Wednesday, January 16, 2019


Craig Russell, who delighted and sometimes shocked audiences with his impersonations of Mae West, Judy Garland and Peggy Lee,led the way for drag in Canada. 

Born in Toronto, Mr. Russell became interested in show business after meeting Miss West in 1965. At the age of 17, he moved into her house in Los Angeles and worked as her part-time secretary. He left several months later, apparently after a dispute, and returned to Toronto to study hairdressing. He remained a devoted fan, however, and years later the walls of his apartment remained covered with memorabilia given to him by the actress.

He made his first stage appearance in 1970 when he impersonated Tallulah Bankhead at a gay club in Toronto. For years he was among the best-known female impersonators in North America.His performance in the 1977 film "Outrageous," in which he played a flamboyant drag queen, won Mr. Russell the awards for both best actor and best actress at the Virgin Islands Film Festival. He also was named best actor at the Berlin Film Festival for the role.
His career soured when a four-city tour of Western Canada in 1981 was canceled after Mr. Russell undressed onstage and threw wigs and jewelry at the audience. He was later barred from a talk show in Vancouver.Starting in Toronto gay venues in the late 1960s, he went on to tour North America, the United Kingdom and Europe. He developed a TV and film career, and was a known performer in the global entertainment industry. He not only proved drag as an art form, but demonstrated there was an audience for it. In an era when homosexuality was illegal, Russell performed every week in some of the biggest North American venues in and out of gay neighborhoods. He was the most mainstream drag performer in the world long before drag performer RuPaul hit the scene.He rubbed shoulders with top stars, and earned the respect of entertainers he imitated. Davis called him brilliant. Lee said he was her favorite impersonator.

Russell’s entourage grew to include a promoter, makeup artist, dresser and full band under the direction of musician Paul Hoffert, the co-founder of Lighthouse. They regularly took top billing in Provincetown, Mass., and went on to do shows in San Francisco, Amsterdam and Berlin, playing large theatres. The highlight for him was his first performance at Carnegie Hall.By 1980, Russell’s career began to ebb. Struggling with drugs, alcohol and fame, disastrous performances in New York and Vancouver tarnished his reputation. He later made a sequel to Outrageous. It flopped.Russell died of an AIDS-related stroke in 1990. His last years were so publicly marked by struggle, his legacy was mudded.But no denying he was a trailblazer and a very talented soul. He here was doing the fabulous Carol befitting.
I can only surmise they are having one hell of a show today together.


  1. He was a trailblazer, that's for sure. And I bet he and Carol are having a gay old time right about now!
    With Mae and Judy and Tallulah, too. What a party!

  2. And a Canadian! :-) Interesting history lesson. xoxoxo

  3. One of my favorites!!!!!! Hands down a legend.

    And one for Jesus.

  4. Amazing! I'd never heard about him. Sad that he could make such a splash with a performance in a film and not get any attention from the major critics and awards (Oscar, anyone?).

    Could you do something like this on Jim Bailey????


    1. I have done several post on Jim Bailey....another amazing queen. He does a mean Garland.

  5. This! Love her! Thank the goddes for YouTube, that allows younger generations to take note and LEARN. Both from the good and the bad.


  6. I only knew him through the 'Outrageous' film which I loved enormously, but nothing at all since I saw it way back in 1977 and again about a year later. He just seemed to have disappeared from the world I was aware of though I later read about his death after a sequence of flopped live appearances.

  7. He seems to have had a face just made for impersonation. My favorites, though, were Jim Baily and Charles Pierce. I do like learning about all of the others.

  8. As Peggy Lee singing "Fever" is nothing short of brilliant.

  9. I adored Craig Russell. His early death was a tragedy.

  10. I looked at the photos and just saw my mother

  11. No denying...he was a entertaining guy.

  12. I remember him but didn't know about all his struggles. He was a wonderful entertainer and clearly very brave, which must have taken its toll.

  13. Outrageous was one of the films that contributed to my "formative years" as a Baby Queen. It was not really a comedy, but had its spectacularly camp moments - the "Karen Black" scene in particular was a hoot! Mr Russell is sadly missed. Jx


Go ahead darling, tell me something fabulous!

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