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A History of Female Impersonation in the Performing Arts

Roger Baker

1994, New York University Press

262 Pages

From the Cover

Men have been dressing as women on stage for hundreds of years, dating back to the thirteenth century when the church forbade the appearance of female actors but condoned that of men and boys disguised as the opposite sex.  Forms of transvestism can be traced back to the dawn of the theater and are found in all corners of the world, notably in China and Japan.

In recent years, drag has witnessed a dramatic and widespread revival.  Newsday recently observed, "People are talking about those fabulous heterosexual film idols who now can't seem to wait to get tarted up in drag and do their screen bits as fishnet queens."  Drawing on a cinematic tradition popularized by Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in Some Like It Hot, Dustin Hoffman and Robin Williams have each played women in the wildly successful Tootsie and Mrs. Doubtfire.  Even former drag queens have experienced newfound fame; witness the recent popularity of the late Divine, renowned for her oddly compelling appearances in underground John Waters films.

Music, too, has been profoundly influenced by drag sensibility, from David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust and the Rocky Horror Picture Show to Boy George and RuPaul (The self-proclaimed "Supermodel of the World").

Tracing drag tradition from the Golden Age of stage transvestism during the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I in England to the current quasi-drag inclinations of American grunge bands, Drag is an entertaining overview of this popular and complex medium.

Author of books on Bette Davis and Marilyn Monroe, the late Roger Baker wrote on a wide range of cultural topics for equally wide range of publications, from the Times to Gay News and Gay Times.

Table of Contents

Part I - The Rise and Fall of the Female Impersonator

  1. Out of the Chancel, Into the Street
  2. No Place for a Lady
  3. Acting Style and the Sound of Juliet
  4. Swinging Arden
  5. Onnagata and Tan
  6. Western Approaches
  7. The Male Actress Takes Early Retirement

Part II - Fantasies, Fairies and Follies

  1. Diplomats in Dresses
  2. Squalling Cats
  3. Shame in the Ladies' Morgue
  4. The Things that Are Done by a Nun
  5. Amateurs

Part III - The Rise and Rise of the Drag Queen

  1. Enter Pursued by Laughter
  2. Dames by the Dozen
  3. All Legs and Limelight
  4. Glamour Girls and Terrifying Termagants
  5. Hollywood and Bust
  6. Frock Tactics


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