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10 June 2024

David Petillo (1908 – 1983) hitman, mafioso

Original Version March 2010.

Antonio Petillo from Pollico, Salerno south of Naples, emigrated to New York in 1885, and married Michelina, also an Italian immigrant, the next year. They had seven children – David was the sixth. Antonio was a sanitation worker and later a driver. He became a naturalized US citizen in 1910. 

David attended a public school sometimes, and left for good when he was 14. He became involved with Giosue Aiello, a criminal who ran an area in the Lower East Side of Manhattan around Cherry Street. Petillo became regarded as a finocchio, or even a fairy. At age 18 he was sent to Chicago where Al Capone was to straighten him out.

Aiello disappeared, probably killed, around 1920, and David Petillo, along with partner Charles “Chalutz” Gagliodotto, and others of Aiello’s crew, were initiated into the Lucky Luciano's  (Genovese) organization. 

Petillo and Gagliodotto were contracted to carry out murders for the bosses of the Detroit, Cleveland and Chicago Mafia organizations. It was during this time that “Little Davie” earned a reputation as the “cross-dressing killer”, as he often dressed in drag in order to get close to unsuspecting victims, although it was sometimes Gagliodotto (who had the advantage of being barely 5 feet/1.5m) in drag, and sometimes both. It is said that both dressed as female mourners for a funeral, complete with veils, and slipped into a car after their target to kill him without detection. The FBI estimated that Petillo and Gagliodotto were involved in as many as 30 murders.

In 1924, Petillo was charged with "jostling" (intentionally and unnecessarily placing one's hand in close proximity to another person's pocket or handbag) and given sixty days. That same year in October he was charged as Joseph Rose Richmond with attempted grand larceny, but discharged. He served a day in jail in May 1925 and in June, he was charged under the name Joseph Rose and given 30 days. He was charged again in October in Danbury, Connecticut with vagrancy: this time as Herbert Quell.

David married Madeline in 1928 or 29. In the 1930 federal census he gave his profession as a salesman. He had a unit on Canal Street buying odd lots, although other sources say that he was in Chicago as Al Capone’s bodyguard. 

In 1932 Petillo made his first trip to Italy with his sister Lavinia. He made another trip as part of Luciano’s entourage.

On return to New York, he reported to Lucky Luciano, and in 1936 he was arrested on ‘white slavery charges’ in a racket that grossed $12 million a year with over 3,000 prostitutes working at over 200 brothels. Enough women were happy to testify against him.

“Among the brothels Luciano and Petillo had under their proverbial thumb was one operated by the husband-and-wife team of Pete Harris and Mildred Balitzer. Harris pleaded guilty, and Balitzer turned state’s evidence. Balitzer testified about meeting both Little Davie and Charlie Lucky numerous times, and that she was required to collect from each of the girls at her brothel $10 a week which “bonded” them to the mobsters.” (Crawford, 2015 p 85).

“It was the gangster trial of the decade. After beer baron Dutch Schultz was shot to death in a New Jersey tavern, Luciano was declared public enemy number one on the East Coast. [Special Prosecutor Thomas E] Dewey vowed to take him down. Instead of narcotics or gambling, both of which fell under Luciano’s domain, Dewey went after what he saw as the gangster’s weak spot: his control of the city’s $12-million-a-year “vice rackets,” including two hundred brothels and two thousand prostitutes.

Indicted under his given name, Salvatore Lucanía, the trial of Charlie Lucky garnered daily headlines. Dewey depicted the crime lord pulling the strings as he strutted around his luxury suite in the Waldorf-Astoria in a silk robe. Luciano’s main instrument of terror and control over the prostitution ring was “Little Davie” Petillo, or Betillo as he often allowed his name to be misspelled.


'You guys are through,' a brothel operator testified he was told by Luciano. 'I am giving the business to Little Davie.' Those who resisted suffered beatings, bullets pegged in their direction, and guns and knives in the ribs, Dewey told jurors.” (Capeci & Robbins)

Petillo was sentenced to serve 25-40 years in New York State’s Sing Sing prison. Luciano was sentenced to 30-50 years. Later in 1936, authorities moved them to Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, NY, a remote facility far away from New York City. At Clinton, Petillo prepared special dishes for Luciano in a kitchen set aside by authorities. After the US entered the Second World War, Luciano struck a deal with the  government to get Mafia co-operation re security on the New York waterfront to prevent Axis infiltration, and then provided Mafia contacts in Sicily to aid the Allied invasion in 1943. In return Luciano was released but deported to Italy. Petillo was still in prison.

David’s wife Madeline died in 1950; his parents returned to live in Salerno, Italy. Antonio Petillo died in 1954. One of David’s brothers, Roland, became an Italian police officer, and another an agent for the IRS.

David was paroled in 1955, and then trafficked heroin for the Genovese family though Lower East Side and Greenwich Village bars including the 82 Club (run by his cousin Anna Genovese (née Giovaninna Petillo).

He was arrested for violation of parole in June 1958, and on narcotics charges. He was returned to Clinton Correctional Facility for another nine years.

Gagliodotto was among 19 arrested in 1965 charged with being part of a $90-million-a-year narcotics ring. The defense attorney filed multiple motions and three years passed. Gagliodotto was particularly edgy, and was addicted to his product, the heroin. He accused two colleagues of stealing from him and executed them. The others thought that he had gone too far. Petillo, newly released from prison, agreed to deal with him, and took along his cousin Eddie Vassallo. Gagliodotto did not suspect his old partner, but Petillo and Vassallo, using a plastic bag, strangled him, and then left him on the street. The morgue doctors did not pay enough attention and put it down to a heart attack, until rumors reached the FBI and the job was done properly. However nobody was ever charged.

Petillo now, in the late 1960s, became involved in pornography until the business was sold to the Gambino family.

David, age 61, married for a second time in 1969 to Phyllis aged 19. They went on honeymoon to Italy and Greece. On a second trip to Italy in January 1973, David and Phyllis were arrested on arrival and quickly deported back to the US.

From 1975, Petillo lived in Brick Township, New Jersey, and was building up a new criminal crew, and running adult bookstores and gay health spas. In February 1980, after a dispute about ownership and profits, Petillo and three others shot and killed his cousin Edward Vassallo.

Petillo fled the US via Mexico after the murder. The FBI and Interpol tracked him as he moved between luxury hotels in Germany, Greece, Singapore, Bali, Hong Kong, and Hawaii. The trail ended three days after Christmas in 1983 when Petillo collapsed and died while staying in the resort town of Málaga, Spain, on the Mediterranean coast. He was 75. His body was returned to New York City for burial.

  • John Martin. “Dewey’s Vice Raids Peril Police Jobs », Daily News, February 4, 1936.
  • “Vice Ring Links Half of Nation”. The Reading Times, May 12, 1936.
  • Tom Renner. “Mobster Reported Slain”. NY Newsday, August 28, 1968.
  • Dorothy Hinchcliff. “Witness tells of carrying out mob’s orders to kill”. Asbury Park Press, May 19, 1982.
  • “David Petillo”. "The FBI Files: David Petillo Did It in Drag". Friends of Ours: Mostly About Organized Crime,12/20/2010. Archive
  • Eric Ferrara. “Petillo, David Silvio” in Manhattan Mafia Guide: Hits, Homes & Headquarters. History Press, 2011: 122-4.
  • Phillip Crawford, The Mafia and the Gays. Kindle, 2015: 85-6.
  • Jerry Capeci & Tom Robbins. Mob Boss: The Life of Little Al D’Arco the man who brought down the Mafia. St Martin’s Press, 2013.
  • Jim Elledge. The Boys of Fairy Town: Sodomites, Female Impersonators, Third-Sexers, Pansies, Queers, and Sex Morons in Chicago’s First Century. Chicago Review Press, 2018: 82.

Wikitree(David Silvio PetilloAntonio Petillo)

IT.Wikipedia(Dave Petillo)

-----------

David’s family name is sometimes given as Betillo. Wikipedia spells it so when writing about Lucky Luciano. 

Neither Petillo nor Betillo is listed among the notable inmates on the Wikipedia page on Sing Sing prison.

Petillo almost certainly was not permitted to transvest while in prison, and there is no mention of any action afterwards. Therefore he had stopped by the age of 28.

See also The Murderers amongst us.

26 May 2024

Phil Black (1903 - 1975) female impersonator, ball organizer.

Original version December 2008.

Pittsburgh’s Hill District had been settled in the 1820s when those who could afford it moved out from Pittsburgh’s industrial core.   It became the city’s primary neighborhood for immigrants and other newcomers.  During the Great War, many black migrants came from Alabama and other parts of the South to fill Pittsburgh’s wartime labor shortage. By the 1930s African-Americans constituted a small majority in the area alongside various immigrant communities. Unlike the segregated theatres and nightclubs downtown, those in the Hill District, particularly the jazz clubs, were racially mixed.   The ethnic mix was open to sex/gender diversity in a way not found downtown.  Some female impersonators like Gilda lived as female off-stage as well as on, and as such visited hairdressers and attended church - Purcell and Coco sang as such in church choirs.  Grantmyer writes 

“female impersonators carved out a space for themselves in the Hill by performing in local nightclubs; by being themselves as they meandered down the neighborhood’s streets, shopped in its stores and drank in its bars; and by forging personal relationships that helped transcend stereotypes”.

Phil Black was born in Sharpsburg, 5 miles/8 km northeast of Pittsburgh. In 1924, 21 years-old and dressed as female, he went to Cake Walks with a buddy and they won first prize as the best couple. Friends told him that he was as good as the professional female impersonators. As such he started with bookings in the Pittsburgh area. He performed for two years at Pittsburgh's Little Paris nightclub, and the at various clubs around the city, and then joined a touring group, the highly popular Shufflin Sam from Alabam, again as a female illusionist.   


For six years from 1927 he played in and around Atlantic City, often as the only colored member of the troupe.

From the mid-1930s he was based in New York City, appearing in Greenwich Village and Harlem. 

Thomas H. Robinson on October 10, 1934, kidnapped Alice Stoll in Louisville, Kentucky and released her unharmed in exchange for $50,000 ransom.  He then went on the run.  A customer at the Harlem nightclub where Phil Black was appearing gave a $10 tip to dance with Black, who immediately realised that the customer was not a cis woman.  She gave the name ‘Jerry’ but when questioned further quickly departed.   Afterwards Black saw a photograph of Robinson in a newspaper and recognised the mysterious customer.

The first drag ball organized by Black was on Thanksgiving Day, 1941.

Performance Card

In 1944 Black played Montréal for four months, and in 1948 was promoting boat rides on the Hudson River. Black made seasonal appearances at the Harlem Club in upstate New York, and in the early 1950s appeared in Washington DC.




Black put on the Funmaker drag balls at the Rockland Palace ballroom located on 155th Street and Frederick Douglass Avenue, where the Hamilton Lodge balls had previously been held.  Anyone who cared to could be in drag, or express their inner self.

Phil Black was interviewed in 1953 in the black community magazine Our World, which emphasized his normality: 

"I don’t join the many parties that take place after some clubs close and I have very little use for alcohol. I have never been married chiefly because of my mother. She has no other means of support and has been living with me for 18 years”

The article also wondered if ‘Phil Black’ was a stage name signifying lover (philia) of black persons.


Black was included in E Carlston Winford’s pioneering 1954 book, Femme Mimics, the first ever collection of photographs of female impersonators.  Perhaps in reply to Our World, Winford wrote of Black: 

“He prefers to use his real name, contrary to the practice of many in this profession who choose a ‘feminine’ stage name”.

In 1956, Leslie Matthews wrote in The New York Age

“There were ladies exhibitionistic belles, unmindful of the night’s chill doffed their minks, beavers and rabbits and gave the hungry sidewalk onlookers a little of what was in store for them if they entered Rockland Palace, Thanksgiving night, where the ‘Funmakers’ were staging their 15th annual extravaganza. The ‘girls’ came from all over (there were two from Mississippi and one from San Diego, Calif.) ‘played’ within the confines of the auditorium…. Everyone was a celebrity. Attired in expensive frocks and gowns the ‘girls’ who disliked being called ‘fags,’ had their faces reshaped to photogenic proportions by new cosmetological techniques.” 

Black had a second job in that a Harlem private detective agency needing a woman to follow husbands in divorce cases, hired Black for the task.


The stage show was both a song and dance routine. Black made his own gowns, but such was his reputation that Josephine Baker in Paris also sent some of hers.  Black's transformation took only 20 minutes, and his reputation was such that tourists to New York, even from Europe made efforts to catch his act.  He was a member of the Negro Actors Guild.

In 1963 a reform group called the Committee for Racial Pride protested the event, citing that drag and homosexuality were blights on the black community, the latter wrought by white people. Black nationalists also picketed the event, their signs posted with the slogan “Rear Admirals Stay downtown” and some of those who came to the ball were harassed. This lead Black to cancel the 1964 event. However that year Black appeared as himself, a stage performer, in an uncredited role in the film The Pawnbroker.

The 1965 event was also cancelled in that Black’s diabetes led to gangrene in his left leg and amputation.  However a prosthetic was fitted and the balls continued. While previously Black had done a song and dance act, now it was simply a song and joke act – in particular the high kicks he had been famous for were now not on.

The balls had lasted from the mid-1940s and, with only the two cancellations, continued until after Stonewall, until his death, and became the standard for the later voguing balls.

*Not the auctioneer, nor the fitness consultant.

·         “Robinson Disguised as Woman: At Least So New York Newspaper Declares in a Copyright Article, Hammond Times, October 15, 1935 (based on article in The Evening Journal, October 14, 1935).  Online.

·         Black, Phil. “I Live in Two Worlds.” Our World, October 1953: 19.

·         “Phil Black” in E Carlton Winford.  Femme Mimics.  Winford Company, 1954.  Online.

·         “Leslie Matthews Unlimited,” The New York Age, December 1, 1956, 4. 

·         ‘Luscious Limpwrist’. “ ‘Les Girls’ had a Ball at Rockland, Honey!” The New York Age, December 7, 1957, 4. 

·         “Phil Black Loses Leg.” New Pittsburgh Courier, 16 Oct, 1965, p. 1

·         “Phil Black’s Annual Valentine Ball!”  Female Impersonators, 2,1969 :12-7.  Online.

·         Tony Gild.  “Tripping the Light Fantastic at the Gay Funmakers Ball”.  National Insider. April 20, 1969.  Online.

·         Avery Willard. “In Memoriam Phil Black 1903-1975”.  Drag, 5, 20, 1975:22.  Online

·         “The Last of the Balls”. Drag, 6, 24, 1975 :10-18. Online.

·         Stephen P Knadler.  “White Dissolution: Homosexualization and Racial Masculinity in White Life Novels” in The Fugitive Race: Minority Writers Resisting Whiteness.  University Press of Mississippi, 2002: 161-3.

·         Jeffrey Callen.  “Gender Crossings: A Neglected History in African American Music” in Sheila Whiteley & Jennifer Rycenga (eds).  Queering the Popular Pitch.  Routledge, 2006: 191-3

·         Laura Grantmyre.  “’They lived their life and they didn't bother anybody’: African American Female Impersonators and Pittsburgh's Hill District, 1920-1960”.  American Quarterly, 63, 4, 2011.

·         Rebekkah Mulholland. Historical Erasure is Violence: The Lives and Experiences of Black Transgender Women and Gender Nonconforming Women of Color in the 19th and 20th Century.  PhD Thesis, University of Memphis, May 2020: 190-205.

·         Elyssa Maxx Goodman,  Glitter and Concrete: A Cultural History of Drag in New York City. Hanover Square Press, 2023: 62–64, 119, 122, 145.

Queer Music Heritage     

--------------

Phil Black is not listed as a notable person in the Wikipedia Sharpsburg page.

Gilda in the Hill District is not the same as Guilda in Montréal.  However both took their name from the 1946 film Gilda with Rita Hayworth. 

16 May 2024

Ajita Wilson (1950 – 1987) prolific actress

Original March 2007.


Wilson was born and raised in Brooklyn.

After a start as a transvestite entertainer in New York in the last remaining burlesque spectacles of the time, Wolson also posed for some adult magazines,

Around 1970, bankrolled by a rich boyfriend, said to be from Denmark, Ajita Wilson went to Europe, and had completion surgery. It is rumoured that she was featured in hardcore loops at this period – however such are not documented.

Her first non-porno film was Cesare Caneveri’s La Principessa Nuda,1976. in a leading role as Miriam Zamoto, an African princess on a fund-raising mission who encounters Italy’s La dolce vita. The film is a light Comedy/satire poking fun at celebrities and the so-called jet set. Suddenly Ajita Wilson was a star.

With an uncritical approach to scripts, Ajita was constantly employed throughout the 1970s, in both mainstream genre movies, and also in softcore and even hardcore porno. She was often top-billed.

She often played characters simply named ''Ajita''.

In 1978 she made a crossover into Euro-trash such as women-in-prison flicks, and a number of films directed by Jesus Franco.

There were suggestions that she was trans, but they were not taken too seriously. Some knew, other did not. She was frequently featured in European nudie magazines simply as a woman.

1981 was the year of her best-known film, Jesus Franco’s Sadomania, aka Hellhole Women, where Ajita plays the cruel lesbian prison warden who takes delight in the inmates’ suffering – who is named, for some reason, Magda Urtado (said to be the maiden name of Ajita’s real-life mother). In a confusing scene, director Franco, in the role of a gay brothel owner, is sodomized by Ajita, in a second role as a mustachioed man. 

That year she was featured in magazines: the Afro-American magazine Jet featured Ajita as their “Beauty of the Week”: 

“Beautiful Ajita Wilson from Rome is a movie actress in Europe”. 

She was also featured on the cover of Players Magazine and High Society.

She co-starred opposite trans singer/actress Eva Robin’s in Eva Man (1980) and El Regresso de Eva Man (1982). 


Another Jess Franco film, Macumba Sexual, has Ajita in the role of Princess Obongo, a voodoo princess returning from the dead and haunting a woman by using sexual hallucinations.

In the 1980s she starred again in women-in-prison films such as Hell Behind Bars, Hell Penitentiary and Savage Island (with Linda Blair from The Exorcist, an incoherent production using footage of two other movies from the 1980s).

By the mid-1980s Ajita’s career was declining. She was mainly in obscure Greek softcore films. Part of the decline was that softcore porn was being pushed out by US hardcore porn at this time, and the advent of VHS videos.

In 1986 she was arrested by the carabinieri in a brothel in Florence and tried to escape running naked through the street. In 1987 she died from the complications from a road accident.

The rumour that she was trans was more said after her death.

After Wilson's death, an interviewer for "Sinister Tales" asked director Carlos Aured to comment on speculation as to whether she was a transsexual. Aured simply replied, 

"She was charming, beautiful and very professional. The rest is not important.".

Alternate accounts:

There is an alternate story that says that she is Magda Urtado from Rio, but that is the name of her character in Sadomania – it is also supposedly her mother’s maiden name.

Jesus Franco suggested in the 2003 documentary Sadomaniac, that the mysterious star hailed from Ethiopia.

According the October 1981 edition of the American magazine Players (vol. 8, no. 5), she was born in 1951 in Flint, Michigan, the offspring of a Brazilian mother and a US father. In Marco Giusti's book Dizionario Dei Film Italiani Stracult, Sergio Bergonzelli, who directed her in “La Doppia Bocca di Erika”, said that “Ajita had been a firefighter in an American city".

  • “Ajita Wilson, mujer de la noche”. Interviu, 189, 27 diciembre 1979.
  • “Beauty of the Week: Roman Beauty”. Jet, August 20, 1981:43. Online.
  • “Ajita Wilson la veneren era”. High Society, Edizione Italiana, Settembre, 1981.
  • “Film Star: Ajita Wilson Goes Nude”. Players Magazine, 8, 5, October 1981.
  • Bob McCann. “Ajita Wilson” in Encyclopedia of African American Actresses in Film and Television. McFarland, 2009.
  • Monica Roberts. “Black Trans History-Ajita Wilson”. TransGriot, august 21, 2012. Online
  • “Before Laverne Cox there was Ajita Wilson”. Welkom, 8.sep, 2015.
  • Johnny Stanwick. “Created by Cinema: The Enigma of Ajita Wilson”. The Grindhouse Effect, Online
  • Matt Richardson. “Ajita Wilson: Blaxploitation, Sexploitation, and the Making of Black Womanhood” Transgender Studies Quarterly, 7, 2, May 2020. Also at edu.
  • Sierre B Holt. “Ajita Wilson’s Jet Set Style”. The Stylestorian, July 26, 2020. Online.
  • Rebekkah Mulholland. Historical Erasure is Violence: The Lives and Experiences of Black Transgender Women and Gender Nonconforming Women of Color in the 19th And 20th PhD thesis, The University of Memphis, May 2020: 28,38, 63, 69-71,73-4 . Online.

IMDB      EN.WIKIPEDIA       FINDAGRAVE      MySpace       Cult Sirens

La Principessa Nuda (aka The Nude Princess, 1976)
Gola Profonda Nera (aka Black Deep Throat, 1976)
Sylvia im Reich der Wollust (aka The Joy of Flying, 1977)
Candido Erotico (aka Copenhagen Nights/The Exhibitionists, 1977)
La Bravata (1977)
Nel Mirino di Black Afrodite (aka Black Aphrodite, 1978)
Le Notti Porno Nel Mondo nº 2 (1978)
L´Amour Chez Les Poids Lourds (aka Traveling Companions, 1978)
Proibito Erotico (1978)
La Pitoconejo (1979)
Pensione Amore Servizio Completo (1979)
Libidine (1979)
Femmine Infernali (aka Escape from Hell, 1979)
Eros Perversion (aka Twelfth Night, 1979)
Los Energéticos (1979)
Una Donna di Notte (1979)
Luca il Contrabbandiere (aka Contraband, 1980)
Orinoco-Prigioniere Del Sesso (aka Hotel Paradiso, 1980)
Evaman, La Máquina Del Amor (1980)
Erotiki Ekstassi (aka Love, Lust and Ecstasy, 1980)
Sadomania - Hölle der Lust (1981)
Erotiko Pathos (aka Blue Passion, 1981)
Apocalipsis Sexual (1982)
Catherine Chérie (1982)
Triferes... Gatoules (1982)
Bacanales Romanas (1982)
La Amante Ambiciosa (1982)
Macumba Sexual (1983)
Töchter Der Venus (1983, aka The Pussycat Syndrome)
Inferno Dietro Le Sbarre (aka Detenute Violente/Captive Women Hell: Hell Penitentiary/Hell Behind Bars, 1983)
La Doppia Bocca di Erika (aka Naked Wild Erections, 1983)
Anomali Erotes Sti Santorini (1983)
Corpi Nudi (aka Nude Strike, 1983)
Stin Athina Simera... Oles Ton Pernoun Fanera! (1984)
Ke To Proto Pinelo (1984)
Idones Sto Egeo (1984)
Savage Island (1985; re-uses scenes from 1979´s Femmine Infernali)
Bocca Bianca, Bocca Nera (aka Love Boat. 1987)
Joe D'Amato Totally Uncut (1999, stock footage)


------------



IMDB lists her as appearing almost 50 films. This compares with 6 for Aleshia Brevard, 26 for Eva Robin's, 28 for Holly Woodlawn, 79 for Bibi Anderson and 75 for Alexis Arquette. Most of Alexis' film were in her pre-op phase, so on the crude criteria of counting films Ajita is second only to Bibi as the major transsexual film star of that period.



08 May 2024

Annette/Sheldon (1931-1971) businessman, engineer

Sheldon was raised in Idaho, grew to 6’2’’ (1.88m) and served in the military as a Marine sergeant. Sheldon had been cross-dressing since early childhood, with an initial emphasis on shoes. He married but did not tell his bride, Gail, of his cross-dressing until two months afterwards. She did not understand, but allowed him to ‘dress-up’. He over-did it and Gail was afraid of friends finding out. So, Shelden quit doing so but fell into periods of deep depression – which led to Gail consulting the family doctor. 

The doctor called Sheldon in for a talk, and referred him to a psychiatrist in another city. This doctor advised that his feminine side not be pushed aside. Sheldon worked with his wife on finding a balance. She suggested the name Annette. Annette needed a place to go to, and they confided in two couples who were close friends and Annette was accepted – although they still referred to her as Sheldon and treated her as a man, even when they went to a restaurant as a foursome. Annette and her wife also went to costume dances and to movie theatres. 

On the psychiatrist’s advice Sheldon wrote to his mother, explaining his hobby and enclosing photographs. She wrote back "you do make a snappy looking gal", and remembered the child Sheldon in dresses.

This was only a few years after the 1955 “Boys of Boisie” homosexual scandal and witch hunt in the Idaho state capital, when adult men loving other adults were accused of paedophilia.

Sheldon was an engineer and business manager, and was appointed to a position in the Lewiston city council.

Annette sent an account of herself with photographs to Virginia Prince’s Transvestia newsletter. 

Transvestia #5 1960 featured its first cover girl. Potential cover girls were asked to supply several photographs and a personal history, and were requested to pay for their page of photographs. The first such was Annette of Idaho. A year later, issue #10 contained supportive letters from Sheldon’s wife and mother.

Word spread about Sheldon being Annette. He even passed around photographs of Annette at the city offices. Annette never passed himself off as a woman; on meeting strangers he always mentioned that he was a man. Some refused to believe it. Once at a party, a young man, making a play for Annette, had it confirmed again that Annette was a man and grabbed her wig in fury. Not a wise move against an ex-Marines sergeant.


In 1962 Donald Wollheim/Darrell Raynor, planning a business trip to the US Northwest, used the Transvestia mail forwarding system to contact Annette, and was duly invited to visit. Raynor flew to the Lewiston airport where he was picked up by Sheldon. Raynor described the home where Annette/Sheldon lived with Gail, two children and his mother: 

“Imagine then that on the outskirts of this town there suddenly rises one single hill, a hill that looms above the city and dominates it. Imagine that on top of this solitary hill, there is a grove of trees, the only such orchard to be seen for miles around. Within this grove of trees there is a ranch-type, sprawling house, surrounded by lawns, concealed from view by the encircling green arbors. This was Annette’s house, as perfect a home for a cross-dresser as can be imagined. Complete privacy, open air, beauty against the drabness and sereneness of the land.”

The next year, using his femme name of Doris, Raynor wrote an account of the visit for Transvestia. This first draft was reworked as Chapter 10 of Raynor’s 1968 book.

Sheldon, after much consideration, started his own business, including a car-wrecking yard. He also invented a mobile car crusher designed to pick up abandoned cars and compress them into a cube of scrap metal on the spot. 

Most years Annette invited members of Virginia Prince’s FPE and others to her home with an overflow to a local motel if needed. She spoke to the local police officials explaining what transvestism is and promising to be “the model of discrete behavior, conducting herself as a lady should and drawing no public attention to herself” (Maureen).

In 1968 Katherine Cummings and most of the Seattle Chapter went. Virginia drove up from Los Angeles. Cummings observed that Virginia managed to alienate most of the wives by telling them that she was just as female as they were. (Cummings: 185).

The 1970 event was written about by Virginia (Transvestia 62) and by Maureen (Transvestia 63).


Only a few months later, Sheldon died of a sudden heart attack at age 39. There were several fond rememberings in Transvestia # 68. 

1971 was also the year that a new Idaho criminal code repealed the anti-sodomy laws dating from 1864. However strong opposition from the Mormon and Catholic churches and Republican Party led to a reinstatement of the anti-sodomy laws just one year later.

  • “Miss Annette – Our COVER GIRL of the Month”. Transvestia, 1.5, 1960: Cover, 3-13. Online.
  • “My son is a Transvestite” and “My husband is a Transvestite”. Transvestia, 2,10, Aug 1961: 68-73. Online.
  • Darrell Raynor writing as Doris. “Visit to a Happy Man”. Transvestia 2, 20, 1963:32-4. Online.
  • Virginia Prince. “Travelling Saleslady”. Transvestia, 2,62, 1970 :65-6. Online.
  • Maureen. “Weekend Women”. Transvestia, 2, 63, 1970: 73-80. Online.
  • “In Memoriam”. Transvestia,2, 68, 1971 :26-31,
  • Darrell G Raynor. A Year Among the Girls. Lancer Books, 1968: Chp 10, 76-83.
  • Katherine Cummings. Katherine’s Diary: The Story of a Transsexual. Beaujon Press, Revised edition, 1993: 104-5, 185.
  • Robert S Hill. As a man I exist; as a woman I live’: Heterosexual Transvestism and the Contours of Gender and Sexuality in Postwar America. ‘PhD Thesis, University of Michigan 2007: 1-6, 9, 44, 92-3, 147n28, 238, 354-62.
  • Sophie McMahon. “Finding Annette: Uncovering Trans History in Idaho, 1950-70”. Outhistory, 2023. Online.

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McMahon makes no mention at all of the books by Cummings and Raynor nor the thesis by Hill that discuss Annette. She uses Raynor writing as Doris –but ignores Raynor’s book.

McMahon writes: “I try and picture Annette sitting cross legged at the kitchen table reading articles such as these that condemn homosexual life, and then taking off her long white dress and earrings and going out into the world as a man named Sheldon, knowing that she could likely face similar levels of anger and villainization if people knew about her secret life as a woman.” Surely this misses the point. Annette/Sheldon – remarkably – was by force of personality, social skills and self-confidence able to be semi-out as trans in the 1960s– even in the city council – in a state noted for its homophobia.

Darrell Raynor writing as D Rhodes in Turnabout #3 1964 contributed “Overs and Unders” in which he proposes two kinds of male heterosexual transvestites, of both of which he says: "The ‘Overs’ first fixate on shoes, the ‘Unders’ first fixate on under garments".  In this scheme Annette would be an ‘Over’, and was probably in his mind as he wrote.

The major book on the homosexual panic in 1955 Boise is John Gerassi’s The Boys of Boise: Furor, Vice and Folly in an American City, 1966, in which he proposes that the investigation began as a means for the wealthy elite of Boise to assert and maintain economic control of the city and the state. He asserts that a gay millionaire known as "The Queen" was the target of the probe, although he was never charged. This person is still anonymous almost 70 years later – “the name itself carries the name of one of the big huge families in America, entrepreneur families dating back a century”. Other men with less money, clout and access to lawyers were charged instead, some being sent to prison – one was given a life sentence. Collateral damage!!

Of course Annette/Sheldon – like Virginia Prince – maintained that transvestites were not homosexual. However this perception was not common in the general public or in most police forces.

30 April 2024

Pierre Vacher (1892-1990) doctor and sexologist

Vachet was raised in Givry, Saône-et-Loire, and qualified as Docteur en médecine, Paris, 1915. He later became the Director of the École de psychologie and editor of La Revue de psychologie appliquée.

Vachet and the German sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld were both active nudists and had first met when German and French nudist groups had joint meetings. It is most likely that it was from Vachet that Hirschfeld learned of the French practice of permissions de travestissement, which dates from November 1800 and continued through into the 20th century - and was also introduced to the French word travestissement which he rendered in German as Transvestismus, and travesti/e which he rendered as Transvestit(in).

In 1927 it was proposed to create a French section of the World League for Sexual Reform. The French branch was called Comité Pro Amore—Ligue de la Régénération Humaine, and was initially under Vachet.

In 1931 Vachet translated and likely edited (for there is no German original) an anthology of writings by Hirschfeld with a few by Felix Abraham, which we have already considered.

Two years later Vachet published Psychologie du Vice : Les Travestis.


Despite the suggestion of the title that Psychologie du Vice would be a series, no other books were published under that rubric.

Synopsis:

The page after the title page tells us: “Eight copies of this work were issued on pure wire velin lafuma, numbered pure wire velin 1 to 5 and i to iii; and sixteen copies on satined outhenin-chalender alfa, numbered alfa 1 to 10 and i to vi.”

Forward

“FOR a long time I have been proposing to publish a series of studies on the Psychology of Vice. Some of my previous works have already dealt with general insights into sexual life and its anomalies. Today I would like to use the material of my clinical observations in more fragmentary and detailed studies. The transvestites will inaugurate the gallery of obsessed and maniacal vice. 

The term ‘vice’, which in its vulgar use fits very well with the system of sexual anomalies, belongs both to the vocabulary of the moralist and to that of the doctor, the former judging and condemning according to social values, the latter limiting himself to explaining by the causes. Freudianism must be given credit for having stripped sexual immorality of that sacrilegious character which still inspired the best alienists of the last century, who had to deal with this subject, with the virtuous accents of bourgeois indignation.

In fact, it is not easy to determine where vice begins and ends, because the distinction between the normal and the abnormal, the natural and the artificial, cannot be a sufficient touchstone for human behaviour.

The origin of perversions is not always easy to determine. Obscure physiological actions may play a part, as in the tendency of the individual to play the role of the opposite sex, or to choose the object of his desire in the same sex as his own. Deficiencies or excesses of glandular secretions may lead to an insufficient differentiation of the morphological characters and instincts of a given sex. But it is in the imagination of the individual that the main source of these vices is to be found, in the attribution of the power of sexual excitation to objects, situations, behaviours, more or less artificially associated with the satisfaction of desire.”

PART ONE: STORY OF PIERRETTE


This is an extended (48 page) case study of one of Vachet’s patients, a 28-year-old with anxiety and despair. A university graduate with a male body and a job that required a male uniform, Pierrette’s one aspiration was to be free to live as female when not at work, and she knew of the sex-change operations that had already been done in Berlin and Vienna and wished for the same in France. Vachet sent for the parents, explained that the condition was harmless, and that their son’s depression and despair could be relieved. They agreed that he should have his own flat. 

“What strikes you first of all about Pierrette's mentality is the contrast between the embarrassment, the inhibition, the anxiety he feels under the male costume and the freedom, the euphoria, the ‘nerve’ that the wearing of female clothing assures him.” 

The operations were not available in France (although this was a couple of years after a Danish artist resident in Paris, Lili Elvenes, had gone to Dresden for such surgery). 

Pierrette was not gynephilic, nor would she consider sex with a man until she had the operation. She had first dressed as a girl for a party when 14, followed by parts in amateur theatre. From age 18 Pierrette explored costume balls and what other opportunities there were to present as female. In 1932 she approached Dr Vachet, although with a major caveat: 

“I have not come to ask you to ‘cure’ me but to help me. To accept the slightest attempt at healing, i.e. to return to my male nature, would be a crime against myself, a mortal sin. I feel like a woman before God, a woman in my soul, and this feeling is infinitely stronger than any reasoning.”

Part Two

This contains three chapters, on D’Éon, de Choisy and Victor Barker.  The first two, D’Eon and de Choisy have been retold many times, and Vachet’s retellings contain anecdotes that later and better researched accounts have debunked. Vachet writing in 1933 mainly summarises Barker’s sensational trial in 1929, with only a passing mention of the British Fascist Party (actually the splinter group, the National Fascisti), and of course nothing about what happened in later years.

Part Three: nature and psychology of transvestites

“Transvestism is one of the most curious sexual anomalies to study, and also the most difficult to explain. It seems that the same explanation is not valid for all cases, that the wearing of the garment of the other sex has different causes according to the individuals, that it constitutes a symptom whose value is essentially variable. I will try to untangle this skein as best I can.”

  1. “pseudo transvestites, those whose disguise is only a means of concealment or masquerade”. Some of these are criminal. Vachet gives an example: “It was a wartime deserter who had found it convenient, in order to escape danger, to pass himself off as killed in action and to lead a life under the guise of the female sex which he knew would never be exposed to the danger of the review boards”. The facts are slightly off but this could be Paul Grappe. For some of these, “it is linked to that well-known mentality which we call mythomania. These are individuals who are more or less unbalanced, fundamentally vain, always on the lookout for anything that might make them interesting, essentially fabulists, inventors of stories.” As an example of this Vacher suggests D’Éon.
  2. Homosexual transvestites. “In this case the justification of the instinct of transvestism is confused with that of the tendencies which push them to sexual passivity. But it is very remarkable that even in common homosexuality the taste for transvestism can be discerned as a mobile element, alien in its essence to pure homosexuality. There are homosexuals who enjoy transvestism, there are other homosexuals to whom transvestism is more or less indifferent. When the latter take on the clothing of the opposite sex, it is rather as an accessory.” Vachet gives a seven-page account (p147 – 153) of a gay female impersonator/trans woman whom he refers to as “comtesse de B…” who would seem to be Pauline Bergolet also known as Arthur W. and “la comtesse” although he does not mention her 1874 autobiography The Secret Confessions of a Parisian: The Countess, 1850-1871, which was published in 1895.

Vachet then discusses male-dressing lesbians. Some wear “mixed clothing”, for example “a short skirt and a male-cut blouse. The blouse has the characteristics of a man's shirt and is completed with a collar and tie”. He does not mention that this had been the height of fashion in the 1920s, nor does he name Radclyffe Hall as its most famous exemplar.

There are others who completely dress, work and marry as men. He gives a two-page account (p155-6) of “X …” who did so. Only once did X agree to marry a man – that lasted eight weeks.

Vachet then mentions cases from the newspapers or found in the book by Havelock Ellis: John Coulter, Murray Hall, “Catherine Coome”.

Vachet adds a footnote to this section: “Another Hirschfeld statistic on gay men's occupations is of interest in a transvestism study. Half of the male comedians who imitate women, and half of the women who play male comedians on stage are homosexuals and lesbians.”

  1. Fetish. Vachet gives several examples from Krafft-Ebing and Albert Moll of persons (all male) who are sexually aroused by certain items of clothing. “But transvestism can be just a special form of fetishism. For example, a man will dress as a woman in order to put on women's clothes in a more intimate relationship with his own body; to create the illusion of having a woman at hand, to draw his pleasure from a woman by drawing it from himself.”

“Hirschfeld tried to differentiate the transvestism of the fetishists from that of the automonosexuals, the latter being essentially individuals who find in themselves the object of their sexual desires, who like to contemplate themselves clothed or unclothed in mirrors (narcissism) and are therefore often inclined to transvestism and adorn themselves.”

  1. Heterosexual transvestites. Vachet gives several anecdotes about men whose affairs or marriages with women are complicated by their cross-dressing.
  2. False heterosexual transvestites: “transvestites who have married in some way by mistake, believing themselves capable of normal intercourse, or more often believing that they have found in marriage a remedy for a mania which may be bothering them in some way. These people usually divorce promptly and do not repeat the experience.” He also gives an example from Hirschfeld of a shoemaker who had married believing that this would cure his tendency. After 35 years and two adult daughters, at the age of 62, he felt that he must live full-time as female. This quickly led to divorce.
  3. Masochistic transvestites. These particularly like corsets, and as tight as possible. Vachet groups these with metatropists – role reversal, a feminine man with a masculine woman – regarding attraction to “strong, imposing women, especially authoritative ones” as a form of masochism. He also mentions cases of ‘involuntary suicide’ where either the corset was too tight or by autoerotic asphyxiation. 
  4. Pure forms of transvestism. [This resembles what was later called transsexuality]. “The wearing of the garment is only one element of a very curious overall psychological attitude. The subject feels completely alienated from his true sex. He experiences feelings, even sensations, peculiar to the other sex. He is not necessarily attracted to homosexuality; often he even abhors it. The case of Pierrette, which we reported at the beginning of this book, illustrates this anomaly perfectly.” (p182)

“Very often the transvestite begins by indulging in his mania in the secrecy of the flat, in the evening after work. Then, little by little, the idea imposes itself on him to go out in transvestism, to mingle under his disguise with public life. The transvestite does work corresponding to the sex he would like to have. The male transvestite does housework, cleans the flat, shops, cooks, sews, washes, mends clothes and even makes clothes for his transvestism. He embroiders, makes cushions and doilies. He likes music, has delicate tastes, abstains from smoking and drinking. On the contrary, the transvestite woman disdains housework, is fond of good food, drinks dry and smokes a lot, especially cigars and pipes. Housework is a real pleasure for the male transvestite, so he makes the most industrious and devoted servant. Hirschfeld states that in his Institute he frequently employed transvestites as housekeepers.” (p183)

He then gives some examples of trans men (women soldiers as Vachet calls them). Marie-Antoinette Lix/Michaël le Sombro who rallied the Polish troops in the 1863 rising against Russia. (p185-6); Antonio de Erauso, a nun who became a soldier in South America (p187-9).

He then gives a 20-page account (p191-210) of the doctor patient of Krafft-Ebing, actually Case 129, who married and had children, never transitioned but “observed in myself since my complete effeminacy” including “periodicity of monthly disorders” and “constant sensation of being a woman from head to foot”. This is followed by a 5-page account (p210-15), Krafft-Ebing’s Case 130, of a masculine woman, a tomboy who married at age 21, but remained indifferent to men. She submitted to marital duties and bore six children. At age 36, she suffered stroke and had to stay in bed for two years. Afterwards she found disgust in the femaleness of her body and her life, and her features became masculine, and finally she grew a beard.

  1. “Advanced transvestites always push to the extreme their desire to assimilate to the opposite sex. They regularly ask the doctor to remove the specific organs of their sex and, if possible, to create more or less approximate organs for the opposite sex. Women ask for the removal of their breasts and even more so for the suppression of the female function par excellence of menstruation; they want their ovaries removed or at least suppressed by radiotherapy. Men ask for castration, or the removal of the penis; often even the creation of an artificial vagina among the partitions of the perineum. Such operations have been performed in Germany, particularly at the Institute for Sexual Sciences which Magnus Hirschfeld founded in Berlin and which was recently destroyed from top to bottom under the impulse of Hitler's moralism and anti-Semitism. Hirschfeld repeatedly tried to justify his interventions by citing cases of suicide of transvestites who had been denied this sex change. Here are two observations, one relating to a man, the other to a woman, who underwent operations of this kind. These were homosexual transvestites.”

Vachet then tells two success stories (p216-9), those of Hirshfeld’s patient who worked as a maid in his Institute, Dorchen Richter, and of Gerd Katter, then only 23, but who had already obtained a double mastectomy and a Transvestitenschein.

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Vachet sums up (p223-232):

“Transvestism can be dissociated from other sexual anomalies, that it can even occur in its pure state outside of any erotic preoccupation in individuals who are above all concerned with leading a public life in the clothing and with the occupations of the other sex. What then is at the root of this singular anomaly? The various explanations that have been given by authors can be roughly reduced to two modalities.”

  1. “For some, Hirschfeld for example, the transvestite obeys a physiological determinism. He is a "constitutional". In favour of this explanation is the precocity of these manifestations. Also, in many cases, the transvestite presents some morphological characteristics which deviate from the template of his sex: proportions of the larynx and voice, skin texture, hair system, gracility or coarseness of the forms. It cannot be denied that in certain cases the transvestite represents an intermediate morphological type.”
  2. “… according to Havelock-Ellis, the transvestite is basically a heterosexual preoccupied with the desire for complete assimilation to the sex he loves and envies. For this explanation to be valid, the subject must manifest in some way his attraction to the opposite sex.”

“I think that the factors of transvestism are not simple. Various determinisms can interfere. A glandular physiological determinism is admissible in certain cases; but in other cases, psycho-pathological mechanisms must be considered.”

Vachet died at the age of 98.

*not the film director

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From a modern perspective this is an awkward text. Sometimes Vachet is helpful and supportive. At other times he repeats transphobic assumptions. His typology is not precise. In “7. Pure forms of transvestism” he appears to be giving examples of persons who would be regarded as transsexual if alive in later generations, including some who transitioned without the aid of 20th century science. But then he gives the two case studies from Krafft-Ebing of persons who made no attempt to live in their preferred gender.

I could not find any information about what happened to Pierrette after 1933.

Vachet gives no citations at all, and no bibliography.

I obtained the book via Abe Books.

Psychologie du Vice : Les Travestis was published 1 January 1934, which is why I refer to it as being written in 1933.

Vachet mentions the issuing of Transvestitenscheinen in Germany but surprising does not mention that France had been issuing permissions de travestissement since 1800, 110 years earlier.

  • Pierre Vachet (ed). Perversions sexuelles, d’après l’enseignement du docteur Magnus Hirschfeld, par son premier assistant le docteur Félix Abraham. Paris: François Aldor, 1931.
  • Pierre Vachet. Psychologie du Vice : Les Travestis. Éditions Bernard Grasset, 1934.
  • Sylvie Chaperon. “The Revival of Sexuality Studies in France in the Late 1950s”. in Gert Hekma & Alain Giami (eds). Sexual Revolutions. Palgrave Macmillan, 2014: 142
  • Gonzague de Larocque-Latour. “Girl or Boy? The French Birth of the Word Sexologie (1901-1912)”. In Alain Giami & Sharman Levinson (eds). Histories of Sexology: Between Science and Politics. Palgrave Macmillan, 2021: 200.

BnF