I just acquired this original news/press photo of the Jewel Box Revue performing their legendary drag revue, live at Chicago’s Regal Theater in 1966. I sent a copy to J.D. Doyle who was happy to add it to the already excellent collection of JBR memorabilia on his site at Queer Music Heritage. He also sent me a copy of a Jet Magazine article from 1966 promoting the performance of the Jewel Box Revue at the Regal Theater, from which my newly acquired photo was taken.
Tag Archives: National Drag History Month
Lynne Carter was a shining star of the Jewel Box Revue. He was a skilled dancer and his talent at impersonating female recording artists was said to be astounding. Lynne got his big break in 1947 when the legendary Pearl Bailey saw his nightclub act in Chicago and became an early supporter of his career. Pearl once said of Carter, “When I hear Lynne sing it is like listening to a play-back of my own voice.” As his act grew more popular, singer Kay Thompson (who Lynne also impersonated in his act) made a very public threat to sue him, but the publicity actually worked in Lynne’s favor; the more the story filtered through Hollywood, the more popular Lynne’s act became. Josephine Baker became a patron and gave him several Balenciaga and Dior gowns as well as tutoring Lynne in French.
Carter released his own album entitled She’s a He in 1957 and appeared on the Merv Griffin and Mike Douglas TV shows in the 1960s, but he was known best as the star of the Jewel Box Revue. Despite declining health, he performed throughout most of his life. His last performance was in the “Hooray for Hollywood” revue at the St. Regis-Sheraton Hotel in 1984. Carter died of pneumonia and AIDS-related complications in Manhattan in 1985. Gone but not forgotten.
The Jewel Box Revue was America’s first and most famous racially integrated drag revue. The first shows began in 1939 and Jewel Box remained a successful traveling production well into the late 1960s despite decades of deeply ingrained homophobia and racial segregation in America. The revue was popular with the black theater circuit, attracting mixed mainstream audiences, and was a headline act at the famed Apollo Theater in New York City. The show was billed as having “25 Men and 1 Girl” with the one girl being drag king Storme DeLarverie, probably the most successful male impersonator/drag king of her day and a prized performer at Manhattan’s infamous Club 82.
But it was not until the night of June 27, 1969, that Storme DeLarverie’s name would become legend in the gay community. On that night, Storme heroically punched out a cop and became one of the first to fight back against the police as they raided the Stonewall Inn; sparking a riot and igniting the modern gay rights movement. (Photos: Jan Britton and Storme DeLarverie, mid-1950s, DeLarverie promotional pictures for JBR, and JBR at The Apollo)
It’s a new day, a new year, and a new Drag History Month. Over the holidays I obtained a rare 1950s program of the famed traveling troupe of female impersonators known as The Jewel Box Revue. Each turn of the page is a literal photographic flashback to a bygone era filled with historic images of drag performers in the pre-Stonewall era. There are far too many incredible images to fit into just one blog post, so to kickstart National Drag History Month, I am going to do several posts that will attempt to shine a spotlight on these incredible queens of yesteryear once more.