Monday, January 15, 2018


Picking up where we left off was the beginning of the early 1900's . It was a mainstream lark for a straight man to put on a dress and “play act” as a woman. It was not always associated with "sexual deviancy."
Julian Eltinge was even so popular, and gaining more notice... that he launched his own magazine full of wardrobe and makeup advice for biological women. And his performances were being sold out.

Florin, pictured here, was another well renowned “female impersonator” in Paris, where there was also a flourishing drag scene.
1916: Novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald performed in drag during a college performance of a musical he co-wrote.

1920: Drag becomes more closely aligned with the LGBT community with the advent of “drag balls,” which were enormous LGBT parties where most men dressed in drag.
As the 1920s progressed, the drag balls gained more and more cultural attention, eventually starting a period called the “Pansy Craze.” New York, Berlin, Paris, and London embraced the Pansy Craze and performers like Rae Bourbon (pictured below).
This period lasted from the 1920s through the end of prohibition.
Noted drag queen Harry S. Franklyn was another popular performer during the Pansy Craze of the 1920s.

Vander Clyde, or “Barbette,” was a huge vaudevillian sensation. She traveled around the States and Europe with her infamous aerial act, which featured death-defying trapeze stunts in full drag. At the end of her act she would remove her wig and strike a masculine pose. I have read her story in Barbette...what an entertaining read.

Mainstream society was still enjoying comedic drag queens such as Frances and Lonas though balls were emphasizing more glamour and lifestyle.

 By the time the 1930's hit, Female impersonators, such as Billy Richards, had to keep up their styles and trends as much as any other woman. It could be an expensive career.

Drag's place in society continued to evolve as the '30s turned into the '40s. This infamous photo of a drag queen being arrested shows how the mere act of cross-dressing could still be a punishable offense.

Though the perceived threat of homosexuals was becoming more and more taboo in society, female impersonators still had a place in entertainment.

During a time when gay people were viewed as abhorrent subversives and a threat to society, two gay lovers, Danny Brown and Doc Benner, created and produced America’s first racially inclusive traveling revue of female impersonators. It was staffed almost entirely by gay men and one gay woman and was known as the fabulous Jewel Box Revue. In many ways it was America’s first gay community.

1940s: Drag balls went further and further underground to avoid police harassment. The days of the “Pansy Craze” were no more. By 1941 however, as long as the cross-dressing was done for the purpose of entertainment, the public could handle men in dresses.


  1. Another great history lesson. Glad folks got pictures along the way. :-)

  2. OMB, who knew all this about drag queens? fasinating, captain!

  3. Wow, so much history hidden away from view. I know zip about drag culture, very interesting as I was completely unaware it had such a strong following.

  4. I love that you do this; people need to know and remember!

  5. Thank you for sharing these amazing stories of glamour, style, and these astonishing, courageous artists who made sure drag would survive and thrive. They were the kabuki troops of the West who kept history and a way of life alive and vibrant, no matter what the circumstances or challenges from time and a changing society! Just fantastic!

    And you carry the torch now to light and illuminate the way!

  6. Excellent!

    You may like to peruse some of my own humble research on the subject...

  7. I love the historicity of this. It's such a fascinating subject. I must admit, however, that I caught a fit of the giggles when I read Harry S. Franklyn's name! Shallow, yes, but say it fast! What, no wax back then? I must try harder to be serious.

  8. Another lovely installment. It's quite amazing to see how far and in the main stream we now are. And these girls were very brave to have the balls to do what they did and enjoyed.

  9. The Pansy Craze is over? Why wasn't I told? Now I have to reschedule my whole spring.

    1. between you or the mistress, one of you is bound to bring it back.

  10. I love drag queens!!! Never did it though. I'll be looking forwards to more of these post. Already learned a few things.

  11. Wonderful piece Maddie. I hope drag is here to stay. Whether it is low camp or high camp, or something else all together I can't help but love it. Thanks for giving all of us such an enjoyable drag history lesson.

  12. So much fascinating history. Thanks. And that photo of Julian Eltinge.... I'm sure that's an old girlfriend's grandmother!

  13. I remember you doing a post of reading the story of Barbette last year. I have since read it. Your needs to be a movie.

  14. I'm really enjoying this. Milton Berle probably made drag performances go "mainstream" during the run of his TV show. Do you think?

  15. “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

    I wonder if Zelda ever saw that picture.

  16. You do a very nice job with drag history Mistress!


Go ahead darling, tell me something fabulous!

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