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

Ray Bourbon

LA Public Library/Herald-Examiner collection

Ray Bourbon, the veteran female impersonator now appearing at a Hollywood nightclub, was arrested on a drunk driving charge on March 4, 1955. Here he acts coy for the press in the Wilshire Police Station.

Ray Bourbon

LA Public Library/Herald-Examiner collection

Wearing a black and white nylon dress, false eyelashes, heavy perfume and 5 o'clock shadow, Ray (or Rae) Bourbon enters Beverly Hills Municipal Court on August 1, 1956, to deny he (or she) was guilty of impersonating a woman. He produced a certificate from a Mexican doctor changing his sex. The entertainer and 14 dogs live in a Venice trailer court.

Rae (formerly Ray) Bourbon

LA Public Library

Rae Bourbon stars in "She Lost it in Juarez" at Harout's Ivar Theatre. Photo date: December 6, 1956. She is formerly actor Ray Bourbon, who had a sex change operation.


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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