It does seem that he was in England in 1913 and managed to get small roles in shows in Music Hall. He returned to the US in 1917, and began using the name Ray or Rae Bourbon. He married for the first time, and a son was born in 1918.
Ray may have won a Photoplay contest resulting in work at a Hollywood studio. He had cameos in a variety of silent films, including as the stuntman for Estelle Taylor and a stand in for Clara Bow. He has been identified in some of the Rudolph Valentino pictures, and played an old woman in Pola Negri’s Bella Donna, 1923. As Ramon Icarez he was a ‘fire dancer’ at the opening of the Los Angeles Coliseum in 1923.
In the mid-1920s he was working with Bert Sherry and later toured with the Martin Sisters. By 1932 he was working fulltime as a female impersonator. His performance at Tait’s in San Francisco in 1933 was being broadcast live when the club was raided by the police. He was one of the big names of the Pansy Craze of the last years of Prohibition. He had a small role as a dancer in the film Golddiggers of 1937. He worked at Finocchio’s drag nightclub in San Francisco, and with Mae West in her shows Catherine was Great, 1944, and Diamond Lil, 1948.
|After arraignment, 1956 Beverly Hills|
Rae was also charged with female impersonation in Seattle, El Paso and New Orleans in the next few years. However in Miami she was arrested for impersonating a man.
In the mid-1960s he toured with the Jewel Box Revue. He released dozens of LPs, probably more than any other female impersonator. He toured more than other female impersonators, and for many gay men in the US at that time, Ray Bourbon was the only drag act that they ever saw.
In 1967 his car caught fire in Texas. Rae saved his dogs, and lodged them with Blount’s Pat-A-Zoo. Rae couldn’t pay the bill and A.D. Blount sold them for medical research. Rae was upset by this and wrote to the Governor of Texas and the newspapers about it. In December 1968, two young acquaintances drove Rae’s car to Texas using his money, and, while roughing him up, one of them killed Blount. The two young men were convicted of murder with malice, and Rae, accused of paying the men to kill Blount, was convicted of accomplice to murder. Rae was 75 and in ill health: he had a serious heart attack while awaiting trial. He was sentenced to 99 years in prison.
He accidentally escaped once when a door was left open, but merely went to sleep around the corner. He obtained a typewriter from his lawyer, and started writing his memoirs. He wrote 300 pages before dying of leukemia complicated by a heart condition.
He was married twice to women, and fathered a son. He had both male and female lovers, and was said to fancy young men, but never referred to himself as gay or bisexual.
- “Female Impersonator Gets Sex Operation in Juarez”. El Paso Herald-Post. May 23, 1956. Online at: www.queermusicheritage.us/drag-bourbon3.html.
- George Capozi Jr. ‘Female Impersonator Needn’t Fake Again – Says Surgery Made Him a Her’. New York Journal America. May 28, 1956. On the back of the LP sleeve to Let Me Tell You About My Operation. Online at www.coolcatdaddy.com/bourbon-doc-operat-ja.jpg.
- Rob Cole. “Death in prison for the queen of them all”. The Advocate. November 11-24, 1970. Online at: www.queermusicheritage.us/drag-bourbon6.html.
- “Jail ‘escape’ bitter irony; Bourbon wishes he’d been shot”. The Advocate. Dec 23-jan5, 1971. Online at: www.queermusicheritage.us/drag-bourbon6.html.
- “Rae Bourbon dead of leukemia at 78”. The Advocate. August 18-31, 1971. Online at: http://www.queermusicheritage.us/drag-bourbon6.html.
- Dick Leitsch. “The Life of Rae Bourbon: ‘One Man’s Meat is Another Man’s Cigar!’ “. Gay. September 13, 1971.
- Rae Bourbon. The Autobiography. Unpublished. 300 pp 1971. Summary at: www.coolcatdaddy.com/bourbon-autobiography.html.
- Don Romesburg. Ray Bourbon : a queer sort of biography. PhD University of Colorado. 2000.
- Randy A. Riddle. Don't Call Me Madam: The Life And Work Of Ray Bourbon. www.coolcatdaddy.com/bourbon.html. Includes discography, and a list of possible films.
- Joanne Meyerowitz. How Sex Changed: A History of Transsexuality in the United States. Cambridge, Ma, London: Harvard University Press. 363 pp 2002: 86, 89.
- “Ray Bourbon” in “Pansy Craze”. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pansy_Craze#Ray_Bourbon.