Male Impersonators

Women impersonating men on the stage were not as common as men impersonating women. While female impersonators could really fool an audience, one veteran vaudeville player claims that male impersonators, no matter how good, still always looked female. One of the best, though, was Florrie Le Vere, who played Big Time circuits, traveled overseas (I found one mention of her first visit to Australia in 1928), and later in clubs and even some early television. But Joe Laurie, Jr., the vaudeville chronicler, claims there was a reason male impersonators died out while female impersonators have never lost their popularity. “It ceased to be a novelty to see a swell-shaped gal wearing men’s clothes, when all kinds and shapes of gals started walking around the streets in slacks; the way some of them looked in pants, they looked like neither men nor women!”

Here’s the only picture of  Florrie Le Vere I could find. She’s the “gal” on the right of her husband, song writer Lou Handman.

Vaudeville’s Female Impersonators

Since the dawn of theater in ancient Greece, men have played women’s parts on the stage. Throughout most of history, the idea of women performing on stage was unthinkable. In Shakespeare’s day, men, or usually boys, played the female roles. Even after women on stage became respectable, acts where men impersonated women remained popular.

Both vaudeville and burlesque had their share of female impersonators, men who fooled the audience with their feminine clothing, voices, makeup, and mannerisms. Usually at the end of the act, they would pull off their wigs and revert to men, swaggering off stage and using a deep, masculine voice.

One female impersonator stands above the crowd. His name was Ray Monde. Ray performed his act as a woman, and when he was finished and the audience was applauding, he would take off his wig to show he was a man. Many in the audience were fooled, and there would be more applause. But then Ray did something different. As he bowed again, he removed his man’s wig and revealed a head of long blond hair. Duped again, the audience was now thoroughly confused. Of course, next it was off with the blond hair and Ray became a man again. The act was hugely popular and made an especially good finale before intermission. Audiences always left arguing among themselves about whether Ray was male or female.

Published in: on July 31, 2010 at 9:24 am  Comments (1)  
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