With the prevalence of drag shows in cities around the world and the mainstream success of Ru Paul’s Drag Race, it’s easy to forget that performing in drag was ever considered controversial.
But you don’t have to go back too far to find where some of drag’s roots took hold in unlikely Portland. And just like some of the queens who don heels, wigs and face today, it wasn’t always pretty. Check out this undiscovered history in the Travel Portland Zine, A People’s History Of Portland and its excellent guide to Portland LGBT life.
Scroll down for five tidbits about the nation’s longest continuously running drag show, Darcelle’s female impersonation revue:
1. Its inaugural drag show happened in 1971.
Walter Cole bought the building that would become Darcelle XV in 1967 and converted it into a theater in 1971. In fact, Cole himself would become Darcelle as well. He caused a local stir when he decided to come out as gay and take on the persona of Darcelle.
2. Avoiding an Oregon law that prohibited the use of more than one instrument during performances, entertainers at Darcelle XV Showplace lip-synched.
There’s lip-synching for your life, and then there’s this.
3. The business was once fined after Darcelle’s partner, Roxy Neuhardt, performed a “ballet-like adagio” with another man.
It takes a lot more than a couple of blokes in tights to challenge the status quo these days.
4. Portland Bridge, Portland’s first gay newspaper, was published just a few blocks from here.
Reading, we hear, is fundamental.
But on a serious note, the Bridge was a major nexus of women’s and gay rights during the late ’60s and early ’70s. We can definitely get behind that.
5. At the age of 85, Darcelle still performs every night, and his son is the bar manager.
This deserves some major props. In fact, with the closing of San Francisco’s drag venue Finocchio’s in 1999, Darcelle became the oldest female impersonator on the West Coast.
Darcelle’s remains involved in raising money for nonprofits and community causes, often closing to hold benefits and special nights to support local causes.
For more on Darrell, check out Travel Portland’s Zine interview and LGBT history in A People’s History of Portland.
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