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23 October 2010

Gloria Swanson (189? - ?) performer.

Mr Winston took the name of a Hollywood Star and as Gloria Swanson became a drag star who won several prizes in Chicago’s drag balls in the 1920s.

In 1928 she was hostess at the Book Store, a speakeasy which which became popular as it was known that she was a permanent fixture. She was a creature of the night, breakfasting in the evening and dining at dawn. She wore mainly evening gowns, was rarely in street clothing, and almost never in male attire. She was plump, jolly and bawdy, and also a good cook. She was completely accepted by the underworld and bohemian types who came to her club. The Book Store was protected by a major gangster until they had a jealousy row and Gloria almost wreaked the joint. After that the man withdrew his protection, and the police began raiding the club.

So in 1930 Gloria moved to New York, and quickly became the hostess at a popular cellar club on 134th Street. She sang bawdy parodies, and danced a little, and was always well-dressed in evening gowns. Apart from those in the know, many of her clients never suspected that she was not a woman.

This lasted until Fiorello La Guardia became mayor of New York in 1934 and as part of his reforms had the police stamp out the pansy subculture. Gloria's admirers failed to recognize her now that she was forced into male attire. She also became ill, and had to withdraw from public life altogether.

  • George Chauncey. Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940. New York: Basic Books 1994: 251.
  • Richard Bruce Nugent edited by Thomas Wirth. Gay Rebel of the Harlem Renaissance: Selections from the Work of Richard Bruce Nugen. Duke University Press. 2002: 221-2. Section on Gloria Swanson online at:

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