Sunday, January 26, 2014

JEWEL BOX REVUE, SPREADING HISTORIC GLITTER

Jewel Box Revue booklet
 
Hard to believe that drag and impersonation has been around as long as it was. Even in the 20's and 30's some of the most fabulous girls lived and performed! And  toured the country to some surprising little towns. The Jewel Box Revue was a famous drag/female impersonator touring company that began in 1939 and ran well into the 1960s. I believe the show shoe was sometime in late 1968. In 1939, during a time when gay people were viewed as abhorrent subversives and a threat to society, Danny Brown and Doc Benner were lovers.... and longtime producers of the revue, and were said to be pretty tough customers who never backed down from a fight and were known to run a very tight ship. They were hard on their employees but could be brutal to anyone who messed with “their girls.”In a very real sense Danny and Doc are the true godfathers of the modern gay community. Creating America's first gay community was not what Danny and Doc initially had in mind when they created the revue. They felt that Vaudeville had sidelined female impersonation acts into little more than burlesque shows, and both were passionate about reviving drag as an art form. Danny and Doc also intentionally catered the show to a heterosexual audience and tried their best to be viewed as legitimate entertainment by locals and authorities, to stay clear of any legal charges of sexual deviance. But behind the protective spin of publicity, it cannot be denied that the revue fostered one of the first gay-positive communities in America, if not the first. It was a place where "gayness" was accepted before the concept of gay-identity had even been fully conceived. The show became incredibly popular throughout the United States. Stars of the revue such as Mr. Lynne Carter, whose talent and skill as a dancer was legendary, became quite famous and included the Rat Packer and toe-tapper Sammy Davis Jr. as a fan.
 
 
Sammy Davis Jr with Lynne Carter
 
Legendary Charles Pierce with Lynne Cater
 
 The drag revue was most often comprised of “25 Men & One Girl.” The one girl was none other than Miss Storme DeLaviere who served as the sole male impersonator for the revue. Storme would garner iconic status within the LGBT community in 1969 for being one of the first people to fight back against police officers during the raid on the Stonewall Inn. The riots that followed would spark the modern gay-rights movement. Despite government crackdowns against gay performers and female impersonators, the revue successfully toured America and Canada for nearly 30 years. At the height of its popularity the revue headlined at the famed Apollo Theater in Harlem to rave reviews.
 
 
 
The show was billed as " 25 Men and 1 Woman," but hundreds of gay entertainers and female impersonators would come to work with the revue over the years, and their influence on the burgeoning gay rights movement still resonates to this very day. It's amazing to see just how glam they were considering the tools we have now, they didn't. Some of the legendary performers.....
 
Bernie Brandell
 
 
Guilda
 
Jean Fredricks
 
Chiki Rhimes
 
George "Titanic" Rodgers
 
Jan Carlove
 
Bruno La Fantastique
 
Pepa Darena
 
Selina Powers
 
Tony del Ray
 
 I've got a hunch that somewhere out there in the cosmos, Danny Brown and Doc Benner couldn't be prouder at how well and far drag and impersonation has went.
 
Danny Brown and Doc Benner
 

17 comments:

  1. There was also a bar called the Jewel Box in Kansas City that featured drag revues dating back to the late 40s or early 50s. Growing up there, I thought K.C. was a hick town in the provinces, but there were a number of gay bars and, from what I learned from other guys in the 60s, there has supposedly never been a raid on a gay bar in the city's history. They even told stories about trysts in the back of spring wagons in the 1890s! The city was apparently always very open and tolerant -- it was a "wet" oasis during Prohibition, which was hardly noticed in Kansas City! That was the era when the town was run by the Pendergast machine and the mob, and Kansas City jazz came into its own in the many clubs. When my older brother "came out" and then I four year later, we began going to K.C. bars in 1966 it was normal for patrons to dance together and even engage in public displays of affection in the bars. Very different from repressive towns like Chicago and N.Y., where that could get you arrested! If you Google "Kansas City Gay History" you'll find that the city had some early LGBT organizations and hosted several national conferences of LGBT organizations in the late 60s. So even being in "fly-over" country, the city had a significant role in the rise of the national gay rights movement. Great post!!!!!!

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  2. I am grateful to men and women like Mr. Brown and Mr. Benner and these girls..... who have worked to make it okay to be your true self in America.

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  3. Excellent read for the day! Never knew that side of Sammy Davis, how cool he was a fan.

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  4. Wow--what a unearthing of this treasure trove. I'm always in awe of our pioneers, each a contributor to where we are now (and sadly, many forgotten in the dustbin of gay history). The oddest thing though--I remember seeing a program from the Jewel Box Review brought home by my parents (it must have played Buffalo at one point where we lived at the time... my parents I realized, in retrospect, were pretty open about these things.

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  5. This was a nice surprise to read today. I'm glad you're doing these posts because I feel like I'm going to school every time I visit.

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  6. Professor Maddie, I love today's lesson. These talented performers paved the way for the drag queens of today. ALL HAIL THE QUEEN OF QUEENS!

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  7. It is amazing how good they looked back then.

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  8. One other interesting "drag" act paraded around the country during those years. Actually, it was part of a bigger show. Both the Ice Capades and the Ice Follies featured at least one drag act in every show (this was back in the '50s and '60s), which made the audiences in Middle America go wild at the reveal.

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  9. I'm sure William and I went to one of these in our courting days back in 62, up in Erie Pa of all places!!!! Those girls sure looked fabulous and entertained better than most people in the biz today in a stupendous fashion. The characterizations were perfect and went way beyond the wonderful drag queens of today. The shows were perfection and had the tone of real international revues. I was blown away by their performance, if it was them.

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  10. The times were difficult for gay and lesbian citizens....aka being arrested for simple gatherings, so this group of brilliant and brave performers are due big kudos for inspiring the gay movement that so many take for granted today.

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  11. They look pretty dang fabulous for those days!

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  12. Very interesting. Then I scrolled through the photos and was shocked to see Lynn Carter. From what a hear, Lynn owned a hotel and nightclub in Provincetown here, years ago. Needless to say, Lynn was the headliner and Wayland Flowers & Madam were the opening act.

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  13. What I really love about the program is all the performers' names begin with "Mr." ---a little bit of class from another place and time.

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  14. Wonderful post! Your blog is really becoming a drag archive!!!!There are so very, very few original Jewel Box performers still alive and it's an important part of gay history that should be preserved.

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  15. LOL, love the name Jan Carlove!!! we love the drag history, often get left out. stay positive & the world will be your armchair!
    carry on, louise!

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  16. Mistress Maddie: I read this post with great interest because I am working on a book for Applause Books called A CHORUS LINE FAQ, a comprehensive history of that musical, and of course The Jewel Box Revue is discussed in the show in Paul's monologue. I would love to get permission to include a couple of the photos you have here in the book. Can you help with that? Thanks! Tom Rowan, TLRowan@hotmail.com

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    1. Oh Tom, that sounds exciting! Yes by all means use what you need. These images I believe were from a goggle image search. Good luck with the book, sounds very interesting.

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