Off-Ramp

Off-Ramp host John Rabe and contributors share thoughts on arts, culture, and life in L.A.

Did old-school gay performer Ray Bourbon have a sex-change in the 1950s?

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I've always advocated browsing through the LA Public Library online photo collection to broaden the mind, not deepen it. Just like browsing through an old library card catalog, poking around in the online photos brings you the unexpected.

I'd never heard of Ray Bourbon, for instance, the apparently well-known female impersonator, whose story you get a few snapshots of in the photos above. The captions, by the way, are straight (so to speak) from the mid-1950s Herald-Examiner. In them, you can detect the tenor of the times.

There's much more to Bourbon's story, including Mae West, the FBI, and prison, at Randy A. Riddle's site, cooldaddy.com:

If you asked many older Gay men, “Who was Ray Bourbon?” you might see a smile of recognition and be treated to a reminiscence about seeing this unique performer in one of many Gay bars or nightclubs in the years before Stonewall. Born at the end of the nineteenth century when psychologists were first identifying homosexuality as a condition and men and women began to see themselves as Gays and Lesbians, Ray Bourbon had a show business career as a comedian and female impersonator that spanned over fifty years, well into an era when Gay liberation would take shape. He was perhaps the most well-known and well-traveled performer in Gay venues during the last century, but he remains largely forgotten today, his comedy both a glimpse into and a relic of another time.

There are one or two double entendres in this recording, A Gentleman's Gentleman.

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