You know the type. She’s operatic, over the top, demanding, not to mention glamorous. And if she had a penis, well, she would be the exact same person, just with a teensy-weensy bit more makeup. Shes the bitch you love to hate, not even because shes trying to potentially kill you or ruin your career, but because she always looks so fucking ferosh. She appears in everything from folklore, novels, soap operas, hell, even the opera, but she stands the strongest in film. Film history is bountiful with Female, Female Impersonators. Here are the six best Queens on the scene, and don’t you forget it.
6. Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen) in Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
Its the greatest movie musical ever made, and has one of the bitchiest, hysterical Diva’s of all time to top it all off. Lina Lamont is the biggest movie star at Monumental Pictures in the roaring 20’s of silent movie-land. The only problem is she’s got the voice of a Brooklyn Car Repairman on Helium. Based loosely on poor Clara Bow and her unfortunate Brooklyn-ese accent that destroyed her career in the ever-looming talkies, Lina will stop at nothing to sabotage the career of poor, sweet Cathy Seldon (sugary Debbie Reynolds looking beautiful, blech) by getting her honey soaked voice to dub hers. Of course, in full Drag Queen mode, she threatens to sue the entire Studio if they don’t, and lets them know her intentions by coming into the office with legal papers, wearing all pink, even dying her furs for full effect. But like most female impersonators, she lets her massive ego get in the way once she goes as far to have little Cathy singing behind a curtain, Lina lip-synching ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ behind her, moving her lips like a Vegas Drag Queen high on meth and corn syrup. Of course, tragedy strikes when the curtain is pulled by obviously jealous Gene Kelly, ruining Lina’s genius-career move. Is this the first realistic Drag-show in film history? I vote yes.
5. Marylee (Dorothy Malone) in Written on the Wind (1956)
Dallas? Dynasty? Every trashy TV soap-opera your Grandmother you never call is now watching? Wouldn’t happen if it weren’t for Sirk’s melodramatic classic, Written on the Wind, evolving around the spoiled, troubled children of Jasper Hadley, a powerful oil-baron in the heart of Texas. Once Marylee’s childhood love Mitch (Rock Hudson) falls in love with his best friends wife, Lucy Moore (Lauren Bacall), home girl is not having it. She wants the peen and she will get it whether it means blackmail or lying to her drunk of a brother over an alleged affair that eventually spells murder. Marylee is the queen of drunken rich sluts, except she didn’t have an annoying series of reality TV shows or a shitty clothing line. Home-girl was too busy drinking moon shine and picking up guys at the trashy bar by the oil-rigs. But being a trashy slut doesn’t mean she’s lazy. This Queen has a new outfit every five seconds, (this movie is art for her collars alone, John Waters made an art-piece about them.) Her greatest drag queen moment is when her father is dying a slow, painful death on the spiral staircase of their enormous mansion. What is bitch doing while this happens? She’s dancing a slutty mambo in her room like shes rehearsing for her latest drag show at The Rusty Pole. Marylee is an inspiration to all who enjoy peen and getting drunk.
4. Violet Venable (Katherine Hepburn) in Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)
Tennessee must have really been hitting the mescaline hard when he wrote the truly bizarre one-act play of which the film is based, adapted by Gore Vidal, no less. Incest, homosexuality, insanity, labotomies, massive Venus fly traps and sea turtles abound in what could be one of the weirdest films ever made. Of course, Violet Venable is the master of ceremonies, playing one of William’s greatest, and only villains, a lonely aging heiress mourning the death of her son, Sebastian. She is willing to give Doctor Cukrowicz (Montgomery Clift) the money his floundering hospital needs under the condition he give her niece, Catherine (Elizabeth Taylor) a labotomy. Of course, this all means there is a horrible secret Violet will stop at nothing to hide. Hepburn portrays Violet as though she were a sixty year old Chinese man with a Marlene Deitrich obsession, perhaps channeling her yellow face role in the humiliating MGM monstrosity Dragon Seed (1944). Lingering in a late-decadent garden of prehistoric plants and a golden elevator that takes her from room to room, Hepburn plays America’s richest Drag-Queen as only Williams could have written her. Of course her most drag-queen moment is the bitter climax, of which I refuse to spoil for you.
3. Tollea and Naja (Maria Montez) in Cobra Woman (1944)
Its Kenneth Anger’s favorite movie and even droll, boring Leonard Maltin calls it a classic, so why on earth has Cobra Woman been cursed to obscurity? But don’t call that a complaint, its one of the only true cult classics left in the canon, and boy, what a whopper. Maria Montez is cited by many Gay historians as the nucleus of all modern Drag Queens. With her arresting beauty, thick accent, wooden acting and glamorous costumes, its easy to see why. In true Drag Queen narcissism, Maria Montez, that Latin Spit-fire of the 40’s Universal Lot plays both Tollea and Naja, two twin sisters separated at birth. Tollea is the rightful ruler of an exotic island with a wrathful volcano, but sister Naja is an evil queen of the sacrificing, torturing sort and simply must be taken off her mantle by virtuous Tollea before disaster strikes. Later, in what looks like the most avant-garde Drag Show ever performed, Evil Naja performs a phallic snake dance with an acid-trip head-dress and royal attendants that look like perfume counter salesgirls circa 1939. Looking like a crayon fantasy by a lonely, depression era gay boy, Cobra Woman is the best use of Technicolor second only to The Wizard of Oz.
2. Joan Crawford (Faye Dunaway) in Mommie Dearest (1980)
I know, I know, I know. Everyone will ask me why on earth this isn’t number one, but I hate to see a tie like the one at the 1969 Oscars between Streisand and Hepburn. Christ, what a cop out that was. But it is undeniable that the term Female, Female Impersonator stems from this role, of which John Waters explains the definition of in his wonderful DVD commentary of Mommie Dearest. This is the role every Drag Queen from Albuquerque to Zulu thinks they were born to play, and its obvious from the first twenty seconds of the film, where Joan roams her massive mansion preparing for a day of work at MGM, dressing in her clothes closet the size of my apartment, her make up being applied by what surprisingly isn’t a L.A gang area chola girl. Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford is the most shocking and seamless transformation in film history. Based on total whiner Christina Crawford’s runaway bestseller trashing her dead mother, Mommie Dearest portrays Joan as the Queen Bitch of Hollywood, keeping her children, especially her daughter Christina as accessories that get out of hand too often. Putting her expensive clothes on common coat hangers, not eating her red meat and snooping through her fucking shit, is it any wonder poor Joan had to beat the shit out of Tina 24/7? No wonder she put her in boarding school, home girl was too busy getting it in, buying new shoes and swilling liquor, all assets that should instantly have won her Mother of the Year for all eternity.
1. Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) in Sunset Boulevard (1950)
Here, is the first truly brilliant Female, Female Impersonator. Billy Wilder’s seminal masterpiece is one of those truly original and unique phenomena where camp, drama and reality blend seamlessly into an uncompromising, beautiful and haunting masterpiece about the dark-side of Hollywood and fame. Norma Desmond is the 20th century answer and ultimate improvement of Dickens’ Miss Havisham of Great Expectations (1861). When downtrodden screenwriter Joe Gillis (William Holden) parks his car in a seemingly abandoned garage, he enters the dark and necrophilic world of Norma Desmond, (played brilliantly by real silent movie queen Gloria Swanson) an aging movie star, still convinced she is the most famous star in the world when Hollywood abandoned her long, long ago. Watching her films over and over again, mailing autographed photos to no one, preparing for the come-back that never comes, Desmond is film history’s first representation of the Drag Queen ego seen through a cruel, realistic lens. Desmond could easily be the first true Drag Queen of modern film if read that way. Her outfits are ravishingly designed by costume goddess Edith Head, her ultimate Drag Moment is the bitter, glamorous and tragic climax of the film that if you don’t know, you should be ashamed of yourself. Everyone should be as ready for their close-up as Desmond.