Femme Mimics

by E. Carlton Winford, 1954


In 1951 Winford was searching for an idea for a book that would be "something different," when a chance meeting with a former female impersonator gave him the idea. He spent three years researching and contacting performers from all over the country. In his epilogue he recounts how difficult this was, as he was met with suspicion from many who feared being made the subject of ridicule and gossip. While many of the attitudes in his writing are outdated by today's standards, it is my impression that the project evolved into an earnest attempt to present this as a legitimate form of entertainment. He stated:

The book was obviously a self-published effort, and I doubt it received much distribution at all. Consequently it is very rare, and when it can be found at all, for example on eBay, it fetches $100 or so for a copy. In the first 55 pages he traces the history of female impersonation, going back centuries, but of course most fascinating is the photo section, featuring over 375 pictures. He begins, as most studies do, with Julian Eltinge, and features some of the more famous, like Karyl Norman and Francis Renault. But the majority are those artists from the 40s and 50s, the majority of whom were still active at the time of this publication.

In the scans you'll see text on most pages, in (unbelievably) point 5 or 6 font, hard to read even when holding the book in your hands, so I've also done larger scans of just the text blocks, so that those really dedicated readers can sample his descriptions. Obviously I've had to spread out the information over quite a few pages.

I found several things noteworthy. The use of the term "Femme Mimics," of course we do not hear at all today, being replaced by "Female Impersonators" or "Drag Queens." I have to wonder how common the "Femme Mimics" term was in the early 50s when he compiled his book. Also notice how many of them used male names, or at least names of neutral gender, and how many were what we would likely consider quite a bit older than the artists we see today.


Another edition, different cover