Yes, we know this is a PR stunt by Logo to plug Rupaul’s Drag Race (which premieres tonight OMG!) and we don’t care.
Drag has been around as long as there’ve been men and dresses. World of Wonder, which is producing Ru’s show for Logo, has been doing an amazing job of chronicling drag through the ages. Below, we give you The Sword’s abridged history of drag as American underground art form and pop cultural phenomenon–relying both on WOW’s library, as well as our own, just to make sure the San Francisco queens get their due.
The Early Century
1920s – The first major drag balls at the Rockland Palace, on 155th Street in Harlem, take place; they are organized by white gay men and occasionally raided by police.
1930s & 40s – Finocchio’s opens in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood in 1936, quickly becoming a legendary center of high-class female impersonation performed for a mostly straight crowd; it’s frequented in the 50s by Bob Hope, Doris Day and other boldface names passing through town. Sister club Mona’s on Broadway in North Beach features renowned drag kings of the era.
1954 – Charles Pierce first earns notoriety impersonating Bette Davis, Talullah Bankhead and Joan Crawford at Ann’s 440 and elsewhere in San Francisco.
Mid-50s – The Black Cat, a bohemian bar in San Francisco with a mixed crowd, becomes an underground center for a new, more campy form of drag, performed for a gay audience.
1959 – Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis don drag in Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot (left); Lemmon is nominated for Best Actor Oscar.
1963 – After becoming the center of Halloween celebrations in SF, The Black Cat is shut down on Halloween 1963 because of the illegality of patrons appearing in public as the opposite sex.
1965 – In Chicago, David del Valle does his first Judy Garland impersonation at the Chesterfield club; in San Francisco Jose Sarria declares himself Empress, inaugurating the Imperial Court system.
1969 – Shortly following the funeral of Judy Garland, drag queen Sylvia Rivera throws the first bottle at police outside the Stonewall Inn in NYC, beginning the Stonewall Riots. She famously cries, “I’m not missing a minute of this, it’s the revolution!”; meanwhile in San Francisco, hippie drag queen Hibiscus of the commune KaliFlower, founds the psychedelic drag performance troupe The Cockettes, which spawns a new, more facially hairy branch of the drag arts centered in SF.
1970 – Gina LaDivina, later known as the $65,000 Silicone Wonder MC of SF’s Hot Boxxx Girls, first performs at the Monkeypod in Santa Rosa, CA.
1971 – The Cockettes perform one of their most famous New Year’s Eve shows, “Journey to the Center of Uranus” – the following year, their short film Tricia’s Wedding, starring Sylvester, lampoons the upcoming wedding of Tricia Nixon.
1972 – Divine (pictured) eats shit in Pink Flamingos.
1976 – The first Invasion of the Pines on Fire Island after a drag queen from Cherry Grove is refused service in the more “straight-acting” Pines.
1977 – Charles Busch performs Myrtle Pope, The Story of a Woman Posessed at bars and bathhouses around Chicago.
1978 – Sylvester performs at Castro Street Fair, and becomes first drag queen to reach the American dance music charts with “Mighty Real.”
1983 – La Cage Aux Folles wins Tony for Best Musical; British queen Leigh Bowery meets Susanne Bartsch, and soon shows his clothes in New York.
1986 – Sally’s Hideaway opens in Times Square, soon to become a regular home to drag ball houses like the House of Xtravaganza featured in Paris Is Burning.
1989 – Club Uranus begins at the Endup, soon to host the Miss Uranus Beauty Pageant where Trannyshack’s Heklina makes her first appearance.
1991 – Paris Is Burning premieres; the club kid scene flourishes in NYC; James St. James meets Quentin Crisp; camp non-classic Vegas in Space, written by and starring drag queen Doris Fish, premieres to tiny audiences nationwide.
1992 – Kiki & Herb perform their first show at a birthday party at Martuni’s in San Francisco; the Lavender Tortoise, a busload of 50 drag queens, travels to Disneyland.
1994 – Wigstock moves to the Christopher Street Piers with a crowd over 35,000, which becomes the subject of a 1995 documentary; the same year Priscilla Queen of the Desert premieres; Drag queen Juanita MORE! founds the House of More! in San Francisico, largely populated by a stable of boys who don’t do drag.
1995 – To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar features Patrick Swayze and Wesley Snipes in drag; also features Miss Understood, Rupaul, Lady Bunny, Susanne Bartsch and a ton of queens.
1996 – Trannyshack begins as an off-shoot of Klubstitute in SF; The Steve Lady (pictured) wins the first Miss Trannyshack Pageant doing “Girls on Film”; SF’s Hot Boxxx Girls, harkening back to a less ironic era of drag, begin performing at Aunt Charlie’s.
1997 – Gay/drag village MASHcara founded at Burning Man and numbers 200 residents.
2003 – Lady Bunny appears on Sex and the City; faux queen Fauxnique wins Miss Trannyshack, becoming the first bio female ever to win a drag competition.
2004 – Kiki & Herb give their first “Farewell Concert” at Carnegie Hall.
2005 – SF drag queen Kiddie is branded on stage while performing “Don’t Explain” at the Miss Trannyshack pageant. Peaches Christ screens her “Tran-ilogy of Terror” at the Castro Theater. (See Kiddie, Fauxnique, Peaches, as well as Hoku Mama, Vinsantos and Katya Smirnoff-Skyy in the video at right)
2007 – Hedda Lettuce begins her ill-fated bid for the Presidency.
2009 – Rupaul’s Drag Race premieres.
Lastly, a quick promo video from Logo, featuring Varla Jean Merman.
The Sword’s Big Gay Best of 2008
Cracky Ex-Club Kid James St. James Interviews Rupaul
Heklina Kills Off Trannyshack With Drag Queen Mass Suicide
SF’s Hot Boxxx Girls Get Makeover
San Francisco Kisses Off Trannyshack Forever, Or Until Heklina Needs to Cover Rent Again
Drunken SF Dispatch: Tiara Sensation at The Stud
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