Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

The Prettiest Girl on Stage Is a Man: Race and Gender Benders in American Vaudeville

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

The Prettiest Girl on Stage Is a Man: Race and Gender Benders in American Vaudeville

Article excerpt

The Prettiest Girl on Stage Is a Man: Race and Gender Benders in American Vaudeville. By Kathleen B. Casey. (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2015. Pp. xxx, 210. $64.00, ISBN 978-1-62190-165-5.)

Kathleen B. Casey's recent contribution to the growing literature on vaudeville is an ambitious study of four now-forgotten, yet extremely significant, individuals. With its focus on the racial and gender boundaries crossed by some of the biggest attractions of the first decades of the twentieth century--performer Eva Tanguay, female impersonator Julian Eltinge, African American male impersonator Lillyn Brown, and singer Sophie Tucker--The Prettiest Girl on Stage Is a Man: Race and Gender Benders in American Vaudeville demonstrates how vaudeville was central to the making of alternative ideologies. It is difficult to emphasize how little scholarly attention these stars have received. Although Tucker and Tanguay have begun to gain some traction among academics in recent years, none of these have the recognition of contemporaries such as Irving Berlin and Al Jolson or black blues queens such as Bessie Smith and Gertrude "Ma" Rainey. As a result, Casey has a substantial amount of terrain to cover, and she does so admirably.

Highlights of the book are Casey's nuanced arguments about gender inversion, particularly in reference to Eltinge and Brown. Eltinge's role in advertising skin creams for women is fascinating. As the only married performer in the study, Brown offers an important counterexample of how those who crossed boundaries on stage were not always unconventional in their personal lives. The coverage of Brown in both the black and the white press reveals the mixed response to male impersonators, and their uneven reception, regardless of the color line. As much as Casey engages with the literature on feminism and performance, she focuses less on ideas about ventriloquism and deception, captured so brilliantly in James W. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.