They were called “nance” or “pansy” performers in the Roaring Twenties, those burlesque men who sang and acted in an effete manner, spoke with a lisp, and pranced about stage with a swish. The N.Y. Times had an article about them in a recent Sunday Theater section, focusing on some of the more famous ones. Two examples that people today might recognize were Bert Lahr’s performance of the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz, Edward Everett Horton, whose distinctive voice many will recall from “Fractured Fairy Tales” on the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, and Paul Lynde in Hollywood Squares and Bye Bye Birdie. Of course, nance performers were parodying gays, but that didn’t mean the performers themselves were gay, just as many people in blackface weren’t black. And many were.
Here’s another example mentioned in the Times article: Harry Rose singing “Frankfurter Sandwiches” as seen on www.youtube.com/watch?v=A6HB-w_7xRM
As you might think, I was very interested in this subject for possible use in one of my Roaring Twenties mysteries. But then I realized such performers only worked in burlesque and so far, I’ve steered clear of that genre. Maybe in a future story, I’ll be able to incorporate a nance/pansy performer, or at least I might mention that so-and-so had been a pansy performer in burlesque some years ago . . . You never know when these little tidbits of information will come in handy.