Wednesday, 27 February 2013

There's lots of filthy dish

A friend of Sir Ian McKellen, Quentin Crisp and Fenella Fielding and an inspiration to just about everyone in the "alternative" drag theatre world; early pioneer of radical queer politics, former resident in a drag commune ("the second floor was the make-up room - 270 shades of nail varnish"), and founder of the infamous Bloolips drag theatre troupe, Bette Bourne is a living relic of a lost gay world.

At an age when many "radical faries" might consider retiring to the country to run a wholefood shop, Mr/Ms Bourne and partner of 37 years Paul Shaw were the toast of the Homotopia festival last year - and of the LGBT History Month event we went to at the Petrie Museum last night, too - with their two-queen show A Right Pair (written in conjunction with another pillar of the gay community, the eminent Mr Neil Bartlett).

Hot on the heels of the triumphant A Life in Three Acts, A Right Pair recreates many of the original camper-than-camp Bloolips sketches (including the Emperor Hadrian/Antinous love story Get Hur!). And now, a new groundbreaking documentary (by A Life in Three Acts collaborator Mark Ravenhill) It Goes with the Shoes receives its premiere at the BFI (British Film Institute) on the South Bank in March 2013 - read more and book tickets.

From the blurb:
"A highly successful career on the London stage was put on hold when Bette discovered gay liberation. But out of a gay drag commune in Notting Hill, Bette fashioned a glorious theatre troupe Bloolips, bringing together a unique blend of costume, camp and musical theatre leavened with sexual politics. The film offers an insight into a passionate and gifted actor who has made a great contribution to gay life, art and politics."

Needless to say, Bette Bourne's story is a fascinating one, and his anecdotes are endlessly entertaining:
“We were wearing frocks all day and night, and ladies’ beautiful long nighties. We were very relaxed about it. The drag was very inventive. We weren’t trying to be women. What was exciting was we were a new kind of man. We were always men in frocks or in drag with heels on. We never put tits on or padded our hips – we thought we looked good enough. A lot of lesbians said to me, ‘I’d kill for your legs!’”
And here, for your edification, is a 30-minute documentary on a major part of Bette's fabulous life story - that fabled avant-garde queer theatrical troupe, Bloolips:

Read my various blogs over the years featuring this legendary figure, including Bette's induction into the (now-defunct?) Homosexual Hall of Fame...

Bette (Peter) Bourne (born 22nd September 1939).

Monday, 25 February 2013

Saturday, 23 February 2013

The original Vamp

"It is vital to be photogenic from head to foot. After that you are allowed to display some measure of talent."

Musidora (Jeanne Roques, 23rd February 1889 – 11th December 1957), French star of the silent films Les Vampires (1915) and Judex (1916).

Facts about Musidora:
  • Her stage name was taken from the protagonist of Théophile Gautier’s novel Fortunio.
  • Her character in Les Vampires is called Irma Vep (an anagram of vampire).
  • After her on-screen career ended she became a prolific writer in a variety of fields including films, plays, children's stories (which she also illustrated), songs, and even a history of the cinema.
  • She directed numerous films, only two of which survive.
  • On stage she often wore male clothing.
  • Obviously a feisty and independent kind of gal, she apparently took to the bullring to prove women were brave enough to be allowed the vote in Spain.

Friday, 22 February 2013

Flashier and trashier

The weird and wonderful world of Sue Kreizman, former daytime TV chef (she was known as "The Queen of Low Fat Cookery" in the 80s), expat New Yorker in London, collector and afficionado of "flashier and trashier" art and clothing - and self-styled "Wild Old Woman".

Visit one of our favourite blogs Advanced Style for more - including a brief video tour of Sue's home!

Thursday, 21 February 2013


Silk matelasse brocade evening dress, 1955 (V&A)

Princess Grace (Kelly) during her visit to the White House, 1961

Florence Welch at the Grammy Awards, 2013

"All week long we're wondering who
Left a green Givenchy gown in the loo."

(La Cage Aux Folles)

Three frocks by The House of Givenchy - founder Count Hubert James Marcel Taffin de Givenchy (born 21st February 1927)

Tuesday, 19 February 2013


"Even when I was single, I owned homes and gardens. I buy beauty when other women buy jewels. Land is security to me. I need gardens that are mine to walk on."

"Without security it is difficult for a woman to look or feel beautiful."

Merle Oberon, nicknamed "Queenie" (19th February 1911 - 23rd November 1979)

Read my blog for the lady's centenary in 2011.

Friday, 15 February 2013

Boys will be girls will be boys

Karyl Norman, female impersonator (George Paduzzi, 1897-1947)

Guillermo Kahlo, Frida in men’s clothing (1926)

Marika, Duchess de la Salle de Rochemaure by Tamara de Lempicka (1925)

Yale students in drag (1883)

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Secret sodomy and entrepreneurial initiative

A favourite topic in Rictor Norton's talk The Gay Scene in 18th-century London: Continuities in LGBT History that we attended as part of Camden and Islington LGBT History Month in Hampstead] was the fascinating world of the Molly House - and in particular, that of the notorious Mother Clap.

Between 1724 and 1726, Margaret Clap - Mother Clap - ran a coffeehouse in Holborn, London that was a popular gathering for gay men. Known in the parlance of the day as a “molly house,” it was one of many such places, most of them ale houses and inns where the men drank, danced and had sex in private or semi-private rooms, often taking part in mock marriage ceremonies that ended in a “wedding night” in rooms designated for the purpose (called the Chapel or Marrying Room).

Unlike most such places, Mother Clap’s Molly House did not seem to be a brothel. She provided beds for some 40 men, had security at the door to ensure that the men who came in could be vouched for as sodomites. She provided drinks from a tavern across the street or next door, and in the main room there was room for dancing or "fiddling". She reputedly was good-natured and served her clientele well, even testifying on behalf of a man named Derwin and succeeding in getting him acquitted from sodomy charges.

Sunday evenings were often its busiest night, when sometimes close to fifty customers filled her rooms. Men there often dressed in women's clothing, took on female personae, and affected effeminate mannerisms and speech. Some mollies simulated marriage and performed mock births. Mollies even played the roles of the gossips or other women who typically assisted the childbearing “woman.”

The molly-house was a safe space because, like the brothel for female prostitutes, it provided an enclosed space. Mollies could go to the molly-house to socialize with other mollies, but they could also leave the molly-house and troll the streets for straight boys or soldiers to have sex with, who they then could bring back to the molly-house.

In February 1726, Margaret Clap's molly house was raided, and more than forty people were arrested. This house and others like it had been under surveillance by agents from the Societies for the Reformation of Manners, an organization that had formed to rid London of sodomites, prostitutes, and breakers of the Sabbath. The arrests led to a series of trials, after which several of those arrested were hanged for sodomy.

At a trial in July of 1726, Samuel Stevens, the agent who had spent a number of Sunday evenings at Clap's house, described the sexual activities that took place there:
"I found between 40 and 50 men making love to one another, as they called it. Sometimes they would sit in one another's laps, kissing in lewd manner and using their hands indecently. Then they would get up, dance and make curtsies, and mimic the voices of women . . . . Then they would hug, and play, and toy, and go out by couples into another room on the same floor to be married, as they called it."
Constable William Davison testified:
"in a large room there, we found one a fiddling, and eight more a dancing Country-Dances, making vile Motions, and singing, Come let us bugger finely."
The song was censored in the court reports, and the full text is lost, which is a shame...

Rictor Norton published the definitive work - Mother Clap's Molly House: Gay Subculture in England, 1700-1830 back in 1992.

Surprisingly, copies are now changing hands for £90, such is the appeal of the era of the molly house!

One of our fave gay playwrights of recent years Mark Ravenhill produced a play based upon Norton's work that debuted in London's National Theatre in 2001.

More about Mother Clap in the GLBTQ encyclopaedia.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

She would so flutter her Fan, and make such fine Curt'sies

Portrait of "Mrs Allen" by John Singleton Copley, NOT Princess Seraphina, who would have been a lot rougher

"I have known her Highness a pretty while, she us'd to come to my House from Mr. Tull, to enquire after some Gentlemen of no very good Character; I have seen her several times in Women's Cloaths, she commonly us'd to wear a white Gown, and a scarlet Cloak, with her Hair frizzled and curl'd all round her Forehead; and then she would so flutter her Fan, and make such fine Curt'sies, that you would not have known her from a Woman: She takes great Delight in Balls and Masquerades, and always chuses to appear at them in a Female Dress, that she may have the Satisfation of dancing with fine Gentlemen. Her Highness lives with Mr. Tull in Eagle-Court in the Strand, and calls him her Master, because she was Nurse to him and his Wife when they were both in a Salivation; but the Princess is rather Mr. Tull's Friend, than his domestick Servant. I never heard that she had any other Name than the Princess Seraphina."
The above is an extract of the testimony at a trial in 1732 in which John Cooper (also known as "Princess Seraphina") prosecuted Tom Gordon for stealing his clothes. Gordon had left Cooper with the words that if he 'charged him with Robbery, by and by', he would in turn tell the authorities Cooper had given him the 'Cloathes' as payment for 'Buggery'.

The following is an extract from the introduction to the full published transcript of that trial, by the esteemed LGBT historian Rictor Norton [font of all knowledge on such matters, and whose talk The Gay Scene in 18th-century London: Continuities in LGBT History we attended last night as part of Camden and Islington LGBT History Month in Hampstead]:
Princess Seraphina was a gentleman's servant, and a kind of messenger for mollies (gay men), and a bit of a hustler. More to the point, she was the first recognizable drag queen in English history, that is the first gay man for whom dragging it up was an integral part of his identity, and who was well known by all his neighbours as a drag queen or transvestite "princess": everyone called him Princess Seraphina even when he was not wearing women's clothes. And he does not seem to have had any enemies except for his cousin, a distiller who thought that his behaviour was scandalous.

Molly houses - pubs and clubs where gay men met, especially on Sunday nights - were very popular in the 1720s in London. On special "Festival Nights" many of the men would wear drag, and sing and dance together, and engage in camp behaviour. For example, on 28 December 1725 a group of 25 men were apprehended in a molly house in Hart Street near Covent Garden and were arrested for dancing and misbehaving themselves, "and obstructing and opposing the Peace-Officers in the Execution of their Duty." They were dressed in "Masquerade Habits" and were suspected of being sodomites because several of them had previously stood in the pillory on that account; but they were dressed in a range of costumes, not all of which were female, and the date suggests a special holiday event rather than a familiar practice. It is interesting to note that they did not submit sheepishly to their arrest, but put up a show of resistance. None were prosecuted.

At one molly house in the Mint (in the City of London), according to a contemporary witness: "The Stewards are Miss Fanny Knight, and Aunt England; and pretty Mrs. Anne Page officiates as Clark. One of the Beauties of this Place is Mrs. Girl of Redriff, and with her, (or rather him) Dip Candle-Mary a Tallow Chandler in the Burrough, and Aunt May an Upholsterer in the same place, are deeply in Love: Nurse Mitchell is a Barber of this Society." James Dalton the highwayman was a witness to molly Festival Nights, which he described in his dying confession published just before he was hanged in 1728, and he briefly mentions John Cooper (Princess Seraphina), who at that time Dalton implied was a butcher. So Seraphina was "on the drag scene" for at least four years before the trial at which she comes dramatically to public notice.
Read the full transcript of the trial on Rictor Norton's website. It's a fascinating and sometimes hysterical read!

More on the fantastical stories of gay life and the "molly houses" in 18th century London to follow, no doubt...

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Just a little bit... Well not too much of it

When I take my Morning Promenade
(A.J. Mills / Bennett Scott c.1908)

Since Mother Eve in the Garden long ago
Started the fashion, fashion's been a passion
Eve wore a costume we might describe as brief
Still every season brought its change of leaf.
She'd stare if she could come to town
Oh! what would Mother Eve think of my new Parisian gown?

When I take my morning promenade
Quite a fashion card, on the Promenade
Oh! I don't mind nice boys staring hard
If it satisfies their desire
Do you think my dress is a little bit
Just a little bit... Well not too much of it,
Though it shows my shape just a little bit
That's the little bit the boys admire

Fancy the girls in the prehistoric days
Each wore a bearskin covering her fair skin,
Lately Salome has charmed us to be sure
Wearing some rows of beads and not much more
Fancy my dressing like that, too
The 'Daily Mirror' man would surely want an interview

When I take my morning promenade
Quite a fashion card, on the Promenade
Oh! I don't mind nice boys staring hard
If it satisfies their desire
Do you think my dress is a little bit
Just a little bit... Well not too much of it
Though it shows my shape just a little bit
That's the little bit the boys admire

I've heard my Grandmother wore the crinoline
Then came the bussle, Oh! it was a tussle
Women were tied up and loaded up with dress
Now, fashion plates decree we must wear less.
Each year our costume grows more brief
I wonder when we'll get back to the good old fashioned leaf?

When I take my morning promenade
Quite a fashion card, on the Promenade
Oh! I don't mind nice boys staring hard
If it satisfies their desire
Do you think my dress is a little bit
Just a little bit... Well not too much of it
Though it shows my shape just a little bit
That's the little bit the boys admire!

Marie Loyd, born Matilda Alice Victoria Wood (12th February 1870 – 7th October 1922)

Sunday, 10 February 2013

You will know that I am the best and will hear me

Pace, pace, mio Dio

“I am here and you will know that I am the best and will hear me. The color of my skin or the kink of my hair or the spread of my mouth has nothing to do with what you are listening to.”

"You should always know when you're shifting gears in life. You should leave your era; it should never leave you.”

“Accomplishments have no colour.”

Mary Violet Leontyne Price (born February 10, 1927)

More Leontyne Price at Give 'em the old Razzle Dazzle

Friday, 1 February 2013

On the Jukebox at Dolores Delargo Towers

We're en vacaciones in Spain for a week from tomorrow. "Normal" service resumes in eight days...