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27 February 2008

Flawless Sabrina, Rachel Harlow and 'The Queen'

In a way, this is a response to requests. Several times a week, readers are coming to this site having done a search for 'Rachel Harlow'. Previously all they have found here in a two line entry in my posting Transgender drag performers. There is no other web site that does a better job specifically on Rachel. Most of what is public knowledge about Rachel is with reference to the film, The Queen, 1968 - so let us widen the topic to the film and its participants.

Jack Doroshow (193? - ) Drag Name: Flawless Sabrina. Drag performer and organizer of pageants from Philadelphia. Through his company, The Nationals Academy, Jack organized 46 pageants a year from 1959-1967. As local laws almost always prohibited cross-dressing, he would meet with officials and propose a charitable donation, and in return the town would pass a variance to permit the pageant. Usually the town officials did not understand that local people would be performing. The 1967 finals held in New York was a much bigger affair. The Muscular Dystrophy Association was announced as the charity, and Lady Bird Johnson, the President’s wife, and Robert Kennedy were initially co-sponsors, but quickly dropped out as the nature of the event became clearer.

The event was filmed as The Queen, 1968, which was a sensation at the Cannes International Film Festival. On this basis Jack was hired as special advisor on Midnight Cowboy, 1969, and Myra Breckinridge, 1970. He played a gay mufti part in the thriller, The Anderson Tapes, 1971.

The 2002 short film, Between Two Worlds, is mainly about him, and he appears in the 2008 documentary about the transgender rock singer, Lisa Jackson.


Rachel Harlow (1948 - ). Born Richard Finocchio in Philadelphia, aka Rachel Billeboult. In 1967 Rachel was a very passable female impersonator, described as a 'natural wonder’, who always won the drag contests she entered, and she became briefly famous in the film, The Queen, 1968.

The contestants are shown chatting in their hotel rooms, discussing how they were not called in the draft, their boyfriends, why they would never have a sex change. Richard throws a fit because he does not have a suitable wig (although her own hair is quite feminine enough). The film includes shots of only Richard (as male as he gets) arriving and departing, and Richard, as Harlow on stage, gets longer and better-lit close-ups than the other contestants. She went to Cannes International Film Festival with the film and was a center of attention. David Bowie, in his androgynous phase, cited her influence.

She transitioned in 1972. In later years she was active running nights clubs, including Harlow’s at 22nd and Market, and in local television in Philadelphia.

For a long while that was all the public knowledge about Rachel. Then last year Wendy Leigh published her biography of Grace Kelly, and included two pages on Rachel, who had an affair with John B. Kelly, the brother of Grace, who would have married her if his mother had not threatened to disinherit him.

Crystal Labeija (? - ? ). Crystal was the other standout among the contestants in The Queen, under the title, Miss Manhattan. She threw a tantrum at the end after losing to Rachel Harlow.

She was the founder of the New York House of LaBeija in 1972, which in turn inspired others to declare Houses, sometimes named after themselves – e.g House of Corey after Dorian Corey, sometimes named after established fashion houses such as Chanel or St Laurent. Crystal Labeija is discussed, but does not appear in the 1990 film, Paris is Burning.

The young Billy Schumacher, who will later become the famous International Chrysis, and the young Kim Christy are in the chorus line, but are not identified.


kathy said...

Jack Kelly, Jr. (Priness Grace's brother) was also a city council member who ran for Mayor. He was an Olympic medal winner - one of the main roads here that follows the Schulkill River called - Kelly Drive - in honor of Kelly Jr.

Hi father was a gold medal winner in the same sport - crew. There is a statue in his honor along the road that bears his sons name.

Flawless Sabrina used to hold drag parties in a mansion in a NW part of Philadelphia & folks from Center City would rent buses to bring people out to them.

Philadelphia also has a tradition of Mummers going back many, many years. Gay/drag/trans folks were a part of that tradition and a very big part of the parade until the 80s? Sabrina was drag mother to Henri David - who has run the city's largest Halloween bash (with a huge drag pagent and attendence) for years. He owns a jewelery store called Halloween, which carries his own designs.

Gay & Lesbian Philadelphia by Thom Nickels has some wonderful photos. I think there's some references in the book to Jack Doroshow's pagents hiring up to 100 people around the coutry in its heyday.

I'm trying to contact both Ms. Harlow & Flawless Sabrina for a project along with the Delaware Vallet Legacy Fund - please conatct me if you can point me in the right direction.


Kathy Padilla,_Sr.

MrLopez said...

When referring to Rachel Harlow, what do you mean by "She transitioned in 1972."?? Transitioned?

Zagria said...

And what is your point. Are you claiming that she did not?

Davison Cavidge said...

Perhaps MrLopez thinks the expression is anachronistic. There was no "transition" in those days*. More to the point, Harlow was certainly living as a female by 1970. There was a big article on her in Philadelphia Magazine.

(*"Transition" is an expression from the internet era, when computer programmers would meet with HR and announce they were "transitioning" but intended to keep their jobs and basic identities.)

Zagria said...

The term transition dates at least back to the early 1980s. When FACT Toronto ceased, it was replaced by Transition Support.

Is the Philadelphia magazine article available online?

stephanie vomact said...

You can use google news archive search to pull up Some summaries,tll:1970,tlh:1979&ei=omPDS4igM4rANYf17L0K&oi=timeline_histogram_main&ct=timeline-histogram&cd=8&ved=0CHwQyQEoCA

Davison Cavidge said...

Re: Philadelphia Magazine online. I doubt any online archives go back that far. Perhaps someone in Phila could get a copy out of the stacks at the Free Library and scan it in?

MrLopez said...

Zagria - I never meant anything negative by my question. It's too bad that people always read messages on blogs, text messages, etc. in the negative :) I honestly did not know what the term "transitioned" meant with regard to Mme. Harlow, but I know now. Pardon my lack of knowledge! :) I am a gay man but not a transsexual, etc.

I have become a little obsessed with learning more about Mme. Harlow lately - I just purchased an issue of Allure from 1993 where she was interviewed. But where is she now? If she received sexual-reassignment surgery in 1972 then there is NO DOUBT that she is one of the mothers of ALL transsexuals (maybe not thee first, but one of them). More must be learned about her!

Now for a challenge - I am not very blog savvy, so I kindly ask if you could you please post a request for more information about her? She would be about 62 this year.

--Adam :)

Davison Cavidge said...

MrLopez--There is always going to be confusion about about "transition" means, so yours was a fair question. It's a term of relatively recent provenance and was not used back in the 60s or 70s. Here it seemed to refer to Harlow's sexchange surgery, but usually it means change of outward identity, which in her case happened earlier.

It's very hard to find information about Harlow. There was that 1970 Philadelphia magazine article I mentioned. I also recall that around Labor Day 1968 The Philadelphia Inquirer had an article about Richard Finocchio and the premiere of The Queen. If I get to Philadelphia soon I will see if I can find these pieces at the library, since now I'm intrigued myself. And as someone noted earlier, there are pictures and notes on her circa 1968 in Thom Nickels's book, viewable via GoogleBooks...

fobeeA said...

Where can i find this movie on DVD or to download?

Anonymous said...

I remember Rachel Harlow from the 70s, when she owned a club in Atlantic City - as a kid I worked at the Caribe Motel in the summer where Rachel stayed with her entourage. She was beyond beautiful and loved the party scene. The last I heard she was working in a department store in Philadelphia and divorced her husband. What an interesting life.

David M said...

What ever happened to Crystal Labeija? I heard she died is this true?

Michael said...

Iworked in the early 70's. I knew Rachel quite well. I'm straight but Rachel was absolutely beautiful. I knew every owner of the gay bars in A.C. and Rachel did not own a gay bar or any other for that matter.

sooolastseason said...

How I can get hold of a copy of "the queen 1968 by frank simon"

joey josephs said...

She owned a club in the 80s called Harlows

Gina said...

There is this article from 1989, which talks about her marriage, the french restaurant she opened with her chef husband, feeling burnt out on the 'gay scene' and her wish to disappear from the spotlight (although I imagine she did this interview to drum up business. It's still 23 years ago, but it does update her from the 70s. The only later mention of her was attending a showing of "The Queen" in New York in the 90s. She made a huge impact on me seeing her as a repeat guest on the Mike Douglas and Lou Gordon talk shows. While I was probably intimidated by how beautiful she was, I remember feeling extremely connected to what she was talking about. And I remember seeing a showing of The Queen shortly after I turned 18 (it was, bizarrely, an X-rated film even though it had no nudity, violence and really, no profanity?!?

Indiscresiones de una cualquiera said...

From male to female ...

294a1594-c33e-11e4-aa4d-972c60303d4f said...

I'm pretty confident she did bow out of the limelight. An aquantince of mine knows her, but won't say where exactly she is living. But she is not in the city anymore. If I understand correctly.

Yolandia Tempest said...

Certainly not one of the first. Christine Jorgensen physically transitioned in 1951 in America, and there were trans women who had similar operations in the early 20th century. Rachel Harlow may be the first example of a prominent drag queen transitioning, however I doubt that is true either. She happened to be in a movie financed by Andy Warhol that premiered at Cannes, but she was not a trans pioneer. Rather her runner up in the competition, Crystal Labeija of the House of Labeija was a pioneer, role model, and activist for queer and trans youth during the height of the Ballroom scene and the Aids crisis. Crystal is heavily featured in the documentary Paris Is Burning, made 20 years later, and much more accessible to the general public.