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13 April 2009

Sonne Teal (193? - 1966) impersonator.

Spencer Teal was born in Canada, and then moved to North Dakota with his parents. He studied with a modern ballet group, and after college taught for a year in an art institute in North Dakota.

As Sonne, he then joined a female impersonation revue, before performing at the 82 Club in New York. There he was seen by the choreographer of Le Carrousel, who was appearing in New York, and was offered a contract to work in Paris with Bambi. This lead to two years at the Casino de Paris, and a European tour.

He was in one film, La Poupée (The Doll), 1962, in which he plays the dictator’s wife and also her robot double. Apparently the director, Jacques Baratier, did not realize Sonne's off-stage gender before casting.

He died on a Japanese tour, with four other members of Le Carrousel, in a freak accident flying over Mount Fujiyama.


++Diane et les sexe des anges gives the names of Sonne's colleagues on the flight as Christina, Coco,  Kismie and Cobra.

Avery Willard tells us that Jacques Baratier was parviscient, that he did not twig that Teal was a female impersonator. However look at page 178-9 (here) of Film Theory, 2004, by Philip Simpson, Andrew Utteron & Karen Sheperdson, where Parker Tyler in an essay "Mother Superior of the Faggots and some rival queens" says:
In two French films. La Poupée and Sweet and Low, the basic homosexual is seen in quite disjunct charades. The former, a heavy-fantasy farce, had a well-known female impersonator, Sonne Teal, playing a professional who doubles as a theatrical producer's wife. Here was someone with a high degree of impersonator talent who yet left his male identity tangibly visible. It seems as if the plot's inner dimension (the impersonation of a real female by a professional impersonator bent on deception) meant to ratify a oblique tour de force the overt tour de force of the nightclub act. Mr Teal had enough sheer acting talent to make his complicated film stint amusing. Bear in mind that there is no serious effort in such cases to make the sex impersonation more than a meaningful, though perhaps ambiguous illusion.


  1. Anonymous12/1/10 17:08


    Sone Teal died at 5th March 1966 with the flight 911 to Hong Kong a few minutes after take off.

    Best wishes

    For more informations:

  2. Cinephile15/3/10 17:45

    'La Poupee' was shown at the Cinematheque, Paris, last week after many years off the screens. I remembered seeing Sonne Teal in the film in the sixties and his performance was just as striking as in my memory. But I do not think anyone seeing him in the film could have taken him for an actual woman, and I am sure that Jacques Baratier did not: not least because Teal was a famous cabaret performer in Paris at the time. and allowed backstage photographs of himself to appear in magazines, in male dress and putting on his make-up.
    I had always wondered what happened to him and was very sorry to hear that he had died so young.
    Baratier's daughter spoke at the showing and said that his friends were hoping to digitise the film and issue it as a DVD if they can raise the money.

  3. The first trivia item in IMDB for the James Bond Film, You Only Live Twice, 1967, is "While scouting locations in Japan, the chief production team narrowly escaped death. On March 5, 1966, Producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, Director Lewis Gilbert, Cinematographer Freddie Young, and Production Designer Ken Adam were booked to leave Japan on BOAC flight 911 departing Tokyo for Hong Kong and London. Two hours before their Boeing 707 flight departed, the team were invited to an unexpected ninja demonstration, and so missed their plane. Their flight took off as scheduled, and twenty-five minutes after take-off, the plane disintegrated over Mt. Fuji, killing all aboard. The incident lent an unsettling reality to the meaning of "You Only Live Twice". So was this the same flight on which Sonne Teal Died?

    The BBC On This Day for 5 March 1966 contains: "This was the third American-built aircraft to crash in the area in about a month. Early in February, a Japanese Boeing 727 crashed in Tokyo bay, with the loss of 133 lives. And less than 24 hours ago a DC-8 of Canadian Pacific Airlines crashed on landing at Tokyo killing all 64 people on board."

    Diane et les sexe des anges gives the death date of Sonne Teal as 4 February 1966 - so therefore the first of the three crashes.

  4. Eric Lindsay in his Blog for 1 May 2013 writes:

    "On the 3rd of March we received a postcard from Sonne telling us that the show in Tokyo was a big success and that he would be back in London in two weeks.  The following day on the B.B.C. we heard that a BOAC passenger jet had crashed into Mount Fuji 25 minutes after taking off from Tokyo, killing all 124 people on board. We were shocked at the tragedy but thought, “Thank God Sonne wasn’t on board.” But we had forgotten that the postcard took about two weeks to be delivered. Two days later Bruce Cartwright, who was Sonne’s partner, rang us from Paris to say that Sonne had been on the plane. Ray and I were devastated."

  5. Hi, according to this (relatively fresh) article Sonne was a trans woman on HRT. It's not unlikely that had the accident not occured, she could've sought a surgery and "official" transition recognition like several other Le Carrousel performers.

  6. La Poupee is on Youtube:


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