Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Don't walk away, Renée

Today, I read an article on the generally marvellous Dangerous Minds website about a drag queen with a long and illustrious history - Miss Ricky Renée, star of stage and screen (she was "Elke", one of the "Kit-Kat Girls" in Cabaret).

I was, however, somewhat confused that the article's author Martin Schneider felt it necessary to write...
"Ricky grew up in Florida but quickly made his way to NYC and then London and the European continent after that. Information about him isn’t the easiest to come by. It’s telling that there is an entry for him at wikipedia.de, the German Wikipedia, but none whatsoever at the English-language Wikipedia."
...especially as Mr Schneider's subsequent painstaking translation of said German Wikipedia entry merely summarises the wealth of biographical information about the career of Miss Renée that is readily available on the artiste's own website (to which the author had helpfully given a link earlier in his article).

Furthermore, Mr Schneider concludes: "I’m a little obsessed with Ricky. If you know anything about him and his act, by all means write a comment!" I have not done so yet, but on a cursory Google search I managed to find a fascinating back-story to this mythical creature and her eponymous "Ricky Renée's Club" in London's West End.

If Mr Schneider had done the same as I, he would have come across the website of a wonderful old queen called Eric Lindsay, co-founder (among other such extravaganzas) of the Casino de Paris in Denman Street just off Piccadilly Circus - one of the earliest striptease clubs in Soho in the 50s which, in addition to the girls and the occasional celeb in the audience, also boasted the first male stripper, and "the first nude knife throwing act on a revolving wheel, called Jacqueline and Ruger." Mr Lindsay himself, true to his camp theatrical roots, ended up becoming a glitzy showbiz stage magician called "Zee" who hob-nobbed with the likes of Liberace, Danny La Rue and Mae West.

It was a particular blog article of Eric's from May 2013, about his attempt to launch a new club near the Theatre Royal Drury Lane back in 1965 - originally to be named in honour of the esteemed drag queen Sonne Teal, who was tragically killed in a plane crash on her way to the UK to open the joint - that gave me loads of "gen" on Miss Renée's time in London. Here are some extracts:
We couldn’t stop the building, it had gone too far. Too much money was already involved. We were truly up the creek without a paddle! Who could possibly take Sonne’s place? There were the French female Impersonators, but none of them spoke English well enough to banter with an audience. There was an American drag act called Ricky Renée who had worked at Al Burnet’s "Stork Club" in Swallow Street for quite a while a few years before and whom Sonne had talked about favourably as they had worked together at the "82 Club" in New York. Maybe he would be interested?

Ricky was working in a night club in Berlin at the time. Apparently he had been there for a number of years. It seemed that he had made Berlin his home. So we rang him and explained our situation, telling him the full story of poor Sonne. Was he interested in coming back to London and fronting a night club with his name as "Ricky Renée’s"?

Ricky had worked with Teddy Green when he was at the "Stork Club" and he was happy working with him again, so he was engaged. We also engaged Maria Charles, Melvyn Hayes and Anne Hamilton, all West End performers, plus a few other dancers and singers.

All the costumes were designed and made by Dougie Darnell, who made exclusively for Shirley Bassey. So you see we had the best of everything. There was no expense spared. When the club was finished it looked beautiful, the furnishing, the exotic glass dance floor and the wonderful colour of the room. It was just the way I imagined a night club should look.

The only thing missing were the customers! Where were they? We had hoped for a phenomenal success, but it just wasn’t to be. Whoever came to the club adored the show and came back many times. The show was great and Ricky Renée was fantastic in his own way, although he wasn’t a Sonne Teal, but there just weren’t enough customers.

Well, after about six months we admitted that we had made a big mistake and decided to call it a day. We had to close "Ricky Renée’s". The place was a flop!

Ricky Renée went on to further success and later appeared in the film “Cabaret” and is still working, I believe, back in Berlin.
And indeed, as Miss Renée's own website confirms, she still is.

The point (I think) of Mr Schneider's Dangerous Minds article was to showcase a rather marvellous bit of British Pathé footage all about "Ricky Renée's Club" and the lady's "quick-change" act:

[Mr Lindsay, who also features said video in his blog, directs his readers in addition to the Pathé website, where another video of out-takes shows more of the club itself.]

And here again is the estimable Ricky Renée, on stage in her adopted home of Germany (in a video posted in 2012!):

Ricky Renée official website

And, as a final footnote - find more on Ricky Renée at the absolutely indispensable Queer Music Heritage website. Of course.


  1. Ricky Renee was quite the entertainer!!! I did several post during my drag history month. I feel she was very important to the drag world, and I too have found info from different sites. Queer Music Heritage is a treasure trove........... cheers darling!

    1. I must have missed the posters for "Drag History Month" - is there a ribbon, or do we all just have to wear wigs to work? Jx

    2. PS JD Doyle at Queer Music Heritage is a genius!

  2. How fabulous and videos of her too.
    Keep up the good work.

    1. It is such a shame that this type of clubland is slowly dying a death - thank Bod for Halfway to Heaven, The Quebec and Molly Moggs for preserving the drag act tradition in the West End... Jx

  3. Indeed, our world would be a meaner and smaller place if we lost these fabulous links with our past and such fabulous (free) entertainment of the present. Long live Kelly Mild and Crystal and long may we remember Phil Starr, Hinge & Bracket, Mrs Shufflewick, Lee Sutton and all the many others that have gone before.
    Thank you for curating the wonderful 'Museum of Camp'

  4. Roxie Lee performed at Casino de Paris, have you heard of her, I met her in the late 80's when she did an act at the Gaslight in St James Square, one of the hostesses told me she was transgendered and I made a point to get to know her as I didn't know any other trans people. Fascinating that a trans stripper worked at the Casino way back when then.

    1. Fascinating, indeed. I hadn't heard of her before - but I do notice that someone was enquiring about her on the self-same Eric Lindsay website [see here]. No-one has responded as yet. Jx


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