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12 August 2010

International Chrysis (1951 – 1990) performer.

Revised January 2014.

Billy Schumacher was raised in Brooklyn. A performer noted for her beauty, Billy became Chrysis from the age of twelve, and was soon entering pageants and performing. She took up with Kim Christy. They shared an apartment in Manahattan below Houston Street. They met sex magazine pioneer and editor of Exotique magazine, Lenny Burtman, who arranged photo-shoots and other favors. Chrysis and Kim appeared together in Female Mimics.  They had uncredited mufti cameos in the chorus line of the film, The Queen, 1968.

By the mid-70s Chrysis was a drag celebrity, and had performed at the Jewel Box Review and other major venues, including in Europe, especially Berlin and she was a long-time friend of Salvador Dali.   In 1976 she was on the cover of Whitehouse, the UK magazine named antagonistically after the anti-porn crusader. Despite the claim on the cover that "This Woman is a Man", that was the first time that an out trans woman was on a magazine cover.

In 1982 she was the woman in the Van Halen video to their cover of "(Oh) Pretty Woman".  She reveals herself herself as a non-standard women by taking off her wig.  It played a few times on MTV but was pulled after complaints about the non-consensual fondling by little people.



Many accounts mention that she was a sexual top with the New Jersey college boys that she liked to pick up.

She headlined in Jesus Chrysis Superstar and The Last temptation of Chrysis. She was in the drag acting troupe, Hot Peaches, was to be found at the Pyramid Club and performed at Wigstock.

Her best-known movie role was as a witness to be eliminated in Q & A, which was released in 1990, a month after she died, at age 39, from cancer caused by the seepage of silicon from her breasts. Her friend, the singer Pete Burns, named one of his groups, International Chrysis, after her.

The documentary Split was actually proposed by Chrysis herself, but not completed until after her death.

*Not the powerboat racer.
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Jim Beaux' article contains: "Kim Christy's commentary points out that when she was in hospital dying, she hated the fact that the staff used her male name. She had a couple of roles where she portrayed a woman, who at the end would pull her hair off to reveal a man, and she disliked the endings both times."   This raises the question: what was her female name, as opposed to her performance name?  As with Sir Lady Java, we have a male name and a performance name.  But the female name, the one that was presumably on her driving licence and tax return, that is, her real name, remains unknown.

6 comments:

Gina said...

I first saw Chrysis in a photo book from the 1970s called "The Queens" (forget the name of the photographer). When I moved to New York in 1980, I ran into her a number of times at The Pyramid Club, Danceteria, Thompson St. (where she lived) and on Avenue A. She was an extremely sweet, friendly person albeit sometimes very defensive (she'd been through a lot). She was also in La Cage Aux Folles on Broadway.

I'm not sure how true that 'fact' about her getting cancer from leaking silicone is (there is a lot of misinformation about her in "Split") but she had been "pumped" and had some problems with granulomas.

She was a magical performer. I wish there were videos of her doing her striptease act, which was amazing and looked like classic striptease from the 1940s. Contemporary neo-burlesque performers could only dream about having 1/10th the magnetism, classiness and sex appeal Chrysis did. To call her a drag queen is altogether offensive. She never acted like one. I last saw her about a year before her death (I didn't even know she'd died until several years after I left NYC). Absolutely a one-of-a-kind woman and performer.

DanceMan4Ever said...

I had the pleasure of performing in a Broadway show with Chrysis in 1989. Chrysis (in one segment of the show) played the role of Tina Turner as the “Acid Queen.” She was truly an amazing person. We had so much fun in the show, and she was indeed phenomenal. I was very saddened to hear of her passing in 1990, which I was informed was a massive heart attack. As I was reminiscing about the 1980’s, I came across Chrysis in a vogue contest/youtube video … which then led me to this website. I can’t believe that was 25 years ago! I wish I would have met Chrysis before the show in 1989 when she was doing her club acts. She was remarkable! Thank you Chrysis! :) 

Zagria said...

There are two comments of interest on Amazon for the VHS tape, now DVD, by Ellen Fisher Turk:

A Lovng Spirit By A Customer on June 4, 2002:
Many of the statements made in this film were incorrect. The statements about her sex life were way off, and it is sad when people pretend to know something so they can hear themselves speak. I know what she liked because I was her lover, but her sex life - whether she was aggressive or not, top,bottom, loved her dck or not etc. is not something that should have been a topic anyway. Secondly, to portray Chrysis as some mythlogical half man half woman was not who Chrysis was. She saw herelf as a gay man, and I know that because she told me so late one night in bed with tears running from her face. She suffered with her early decision to transform many times and had said she should have just been a gay man. She learned to live with it. But in the 80's she wore her hair very short and dressed androgynis except when she was going "in drag" as she referred to it. Chrysis and I shared vey tender moments together, and what the film did capture correctly was that she was a warm and loving spirit. As far as the film itself goes, it looked more like a student film. its O.K., but I only enjoyed seeing Chrysis again.

Douglas Glenn Brown says:
I agree with your comments, though my perspective comes from another angle: I was not Chrysis' lover, but more like her kid -- one of many she 'adopted' actually, and without whom I would have wound up truly homeless and dead. Two of the individuals interviewed -- Ann and Bobby -- I met once or twice, and each,more or less, make accurate statements. But the gentlemen with shaved head, who I do not know (no surprise since I was not exposed to Chrysis' entire world, so to speak) presents as facts notions about her sexuality that are at odds with what I knew of her from staying with her in the mid '80s. Sexually, she could be many things, not just a dominating top, and she did see herself as a gay man -- which was always apparent via her witty humor and wisecracking but tender advice to me. She was so damn funny and so intuitive about life and people. Also, she was born in Brooklyn, and then moved to the Bronx with her family. And, as a child, she was known as Billy, never Willy, least of all, 'Willy from the Bronx.' And in any case, she was Chrysis from an early age and that was that. I will never, ever be able to erase from my mind her manner of speaking -- the way her lips pressed against her teeth. The film was completed after Chrysis passed on, and the filmmaker, eager to capitalize on the success of Jenny Livingston's 'Paris is Burning,' rushed the film to the can with uncredited interviews (any good film director caption-credits those interviewed, to contextualize relationships)... Chrysis talked about a film of her life for several years, and by the time filming began, I had moved on to a real job and the beginnings of a real life, thanks to Chrysis and some other motherly queens. But the majority of the film is comprised of anecdotes from friends of her 'Hot Peaches' days, with very little 'Chrysis' to be found. For instance, little is referenced of her life in the '80s -- work with musicians, time in L.A. (I was there for that), film work, etc. Just pathetic. Like commenter 'A Loving Spirit,' I found the film unworthy of 'documentary' status, but enjoy seeing Chrysis in every frame she appears.

Zagria said...

Brianna Austin, on her website, in a 2001 essay,
"Becoming a Woman"
says:

"In 1985 I had a dear friend known as International Chrysis (see photo left). She was tall, feminine and beautiful -- ala Rita Hayworth. She was a bombshell who was very comfortable in her gay sexual orientation, unlike many cross dressers who have internal struggles over whether they're gay, BI or heterosexual. She had started hormones at the age of 16 and in her 30s -- with an hourglass figure and 38-C breasts -- at times would question her decision.

I spent many nights with her as she cried saying “what have I done, I am a monster.” When I asked what she meant she said, “I should have just been a gay man.” I was stunned. How could this be? She was beautiful, feminine and had no question about her sexuality. She was a natural candidate to be TS, yet still had internal conflicts.

People assume that everybody fits into a clear mold based on certain factors, I certainly did. Chrysis struggled with life as a woman spending most of her time androgynous in her hairstyle and clothing. Only during a night out, or doing a show did portray the illusion of a woman, yet always referred to her makeup and wig as drag. “Let me get out of this drag” she would say at the end of the night."

TONYBOY69 said...

One of the first and still a LEGEND!

kenneth martin said...

"Billy" befriended me at a gay-friendly restaurant in NYC (1966) - he talked me into walking with him to meet his JOHN who was helping fund Billy's transformation. several months later I assume he was hospitalized (mental) because in Greenwich Village there was graffiti around "FREE CHRISIS".