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.