Friday, 5 June 2015

At least I didn't fake it

“I did jazz clubs in Greenwich Village, went on the Playboy circuit, that sort of thing. I wasn’t doing badly, but I needed that gimmick, something to make me different, unique.”

Jim Bailey certainly was "different", not least for the fact that his skilful "transformations" into a whole array of showbiz leading ladies - Phyllis Diller, Barbra Streisand, Judy Garland, Peggy Lee, Mae West, even Madonna - gained him prime-time television slots, and top billing at some of the world's most prestigious venues such as Carnegie Hall and the London Palladium.

Such was his skill that he even performed as "Judy" opposite the real Liza to recreate their famous 1960s London concert appearance. In real life, he was close friends with mother and daughter. His "Miss Diller" impression landed him a slot in character on one of Lucille Ball's TV shows, and as "Miss Streisand" he wowed TV audiences with a coveted duet with Carol Burnett.

When asked how he’d like to be remembered, he said: “Isn’t that something they ask Miss Idaho on the pageant? OK - I don’t want to be remembered as one of those guys who wore a dress and pretended to be female. I want to be remembered for the uniqueness of the art form I created. Not just lip-synching, not just wearing dresses, but singing, acting, the make-up, the details - the Full Monty.”

As Judy - Get Happy:

As Barbra - Don't Rain On My Parade:

RIP James William "Jim" Bailey (10th January 1938 – 30th May 2015)


  1. I have always enjoy me some Jim Bailey!!!!! I had no idea he passed. What a talent!!! And on a side note, I sometimes always fake it. It is the only way to get the tricks to get there pants on and out of here at a decent hour. Mama gets up early and needs her eight hour beauty rest.

    1. "It's better to be a fake somebody than a real nobody." - Mr Ripley


  2. I always found Jim fascinating to watch, and though now through the technology of YouTube and Blu-Ray / DVD we can access the great stars easily there was a time when this kind of act was the only way to 'see" Judy, Barbra or Peggy Lee in real time. Barbra didn't perform live, Judy had passed and Lee rarely made appearances, unless you were willing to stay up and record to cassette or later VHS at ungodly morning hours it was only from memory and records that many folks could remember what made the greats so great visually. While Mr. Bailey's impressions may seem a little less nuanced now, his was an art form that remains a testament to skill and of its time. Thank you for the tribute. :)

    1. It's an aspect of "impressionism" that I hadn't really considered - in his day, and for a few decades, before "old-school variety" shows sadly "died" as a TV genre - audiences were stunned by performers who could reproduce the look and sounds of their idols. "Impressionism" and "impersonators" were top stars! However, although I remember many here in UK (Danny LaRue, Stanley Baxter) who could create "the look", and others (Marti Caine, Sheila Steafel) who could create "the sound", there was no-one quite as great as Mr Bailey... Jx

    2. Exactly. I was just reading an interview with a Finnish author who has released a book on Marlene Dietrich over at The Last Goddess Blog that covers exactly this generational experience those that have grown up with digital media and the Internet which means tryout can access the history of pop culture at the touch of a button and that generation which had to source their own choose-your-own-adventure education of the great stars (of which I'm the latter school of hard knocks). So impressionists like Mr. Bailey were a revelation (as was someone like Jimmy James who did Marilyn or Charles Pierce, who didn't so much impersonate the great ladies of the cinema as channel them) and who gave us a reminder of how great those lady heroes were. The trajectory of knowledge and the easy access folks have to anything that takes their fancy is fascinating. Oh and long time reader of the blog, first couple of times poster, love what you do. :)

    3. Thank you for your interest, Julius, and welcome on board!

      I often bemoan the free-and-easy "disposable generation" we have the misfortune to share air with these days - but, as with everything, the technology that ultimately provides all that "instant gratification for attention-seekers" does have its advantages to those of us who are more - ahem - dscerning. I enjoy beyond belief the opportunity to find snippets from otherwise uncelebrated artistes, pioneers and purveyors of the types of entertainment we adore (yet would otherwise never get an airing on mainstream media these days) and feature them on this (and my other) blog. I suppose we should be grateful sometimes that out there are collectors who are willing to share their archives via YouTube and the like...

      ...oh, and by the way - we adore Mr Pierce, and even had the good fortune to see Mr James live! Jx


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