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29 July 2018

Jackie Starr (1912 – 1986) performer

Jack Starr grew up on a farm in the US Midwest. His parents encouraged his desire to be an actor, and he studied voice, acting and classical ballet. His elder sister was dressing him in female clothing from age five.

By the age of 14 he was doing drag in mob-controlled speakeasies in Chicago: both solo and in the line of chorines. He played the drag circuit in the 1930s, and did a tour of South America, and of Europe. Jackie met a Prince who wanted to take her home.
“I was tempted but I’m glad I didn’t because he was killed in a coup and I’d have been killed too.”
In Washington DC Jackie went out with senators. Later she moved to Greenwich Village, and tried acting and singing. She also did ballet, both as male and as female. She was one of only a few men in the US who could dance en pointe. She was a fill-in for the noted stripper Gypsy Rose Lee, and she also danced as a Rockette at the Radio City Music Hall (and was also married briefly to another Rockette).

In the late 1930s, Starr was one of the first artists to join the Jewel Box Review. Starr was one of only a few Jewel Box Revue artists to be dating a woman. He married a second woman, and they had a child.

Starr was in the merchant marine during WWII.

Jackie on the cover 
When the Garden of Allah in Seattle opened in late 1946, Starr was quickly signed up as the headliner. By this time Starr was in her mid-30s, and was regarded as past her peak, although she gave class to the show. She stayed for the full ten years of the club’s existence. She could make a striptease last twenty minutes, finishing in a g-string. Walter Winchel, the syndicated columnist called Jackie "the most beautiful man in America".

Bill Scott and his wife, known as Sister Faye, were street preachers, although most donations to their mission went to Faye’s heroin habit. Bill was devastated when she left town without him (she later died in a car accident, while high). Bill was both bisexual and homophobic, and also worked as a trucker.

He was in recoil from a sex-only affair with a gay man, when he found himself in the Garden of Allah and Jackie was on stage. They married. They had a formal wedding and reception, in the home of a friend who played the part of a minister. Performer Skippy LaRue was the maid of honor and a lesbian the best man. They partied till 9am, and afterwards the couple had a big fight.

However the marriage persisted. Jackie, as the woman, ran their daily affairs and the apartment, however sexually she was the top.
Jackie & Bill's wedding

Later Scott also married a woman who was supposed to inherit, with the idea of spending the money on Jackie. The inheritance never happened, and the second wife died. Scott moved back in with Jackie, and they ran a restaurant together.

Towards the end Scott had to have both legs amputated, and Jackie took care of him till he died in the late 1960s.

Jackie lived the last ten years of her life in a mobile home near the Seattle-Tacoma airport. She was as meticulous as ever in her appearance, and when she and her friends went to the Golden Crown drag bar in Seattle, the younger generation of drag performers would crowd around.

She died age 74.

  • Don Paulson & and Roger Simpson. An Evening at the Garden of Allah: A Gay Cabaret in Seattle. Columbia University Press, 1996: 151-163.
  • Mara Dauphin. “ ‘A Bit of Woman in Every Man’: Creating Queer Community in Female Impersonation”. Valley Humanities Review, Spring 2012. PDF.

Jackie Starr was a pre-eminent female impersonator 1930s-1950s, and yet there is - until now - no web page for her.  Queer Musical Heritage has a page but it only reproduces a few show bills; Lawrence Senelick's The Changing Room says not a word about her; likewise F Michael Moore's Drag! Male and Female Impersonators on Stage, Screen and Television.  

1 comment:

  1. Following correspondence from a family member, I have corrected Jackie's birth year to 1912 and death to 1986.


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