Ray (later Rae) Bourbon (c. 1892-1971) was a noted drag performer on the “Pansy Circuit” of the ’30s and ’40s, noted for his shocking and incredibly risqué (for their time) monologues. In the 1950s, he issued several LPs of often bawdy material, which he sold from the trunk of his car. In the late ’50s, he claimed to have had gender reassignment surgery in Mexico (probably a publicity stunt), and changed his name to Rae. Times were increasingly hard as public tolerance towards gay acts waned, and he was often arrested on public indecency and female impersonation charges. He died while serving time in prison, after being convicted of being an accomplice to murder.
His Wikipedia page is beyond fascinating, and reminds us that drag queens have ALWAYS been transgressive and shocking and true cultural pioneers.
By 1932 he was working full-time as a female impersonator, headlining “Frisco’s first pansy show”, Boys Will Be Girls, in San Francisco in 1933 at Tait’s Café. He became noted for his outrageous material, and was later described as “a professional vulgarian, not to be confused with glamour drag.” In the 1930s and 1940s he appeared in hundreds of gay nightclubs across the US, notably in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Miami Beach. He performed his own material, or songs specially written for him such as “Mr. Wong Has Got The Biggest Tong In China”, and occasionally issued recordings, such as Hilarity From Hollywood (c.1945). His accompanists included Chet Forrest and Bart Howard. He put on his show Don’t Call Me Madam: A Midnight Revue in Time at Carnegie Hall in New York to a sell-out audience. In 1944, he was hired by Mae West to perform in her Broadway production of Catherine Was Great, and her show Diamond Lil which toured until 1950.
By the early 1950s he increasingly faced prosecution, as well as declining sales, and his shows were too risqué for a mainstream audience. He issued a series of spoken word albums on his UTC (“Under The Counter”) label, which were available at his performances and by mail order. In Los Angeles, he was arrested on a charge of “impersonating a woman”, and the authorities closed down the club in which he was performing on the grounds that it was “presenting an indecent performance.” After an arrest in New Orleans in 1956 he claimed to have undertaken a “sex change” gender reassignment operation in Mexico. This was probably untrue, and a publicity stunt; he may in fact have had an operation for cancer. However, he used the claim in his material and publicity, releasing an album Let Me Tell You About My Operation, and insisting thereafter on being billed as Rae (rather than Ray) Bourbon.
In 1968 he was accused of being an accomplice to murder. He traveled between performances in an old car pulling a trailer containing some 70 pet dogs; after the car broke down, he entrusted their care to a kennel owner in Texas, A. D. Blount. When Bourbon failed to pay for their upkeep, Blount disposed of the dogs, probably to a research center. Bourbon became convinced that the dogs had been killed, and hired two men, Bobby Eugene Chrisco and Randall Craneto, to beat Blount up. Blount died as a result, and Bourbon was arrested. He pleaded innocence, but was convicted with the two men and sentenced to a 99-year prison term. He died in hospital in Brownwood, Texas, while serving his prison sentence in 1971.
Really, someone needs to make a bio-pic of this fascinating queen.
Listen to Let Me Tell You About My Operation and Forbidden Broadcast, below.