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Cabarets and Revues  
 
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In the West End, The Gate Revue (1939) featured the song "All Smart Women Must"--sung by two effeminate men and one lesbian--which warned women that "fairy" fashion designers conspired to make women unattractive to men.

In 1958, an official from the Lord Chamberlain's Office was sent to reassess a drag revue, We're No Ladies, appearing in a small London theater. While the script had received a license, the officer found that the audience was "familiar with the phraseology of the perverted," and he suggested closing the show as the venue was likely to become a "focal point for ."

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Similarly, due to the oppressive tactics of the police and citizen groups such as the Society for Suppression of Vice, theatrical presentations that ventured into same-sex desire in New York City were routinely closed during the period from 1870 to 1940.

Drag Revues

The most successful gay-themed revues, those which managed to avoid legal entanglements and were financially lucrative, were those featuring drag and theoretically aimed at a heterosexual audience. Notable examples include Finocchio's nightclub, the Jewel Box Revue, and military shows.

Located on Lower Broadway, the West 42nd Street of San Francisco, Finocchio's opened in 1936 with a performing company of sixteen. Run by Marjorie and Joseph Finocchio, it remained a family-owned business for sixty-three years, until rising rents forced its closure in 1999. Headliners included twenty-seven year veteran Lucian Phelps (a Sophie Tucker expert), drag legend Rae Bourbon, and Don McLean (also known as Lori Shannon), the 6'6" comic who played Archie Bunker's drag queen friend on All in the Family.

Other famous clubs featuring drag revues include the Queen Mary in Los Angeles, San Francisco's Black Cat Café (where José Sarria performed camp operas for over forty years, beginning in 1958), New Orleans' My Oh My Club, Miami's Gayla, Seattle's Garden of Allah, Minneapolis' Paradise Club, Hollywood's Garden of Eden, and New York City's Moroccan Village and Club 82 (open until 1978).

The Jewel Box Revue was not only the longest-running gay touring entertainment company (performing continually in the United States, Mexico, and Canada from 1942 to 1975), it also was one of the few racially integrated entertainments in the 1950s.

Begun in 1939 in a Miami gay bar (the Jewel Box), the revue, fashioned by lovers Danny Brown and Doc Benner, was an elaborate entertainment with comic sketches, musical numbers, lavish production numbers, fabulous costumes, but absolutely no lip sync. Eventually playing heterosexual nightclubs, the revue--featuring "Twenty-five Men and a Girl," as it billed itself -- introduced many patrons to female impersonation (both comic and serious) for over thirty years.

Another genre of the drag revue that escaped police harassment was the cross-dressing entertainments common in British and American military units. So popular were they during World War II that they moved to legitimate theaters and they also continued to play for ten years after the end of the war.

Although it can be argued that these revues, with names such as Misleading Ladies, Boys Will Be Girls, Forces in Petticoats, and Soldiers in Skirts, were not wholly affirming of same-sex desire, they were nevertheless a far cry from "don't ask, don't tell."

Without the elaborate sets and costumes that were the hallmark of The Jewel Box Revue, British Music Hall, Parisian girlie shows, and Broadway revues, intimate revues in bars and clubs often slipped around decency laws since they lacked the visibility of their more opulent sisters.

Nevertheless, it should not be forgotten that New York (and many other states) had laws that prohibited homosexuals from congregating in licensed public establishments, which meant that nightspots often paid off the police to remain safe spaces for their gay clientele. In many municipalities these laws were on the books until the 1970s.

Cabarets and Nightclubs

In the 1880s, cabarets that featured solo performers or small revues began to appear in Paris, and by 1900 in Berlin. A showcase for emerging artists, these revues frequently were critical of political and social repression, resulting in a satirical style immortalized in Christopher Isherwood's Berlin Stories (which were the source material for the 1966 Kander-Ebb musical Cabaret).

Early in the twentieth century, cabarets began to open in New York's Bowery, Greenwich Village, and Harlem districts. Typically, the audience was gayer than the material presented on stage. Historian George Chauncey cites a report in 1920 that "most of the patrons paid more attention to the action of the fairies [in the audience] than to the cabaret performance" on stage at the Hotel Koenig (East Fourth Street near First Avenue).

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