Contrary to popular belief, the art of drag was not invented by RuPaul’s Drag Race although it has helped bring these talented artist into the mainstream consciousness.
Gravesham Pride thought that we would share with you some amazing pre-Stonewall era performers who took a major risk during less tolerant times to perform drag.
One of the first known drag performers was Brigham Morris Young who made a career in the 1800’s performing as Madam Pattrini. Supposedly, his falsetto was so convincing that many audiences did not know he was a man.
In the 1900’s Julian Eltinge toured Broadway as various comedic female personas. Eltinge became so popular that he launched his own magazine full of wardrobe and makeup advice for biological women.
There was also a flourishing drag scene in Paris. One renowned “female impersonator” throughout the 1900’s was Florin.
Rae Bourbon (pictured here in 1927) performed in New York, Berlin, Paris, and London.
Harry S. Franklyn was another popular drag artist of the 1920’s.
Vander Clyde, or “Barbette,” was a vaudevillian sensation. She traveled around the States and Europe with her infamous aerial act, which featured death-defying trapeze stunts in full drag. At the end of her act she would remove her wig and strike a masculine pose.
Billy Richards was a popular Female impersonator pictured here in 1937.
The Flamingo Club in Los Angeles in 1947.
Also pictured in 1947 female impersonators Jerry Vaughn (left) and Freddie Renault (right).
Pictured here in 1949 Antonio Francis who toured as Minnie Meyers.
Drag Queen Kit Russell performed to sold out audiences throughout the 1950’s.
As did performers such as Minette who featured in this article in 1955.
Drag artist Robbie Ross was also a popular performer.
Clubs such as Madame Arthur made drag their entire business.