My dear friend Marc asked if I had seen the exhibit of drag queens and kings at the Bass presentation on Miami design, Promises of Paradise and, of course, we had. It left us agog and, had those precious brochures to such loveliness not been behind glass cases, I might just have snatched a few and made a run for it. These delectable pamphlets were of an act known at The Jewel Box, which was formed in 1939 and found great popularity in the playland Miami represented. I didn't mention it because Leopoldo and I had really, really attended the Bass for the architectural aspect of the show; I was also waiting until our weekly date with Henrietta at Twist this Saturday to ask her what she remembered of group. Marc's inquiry made me think of just how much time I've spent over the years enjoying and photographing drag.
Lavern Cummings was a long-time performer in the traveling troupe of The Jewel Box. This was an rather large group of entertainers which traveled around the United States and dispensed the feel of big city nightclub glamor to middle American cities. They weren't exactly playing at county fairs, but it must have brought not a few ideas to curious, male minds. Cumming's career seems to have spanned the post-war period into the sixties if you judge by her clothing and hair (and, you can always count on that barometer). I have a copy of the 1971 photo collection by Avery Willard, "Female Impersonation; it is a slim volume, but striking to leaf through.Julian Eltinge was not the first impersonator to wow the stage, that having been done in the hundreds of years females were not allowed to perform on it, but he was the first to make the leap from Broadway to a black and white film around 1915.
This is so precious and is entitled "A flock of lovelies, place and date unknown". My guess is 1963 or 4 and--with a black man enjoying himself too--it must have been a liberal city like San Francisco. Only a guess. A great deal of good, drag fun can be had at the TG Forum, a site I love to wander around. I distinctly remembering my mother showing me a B & W glossy of a group of "girls" surrounding one man. "They are all men," she told me, and was delighted enough to go with my father again to their performance the next night. It was even signed to her. I stared at that for a long time, studying the dresses, make-up, and hair. I don't know if it was The Jewel Box Revue, but it certainly wasn't indigenous to Rhode Island; I never looked again at her wardrobe the same way.
And, as I have wondered: Did traveling drag shows affect middle America in any way?