The Slave of Fashion--Francis Renault
All of the photogrpahs in this post happen to be of renowned Female impersonator Francis Renault... who was the featured model in a number of women's fashion shows and burlesque performances. Francis Renault was an active and popular ‘femme mimic’ from the early 1900s to the 1950s. He was born Antonio Auriemma in Naples Italy on September 5, 1895. He grew up in Providence, Rhode Island, where, after a show, he reportedly met and was inspired by the great Edwardian female impersonator Julian Eltinge. Francis made his vaudeville reputation impersonating Lillian Russell, the great American beauty whose career and pulchritude spanned decades before and after the turn of the twentieth century. Like Lillian, he wore gorgeous gowns. His investment in gowns was extensive, tallying in the tens of thousands of dollars. At some theatres like the Palace, his costumes were displayed in theatre lobbies, where women could get a closer look at their richness and craftsmanship. Unlike Eltinge, Renault was in the habit of wearing his female costumes on the street of the various cities and towns where he toured. This created a great deal of publicity for his show, but frequently incensed local authorities. He was arrested and released on several occasions for female impersonation, notably in Dallas and Atlanta.
Out of costume he was a masculine man, like many drag queens and female impersonators, with many male admirers, one of whom was the young Archie Leach before he changed his name to Cary Grant. In his last years, Francis sang at Carnegie Hall billing himself as ‘The Last of the Red Hot Poppas”. In 1945 he was crippled with polio, and was paralyzed for two years. He overcame this and returned to performing at Carnegie Hall for several more years. Just another fabulous queen to pave the way for the modern day queens we have. I also find it interesting how elegant they were, and very seldom dropped the standards and their attention to detail was very impressive.