Monday, January 11, 2016

DRAG HISTORY...JEWEL BOX REVUE


It wouldn't be a Drag History Month without thinking about the great divas and the touring troupe, The Jewel Box Revue. The Jewel Box Revue was a famous drag/female impersonator touring company that began in 1939 and ran well into the late 1960s. Sort of a all drag Lawrence Welk if you will. 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.”

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. 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 anyway, for nearly 30years. At the height of its popularity the revue headlined at the famed Apollo Theater in Harlem to rave reviews.

I think it's interesting though that drag queens back in the day used male names instead of the campy names we now have today. It had something to do with letting the audience know they were in fact men. Some of the notable divas performing there.

Lavern Cummings was a long-time performer in the traveling troupe of The Jewel Box. Cumming's career seems to have spanned the post-war period into the sixties if you judge by her clothing and hair.

Gita Gilmore was one of the original members of the revue and often impersonated Mae West. Miss West even invited Gita to a show once and was asked backstage to meet the bombshell herself.

Ricky Renee went on to become one of the most well known Jewel Box dancers and can still be seen performing in Europe where she now resides.

Ricki Raymonde had a most amazing operatic voice and could sing a high C, then immediately drop to a deep baritone which would gasp audiences.
Jane Korday was with the Jewel Box longer than any other member and was known as the boy with the million dollar legs and was also the revue's hair dresser. Some of the other notables were Don Marshall who was one of the few black men performing in drag at the time, Mr Titanic who was every one's favorite blond bombshell, and Chunga Ochoa who was the featured dancer and choreographer for the review.

I would have loved to seen one of these shows.

16 comments:

  1. I agree, Maddie, it would have been wonderful to see their show. Your tour is damn fascinating too, and in a way, fills a person with pride.

    Now, if I just had a champagne-elderflower cocktail to sip on while I take my lessons...

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    1. Thank you Thomass! I may just have to break out the bubbly soon again.

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  2. I love the campy drag queen names nowadays, rather than the male names of long-ago.

    I also like the concept of an "all drag Lawrence Welk".....it gives new dimensions to Champagne Music.

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  3. I love that you are doing this.
    Some of these I've heard of,. but a lot are new to me.
    Loving it.

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  4. I'd love to see one of these older shows if I ever get the chance.

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    1. Unfortunely the shows stopped running in the 70's I believe.

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  5. Mistress Borghese, A HUGE THANK YOU for your time and heart felt post of these wonderful post of yours. I have been reading and enjoying your blog for some time, and wanted to thank you for these wonderful trips down memory lane. I was very good friends with the talented Jene Korday, who has since passed on, I remember most of these girls, as I worked at Club 82 in the early 60′s, as well as the Jewel Box Revue as a “male” dancer at first and then in drag as Tiffany Case. All of these guys were quite talented; some of them were as (or even more) talented than household name stars. It has to be remembered they were all male and at the time not yet pre-trans or hormones, and danced as well as sang using their own voices. Your post have brought back a lot of good memories and happy times. I have lost touched with some, but a lot of us girls are up there or sadly passed on. Thank you again for remembering us.

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    1. Ms.Case- Thank you for stopping by and your very kind comment. I was touching to read you had a nice trip down memory lane. I'm glad to have given you some good memories.

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  6. I too have been enjoying this post and others. If not for these brave gals I and others wouldn't have the opportunities we have now. They were all so glorious back then.

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  7. I'm enjoying these history lessons! You know your material for sure. And how inresting to see how drag has changed over time! We queens do so much with our appearance now, and just look how great and elegant they looked with less. They were stunning!!!!

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  8. I wondered why "the Jewel Box Revue" sounded familiar and then I realized why -- Storme DeLarverie, the legendary butch who punched out the cop at the Stonewall Riots! Last I knew she was still alive, somewhere around 90 years old now. A living legend -- I hope she's comfortable and well taken care of. I also really enjoyed reading the comments.

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  9. Mr. Titanic!!!!!!! WOW! Look how good he looked for back then!!!! I would never have known that was a man. I wonder why this has never been given a movie or a feature documentary at least? Would be a very interesting watch.

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    1. It is rather shocking that there hasn't been.

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  10. With the popularity of RuPaul, one wonders why such a revue isn't again touring. And, Cali-Boi makes a good observation.

    Have a very wonderful Tuesday, Mistress - warmed by my hugs!

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  11. Thanks for writing about my "aunt" Ricky Raymonde!

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Go ahead darling, tell me something fabulous!

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