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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.

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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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   Related Entries
  
arts >> Overview:  Cabarets and Revues

Historically, cabarets and revues have been much more likely to mention or imply same-sex desire than the "legitimate" theater; and same-sex desire has been less frequently condemned in cabarets and revues than in mainstream plays.

arts >> Overview:  Comedy: Stand-Up, Gay Male

Beginning in the 1980s, a new generation of gay stand-up comics began to appear, telling jokes from the perspective of the gay insider.

arts >> Overview:  Drag Shows: Drag Queens and Female Impersonators

Female impersonation need say nothing about sexual identity, but it has for a long time been almost an institutionalized aspect of gay male culture.

social sciences >> Overview:  Gay and Lesbian Bars

The centrality of gay and lesbian bars to glbtq culture has been reduced in recent years, but they continue to fulfill important functions; and, in many areas, they remain the most visible manifestation of glbtq presence.

arts >> Overview:  Variety and Vaudeville

Variety and vaudeville and related theatrical forms featured cross-dressed acts, as well as routines that challenged prevailing gender constructions.

arts >> Camp Records

In the early 1960s, the Camp Record label issued records of gay parody songs; although the music is without much artistic merit, the records are significant for what they reveal about pre-Stonewall gay culture.

arts >> Jorgensen, Christine

Actress, singer, and writer Christine Jorgenson was not the first male-to-female transsexual to undergo sex reassignment surgery, but the publicity surrounding her case enabled her to educate the public about the differences between homosexuality, transvestism, and transsexualtiy.

arts >> Wright, Robert (1914-2005), and George "Chet" Forrest (1915-1999)

Composers and lyricists Robert Wright and George "Chet" Forrest, partners in life and art, specialized in adapting themes from classical music into engaging tunes for movie scores and stage musicals.


    Bibliography
   

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. http://www.coolcatdaddy.com/bourbon.html

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 www.glbtq.com/arts/bourbon_r.html  
    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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