When you first hear the name; Margo Howard-Howard, it’s one you’ll not soon forget and once you read herstory here, it’ll be etched in your memory. Her memoir, I Was a White Slave in Harlem co-authored (shortly before his death on September 3, 1988) with Abbe Michaels and prefaced by Quentin Crisp, describe Howard-Howard’s privileged childhood in Singapore under the given name of Robert Hesse, his rape aboard a British Navy vessel escaping the Japanese at the start of World War II, and lifestyle as a drag queen prostitute in the 50s and 60s in Manhattan.
During those years in NYC, he supported a drug habit though prostitution, theft, and the exploitation of a wealthy but mentally ill old woman. (Charming, right?) Howard-Howard also claimed to have had “encounters” with James Dean, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, and Truman Capote. She was “kept” by Leroy “Nicky” Barnes, the most famous heroin dealer in New York City in ’64, not leaving his Harlem apartment located in the Lenox Terrace co-op for four years. (Hence the title.) Eventually escaping Barnes she ultimately recovered from his heroin addiction with the help of a methadone program run by none other than the Handmaids of Mary convent on West 124th Street. A sort of minor prominence was attained with a cabaret act and tributes to Mary Stuart. More claims include his meetings of Judy Garland, Martha Raye, Andy Warhol, Tallulah Bankhead, Madonna, and the Queen of England, to name just a few.
In ’88 after reviewing these memoirs, The New York Times wrote:
“His life was a breathless walk on the wild side. Stories were for embellishing, rules for breaking and people either fools or toys – or, less often, mythical figures of the sort that Howard-Howard, the grand drag queen, manifestly considered himself to be. For decades, until his death in September, he breezed through a slick New York scene of transvestites and tricksters.”
But there really is no evidence to support most of Howard-Howard’s stories. The truth went with him to the grave, which was likely the idea. The memoirs contain some photographs, none dating earlier than 1988. An afterword added to the by his publisher stated that “much, if not most” of the stories in the autobiography were false, specifically Howard-Howard’s stories about his childhood.
Howard-Howard did receive an obit in The Village Voice, and although in his autobiography that he was born in 1953, and The Voice said it was 1937, which is more likely if you look at that face!
We love these new queens coming up but top THAT kind of herstory, kids! Here’s a crazy interview, the only one known to exist of Margot Howard-Howard on The Joe Franklin Show. Watch.
UPDATE: An old friend read this post and had this to add…
“I was friends with Margot and many were surprised when he died that his family gave ‘Bobby” a funeral and reception at his family’s residence, a modest working class home in Queens. A friend of mine who had been sponsoring many swanky meetings for Margot’s Mary Stuart Society felt duped into believing in Margot’s illustrious background, but I always thought it was the most genius way of re-inventing yourself into the life you wanted, as opposed to the real life you had.”
(via Drag Queen Diaries)