Sunday, January 17, 2016

THE FABULOUS BARBETTE

Long before Ru Paul eyed his first pair of six inch stilettos, Boy George donned his colorful caftan, or Divine bust her large frame on the scene.... a handsome young man from the small town of Round Rock, Texas barnstormed the stages of Europe’s most lavish theaters and night clubs as Barbette, a beautiful aerialist drag queen who became a scandalous sensation throughout the Roaring Twenties.
 
 Performing his erotic, high wire and trapeze routine in lavish, feminine regalia, Barbette shocked audiences by revealing the true nature of his gender at the very end of his act. From a child who picked cotton and walked his mother’s clothes line to headlining at the Moulin Rouge in spectacular drag, Barbette was quite the original act.  Barbette himself says that when the circus came to Austin it changed his life. He begged his mother to permit him to run away and join the circus. She told him he was free to go as soon as he finished his high school studies. Barbette said he doubled up his studies and left Round Rock at sixteen.
 
 
Barbette was a sensation in Europe, he started purchasing property in Texas. He was a top-paid act in the Roaring Twenties. He boasted he travelled with twenty eight trunks, a maid and a maid for the maid. He was big time.  After twenty years or so on the stage, it all came to an end, when Barbette got sick while performing at Manhattan’s Loew’s State Theater. He contracted polio. He decided on a radical and painful treatment plan that depleted his savings.  His career as a performer was over.
Barbette is listed on the 1940 census in Round Rock as living with his mother and step father, Samuel Loving, as well as other siblings. Imagine how crushing it must have been for him to see all that he worked for come to an end and then winding up back in Round Rock—a flamboyant peacock amongst the grackles. What must the town’s folk have thought about Barbette, a man who dressed up like a woman for a living, coming home?
 
After a year and a half of operations and recovery, Barbette created an ethereal spectacle using over fifty women entwined in silk ropes and other hanging apparatuses swirling about the big top. It launched his second career as a director and trainer of female aerialists in the circus, stage productions and films. All the while, when Barbette wasn’t on the road, he returned to Austin to reside with his sister Mary and her family. It’s no wonder he desired being on the road, taking on productions into his seventies until his body finally gave out.  After he fell and became partially immobile, Barbette took his own life back in Texas at his sister Mary’s home. He was buried in the Loving family plot, right by his mother and sister Mary.
 
I also found out there is a book about his life which might well be my next read.
 
 
Wildflower reveals long-forgotten secrets of this enigmatic performer: his arrest in London on morals charges, his bout with polio, his infamous collaborations with some of Hollywood’s greatest stars— Orson Welles, Vincente Minnelli, and Judy Garland, Jack Lemmon, and Tony Curtis as well as his hidden affair with French surrealist  Jean Cocteau. Wildflower captivates with every page, dramatically revealing the startling and at times heart-breaking story of Round Rock’s first and greatest drag queen. Also to note, the author Kyle Taylor crafted this book entirely on his own, from the fonts, research, photos and backing, everything about it, because publishing houses didn't think it may be of interests. So I HUGE hat tip to Kyle for this sure to be brilliant read.

21 comments:

  1. Ooh, they have it for the Kindle for $4.99!

    Click here

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    1. Well, you know me...I have no kindle. Mine will arrive horseback by mailmen on Tuesday!!!!!

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  2. What a great post!!!! Never heard of him which is sort of a shame. Can't even imagine what that act was like!!!

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  3. Fascinating!

    In that first photo one can see where Jessica Rabbit got her inspiration.

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  4. What a wonderful Sunday post!!! I have never heard of him, but what a story. I'm off now to see where I can get that book.

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  5. It’s really too bad Barbette never left behind a memoir. Just think of the biopic!

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  6. I'd love to read the book as well. Barbette is new to me and sounds like he lead an incredible life.

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    1. Glad you enjoyed it! I have always loved reading about Barbette. There is still a lot for drag month yet, I want to feature.

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  7. Is there anything about the description “cross-dressing Texan aerialist in between-the-wars Paris” which doesn’t compel the attention? The man born Vander Clyde whose dragrobatics thrilled French audiences heads a very long queue of people I would dearly love to see a movie about. I am not alone in my love of this singular apparition. Over at Worn Through, Barbette appears in the recurring ‘Anarchists of Style’ feature which has included several other sartorial one off's, including Baroness Elsa, Claude Cahun, Anita Berber, Quentin Crisp, Vali Myers and Marchesa Casati. Jean Cocteau figures prominently in any discussion of Barbette, being the first to offer theoretical grounding for Vander Clyde’s high-flying act, and casting him in his 1930 film Le Sang d’un poète. I think you'll enjoy the book.

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    1. Agreed!!! What a fascinating movie it would be.

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  8. With so many interesting people like Barbette, why does Hollywood keep remaking the same old things? This would make for an incredible movie.

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  9. I have always been fascinated by Barbette, but hadn't realised such a comprehensive biography existed. I shall keep and eye out for it while rifling through the bookshelves (as is my wont) in charity shops and second-hand emporia of London... Jx

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    1. Hopefully you'll find a copy. I'm ready to plant myself down for this read.

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  10. I have never heard of Barbette either, but what a great post to read. How stunning he was too. I may have to look into the book as well. And to perform at the Moulin Rouge!!!!!!

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  11. Mistress, I don't always comment, but I must thank you so far for a wonderful month of drag history so far. I did hear of Barbette, but knew very little of him. And a book? I must check this out. Thank you for the time you give to these post, and the recognition these gals deserve.

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  12. First off a Happy New Year to you! Great post. We too have to agree with a few here. Why no movie on the entertaining individual yet? It's amazing what he did and what some do with their lives.

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  13. Barbette is new to me. Thank you for sharing about her and I notice that the book is available over on that Amazon thingy.

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  14. I admit this is a very interesting post, he was quite something. but you read books..without pictures?

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Go ahead darling, tell me something fabulous!

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