Modesto Mangas Mateos was born the youngest of three in Villavieja de
, Salamanca, Castile y León. When he was 12 the family moved to
Madrid, where he worked in a café. The customers were unsure whether he was a
boy or a girl.
Sonrisas de España, a travelling company that took song and dance to Spanish
villages, played in the café, heard him singing and invited him to join. He
dressed as a man but was often taken as a woman. His mother begged him to stop,
and also the Civil War started.
After the war he worked as valet for seven years to the Minister of the
Interior, Blas Pérez
. Pérez was apparently not aware of Modesto's past as a
singer-dancer, but his wife and children were, and encouraged Perez to choose
Modesto. Pérez took his entourage to Barcelona, and rented a villa there. A
conflict at work triggered resignation, and Modesto rejoined show business.
He started as a presenter at the cabaret Cambrinus. Soon he was performing as
a woman, bravely dodging censorship, the only female impersonator in Fascist
Spain. He took the name Madame Arthur from the new exciting nightclub
. The show was a great success with aristocrats and bankers who came
from across Spain. A show like this was unthinkable in Madrid. Madame Arthur
sang, danced and mingled with the audience. He moved on to other Barcelona
Federico Fellini, the Italian film director, came in 1959 for the Barcelona
film awards where his film, which had already been recognised at the
Cannes Festival and at the Academy Awards, won further. Madame Arthur dedicated
a song to Fellini's winner, Nights of Cabiria
and he came backstage to visit.
Madam Arthur organised Incognito, a company of 30 men dressed en femme, and
However he was stopped one Christmas Eve while walking in costume to another
club. He was charged under the Ley de Vagos y
(Vagrancy Law) with disorderly conduct by being drunk and Modesto
was three months in the Burgos prison.
Nevertheless the Caudillo Francisco Franco himself presented Modesto with the
Medalla del Mérito al Trabajo (Meritorious Work Medal) – Modesto turned up for
the ceremony in jewellery and furs.
In 1962 Modesto had a small part in the Italian film, Totò di Notte n. 1
, as a transvestite.
Madame Arthur continued performing beyond the death of Franco in 1972, and
into the more liberal age that followed. He sometimes stayed in role off stage
and worked out details of what would be Madame Arthur's family life.
While a pioneer, and as openly gay as it possible to be under the Franco
dictatorship, he had difficulty adjusting to the new generation that grew up
after the Franco years. He found them ostentatious and did not understand the
request for gay marriage, hormones and transgender surgery. He described himself
to El Pais
in 1983 as a Catholic and rather conservative.
He had also become a Barcelonian. He declined invitations to perform or to
open cabarets in Madrid. In 1981, Modesto, as Madame Arthur, returned to
Villavieja de Yeltes to a reception in his honour.
Other than that, he never
returned to Salamanca.
He died at age 77.
Pierrot, the Spanish writer, featured Madame Arthur in his 2006 book,
Memorias Trans: Transexuales, Travestis, Transformistas,
inspired Eduardo Gion to make his 2011 documentary.
Maria Amendola (dir) Totò di
Notte n. 1, with Totò as Nini, Erminio Macario as Mimi and Madame Arthur.
Italy 100 mins 1962. IMDB
Lluis Bassets. “Madame Arthur aún no puede retirarse”. El Pais, 9 de
junio de 1983. http://elpais.com/diario/1983/06/09/ultima/423957602_850215.html.
Isabel Olesti. “LA CRÓNICA Adiós a Madame Arthur”. El Pais, 1 de marzo
de 2000. http://elpais.com/diario/2000/03/01/catalunya/951876441_850215.html.
Fernando Olmeda Nicolas. El Latigo y la pluma: Homosexuales En La Espana
De Franco. Oberon, 2004: GoogleBooks
Pierrot. “Memorias del Espectáculo: Memorias Trans: Carmen De Mairena, Madame
Arthur, Gilda Love, Sandra Salome”. Web Carla Antonelli. www.carlaantonelli.com/pierrot_memorias_de_espectaculo_8.htm.
Pierrot. Memorias Trans:
Transexuales, Travestis, Transformistas. Morales i torres, 2006: GoogleBooks
Eduardo Gion (dir). Madame Arthur, with Modesto Mangas. Spain 2011. WebPage
“Una exposición y la presentación de la película en VillaVieja”. El
Reportaje, 24 de abril de 2011. Online at: http://madamearthureldocumental.blogspot.ca.
Armaris Oberts. “Madame Arthur, La Reina Del Paral.Lel”. L'Armari
Obert, 15 d'octubre de 2011. http://leopoldest.blogspot.ca/2011/10/madame-arthur-la-reina-del-parallel.html.
Despite the 1981 reception, Modesto Mangas is not included among the Villaviejenses
on the ES.Wikipedia page for Villavieja de Yeltes.
does not tell us which Interior Minister Modesto was valet to.
Armaris Oberts opts for Camilo Alonso Vega
who was Interior Minister 1957-69 and notoriously supervised the concentration
. However I opt for his predecesor Blas Pérez
who was Interior Minister 1942 – 57. The El Pais article does say
“nos situamos en los años cuarenta (we are in the 1940s)” re being a valet, and
Modesto has to complete seven years and still be in Barcelona to meet Federico
Fellini in 1959. Pérez was later charged with crimes against humanity.