Bulldaggers, Pansies, and Chocolate Babies
Performance, Race, and Sexuality in the Harlem Renaissance
Publication Year: 2010
Published by: University of Michigan Press
This book, over ten years in the making, would not have been possible without the guidance, support, and inspiration of some truly remarkable individuals. I am indebted to them all, and I wish I had the space to pay more than just passing tribute in these introductory pages....
Introduction: “It’s Getting Dark on Old Broadway”
In October 1923, Florence Mills, one of the most famous African American performers of the decade, joined the cast of the Greenwich Village Follies, which was playing at the Winter Garden Theatre in New York City. Mills had previously established herself as a performer of considerable talent when shestepped into the hit musical Shuffle Along (1921), and her return to Broadway...
1. “Gimme a Pigfoot and a Bottle of Beer”: Parties, Performances, and Privacy in the “Other” Harlem Renaissance(s)
In The Big Sea, Langston Hughes famously wrote, “The ordinary Negroes hadn’t heard of the Negro Renaissance. And if they had, it hadn’t raised their wages any.”1 Hughes referred, of course, to the “high” literary renaissance of the1920s that included writers such as Countee Cullen, Claude McKay, and NellaLarson. As part of this “Negro Renaissance,” he was also most likely referring to...
2. “Harlem on My Mind”: New York’s Black Belt on the Great White Way
In March 1926, Anita Handy edited a new magazine called A Guide to Harlem and Its Amusements, in which she planned to provide tips for touring Harlem’s most popular attractions. When her inspiration was denounced in the black press for focusing only on the neighborhood’s lurid side, she responded that she only intended to satisfy the curiosity of those who had recently seen David...
3. “That’s the Kind of Gal I Am”: Drag Balls, “Sexual Perversion,” and David Belasco’s Lulu Belle
In March 1928, Variety reported a rather shocking situation: New York’s established homosexual community was getting so large that it could no longer accept any new members. Those refused entry into this “queer elite” naturally retaliated and waged out-and-out insurrection. The article, entitled “Battle On Among Broadway Elite of the ‘Third Sex,’” begins: “New York’s sex abnormal...
4. “Hottentot Potentates”: The Potent and Hot Performances of Florence Mills and Ethel Waters
Throughout the 1920s, Lulu Belle proved to be a remarkably durable and malleable persona. The darling of the gay subculture, which embraced her outrageousness and rebelliousness, she was also associated with the most prominent African American performers of the era. Almost immediately after Lulu Belle opened on Broadway, rumors began to circulate that the fictional title character...
5. “In My Well of Loneliness”: Gladys Bentley’s Bulldykin’ Blues
With the enforcement of the Wales Padlock Law and stricter censorship of Broadway plays, musicals, and revues, lesbians and gay men in mainstream theater audiences had to content themselves with sly allusions and coded innuendo. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, Broadway performers like Ethel Waters teased the limits of decency with double meanings...
Conclusion: “You’ve Seen Harlem at Its Best”
The Great Depression brought an unceremonious finale to the entertainment of the Harlem Renaissance. The neighborhood disintegrated further into poverty and destitution as New York’s upper crust lost money or turned to new venues for entertainment. The Lafayette Theatre, Harlem Opera House, and many of the nightclubs that flourished in the 1920s went bankrupt or closed by...
Page Count: 296
Illustrations: 12 B&W photos
Publication Year: 2010
Series Title: Triangulations: Lesbian/Gay/Queer Theate
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