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Bourbon, Ray (1892?-1971)  
page: 1  2  

The long list of gay clubs at which Bourbon appeared, and their impressive geographic diversity, is an instructive reminder that post-World War II gay culture flowered not merely in such cities as New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, but also in medium-sized cities throughout the country.

Bourbon was noted particularly for his comic timing and camp humor, his deep Southern drawl, and his infectious, cackling laugh, as well as his inventive and witty ad libs. In his drag act, he did not impersonate divas. Rather, he created his own flamboyant (but not glamorous) persona, described by one audience member as "doyen drag." One of his most touching characterizations was that of a foul-mouthed cleaning lady.

The final years of Bourbon's life were sad ones. With the stirrings of a gay rights movement, Bourbon's career floundered. His humor may have seemed dated and retrograde. Certainly, his act, which at one time had seemed so daring, must in the 1960s have come to seem rather tame.

In early 1969, Bourbon was arrested and charged with hiring an accomplice to murder a kennel owner in Big Springs, Texas. Because Bourbon could not pay for the upkeep of dogs that he had boarded with the kennel owner in the summer of 1968, the latter had sold the animals to a research facility. Although Bourbon denied the charge, he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

Bourbon died in prison of a heart attack in July 1971. While in prison, he began an autobiography entitled "Daddy Was a Lady." The manuscript was lost for many years, but it has recently resurfaced and may soon be published.

Although Bourbon has been largely forgotten, there has recently been a resurgence of interest in his "sad and crazy life," as measured both by renewed interest in his albums and the appearance of an excellent website devoted to him. In many ways, his life and career are revealing of the status of gay culture in some crucial decades. He deserves recognition as an enormously talented comedian and a pioneering, openly gay entertainer.

Claude J. Summers

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Newlin, Jon. "Rae Bourbon...Tells All! Memoirs of the Greatest Female Impersonator." Wavelength (New Orleans) (July 1988): 8-9.

"Rae Bourbon, A Protege of Mae West, Dead at 78." New York Times (July 22, 1971): 36.

Riddle, Randy A. "Don't Call Me Madam": The Sad and Crazy Life of Ray Bourbon.

Sears, James T. Lonely Hunters: An Oral History of Lesbian and Gay Southern Life, 1948-1968. Boulder, Col.: Westview Press, 1997.


    Citation Information
    Author: Summers, Claude J.  
    Entry Title: Bourbon, Ray  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated August 19, 2005  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2002, glbtq, Inc.  


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