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The Kurt Mann Story

I was born and raised on Long Island, openly and proudly out, even in those dark days before Stonewall. The first time I saw the Jewel Box Revue was in January of 1967. A friend drove us into Manhattan to the Apollo Theatre. I was a bit nervous going up to Harlem, needlessly, as it turned out. I was most impressed with the caliber of the show. It was huge and colorful, a spectacular display of beads and feathers. The performers were talented and professional. Afterward my friend hosted a party in his home and I met Danny Brown and Doc Benner socially. Doc was smallish and very business-like, with a neat pencil line moustache. Danny was grander and more flamboyant. From a bit of a distance he cut quite a figure, a slightly Cesar Romero type. Close up was a different story. He wore a lot of heavy makeup and glue-on hairpieces on the sides where, reportedly, a bad facelift had gone wrong, leaving severe scar tissue. He had a brilliantly bitchy sense of humor. Doc, too, had a wicked sense of humor but was more reserved. I liked them both. I always assumed that they were, or had been, lovers, but never found out for sure.

Sometime later I was out at a local Gay dance bar called The Bay Shore Health Club. This was a straight health club by day and a wildly popular Gay bar at night. It was during that period when New York's Mayor Wagner was closing the city's bars and many guys came out to the island. The place was run by the owner, named Joe, and his wonderfully bosomy, blowsy girlfriend Anita, who for some reason called me "Giselle". I never knew why. They knew they had a goldmine. There, one night, I was introduced to a man named Paul Owsley, who had been watching me dance. He suggested that I come and audition for the Jewel Box as a chorus girl. I was flattered but told him I already had a job working at Pilgrim State Hospital.

In June of 1967 the Bay Shore Health Club was putting on an amateur drag show and I had agreed to take part. I remember the date because it was to be the same night that Barbra Streisand was performing in Central Park and I was irritated that I could not go. Already a trouper. There were about ten of us in the show, but only two of us actually performed live acts, the others worked to recordings. I did my impression of Phyllis Diller and was well received. Afterward, someone came backstage and told me that Danny and Doc were out front and wanted to see me. I thought it was a joke, but, sure enough, there they indeed were. They told me that they liked what I had done and that I worked clean, as opposed to the other act who was pretty raunchy. They asked if I would be interested in joining the Revue. I was kind of thrilled and gave them my number. They said they would call.

I waited for what seemed like an eternity for them to call. Finally, a month later, in July of 1967, they did. They asked if I would come up and join the touring company in Albany, New York. I wanted to get a leave of absence from the hospital, in case things didn't turn out well. It was denied so I quit my job and hopped a Greyhound. I found it amusing that, not long before, Paul Owsley had asked me to audition for the chorus and now I had been hired as a featured performer. I'd just turned 20.

A Little Backstory: It seems that Danny and Doc had recently had a bit of a dust-up with their star Lynne Carter. Lynne was an extraordinarily talented performer. He'd auditioned once for the chorus and was told he was too ugly. "Just you wait", he reportedly said, "I'll be back in your show one the star!" And so it came to be. I don't know what their disagreement was about but I heard that Lynne had thrown a chair at Danny Brown and had been fired. I was to attempt to fill Lynne's pumps as comic. I only met Lynne Carter once, outside the famous Everard Baths on West 28th Street. When he heard who I was he coolly turned and walked away.

The show was playing a small club called Scandurra's Latin Club and that is where I met them. Before leaving Long Island well-intentioned friends warned me about the nature of drag queens. Trust no one, they are evil and vindictive. I can assure you that, with a few exceptions, this was not my experience. I knew quite literally nothing when I arrived and they collectively took me under their wings. They gave me hair and makeup to get me started. They taught me tricks of the trade such as blocking out one's eyebrows and tucking away the genitalia. Everything. Chorus "girl" Nicki Valdez patiently sat with me and helped apply my makeup. Having met them all that afternoon out of drag it took a while before I could recognize them in full regalia.

A Pet Peeve: Although "A Chorus Line" is one of my all-time favorite shows, I've always bridled at the portrayal of the character Paul. That may have been Nick Dante's experience but I doubt it. It certainly wasn't mine and I found it to be absolute bullshit, even if it was only dramatic license. I never met Nick but Robin and Bobby knew him and they also questioned his veracity.

My opening night arrived and I was terrified. The show was a pared down version of the one I'd recently seen at the Apollo. The band (piano, bass, trumpet, sax and drums), struck up Duke Ellington's "Satin Doll," the standard overture for our nightclub dates. The opening number was The Ziegfeld Production. Kirk Wilde and Sid Marshall, our male dancers, came out and sang an original song called "You Can't Do A Show Without Girls." Then came the showgirl parade: "A Pretty Girl Is Like A Melody" (Robin Rogers in purple); "You Are Beautiful" (Bobby Barton in green); "Lovely To Look At" (Chris Moore in pink); "The Lady In Red" (Gigi Duvall in, well, red), etc. I came out in a red, sequined bikini with a red and white feathered tail and headdress to "You Belong To My Heart (Solamente Una Vez)." The club was packed and appreciative. Robin's act never failed to bring down the house. He would come out in an enormous duster, encrusted in beads and adorned with feathers. He sang in a clear, soprano voice. The second number he sang was "The Masquerade Is Over." Halfway through he would tear off the duster and his wig, revealing his short hair and tuxedo. This was years before "Victor / Victoria." He would then switch his voice to a rich baritone. Always a crowd pleaser. Bobby Barton was a stripper. Chris Moore did Ethel Merman. I did Phyllis Diller. Our star was Mal Michaels, a talented performer with long hair and hormone breasts, usually a big no-no with Danny and Doc, but the drag world was slowly beginning to change. Mal was openly unhappy touring and particularly detested Albany. He would walk down the street late at night shouting epithets and flashing his breasts. On stage he would also put down the city, which he called Albania, and it's denizens. This displeased the management and the audience. He soon left and his spot was filled by our emcee Ronnie Paige.

The middle production number was a two-parter. We started out in period costumes doing "Frankie and Johnny," danced by Bobby Barton and Kirk Wilde, which then segued into "The Swinging Shepherd Blues," danced by Sid Marshall and Nicki Valdez. It lead to Bobby and Nicki having a catfight, ending in a gunshot. Robin then came out in a mini dress and sand "You've Gotta Keep Up With The Times" ("What's new at the discotheques? What's the latest thing in sex? You've gotta keep up with the times!") It then became a disco number. I had a dance solo in a red fringed dress that always got applause.

The finale was "The Oriental." Bobby, Kirk and Sid danced to "Caravan." One slow night they did it in tap shoes and it was a scream. Ann Miller, eat your heart out. Robin then sang "Stranger In Paradise" for the showgirl parade. Once during the parade our stage manager and lighting man, Bob White, put on a pure red spotlight. Like vampires facing the morning sun we turned our backs en masse as red light notoriously let's ones beard show through the greasepaint.

An Aside: The Jewel Box Revue, unlike many female impersonation shows of today, hired only acts that worked live. You had to really sing or speak...No lip-synching allowed.

As Gay icons of the day, we were often invited places. In Albany I remember a Gay bar called the Shangri-La. It had a jukebox you talked to, and it would answer you back. You could make requests and dedications. I requested Ethel Merman doing "There's No Business Like Show Business," dedicated from Phyllis Diller to the cast of the Jewel Box Revue. Pretty corny, eh? One night a gang of toughs walked in and became surly. Without a word we all casually picked up our beer bottles by their necks, we did not look like showgirls. The toughs meekly departed. This was before Gay Lib.

The tour continued...Syracuse (Andre's Tic-Toc Club); Rochester (Club El Marrocco); Buffalo (McVan's Supper Club); Baltimore (Mardi Gras Supper Club). Along the way Gigi Duvall left and I was elevated to The Lady In Red in the opening parade. I liked the costume much better. It had a voluminous cape with a red feathered and sequined shawl-type collar. It was to be the beginning of my lifelong challenge with wardrobe to trip over. At Baltimore's Mardi Gras we followed risqué comedienne Belle Barth and were held over because country star Merle Haggard had canceled.

It was soon time to return to New York and begin rehearsing the new production for the Apollo. Robin and Bobby found me a place at the Landseer Hotel on West 51 Street where they lived. It was, and perhaps still is, next to the former Mark Hellinger Theatre's stage door. They had a neighbor who was a bit of a busy body named Ruth Hamilton. She'd been a vaudevillian and was the original model for head of the Columbia Pictures logo. The daytime desk clerk was Billy Daye, who had once been with the Jewel Box doing Billie Holliday. There was another lovely lady working there who had been a real life Ziegfeld Girl and was the model for Psyche the White Rock fairy. Ah, New York!

Whenever the Jewel Box Revue returned to the Apollo Theatre on 125th Street Danny and Doc would hire a black headliner and more black acts. Whether this was their idea or a request from the theatre's management I don't know. I've always been irked that histories of this theatre neglect the impact of the Jewel Box, as if it was something to be ashamed of. The audiences there loved us and came back again and again. The Jewel Box was the only show, at that time, black or white, to play for more than two weeks. The last time I was there we played for four weeks! This time they brought back singer / comedian Dodie Daniels as headliner, Don Marshall as an exotic dancer and more male dancers and chorus girls. As mentioned before, the Apollo show was a spectacle.

By the time I came along it was no longer necessary to apply for a cabaret license. This had long been a requirement by the City of New York for workers in nightclubs, to verify that they were of legal age and without a criminal record. I did, however, have to join the union which, in the Jewel Box Revue's case was the American Guild of Variety Artists. This was the lowest rung on the theatrical union ladder, covering things like the circus, the Rockettes and us. I don't even know if this branch still exists, or if it has been absorbed into one of the larger unions. I joined, I paid my dues and thereby officially became Kurt Mann. 
As for my name...Kurt is my real middle name and Mann is the last half of my real last name. I toyed with cutsie-pie androgynous names like Kay, but decided against it.

Rehearsals began at the Jerry Leroy Studio on Eighth Avenue. This was a renowned rehearsal space where you could have the Jewel Box in one room, Flamenco dancers in another and Bob Fosse in yet another. Here is where I first met the legendary Storme De Larverie, a Jewel Box veteran and the only girl in the show known as "25 Men and a Girl". Of course, she performed in male drag. She was a terrific singer and one particular favorite of mine was her version of "I'm Beginning To See The Light." She was a good friend to Robin and Bobby and became one to me as well. She had a slight tendency to hypochondria, which came in handy if you weren't feeling well. She knew the cure. She helped me out when I had a brush with hepatitis. I was told that she would sometimes wear a brace on her leg that she called "Jonah", but I never saw that.

We must have really been a sight, a motley crew of often unshaven men in tights and heels parading about to the sounds of a rinky tink rehearsal piano. Occasionally we'd sit about as newbies, I now also a veteran, would audition.

Rehearsals went smoothly. This edition of the show was being billed as the Silver Anniversary Edition, even if it was actually more like the 30th anniversary. There would be a black and white opening, a middle production in Hell and the Silver Jubilee finale.

After several weeks rehearsal finally moved up to the space beneath the Apollo Theatre itself. Here we first heard the musical arrangements played in full by Reuben Phillips and his Orchestra. Wow! What a difference. How exciting.

Soon it was January 1968...Opening Night! Actually opening day, since we did matinees. That weekend we would do eleven shows. Three on Friday and four each on Saturday and Sunday. Is it any wonder that Robin and I were always getting laryngitis? We would do a show, which was followed by a movie, then another show, etc. The movie this time was a western called "Seven Ways From Sundown" starring Audie Murphy. The movies were usually awful. Danny and Doc tried to get the rights to "Some Like It Hot," to no avail.

I digress...Drum Roll...The Black and White Opening had us all looking like right idiots in tuxedos, with full makeup but no lipstick and no wigs. We sang and danced to "You Can't Do A Show Without Girls." As the chorus boys and girls danced, we showgirls had to rush off and quickly change costume, adding lips and hair. I actually missed my opening parade because my costume had a side zipper that came apart like a jacket zipper and I couldn't get it on and there was no one there to help me. This was fixed while the movie was on and I successfully made my change at the second show. My costume was quite beautiful. I had good legs so they made me a sequined leotard with a Grecian drape of black and white chiffon. My hat was a tall cone wrapped in black, white and gray chiffon that trailed out for yards behind me. Cascading down the hat like a cornucopia, and also on my left hip, were large bunches of black grapes. This became known as my Grapes of Wrath costume. I didn't need to wear a wig as the hat fit like a turban. I merely combed my own hair down in bangs. The showgirls paraded to the song "You Stepped Out Of A Dream" (from "Ziegfeld Girl"), as we descended high flights of stairs escorted by the Gentlemen of the Jewel Box.

My act as Phyllis Diller closed the first half of the show. Storme made my introduction thusly: "And now, ladies and gentlemen, a young man who does a brilliant impression of one of the most beautiful and sexy stars in all of Hollywood...Mr. Kurt Mann". The orchestra struck up Hooray For Hollywood as I ran out like gangbusters. The audience, expecting something else entirely, would roar with laughter. I'd run about a bit, blowing kisses, and finally stop at the microphone and let out a raucous Diller laugh. It went well.

For the middle production number Danny and Doc had purchased six large black lights. The number took place in Hell. Robin came out and sang Irving Berlin's "Pack Your Sins And Go To The Devil"...The showgirls paraded to "Temptation"...and then Paris Todd and the chorus danced to "The Ritual Fire Dance." The stage was completely dark, lit only by the glow of our costumes and four large fans that blew tattered strips of day-glo material simulating flames. Some of us chose to wear blonde hair that would also glow in the dark. Again I was in a leotard wearing day-glo pink tights. The audience loved it and, frankly, so did I. Sadly, no photographs exist due to the nature of the lighting.

The finale was the big 25th Anniversary Silver Jubilee. For some reason I cannot remember any of the music or what we did. I do know that the costumes were all silver and white and absolutely dazzling. I was in a silver sequined leotard with yards of flowing white fabric trimmed in silver, my hat was a huge puff of white marabou with crystals and small round mirrors across the front. I also had long strips of the crystal beads and mirrors hanging from my hips.

Between shows we usually had about two hours to kill. Danny and Doc let us leave the theatre with the stipulation that we wear sunglasses and remove our lipstick. The dark glasses remained only until we hit the street. Locals knew who we were, I mean, how could they not. We were a bunch of boys, some of us white, in makeup and lashes walking 125th Street. There was a bar on Amsterdam Avenue we would frequent, careful not to get shitfaced before the next show.

We played the Apollo for two weeks and then it was time for a short break before once again hitting the road.

The Jewel Box Revue was always advertised as "25 Men and a Girl", and perhaps at one time it was that big. I think the most we had while I was there were about 18, still quite a large cast.

Robin Rogers, Bobby Barton and I had become very close friends, sort of a Gay three musketeers. We were almost always together, carousing around town. One of our favorite places in New York was the legendary theatre bar on West 48 Street called Big Spender. The clientele consisted mostly of theatre people, actors and gypsies. We fit right in. They treated us so well that we gave them a giant framed blow-up of us as the Big Spender girls. It was extremely popular. Bobby and I would also sometimes cruise Central Park West together. We'd walk up, separate, do whatever, meet up and walk home. Such sluts.

Between us Robin was the older and had been with the show the longest. He was of Dutch and Cherokee descent and was originally from Hoboken, NJ. He'd also served in the Navy. Bobby came from a small farming community in Pennsylvania. Two of his sisters had been Radio City Music Hall Rockettes. At age 20 I was the baby.

My next best friend in the show would have to have been Chris Moore. He was probably about 50 years old at the time and had been with the Merchant Marines. He used a special heavy makeup to cover the tattoo on his upper arm. Besides Merman he also did a wonderful Dietrich and, of all people, Alice Faye. He was blind as a bat and wore the proverbial coke bottle glasses. This sometimes presented a problem. Once the Jewel Box played the old Fox Theatre in Detroit. This place was enormous, only slightly smaller than New York's Radio City Music Hall. The stage was vast and, one night, as he was making his entrance, the huge velvet show curtain wrapped around him in the darkness and dragged him off stage. The theatre was so big that there was an elevator to the dressing rooms. Our show hats often had feathers supported by wires. Chris was quite tall and as he got onto the elevator one afternoon the wire from his hat went into an empty light socket frying the feathers and giving him quite a jolt. I don't know if it was the wig or the heels that saved him. His favorite expression for nearly any occasion was "Mary, how evil!"...Or, if he couldn't find something he'd ring out with "Mop queen faggots!", meaning it in the kindest possible way.

So once again we hit the road.

- McVan's Supper Club in Buffalo, NY... Lovingly called a Bucket of Blood it was quite literally where "the underworld can meet the elite".

- The Hawaiian Lounge in Montreal...We rarely played Gay venues but here we were. Bobby fell in love with a Latino named Leon and I fell for a French Canadian hockey player named Alain. There was another Gay bar downstairs called Bud's where we regularly got plotzed on our days off.

- The Blue Orchid in Toronto...This was a converted movie theatre. The downstairs, where we worked, was a nightclub, the old balcony was a country western saloon. The dressing rooms were miniscule so we were allowed to come out into the room between shows. Danny Brown hated this. We would sneak upstairs to the CW bar. The guys thought we were whores, gigantic, painted whores. The barmaid of the Blue Orchid was a pretty blonde from Scandinavia named Eva. She developed quite a thing for Bobby and he had a small affair with her.

- Club Venus in Baltimore...I got tossed from the YMCA for fooling around in the showers and had to move to the Albion Hotel where the others were. Here we had a new act who did Carol Channing, badly. I forget his name, he wasn't around for long.

The Lambertville Music Circus in New Jersey...Literally a tent with a turntable stage in the round.

The Howard Theatre in Washington, DC. ...Similar to the Apollo, but smaller.

Jenning's Rose Room in Atlanta...We performed on the dance floor with the band on an elevated platform at the back. Opening day the cleaning service had waxed the wooden floor to a high gloss. During the opening number we started slipping and sliding. Several fell. I fell, landing in a confusion of red turkey feathers, my wig and hat in my lap, my gown torn up the back. There were several steps at the back rising to the platform where there was a flimsy curtain between us and the boys in the band. At one point I had to climb to the top step and pose. Another night I lost my footing and there was nothing to grab onto but the gauzy curtain. I partially disappeared behind the steps, torn curtain in hand, gown again ripped up the back. A real trouper, I finished the number in my tattered dress, with shredded hose and a bleeding leg. How undignified! It was, however, fun, it was exciting and I was now 21.

Another memory...Summer 1969, we played the Around The World Room of the President Hotel in Atlantic City. It was one of the rainiest seasons on record so we had lots of free time. This was the summer of the moon landing which we watched in the lobby of our hotel. Due to the rain we were often only required to do only one show a night instead of two. The rest of the time we caroused in the Gay bars on New York Avenue. Our favorites were the Chez Paree and Ciel's Saratoga. One night we were joined at Chez Paree by members of the Ice Capades who had just opened at the convention center. We sent them drinks to welcome them to town. When they heard who the drinks had come from they laughed snidely, turned up their noses and hit the dance floor. Robin had to be physically restrained from clocking Billy Chapel, a featured skater. Fortunately they didn't stay long. They were there for a week but we never saw them again. Another night we met Edie Adams at Ciel's Saratoga. She was in town doing Mame and the cast had earlier come to see our show. She was introduced to us by an actress named Sandy Sprung and was so wasted she could barely hold her face up from her plate of spaghetti.

Between club dates Danny and Doc would sometimes send out small tab versions of the show. One such date had Bobby Barton, Chris Moore and myself booked into the Club Inferno in Utica, NY. We were basically on our own. It was a good experience for me and a time to stretch a bit. Bobby stripped, Chris did Ethel Merman and I was the Master (Mistress?) of Ceremonies as well as a headliner. I got to sing a bit as we opened with a patter song called "Don't Be A Woman If You Can" from a 1946 show called "Park Avenue." I sang the part about choosing a nail polish and remember it perfectly to this day. I loved it. I also did my Phyllis Diller but was able to sprinkle in a little Bette Davis and Marlene Dietrich. The club was small but the patrons appreciative. One gentleman, in particular, took a shine to me. He thought I looked like a "tough broad". He gave me his name but I didn't recognize it. He later became a famous sport's figure, as a player and a commentator, and I'd had him in the front seat of his car in the middle of a soccer field in Utica, NY. He is now deceased but shall remain nameless out of respect for his family.

There was also a small club in Congers, NY called Fran Bell's that would invite us to come perform. I worked there with Robin, Bobby and a female stripper named Micki Martin. What a tough piece of work she was. The club's clientele was mostly lesbian and they enjoyed us. In the "Small World Department"...Many years later, after I retired and moved to Fort Lauderdale, I became good, close friends with a man named Peter Fremed. It turns out he quite often would drive Robin, Bobby and others from the city up to Fran Bell's. How we never met at the time I'll never know.

Time does indeed fly and it was soon back to Jerry Leroy's and the beginning of rehearsals for the Apollo. Over the years we were honored to have several theatrical notables come in to stage the show. The previous year had been Broadway dancer Danny Joel and the future would bring Ted Cappy, who later would coordinate the tap routines for Ruby Keeler and others in the Broadway revival of "No, No, Nanette"...Bill Bradley, who had not only done Broadway, but had worked as assistant to Richard Barstow for the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus, ultimately taking over the direction completely...However, my personal favorite was Rudy Tronto, who had appeared on Broadway many times and would be nominated for a Tony Award for choreographing "Sugar Babies" starring Ann Miller and Mickey Rooney.

The new show was to open with a big number reusing the silver and white costumes from the anniversary show. They were beginning to look a little shabby up close but probably looked alright past the third row. Again, I cannot remember what the music was.

One highlight was the number "You Gotta Have A Gimmick" from "Gypsy," with Robin as Tessie Tura, Dodie as Mazeppa and Chris as Electra. Robin learned to stand en pointe in toe shoes and Dodie learned to play a trumpet. A big hit.

Once again taking advantage of the black lights, the middle production took place under the sea. Robin sang "Ebb Tide" and Paris Todd and his sea nymphs danced a ballet to "Clair de Lune." We showgirls didn't have to parade as we were saddled with enormous stuffed mermaid tails. I'm sure it was wonderful looking from out front and the audience loved it. I frankly thought it was slow and just a little boring.

The finale was French. It opened with us all singing and dancing in front of a huge painted backdrop of an ocean liner. The song was George Gershwin's "Bon Jour, Paris" from "Funny Face" and we were dressed like vacationing secretaries and school marms. This segued to Dodie Daniels singing about going to Paris to buy a gown. Then came a sensational singer, new to the show, named Carroll Durrell who sang "Think Pink," also from "Funny Face." Carroll sang like Aretha and had earlier brought down the house. I was given a bit as well. I was to come out and sing "Ta Ra Ra Boom De Ray." Absolutely nothing had been staged so I ran about singing and turning cartwheels...The segment was cut after the first show. The showgirl parade was all red and gold. Frank Page had once again outdone himself with the costumes. It began with "I Love Paris"...Bobby Barton, Chris Moore, Don Marshall. Then the music changed. There was a sort of fanfare and they went into a raunchy, burlesque style version of "Stairway To Paradise." I entered on the fanfare and did the first part of the music, about 16 bars. Since I was probably the shortest of the showgirls, and certainly not the prettiest, it was great fun to have something distinctive to do. After the parade came a wild "Can-Can"...Slow curtain.

Over time I had become more seasoned and before opening at the Apollo I decided to have some new costumes done. There was one very dear cast member named Bruno, billed as Bruno Le Fantastique he did a sterling half man / half woman seduction act that was absolutely brilliant. In his off time he made costumes. I had him make up a stiff, sort of rice papery, pinafore with blue sequined appliqués, a wildly multicolored mini-dress and a gold satin coat with a hot pink satin lining and beaded fighting cocks on the front. How unspeakably chic. My act was more polished but I still had Storme do the "glamour" introduction. As before, I would run wildly about, stop at the mic and begin with Phyllis Diller's raucous laugh.

While at the Apollo, Danny and Doc told us of a proposed European tour. We were thrilled. We would open in Germany and travel the continent. It would include a side trip to Japan for a television show. It would have been a breeze for me as my act was a talking act and I would only need to do the production numbers. It was said that Danny and Doc asked for too much money and the deal fell through. It would take me another decade or so to make it across the pond.

January of 1970 would mark my last appearance at the famous Apollo Theatre, but it would be for a record breaking four weeks. I can't remember what the opening production was but the middle number was a blast, and it was my suggestion. The movie version of "Sweet Charity" had recently opened and I suggested that we do the "Big Spender" number. I've always been a tart at heart. It was so much fun and the audience loved it. The number opened in one. From opposite sides of the stage we wheeled out our railings. Bobby Barton and me on one side, Brandy Alexander and Toni Lee on the other. Robin walked between us singing the song. We were dressed in wildly psychedelic colors and Afro wigs. The curtain then opened on the entire cast and we did "Rhythm of Life," halfway through it the stage went to black light.

The finale was Mexican. Although the Jewel Box Revue was always advertised as "25 Men and a Girl" there were never that many during my tenure. Usually Storme was the girl, dressed as a man, of course. For the Mexican Finale another woman was hired. Her name was Ruth Hermine, of Hermine's Midgets. They also rented a sweet little burro named Barbara. The number opened with us all milling about singing something called "Taco," about a little burro. Dodie entered riding Barbara. Dodie was terrified of Barbara and the burro knew it and constantly tried to throw Dodie off. Dodie then sang Al Jolson's "The Spaniard That Blighted My Life." The showgirls paraded to "Guantanamera." I wore a gown of green, purple and black and a towering headdress. At the end of Dodie's parade he stood majestically posed as Ruth Hermine popped out from under his gown in an identical costume. It looked as if he was giving birth and always got a laugh.

Whether it was the rise of discotheques, or merely the changing times, nightclubs seemed to be going out of style and the Jewel Box Revue seemed to belong to another era. It became increasingly harder for Danny and Doc to find bookings for such a large and expensive show. We kept ourselves available but took small gigs when we could get them. I worked one of Frankie Quinn's drag balls and traveled a bit with Chi Chi LaVerne and Joey Tone.

I would occasionally get offers for film work, in and out of drag. The highlight of these was a movie I did for my dear friends John and Lem Amero called "Blonde Ambition" (1980). I appeared first as myself and later in drag. It was the first time I'd seen myself in action. The picture was shot in "X" and "R" rated versions and was in a similar vein as "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes." It was advertised as, "If you like 'Deep Throat' and 'Singin' In The Rain". The wardrobe supervisor went to a rental house to find a costume for me to wear and, surprisingly, came back with Robin Rogers' costume from our French Finale. It was all gold eyelash material with red and gold cabbage roses and worked like a charm. It seems that Danny and Doc had sold all the old production costumes to Jerome Cargill. What goes around, eh? "Blonde Ambition" is now enjoying a bit of a renaissance, having just been re-released in a deluxe two disc DVD edition, and I have recently been the subject of several interviews.

One final anecdote from my post-Jewel Box Revue career...

In the Spring of 1982 I received a phone call from an agent friend, Richard Cataldi. He'd been contacted by the office of Tommy Tune regarding a role in the upcoming musical "Nine." Mr. Tune wanted to know if Dick had any buxom actresses who might be the right type to play the beach whore Saraghina. Dick couldn't think of any but asked if perhaps a female impersonator might do. Mr. Tune thought about it and, considering that this was based on Fellini, asked if Dick knew any and, if so, to send them over. I was already several years into my new life working at an insurance company but who could pass up such an opportunity? I called John and Lem Amero for moral support and they said they be happy to accompany me. I got made up at home (I'd kept my makeup kit) and they walked me over. I put my last minute effects in a bag, donned a big pair of sunglasses and we were on our way. I lived in the theatre district at the time so a man in makeup wasn't too much of a distraction, unlike those days on 125th Street.

The auditions were being held in the famous little theatre at the top of the New Amsterdam Theatre on 42nd Street. This was the legendary Ziegfeld Roof. We arrived and I went directly to the men's room to finish my makeup and hair. Dick had also sent over my old friend Chi Chi LaVerne. There we were, just the two of us. Chi Chi went first and sang Cabaret. They thanked him and then called me. The only photo I had was from John and Lem's movie "Blonde Ambition" and they thought that was my name. I corrected them as I strode on stage wearing a very Judy Garland-ish white shirt over black tights and heels. I sang "If My Friends Could See Me Now." When I was done the composer, Maury Yeston came up on stage. "You're a lot of fun," he said, "but you're really not right for this." I agreed. "However," he added, "in a few months I'll be putting together the musical of "La Cage Aux Folles" and I'd like you to come back. I think you'd be perfect." I thanked him and left. As luck would have it Mr. Yeston never did do "La Cage Aux Folles"...It was turned over to Jerry Herman...He was out, and so was I. I was sorry not to have met Tommy Tune but I had performed on the stage of the Ziegfeld Roof.

I haven't seen or heard from any of my other cast mates in many years. Bobby Barton and Chris Moore died way back in the 1970's...Brandy Alexander was an early victim of AIDS...and the last I heard of Robin Rogers he was bartending in a Gay bar called The Stanchion in Springfield, Mass., but that was in 1978. Storme De Larverie will be 90 in December. She lives in a nursing home in Queens, NY. I last saw her at a Gay Pride event in the 1980's.

I'm now retired and happily living with my partner of 25+ years in Florida.

Did you know Kurt and want to share some memories,
or just want to contact him? His email is

Above, recent shot of Kurt (in blue shirt) and his partner Rigo

Editor's note: I asked Kurt a couple follow-up questions. One concerned why several of the programs were called Silver Anniversary, when that would have really been several years prior. And I commented that the programs didn't change much and often featured performers who had long left the cast, for example, TC Jones.

Kurt: Danny and Doc did the 25th anniversary show mostly because they'd neglected to do it at the actual time. It sounded grand and gave the excuse for silver costumes. The only program I have is the red covered one, which I'm guessing coincided with the red and gold French Finale. You are correct, however, that the programs didn't change much. Occasionally new photos would be added and the front credit page would be updated, but as little as possible. The first program I was in had a picture of me as Phyllis Diller with the name of Adrian Dennis under it. Adrian was an exotic dancer, I never knew him, and presumably my picture just happened to be where his had once been. I believe T. C. Jones was already dead by the time I joined the show. [he died in 1971] He'd become quite famous doing Tallulah Bankhead, even on the Ed Sullivan Show. I heard that he claimed to be straight and married but I really wouldn't know.