Moms Mabley was…to be blunt: a god damn American Institution. Gay, black and all kinds of political she was smashing boundaries left and right.
Born Loretta Mary Aiken on May 1894, Mobs Mabley would become the first African American female stand up who crossed over to mainstream audiences AND she was an out and proud lesbian.
Seriously, she and her story are amazing and I am ridiculously excited to tell you guys all about it!
Now the start of Moms life reads like the worst Shakespearean tragedy; it’s truly FUCKING HORRENDOUS!
She was born in North Carolina to two loving parents; James Aiken, a business savvy man with fingers in many pies and her Mum, Mary Smith, a hardworking, badass matriarch.
Her Dad died in 1909 while working as a volunteer fireman. After he was caught up in an explosion when their fire engine caught fire.
Moms was just 15.
Her Mum stepped up and took over running the family’s general store,…until 1910, when whilst coming home from church on CHRISTMAS DAY she was run over by a truck and killed
Moms also had two illegitimate children who were born out of rape.
One of the children was fathered by a white town sheriff who raped Moms.
Both children were given up for adoption… old timey men are awful.
Ok…now all that horrible stuff is out the way lets look forward to the birth of a hilarious stand up QUEEN!
When Loretta was 14 her awesome Gran convinced her to run away and join a travelling vaudeville show, and it was here she started working as a stand up.
She quickly become one of the most popular acts in the Theatre Owners Booking Association Circuit (also known as the Tough on Black Asses circuit) and was soon traveling all over America developing her talent.
At the age of 27 Loretta came out as a Lesbian, a massive deal at the time because most people didn’t even know what a lesbian was, and TBH gay rights was not a thing.
Then add being black during the great depression into that mix?
Girl was a fucking trailblazer.
Loretta’s humour was downright filthy and she was DECADES ahead of her time, with her acts landing more in the ‘CAN SHE REALLY SAY THAT?!’ category.
She talked about racism, sexism, queerness… nothing was off limits.
Her early acts in the 20s and 30s featured her talking about living as a black lesbian in the USA.
Sadly she didn’t record anything during this time so we’ve just got testimonials from people who knew her. (which is a downright shame as that ish sounds amazing!)
The birth of ‘Jackie Moms Mabley’
The character of Jackie ‘Moms’ Mabley was developed early in her career. The dirty talking old lady with a penchant for younger men was based on her much loved Grandmother.
Loretta portrayed Moms while being a younger lady, by hiding behind huge floral dresses, bad grey wigs and big floppy hats.
She struck gold with Moms! Audiences LOVED this dirty granny, which meant she could get away with using blue language and chatting about all sorts… cause she’s just a harmless old lady right?
Also as if that wasn’t great enough Loretta got the nickname Moms from fellow performers because she was such a loving and friendly lady.
Here’s some of our fave Moms one liners.
“Only time you see me with my arms around some old man… I’m holding him for the police.”
“My husband was so ugly, he used to stand outside the doctor’s office and make people sick.”
“There ain’t nothin’ an old man can do for me but bring me a message from a young one… I’d rather pay a young man’s fare to California than tell an old man the distance.”
“It’s no disgrace to be old. But damn if it isn’t inconvenient.”
Moms gained popularity with mainstream audiences in the 1960s when her career took off in television.
She appeared on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour and later The Ed Sullivan Show and also appeared in a handful of films throughout her career.
Her last starring role was in Amazing Grace, which she completed AFTER having a heart attack!!!
Moms finally started recording comedy shows during the 1960s and completed around 20 in her lifetime.
They are all hilarious and you should listen to clips of them on YouTube. We recommend her bra shopping joke.
Moms paved the way for future generations of stand up, her influence was far reaching even though she didn’t get the recognition she deserved during her lifetime.
She was the first popular female stand up EVER! so every self-identifying female comedian owes her a serious debt of gratitude. She showed the world that women are fucking hilarious.
That was great, where can I learn more? Whoopi Goldberg also produced a cracking documentary on Loretta in 2014 Whoopi Goldberg Presents Moms Mabley
Sara Westrop is passionate about making history accessible (and fun!) for everyone. A disabled, queer writer from just outside London, who loves writing about the unsung chapters of history.
Here at F Yeah History we’re all about celebrating women, but some people are just unavoidably the worst.
Sure maybe they achieved a lot, maybe they are badassery incarnate, and maybe they accomplished a lot… but they’re also kinda, sorta massive dicks
So without further ado here are the wort women in history:
Former sex worker turned pirate, Ching Shih ran one of the largest and most feared fleet of pirates in the world.
Ching was married to the leader of the Red Flag Fleet, a much reviled and respected pirate armada. When her husband was killed during a tsunami, Ching took over.
If her men thought they were going to have it easy with a woman at the helm, they were sorely mistaken. To say Ching ran things with an iron fist would be an understatement:
-Disobeyed an order? you’re getting beheaded – looted plunder? Beheaded – stole from an allied town? Beheaded. – raped a female prisoner? oooo you best know you’re getting beheaded
But despite all the rules, Ching Shihs pirates were allowed to marry female captives. BUT if their leader heard that they were in anyway messing their new wives around… well hopefully they weren’t to emotionally attached to that whole ‘having a head’ thing.
Yet Ching’s steely control worked and under her rule The Red Flag fleet grew in both infamy and size.
By 1808 Ching had amassed an armada of thousands and was in control of well over 70,000 men. It was then the Chinese government felt that maybe they’d let things go a bit far, and that Ching needed to be reigned in.
An imperial fleet was sent after Ching and she met them head on; the government didn’t stand a chance.
By the end of the battle Ching had actually expanded her fleet (capturing Chinese sailors and offering them the choice of joining her ranks or a bloody death)
For two years the Chinese government tried to destroy the Red Flag, even roping in the British Navy for help. But they just couldn’t beat Ching.
The Chinese knew that things had gone fully tits up when The Admiral of the Chinese navy actually committed suicide rather than face capture by Ching.
So they opened up amnesty negotiations with Ching. But rather then ask for clemency Ching fought for the right to retire.
Obviously nobody said no (if we’ve learnt anything, it’s don’t fucking mess with a Pirate Queen) And so Ching retired to the country where she spent the remainder of her days running a brothel and gambling.
Born in 1463 Caterina was the illegitimate daughter of the Duke of Milan; one of Europe’s most notorious dicks.
The Duke loved nothing more than planning out horrifying torturous deaths for his enemies, tearing them limb from limb, burying them alive – whatever took his fancy.
…Caterina took after her Dad.
At just 10 Caterina was married off to the Pope’s nephew and a few years later the pair left for the life at the Vatican.
There Caterina was transformed from a teenager to a powerful and famously ruthless courtier.
But Caterina’s world was turned upside down in 1484 when the Pope died and suddenly shit got very real, very quick.
Riots and rebellions spread like wildfire. With Caterinas husband off fighting fires she was left to hold down a fortress whilst seven months pregnant. As you do.
Fortunately (or not, if you were her enemy) this was the famously ruthless and cunning Catarina; she took to life at war like a duck to water.
Having proved her tenacity and strength, people started to turn to Caterina rather than her far weaker husband.
It’s unsurprising then that when her husband was named ruler of Imola and Forli, it was kind of obvious who was really in control.
This was exhibited for all to see following a revolt in Forli. Caterina rode out to Forli to take control of the situation and nice lady that she was, she personally oversaw every detail of the brutal torture and execution of those involved.
But brutal executions can only quell a people for so long and following a tax increase the people of Forli had had enough.
in 1488 Caterina’s husband was murdered by the Orsis family while he ate dinner (the Orsis were one of Forli’s top noble families – it’s all very Game Of Thrones)
Caterina and the children were now prisoners, but if the Orsis thought a woman and some kids were going to be easy captives then they were veeeery wrong.
Caterina tricked the Orsis into letting her out of confinement, offering to help them convince other strongholds to surrender to the Orsis. They agreed and even let her go in alone to bargain with one fortress so long as Caterina left her children behind as hostages.
Once inside the stronghold, Caterina obviously immediately started organising an attack on the Orsis…
When the Orsis reminded her that if she went ahead with her plans they’d kill her children, Caterina climbed the fortress walls, hiked up her skirt and explained that they were welcome to kill her kids, hell kill them in front of her if they really fancied, because she had the tools to make more.
Somehow, despite Caterina, the kids stayed alive.
Caterina herself managed to hold out within the fortress, and sent out a message to Forli:
‘My people, people of Forlì! I tell you to punish and kill all enemies. For it I will consider you my good brothers for evermore. Do not hesitate to act, and fear nothing, because the deed will benefit you and your children. And if you fail to act you will regret it in a few days.’
The veiled threat worked!
The people of Forli took to the streets and Caterina left the fortress where she was reunited with her children (who I bet were just thrilled to see her…) Unsurprisingly Caterina’s next step was to hunt down her new enemies and brutally kill them, as was her style.
Born in 1867 in Minnesota, Linda Hazard was in many ways a woman ahead of her time. A female doctor in an era when this was unheard of; a successful author and driven as all hell to boot!
But before we get out the marching band and erect this bitch a statue, I should also point out that Linda murdered a metric shit ton of her patients.
You see, Linda believed that starvation could cure all diseases.
She practiced this theory in Minneapolis, but after one of her patients actually DIED of starvation, Linda was threatened with legal action.
Ironically she was saved from jail, as she didn’t actually have a medical license.
Though she escaped jail this incident was enough to convince Linda to get the hell out of dodge. So she moved to Washington, where thanks to a legal loophole she could practice medicine legally.
In Washington Linda opened up Wilderness Heights, a health farm in the Countryside where she promised to fix all medical ailments through starvation. Linda’s passion – which verged on fanaticism – quickly helped her build up a fan base of loyal followers.
Life at Wilderness Heights was tough for the guests (who paid though the nose to be there). In addition to a diet of essentially no food, Linda also helped them ‘tackle disease’ by enforcing daily enemas, scalding hot baths and massages that verged on beatings.
Some of Linda’s (mainly already really ill) patients just couldn’t take it and soon the emiciated and bruised bodies started to pile up.
Yet people continued to come.
Linda’s ‘health farm’ had became like some kind of cult; the danger was clear, the deaths abound, but followers kept coming. Two such followers were Dorothea and Claire Williamson, wealthy socialite sisters with a hypochondriac streak.
The sisters arrived healthy but within just months, one would be dead.
Under Linda’s supervision the two women entered into a strict diet of almost no sustanace. Within two months the women weighed just 70 pounds. Yet they choose to remain in Linda’s care, most likely as they had deteriorated to much to refuse her.
But help was coming!
Dorothea had sent a cryptic letter to an old Nanny. Worried the women came to visit the sisters. On arrival she was told that Claire was dead and she found Dorothea 50 pounds and close to death.
Thanks to the sisters social standing, Claire’s death registered with the authorities (though more than 14 people had already died of starvation under Linda’s care)
Linda was stripped of her license to practice medicine and given 2-20 years in prison.
She of course got out of jail after 2 years.
Linda traveled to New Zealand where she once more set up shop and peddled starvation as medicine. Several years later she moved back to Washington and set up another ‘health camp’
Again patients died (Linda was fined a whole £100!). Luckily after almost a decade the place burned to the ground in 1935.
Linda appears to have taken this as a sign and slowed down, which clearly wasn’t good for her health.
In 1938 she took ill and died after trying to starve herself back to health. Shame.
Now whilst the prior entries on our list have committed dickery in the name of wealth, power and progress… Elizabeth Bathory was just a plain old dick.
Like really. She’s the literal worst.
Elizabeth came from a long lineage of distinguished Hungarian nobility and so, naturally, as a noble woman in the 1500s she was married off at 15.
Her new husband was famed for his cruelty, but fortunately Elizabeth was fully on board with this!
Legend has it that Elizabeth’s new husband lovingly gifted her with her own personal torture chamber (because fuck Barbies dream house!)
Together the couple blissfully lived life in thier castle, occasionally brutalising errant wrong doers from the villages they ruled over.
Then in 1604 Elizabeth’s husband died and, now in her 40’s, she was left to rule alone.
Elizabeth relished her solo role. Everything was going swimmingly until 1610, when word started to spread that Elizabeth had some… er, nefarious hobbies.
That winter a group of soldiers came to Elizabeth’s home and arrested her. From here shit went downhill fast.
Now, it was well known that Elizabeth was partial to a bit of light murder and torture, but it soon transpired that she had been getting up to some seriously bloody high jinks.
Elizabeth was accused of murdering over 600 people, most young women. She did this in many and various ways, but here are just some:
– stuck red hot needles under peoples nails and skin. – starved people to death (Hey Linda!) – made one woman cook and eat her own flesh – sticking red hot irons in very very uncomfortable places – – – covering girls in honey and leaving them outside on a hot sunny day to be slowly devoured by insects.
She was tried for murder, but due to her influential family ties was spared the death penalty (the same cannot be said for her closest servants, who were all executed)
Elizabeth spent the remainder of her days locked within the walls of her castle. Bricked up inside her quarters with only a crack in the wall for air and food.
Born into a political powerhouse, the Schuyler sisters, Angelica, Eliza and Peggy were expected to make something of themselves. Their Father was a General in the American revolutionary army and the sisters spent their early lives surrounded by the likes of George Washington. Yet despite their incredible upbringing nobody could have expected that one day Angelica (the eldest), Eliza (the middle child) and Margarita ‘Peggy’ (the youngest) would help shape America.
Witty, bright and razorsharp; Angelica Schuyler was born in 1756
She grew up to be a force of nature. Shining incandescent at the sumptuous parties held at her parents mansion. So it’s hardly surprising that thanks to her mega watt personality, not to mention looks, wealth and her powerfully politically placed parents, suitors were lining up for Angelica.
And yet the man she choose was one nobody could have guessed.
John Church was a roguish Englishman now residing in America. The reasons for his transatlantic move were foggy at best and downright shady AF at worst! With rumours rife that Church had killed a man in a duel and was in mountainous debt in his native England. Troubling? Yes. But none of this mattered because John Church supplied arms to the American Revolutionary cause.
Unsurprisingly Daddy Schuyler wasn’t exactly thrilled at his eldest daughters choice in a men. Espically as she was incredibly young and about to get mixed up with a sketchy suitor. But the heart wants what it wants (and teenagers are want to make terrible life choices) so Church and Angelica exchanged love letters in secret. Not long after, in 1777 they took the plunge and eloped. A year later Angelica was pregnant with the couples first child.
Ok, Let’s hit pause for a moment. Now if you’re here because you’re fan of the musical Hamilton, then I’m guessing right you’re probably feeling a tad confused. You were expecting an Angelica, Eliza and Alexander Hamilton love triangle right? Well guys I’m afraid that history is a lot more complicated than musical theatre, but stay with me, because history is also a lot more juicy – there’s duels, aslymns and yes, a love triangle in store…on that note:
Elizabeth Schuyler was born in 1757, just a year after her older sister. Known as Eliza by friends and family, she was a tomboy at heart, with a potent mix of intelligence, warmth and determination.
In the winter of 1779-1780 Eliza met Alexander Hamilton, an upstart from the West Indies who had emigrated to America and risen to become General George Washingtons right hand man!
Hamilton fell fast for Eliza, writing furvant letters to Angelica about his new love and also suggesting that the revolutionary armies chances of success would be greatly diminished if Eliza didn’t wed him…which is kinda weird and intense, but I guess it worked because in December 1780 the pair were married!
Following the wedding Hamilton returned to his station as Leiutant Colonel and Angelicas husband John, made his fortune selling arms to the revolutionary troops. Eliza advised Hamilton on his military moves and by the time the revolutionary war ended, each couple were in a far better position than when it started.
John Church secured a nice job in Parliament and so he, Angelica and their children set off for a new life in London (turns out possible deadly duels don’t mean a thing if you got that green).
Meanwhile Eliza, Hamilton and their growing brood settled in New York, where Hamilton dazzled in his leading role in Washingtons new cabinet. Working to settle the countries debts and set up a banking system (I know it sounds deathly dull but it was v necessary)
Eliza passionatly worked with her husband on his writing and plans, whilst across the pond Angelica had become the toast of London; joining the inner royal circle and hosting intellectual debates at her home – she transformed into quite the political influencer!
Though apart, the sisters remained close, Writing each frequently. But Eliza wasn’t the only person Angelica was writing. She was also one half of an increasingly flirtatious pen pal relationship with none other than Eliza’s husband!
Angelica was discovering that her husband John was in fact deeply dull (probably because he had just become a British politician…) so its unsurprising that she poured herself out in letters to Hamilton, who in many ways was similar to herself; intellectual, witty and ballsy. Hamilton seemed to feel the same, writing to Angelica:
‘I seldom write to a lady without fancying the relation of lover and mistress,”
Again it’s intense/wierd (which seems to be Hamiltons trademark with the ladies) Surprisingly Eliza was aware of this relationship, with Angelica writing to her sister:
‘I love him very much and if you were as generous as the Old Romans you would lend him to me for a little while.’
Again, bit of a wierd thing to send your sister? For sure! But the real question is, did Angelica and Hamilton ever seal the deal?
The debate wages on…but probably not. Angelica was loyal to her sister; in the letter above she goes on to assure Eliza that her intentions will remain pure (aside from the whole ‘you sex your husband Mon-Thurs and I’ll have weekend sex custody’…thing). We also know that it’s unlikely the sisters would have remained as close as they did if Angelica and Hamilton had sex, as you’ll find out later, Eliza is not a woman you want to cheat on!
But Hamilton wasn’t the one Angelica was writing. In 1788 she first wrote Thomas Jefferson.
The pair pinged letters back and forth, sharing their political musings and discussing the best way to visit each other and maybe even become travelling buddies (sounding less like founding fathers and more gap year students…)
Angelica also worked to convince Jefferson -an enthusiastic advocate of the French Revolution- to reconsider his views and help those at risk. Many of those most at peril during the French Revolution were her friends (in fact by 1794 two of her friends had already fallen victim to the terror; Madame de Gramont and Madame de Chatelet).
But Jefferson couldn’t be swayed, paying little attention to Angelicas accounts of French Revolutionary horror. Though he did manage to take the time to remind her that women were much happier when they weren’t involved in politics.
But If Angelica thought she had it bad, she didn’t have shit on Eliza.
In 1797 Hamilton published the Reyonolds pamphlet. A 95 page document (so less a pamphlet more a tome) outlining and apologising for his affair with one Maria Reynolds.
Eliza was unsurprisingly humiliated and incredibly pissed off. She took Hamilton to task and burned all the letters they had ever sent each other (effective at the time, but making it incredibly hard for future historians to discover who Eliza was!)
Your husband telling literally everyone about his affair in painful detail is bad, but Eliza’s lot was about to get a whole lot worse.
In 1801 her oldest son, Philip was killed in a duel at the age of 19. The Hamilton’s were a wreck. And it wasn’t just the parents, their daughter, Angelica, was so deeply scarred by her brothers death that she had a mental breakdown.
Angelica eventually regressed into a state that she would never recover from. And she spent the next 50 years being cared for in a mental facility, only occasionally emerging into bouts of lucidity until her death aged 72.
During this time Hamilton and Eliza were pushed together by grief and rekindled thier relationship. It was to be short burst of happiness. In 1804 Hamilton was killed in a duel.
Now a widow Eliza was knocked once more by both her parents dying within months of each other.
Luckily by now Angelica was back home in America and the sisters lent on each other for support. Angelica became Eliza’s rock, something she desperately needed as when Alexander Hamilton died, he left not only a huge hole in her life, but a pile of ever increasing debts to be paid (because when it rains it fucking pours)
Ironically around the same time as Eliza lost her family home to her late husbands debt, Angelicas son was rolling in it. Even founding a new town on The outskirts of New York, which he named after his mum (the town of Angelica is still there today FYI) awwww for Angelica, but it was just more crap for Eliza.
With all this shittery you wouldn’t blame Eliza for just throwing her hands up and sinking under.
But she persisted.
Yep, despite everything Eliza decided to spread as much good as she possibly could. And she didn’t do this by halves.
Eliza was known to take in homeless children and care for them. And in 1806 she set up New York’s first Orphanage, the Orphan Asylum Society (which sounds super child friendly…)
But she was dealt yet another blow in 1814 when Angelica died at the age of just 57.
Still, though devastated, Eliza peservered. In 1818 she set up the Hamilton Free School, which was the first educational institution in Washington Heights. In 1821 she became directness of the Orphanage she had set up, now directly looking after the 100+ children cared for there.
She continued her charity work but also fought tirelessly to create a legacy for her husband; extensivley chronicling his work. She wore a necklace containing scraps of a sonnet he wrote her, until she died in 1754 at the ripe age of 97.
But that’s not the end of Eliza’s story. Her orphanage is still running, over 200 years later. It’s now called Graham Windham and cares for children and families across New York. A legacy I am sure Eliza would be proud of.
Well ok – not quite! ‘What about Peggy’ I hear you shout.
Ok there isn’t enough time to go into all of Peggy’s life (another time) but I will leave you with this. Without Peggy there would not be this article, because Peggy saved god damn everyone.
In 1781 the Schuyler sisters were at home in Albany, New York. Eliza and Angelica were both heavy pregnant and hoping to get some much needed rest at the Schuyler Mansion. This was not to be, as a huge group of British Loyalists and native Americans encircled the home. They were looking for the sisters father, Philip, who was supposedly in charge of a revolutionary spy ring – he wasn’t at home, but the angry mob were’nt to know that.
The trapped women were terrified, and knowing they wouldn’t be able to fight (two pregnant women against a group of pissed off men with weapons probably won’t come out that well…) they ran upstairs and hid.
The mansion was quickly raided by the mob who were intent on finding and capturing Philip at any cost. The sisters stayed quiet, hidden upstairs, when they suddenly realised that their brothers newborn daughter was downstairs…right in the path of the angry mob.
Peggy didn’t waste anytime, she left the safety of her hiding place and leapt to her nieces aid. On her way downstairs she was confronted by the mob, who pointed a musket at her face and demanded to know where Philip was. Knowing that if she told the truth the sisters would all surely die, Peggy thought quickly, telling the loyalists that Philip had fled to tell the nearby town and fetch the troops.
Scared of military repercussions the men fled, but not before one particularly pissed off man threw a tomahawk at Peggy as she ran upstairs with her niece. It narrowly missed, inserting itself deeply into the banister where her head had just been.
Yet another reminder, if we needed one, that the Schuyler Sisters are the living end
This was really interesting! Where can I find out more?You know what, there are loads of really amazing books and papers on the sisters and this era…but, I’m just gonna suggest if you haven’t already to go listen to Hamilton (and if you have already listened, then lets be real, your probably going to listen again now…)
Ru-Pauls Drag Race is taking over mainstream entertainment and drag is now hotter than ever. But before Ru there were these 5 Queens that changed herstory forever:
Empress Jose I
Jose Julio Sarria served in the military during the Second World. Though officially a too short to serve (standing at just five feet) Jose was desperate to sign up following Pearl Harbour; later claiming that the army overlooked his stature after he seduced a recruiting officer.
Once home and discharged Jose started training to be a teacher; but as an out man in the 1950s this was -to be blunt- a fucking impossible profession to break into.
Still he persisted, earning tuition by waiting tables at San Franciscos Black Cat bar (described by Allen Ginsberg as the best gay club in the world-so you know it’s good) Jose caught the eye of authorities and in the mid 50’s was bought in on trumped up charges of solicitation. Now essentially unemployable, his dreams of teaching were in tatters.
But instead of heading back into the closet, Jose turned to drag. Learning the art from some of the Black Cats existing artists and rising to become The Black Cats headliner as Empress Jose l. He used his run in with the law as inspiration, performing his own take on the opera Carmen, which saw him run around the club fleeing the vice squad.
But satire wasn’t enough for Jose. Just like Jose had been, gay men in San Francisco were frequently arrested for solitician, gay clubs were shaken down for cash and drag queens arrested and accused of ‘intent to deceive’.
So Jose took action, he helped support those arrested fight their cases in court, led The Black Cats patrons to the jail to serenade those locked within and came up with badges that said ‘I’m a boy’ to stop harassment of other drag artists.
But this still wasn’t enough. Jose knew that San Francisco didn’t grant his community the dignity they did other citizens, and he couldn’t let that lie. So in 1961 he borrowed a friends suit and ran for San Franciscos governing body. The first openly gay person anywhere in the world to run for elected office.
United We Stand, Divided They’ll Catch Us One by One
Under this slogan Jose bought together San Franciscos LGBTQ community, urging them to fight for their place in society.
Jose lost. But the message was clear; San Francusicos authorities could no longer ignore the LGBTQ community. They had stood up, been counted and shown how powerful they were.
Bert Savoy was the Godfather of camp. A Queen whose act played on sexuality and a healthy dose of innuendo, he wouldn’t be too out of place in today’s drag landscape.
In the early 20th century female impersonation was part and parcel of the popular vaudeville scene. Drag acts such as Julian Eltinge wowed audience with acts that were elegant, fashionable and feminine. When drag was humorous it tended to be based around the premise of a man who had somehow been forced/ended up dressed as a woman (as you do).
But Bert Savoy was different; he walked on stage a drag queen without the need for plot or premise, performing bawdy, brash and colourful comedy routines.
Soon Berts’ uniqueness (nerve and talent) got him to Broadway. In 1918 he appeared as part of the renowned Ziegfeld Follies, performing alongside straight man Jay Brennan. Bertie honed the art of high camp on stage as a redhead (sadly unnamed) Queen, shocking Brennan with stories of her debuchery sodden life.
That other infamous innuendo lover, Mae West, drew much of her inspiration from Bertie. With her iconic ‘come up and see me sometime’ drawn directly from Bertie’s catchphrase ‘you must come over’.
Sadly before Bert could bring his groundbreaking campery to the silver screen and film the Mae West Bert Savoy team up that would have completed all our lives – he came to a dramatic end.
In the summer of 1923 Bert took a walk along Long Beach with several other Vaudeville stars. A sudden storm rolled in and as rain started to pour Bert turned to the others, hand on hip he struck a pose and said:
Well, ain’t Miss God cuttin’ up somethin’ fierce?
Upon which he was immediately struck by lightening. And that was the end of Bert Savoy
Danny La Rue
Years after Bertie Savoy was bringing a new type of drag to the Broadway stage, in England & Ireland Danny La Rue was quite literally dragging the art out of pubs and clubs and into Londons West End as well as small screens across the country.
The first drag artist to perform for the royal family, La Rue bought drag into mainstream British entertainment. Known for appearing on stage in high glamour before turning to the audience and letting out a gruff ‘wotcha mates’, he mixed glitz and comedy with winning charisma.
He elevated drag from something that was seen as a seedy music hall throwback to something everyone could enjoy. When Prince Philip (who else…) asked La Rue if he really dressed as a woman for money, La Rue shot back that getting paid was the fashion now.
A canny business man La Re had built an empire around himself before the end of the 1960s. With a string of smash hit West End shows, was a regular on TV and ran his own club in London where he infamously fought off a punter who got a bit to handsy with Barbara Windsor, saying ‘don’t let the wig fool ya’ before punching the scoundrel out. -side notefor my American readers: Barbara Windsor is a British national treasure, though I can’t really put my finger on why, so your just going to have trust me on this one’
As well as serving as inspiration for the likes of Boy George and Lily Savage, La Rue was also one of the first out figures in the U.K. entertainment industry. Living with his partner of 40 years Jack Hanson – an ex marine turned La Rues manager – for decades before Hansons death.
La Rue then had several short affairs before his ‘companion’ Wayne King died of AIDS, an issue La Rue spoke out about; raising countless funds for aids charities and earning an OBE from the Queen (a huge fan, even if Prince Philip didn’t quite get it)
‘Cross-dresser walks along a street. Bends down, picks up freshly laid dog turd. Eats it.’
And enter Divine
Having experienced years of bullying Divine (born Harris Glenn Milstead) finally found a home with John Waters and his band of filmmaking misfits.
With the aim of shocking the love generation Divine and Waters teamed up to make some of the provocative and rebellious films of the 1960s, 70s and 80s, with works like Hairspray and Pink Flamingoes still standing up as must see classics (for reals though, if you haven’t seen a Divine film stop what your doing right now and go better yourself)
An outcast even with the gay community, Harris channeled everything he experienced into Divine. Having grown up wanting to be a film star like Elizabeth Taylor, Harris flipped the Hollywood dream onto its head, creating the antsiphis of the beauty that graced film and drag stage alike and birthing something extreme, fun and troubling all at the same time.
With comedic timing and slapstick skills for days Divine quickly became an icon on film. She broke every drag rule. Wearing figure hugging clothes at 300 pounds? Check. Wielding a chainsaw at punters? Check. Bending the rules of feminine make up? Check check check (her trademark eyebrows can still be seen in every drag club)
Divine created the cutting edge and made it clear that for a Queen to break the mainstream she needed to be her own firebrand.
Mother Flawless Sabrina
Born in south Philadelphia in 1940, Jack Doroshow would be arrested over 100 times for cross dressing and go onto become Andy Warhols’ muse, a film star and a pioneer for LGBTQ rights under the moniker of Mother Flaweless Sabrina, or simply, The Queen.
In 1958 – before Drag was legal – Sabrina started a drag beauty pageant, The Nationals (I will add here that Sabrina was 19. thats right. 19. Please take a moment to remember what you were doing at 19…I’m guessing it wasn’t anything this badass.
Sabrina set up The National Academy, a traveling drag pageant offering many newbie queens (including Divine) a chance to step on stage for the first time. There were 46 shows across America each year between 1958-1969, with Sabrina managing a staff of over 100 to pull off such a huge undertaking (making Sabrina quite possibly the largest LGBTQ employer of the 60s)
The impact that the National Academy had cannot be understated, whilst drag had performance spaces, these were the first performances for Queens by Queens. Sabrina ensured that where possible proceeds from shows were donated into local LGBTQ communities. In 1968 the More than all of this though, Sabrina provided an environment for people to find their place within their community
“Kermit says it’s not easy being green. Well, being a queen is flawless.”
So those are just 5 of the Queens that changed herstory forever. The question now is, which Queen will be the next game changer?
The myth of the Tokyo Rose can first be traced back to American soldiers stationed in Japan during WW2. Too far from home to be able to tune into US radio, they were at the mercy of Japanese entertainment. The Japanese quickly cottoned onto this and allowed American GI’s to listen to their favourite songs…at a price.
The music was introduced by the voice of a mysterious woman, she spoke English but also predicted Americas fall and the imment deaths of the listening GI’s. Not exactly ideal dinner guest material. This woman became known as Tokyo Rose and soon became a notorious and hated symbol of the war.
When the war ended Tokyo Rose lived on ; her story now told in hushed tones and with an air of bitter resentment to the this war criminal who has alluded justice. Hollywood even turned its attention to this villainess in 1946 with the aptly titled, Tokyo Rose; with the films hero a GI on the hunt to kill the venomous Tokyo Rose.
But heres the thing…Tokyo Rose wasn’t one woman. She was many.
She was mostly American Japanese women who had been in the wrong place at the wrong time and were now stuck behind enemy lines and faced with a choice. The most infamous of these women is Iva Toguri D’Aqiino
Ironically born on Independence Day in 1916, Iva Toguri D’aquino would grow up to be one of America’s greatest traitors.
Iva grew up in LA, where she was a popular but average high school student. In 1941, newly graduated from college, Iva’s parents sent the now 25 year old to Japan to care for her sick Aunt.
Though she had never traveled outside of America, Iva hopped on a plane, keen to care for ailing Aunt. But she couldn’t settle in Japan and grew desperately homesick. After a few months Iva packed up and bought a ticket back to US soil. But her plans were scuppered when a paperwork mix up prevented her from boarding the boat back to America. It was a set back but Iva was determined to get another ticket, eager to return to the US.
And then Pearl Harbour happened
Iva Toguri D’Aqiino was now trapped. An American citizen in enemy waters.
But she was tough, when military police asked her to renounce her US citizenship she refused, even following harassment and her relatives pleas she refused. And so Iva was kicked out of her relatives house.
Now homeless, branded an enemy alien and denied rations, Iva was having by all accounts, a shit holiday. But still she didn’t give in.
By 1943 Iva was living in Tokyo, still refusing to renounce her US citizenship. She supported herself working as a secretary for news companies, eventually securing a job at Radio Tokyo. Along with its usual output Radio Tokyo also produced propaganda programming aimed directly at American troops who had nothing better to do but listen in. These shows were created and hosted by Allied Prisoners of War, who were forced to now work against their own side.
One of these programmes, Zero Hour, was produced by a group of POWs from America, Australia and the Philippines, with the team headed up by Australian Army major Charles Cousins. Iva and Cousens already knew each other, with Iva having smuggled food to POWs on several occasions.
Upon arriving at Radio Tokyo, Cousens quickly picked out Iva, thanks to her unique husky voice and he requested that she come and work on Zero Hour.
Now here’s something to know: Zero Hour wasn’t actually propaganda. It was meant to be but….Cousens and his team were instead covertly working to undermine Zero Hour and fill it in jokes mocking its own propaganda.
It was a pretty ballsy move. But Cousens and his team weren’t happy with just mocking their enemy, they also wanted to produce a quality comedy programme! Which is why they were interested in Iva. Cousens felt her trademark husky growl would be the final touch to tip Zero Hour into full on farce (nice guy that Cousens)
After a lotof persuasion Iva joined the Zero Hour team, donning the persona of ‘Orphan Ann’ she directed messages to her ‘fellow Orphans’, took part in skits and regularly introduced propaganda with more than a telling nod: ‘here’s the first blow at your morale!’ (Iva wasn’t known for subtle satire)
All in Iva took part on several hundreds of broadcasts over three years. During her spell as a presenter on Zero Hour she also met her husband, Filipe D’Aquino, who like her was trapped in an enemy land.
The pair tried continuously to get passage back to America, but still branded an enemy alien by the Japanese Government Iva’s financial situation was dire. Sadly things didn’t change for Iva following The Japanese surrender to America in 1945; she remained broke and far from home.
There seemed to be little hope in sight when one day two American reporters from Cosmopolitan turned up at Iva’s doorstep offering her several thousand dollars for an interview with the real Tokyo Rose.
Now Iva had never referred to herself on air as Tokyo Rose, but the considerable cash on offer would help get her the hell out of dodge; what harm could it really do?
You know the answer here. (it’s a lot.)
You see, the reporter from Cosmopolitan hadn’t actually got editorial sign off on Iva’s pretty hefty fee (whoops!) So the magazine did whatever it could to get out of its exclusive contract. Eventually duping Iva into giving a press conference to other journalists – thus making her violate her exclusive Cosmo contract and lose the money.
Not only that but in the finished article the journalist pretty much left out any mention of Iva deliberately undermining the propaganda she delivered – effectively turning the article into Iva’s confession. And so in 1945 Iva was arrested.
And you thought the worst thing Cosmo did was constant dieting tips
Iva was released without any charges a year later in 1946. (thats right a year later) She want back to life with her husband and hoped for normality. The pair tried to settle in Japan but their hopes for starting a family were shattered when still weakened from prison Iva gave birth to a child who died not long after.
Meanwhile America hadn’t forgotten Tokyo Rose. A campaign against Iva was gaining momentum and in 1948 that American citizenship Iva had worked so hard to keep meant that she was dragged back to US soil and under great public pressure she was promptly put on trial for treason.
In 1949 Iva went on trial, the seventh person in American history to be tried for treason, in what – at the time – was the most costly court case in history, the jury was all white and no actual broadcast evidence was to be shown ; it’s safe to say that things weren’t looking good for Iva.
Over the course of 13 weeks Iva was charged with 8 counts of treason. She pled her innocence throughout, with the Zero Hour crew flying out to the trial in San Francisco to give evidence on her behalf. Charles Cousens even flew from Australia to speak in her defence, outlining the farcical undercurrent of the show. But then the prosecution conjured a series of Japanese witnesses and it was game over.
The witnesses testified to Iva voicing strong anti-American sentiments on the show, with the final nail in her coffin being witness evidence that following the Battle of Leyte Gulf (which saw over 2000 allied casualties and 12,000 Japense casualties) Iva went on air and crowed:
“Orphans of the Pacific, you are really orphans now. How will you get home now that your ships are sunk?”
There were of course no transcripts or audio record to back this claim up. Nonetheless in October 1949 Iva was found guilty of treason. She was fined £10,000, sentenced to 10 years in prison and stripped of the American citizenship she had fought so hard for.
Iva was released for good behaviour after 6 years in a Virginia woman’s prison. Once more deportation loomed, but Iva battled to stay in America, working with her husband she successfully argued for her right to stay, citing her fathers valid US citizenship. Her stay was granted. Her husbands was not. This time the distance was too great and the pair amicably split.
Iva went to live with her family in Chicago where she quietly and peacefully lived out much of the rest of her life. Then In 1976 two of the key witnesses in Iva’s trial spoke out and admitted to being forced into giving false testimony.
In 1977 Iva received a presidential pardon. By 2006 the tide had fully turned; That same year was Iva’s 80th birthday and the World War ll Veterans committee awarded her for her bravery, patriotism and spirit-she described it as the most memorable day in her life.
Hangovers are as old as history itself. As soon as people worked out how to create and drink alcohol (at least 10,000 years ago, somewhere in the Neolithic period) they were also working out how to cope with the morning after.
From Ancient Egypt and Greece, to the Middle Ages, and even the courts of Kings and Queens, every era has its own hair of the dog, and all of them are infinitely more interesting than the Iron Bru and bacon sandwich that your mate swears by.
1.A Human Skull
Starting strong- our first hangover cure comes from my favourite lover of drunken debauchery, King Charles ll; and it’s a doozy.It isn’t exactly surprising that Charles needed a solid hangover cure (this is the man that drunkenly yelled ‘encouragement’ at the foot of his little brother, James l, bed, whilst the aforementioned was losing his virginity) but the method that Charles used to help abate his headache and woozy stomach was a little, er, un-orthodox.
Respected 17th Century physician, Dr Jonathan Goddard suggested ‘Goddard Drops’ for the King, which was an elixir consisting of dried viper, ammonia, and the skull of a recently hanged person. Dr Goddard sounds like a delight.
We don’t know how effective Charles found Goddard Drops, I’m going to suggest it probably wasn’t that good- though the ammonia may have helped him to throw up. So if that’s your thing…
The good people of The Middle Ages were partial to a drink. This was in no small part due to the water being so unclean that it was a much safer option to drink alcohol instead.
Brewing beer had long been popular, but it becomes almost an art form during this period, it’s like craft brewing now, but with less irony. Soldiers returning from the Crusades bought back new knowledge of spices, herbs and mass murder- two of which really helped in creating a new beer boom.
So what did these new beer aficionados’ do to beat the morning after the night before? They ate eels. Now this actually sort of makes sense, eels are jam packed full of good stuff, including protein, calcium, and tons of vitamins!
Unfortunately, that wasn’t why they were eaten. Doctors (a term I loosely use…) of the period believed that once consumed, the eels would become alive when in the stomach, and drink up all the alcohol left inside- a really nice visual image there
‘Mother’s Ruin’(Gin) had started to wain in popularity in Victorian England; as the temperance movement promoted controlled drinking – but you can’t keep a good binge drinker down, and the cocktail soon arrived on British soil which Charles Dickins gleefully wrote about in his American Notes for General Circulation.
To combat a night of too many Gin-Slings and Timber Doodles (actual Victorian cocktail) people would warm up some milk and then mix in a spoonful of soot; this would be consumed to help with any shakiness and sickness. Though not recommended by me (or anyone) – the charcoal present in soot does actually help to balance acid and alkaline in the stomach, so it might have helped.
It also seems like a much nicer option than another Victorian hangover remedy suggested in The Medical Advisor, which involves pouring vinegar down a person’s throat, and then rubbing it into their temples, which seems less like a hangover remedy and more a really dicky form of water torture.
4. Owls Eggs
The Romans have a reputation for being big drinkers, but for much of the period, that really wasn’t the case. Wine tended to be diluted with water, 1 part wine, 4 parts water, and alcohol was only really consumed during meals. However, feasting could sometimes go on and on, and on and on, and…on; a lot of over indulging on wine and food inevitably leads to a very nasty hangover (think post Christmas…)
Pliny the Elder (above), had just the solution, 2 owls eggs, raw of course. The Great Great Great Grandfather of downing a glass of raw eggs. This would actually help replenish amino acids, so if you can get your hands on owls eggs, then this would actually be pretty useful- good work Pliny!
5. Fried Canary
I spoke to soon. Pliny The Elder wasn’t done. Along with being an esteemed Roman author, naturalist, philosopher and Army commander, Pliny knew that his true calling was developing hangover cures, and that’s how he came up with possibly the greatest idea of his life, defeating a hangover by eating a fried canary.
Pliny was pretty exact on what you needed to do to an unfortunate canary to truly get it’s full benefits and flavour. First one must behead the bird, before fully de-feathering it, then fry it, and add salt to taste before serving.
There aren’t really any benefits to this, its basically a really grim fry up, but it would make a good talking point- should you want to traumatise someone by kidnapping, beheading and then eating their pet. I know what Pliny would do.
Until 1906 Coca Cola contained a pretty hefty dose of cocaine, which made it a very popular hangover cure, because well, that’s going to perk you right up. The cocaine came from coca leaf, which was also prominent in several other products, including Halls Coca Wine, which was was marketed as a ‘great restorative’ (Halls wine is now banned and non-existent, because you know, cocaine…)
Once cocaine became the sort of thing you weren’t allowed to put into your ‘restorative’ products, something else needed to be done to sell them as hangover friendly. Adolphe Jeantet, The Ritz Carlton’s Head Banquet Man (actual job title), had just the thing, and in 1938 his hangover cure took New York City by storm, a chilled bottle of Coca Cola, shaken, and then mixed into a glass of ice cold milk. Delicious? Jeantet’s press agent at the time described the effects of the drink; you drink it ‘take a little nap, and after that you feel wonderful’ –that actually sounds really nice.
Now chances are, depending on the severity of the hangover, you already want to do this, so just let it all out. Kingsley Amis (great name), author of On Drink, suggests that crying is the best hangover cure. Now this particular tip isn’t incredibly historical, On Drink was written in 1972, but I do think it is pretty brilliant.
Kingsley argues that to tackle the physical hangover symptoms, one needs to tackle the emotional symptoms (can you tell this book was written in the 70’s?), he calls this ‘The Metaphysical Hangover’ (yup definitely written in the 1970’s), and the only way to defeat it is by embracing all your feelings, and just having a good cry.
So thats the best that history has to offer your hangover- I hope that it helps, but if not: