever a comedian. Neither Hurt nor Corley ever dressed up as Beulah on stage -- the shock value of seeing the voice coming out of an obviously-male mouth was enough for the studio audience.

    Another cross-gender performer was Tommy Riggs, a former college football player who had the unique ability to switch his voice to that of a six-year-old girl -- not a falsetto caricature, but a real little-girl voice. He used this voice to amuse his teammates by having "her" explode in obscene tirades, and after graduation found his way onto the Rudy Vallee program, doing mild comic dialogues between "Mister Tommy" and "Betty Lou." The uncanny quality of the simulation convinced millions of people that Betty Lou was a real little girl, and Riggs got his own program that ran on and off thru the 1940s.

    And finally, there was Olin Landrick -- who had taken up female impersonation during his World War I service in the Navy, and pursued it on stage as a professional during the 1920s. He turned to radio in the thirties, specializing in female roles, and had his most famous part as a comedy-relief busybody on a western called "The Sheriff." There was no particular reason to cast a man in that role, and no particular attention was called to him in the publicity for the program -- in fact, he changed the spelling of his first name to "Olyn" in press articles to make it more gender-ambiguous.

    And in a class by herself was "Tizzie Lish," a wild parody of every radio cooking/home economist personality ever broadcast. She was actually Bill Comstock, a west coast comedian who began playing the character on a local morning show in Los Angeles in 1931, and was still at it thirty years later. Unlike the above performers, Tizzie dressed for her broadcasts, wearing the same hat, dress, and molting feather boa for her entire career.


    Comstock performed the character with a high, fluty falsetto voice, giving ridiculous recipes and unhelpful household hints on dozens of different programs over the decades, and was still at it in fifties and sixties television. "Hello, folksies!"
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  5. Nobert

    Nobert Practically Family

    In the Maine Woods
    I just learned of the trasvestite acrobat Vander Clyde Broadway who, anointed with that moniker, nonetheless chose the stage name Barbette.


    The Art Deco poster artist Charles Gesmar was linked to him/her as Mucha was to Bernhart and Tolouse-Lautrec to Jane Avril or Aristide Bruant.

  6. LizzieMaine

    LizzieMaine Bartender

    Unedited newsreel footage of the Philadelphia Mummers' Parade, on New Years Day 1930. All the "women" you see marching are not. Quite a few men in 1930 seem to have been quite spry in high heels.

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  7. GHT

    GHT I'll Lock Up

    New Forest
    The British version of Dancing With The Stars, namely: Strictly Come Dancing, has four judges. One of the male judges name of Craig Revel Horwood, has portrayed a Mr. Nasty attitude, I guess it gets him attention and his name in the tabloids. But you have just got to see him in drag.
    craig revel horwood m.jpg craig revel horwood f.jpg
  8. sheeplady

    sheeplady I'll Lock Up Bartender

    I need to find out if the company that makes those heels is still in business. I'd love to have heels I could jump in. My goodness.
  9. Dorota

    Dorota New in Town

    I just came across Barbette's photo in 'Światowid' magazine. Great legs for sure! Barbette.jpg
    MissMittens likes this.

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