glbtq: an encyclopedia of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender & queer culture
social sciences
special features
about glbtq


   member name
   Forgot Your Password?  
Not a Member Yet?  

  Advertising Opportunities
  Permissions & Licensing
  Terms of Service
  Privacy Policy






Alpha Index:  A-B  C-F  G-K  L-Q  R-S  T-Z

Subjects:  A-B  C-E  F-L  M-Z

Faye, Frances (1912-1991)  
page: 1  2  

At a time when there were no sympathetic gay characters in film or television, or any publicly out performers at her level of mainstream success, Faye was quite literally a pioneer.

Suddenly in 1958, disaster struck. While booked at the Las Vegas's Hotel Riviera and playing to capacity crowds, Faye tripped on a bathroom carpet and shattered her hip. For eight years she was in terrible pain and often could not walk. Despite the accident, she still worked hard when she could. She toured and made great albums for Verve in 1961 and 1962. Her energetic nightclub appearances earned her the finest reviews of her career.

Faye was especially well received in Australia, where she made ten tours. In 1962, at Chequers, Sydney's top nightclub, Faye's unconventional act dazzled the young Peter Allen. The seasoned entertainer became a mentor to Allen and taught him about comic timing, how to structure an act, and relate to an audience, lessons that he would use his entire career. In addition, she introduced him to black music and helped him develop his stage persona.

Faye was also influential on the young Bette Midler. In the early 1970s funnyman Bruce Vilanch brought the emerging singer to see and learn from Faye's act, which attracted an increasingly large gay following.

In October 1975 Faye returned to New York City after a decade's absence. Her performances at the Spindletop Cabaret received glowing reviews, including one by jazz critic John S. Wilson of the New York Times. From the stage she flirted with female members of the audience, joked about marijuana, and comically outed the club's managers, columnist Rex Reed, singers Johnny Mathis and Peter Allen, and writer Noël Coward.

In 1977 Faye had an extended engagement at Studio One in West Hollywood, a cabaret that catered to a large gay and lesbian audience. Part of that show was filmed and worked into a television movie about gay runaways, Alexander: The Other Side of Dawn.

Director Louis Malle and screenwriter Polly Platt attended the Studio One show and the next day cast Faye in the film Pretty Baby (1977), which starred Brooke Shields as a child prostitute. Faye's riveting performance as the madam of a brothel in New Orleans' Storyville district earned her renewed attention and a wider audience.

In 1978 Faye suffered a heart attack and required a pacemaker; but that fall she was back on tour. Despite her fragile health, she continued to present shows that were upbeat, energetic, and uninhibited. She performed until 1981, when she finally retired.

Faye died on November 8, 1991, after a series of strokes.

Although cabaret performance is an ephemeral art, Faye's memory has been kept alive, thanks to some high-profile fans. Drag performer Lypsinka (John Epperson), for example, included in his act a rendition of "Frances and Her Friends," the song Faye recorded about same-sex coupling. That same song was the inspiration for the tribute "Blues for Frances Faye" on singer Mark Murphy's album Lucky To Be Me (2002).

Photographer Bruce Weber's documentary film Chop Suey Club (2001) not only pays warm tribute to Faye and her influence on his early life, but also features an interview with Teri Shepherd about her life with Faye.

Peter Allen described Faye as "truly one of the free people of the world and the wildest woman I ever met," and added: "She was also the first person I ever met who didn't care what other people thought of her." Because Faye was unashamed of her sexuality and of her life, she was able to help pioneer an atmosphere of tolerance and acceptance by publicly embracing her gay and lesbian audience.

Some of Faye's albums, including Caught in the Act, have been re-released on compact disc.

Tyler Alpern

  <previous page   page: 1  2    

Contact Us
Join the Discussion
Related Entries
More Entries by this contributor
A Bibliography on this Topic

Citation Information
More Entries about The Arts

   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:  Jazz

The relation of jazz to homosexual and transgendered experience has varied enormously over the course of its history, but, despite a hostile atmosphere, glbtq artists have made significant contributions.

social sciences >> Overview:  Los Angeles

The glbtq history of Los Angeles, the U.S.'s second largest metropolis, is replete with cultural, social, and political firsts.

arts >> Overview:  Music: Popular

Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered persons have had tremendous influence on popular music, though some musical genres have been more receptive to a homosexual presence than others.

arts >> Allen, Peter

Although not publicly out as a gay man, Australian singer and songwriter Peter Allen signaled his homosexuality through his flamboyant persona and the subtexts of many of his songs.

literature >> Coward, Sir Noël

Although Coward's plays are about heterosexual couples, they are written in the language and spirit of camp and reject traditional domestic values.

arts >> Coward, Sir Noël

Accomplished playwright, actor, composer, and lyricist, Sir Noël Coward was also a singer and cabaret performer; he dominated the British stage between the world wars, then reoriented his career in the direction of America.

arts >> Epperson, John

Talented actor and writer John Epperson has had an extremely successful career performing as the glamorous and hilarious drag diva Lypsinka, among other characters.

arts >> Gilbert, Peggy

A virtuoso jazz musician and leader of a number of successful all-women bands, Peggy Gilbert tirelessly promoted other female musicians and demanded that they receive respect and opportunities.

arts >> Mathis, Johnny

One of the most gifted interpreters of romantic ballads in the history of American popular music, Johnny Mathis is notoriously reticent about his own romantic life.

arts >> Weber, Bruce

One of the world's most popular commercial photographers, Bruce Weber has re-envisioned male beauty through his erotic, yet nostalgic take on American adolescence.


Alpern, Tyler. "Let Me Hear It Now: Biography of Frances Faye."

Folkart, Burt A. "Obituaries: Frances Faye, Bawdy Nightclub Singer." Los Angeles Times (November 16, 1991): A27.

MacLean, Stephen. Peter Allen: The Boy from Oz. Sydney: Random House Australia, 1996.

Reed, Rex. "Frances Faye Lights a Bonfire." New York Daily News (October 17, 1975): 74.

Shaw, Arnold. The Street That Never Slept. New York: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, 1971.

Smith, David and Neal Peters. Peter Allen: Between the Moon and New York City. New York: Putnam Publishing Group, 1983.

Vilanch, Bruce. Get Bruce. New York: Miramax Films, 1999.

Weber, Bruce. Chop Suey Club. New York: Zeitgeist Films, 2000.

Wilson, John S. "Cabaret: Frances Faye." New York Times (November 16, 1978): C18.

_____. "Miss Faye Juggles Songs of the Forties at the Spindletop." New York Times (October 16, 1975): 46.


    Citation Information
    Author: Alpern, Tyler  
    Entry Title: Faye, Frances  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2003  
    Date Last Updated May 10, 2011  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2003, glbtq, inc.  


This Entry Copyright © 2003, glbtq, inc. is produced by glbtq, Inc., 1130 West Adams Street, Chicago, IL   60607 glbtq™ and its logo are trademarks of glbtq, Inc.
This site and its contents Copyright © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.
Your use of this site indicates that you accept its Terms of Service.