January 22, 2006


In 1952, Christine Jorgensen became the world's first recipient of sexual reassignment surgery--though according to Wikipedia, the world's first genital reassignment surgery was performed in 1930. (Revoke my "gender-confused ID card, but I'm am ashamed to admit that I don't know the difference between those two surgeries. I'm still saving up for the good ol' fashioned nose job and second chin removal!)

More on Christine from Wikipedia:

Christine Jorgensen once appeared on The Dick Cavett Show. Cavett insulted her by asking about the status of her romantic life with her "wife", and she walked off the show; since she was the only guest scheduled, Cavett spent the rest of that show talking about how he had not meant to offend her. (Oops! She's had enough of Dick and she fleeced!)

During the 1970s and 1980s, Jorgensen toured university campuses and other venues to speak about her experiences. She was known for her directness and polished wit. In her later years, Jorgensen worked as an actress and nightclub entertainer. In summer stock, she played Madame Rosepettle in the play "Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mama's Locked You in the Closet and I'm Feeling So Sad". In her nightclub act, she sang "I Enjoy Being a Girl" while dressed as comic-book heroine Wonder Woman: the act was terminated when the publishers who owned the copyright on the Wonder Woman character took legal action.

Friay night, I caught a play/performance piece/one "man" show called CHRISTINE JORGENSEN REVEALS at The Dodger Stages. Actor Bradford Louryk impersonates herm and lip-synchs to her 1958 interview album of the same name. It's a fascinating slice of history which has thankfully been preserved and brought to life by this unusual show, which only runs until 1/28, so catch it befor he/she gets the chop!


The show starts with a montage of actual Christine clips, which prove that not only had Christine transformed himself into a woman, but into a woman who carried herself in the overly-poised and gracious manner of a 1950's Hollywood star. A bit like Lypsinka, except that Miss Jorgensen was poised and gracious...and a star. (Oink!) Though in one later clip shot when really huge Joan Crawford-esque brows were in, Christine did remind of me of a young Thurston Howell III from GILLIGAN'S ISLAND.

It's a show with challenges. We aren't used to watching a drag queen walk onto a stage and then plunk down in a chair, we're used to their musical numbers and rip-away costumes and histrionics. But Christine wasn't a drag queen. Bradford is, and without the aid of hormones, surgery, and a naturally petite size, the transsexual freak factor isn't in effect. He does a good job of impersonating her, with two knit-picks. One of Christine's most spookable traits was a receding hairline, which Bradford's (I'm guessing) custom lace-front did not feature. And in an attempt to add "business" or drama to the somewhat stiff hour-long chat, I think Bradford plays her a little too curtly. Christine was performing supper clubs at the time of the interview, but she was witty and charming to the press before her mangina had even healed up 6 years earlier. I don't think that 6 years after her groundbreaking surgery and worldwide front page headlines, she'd seem as flustered and mildly irritated as portrayed here. But these are minor gripes.

Unearthing this interview in any way is a treat. Who bought this kind of album? I can't imagine straights running out saying "Let's get the album of the ex-GI who cut off his dick and became a beauty queen!"--6 years after the surgery. I read one review that claimed that the original interview was conducted by Nipsey Russell. Are there two Nipseys? Because my mind is reeling to think of that the rhyming scene-stealer from MATCH GAME and HOLLYWOOD SQUARES was even around in '58, much less engaged to conduct a sensitive interview. I pray that someone digs up the original and remounts this production, co-starring Flotilla Debarge (in drag with that mercilessly short fro she's been wearing!) as the Nipster. If you remember this nut as fondly as I do, you may wanna check out a tribute website to this prankster:


In this production, the role of Nipsey is played by Rob Grace, who appears pre-recorded on a TV screen which Bradford interacts with. The interviewer milks the dry "script" for what humor there is, as does "Christine", with her word-perfect lipsynch that even seizes on every bit of mic feedback and the sound of a well-manicured nail rubbing against a silk shantung suit to add interest. The questions are hard-hitting, but polite, including inquiries on sex life, hate mail, and the warmth of real women's reception of a transsexual in the powder room. And unlike the Q & A's of today, Christine did not have a press agent beside her coaching every response.

Now there's always a question mark about a post-op transsexual's performing career, which can still raise a manically plucked eyebrow or two. Should a transsexual, even if she began her transformation as a drag performer, continue her career lipsynching after her operation? Most tradtional drag pageants don't allow a post-op to enter. And trannies, who sometimes compete with each other to be more "cunt" (just like you real gals!), often talk of ditching their show biz careers and largely gay audiences after their surgeries to seek a fishier new life in the shadows with a husband and white picket fence. Or does having been bit by the show business bug cause her to crave the spotlight still? Does she reveal her true origins? Or perform as a woman? And if you're a woman, then why are you lipsynching? Or do you capitalize on your gimmick/media blitz to make a buck?

Of course it's different for everyone, and I certainly don't mean to imply that most transsexuals start off as drag queens. But Christine obviously chose to take advantage of her novelty and publicity to develop a night club act, which included, ballet en pointe and a falsetto rendition of a selection from Madame Butterfly, which were both yanked when audiences failed to appreciate Christine's humorous intent. (I know that feeling, gurl!) So she sang I ENJOY BEING A GIRL and performed "special material" with on-stage costume changes. One night she got some good advice from Jimmy Durante: (quoting from memory) "You could tell the funniest joke on earth, but for the first 15 minutes no one's going to laugh--they just wanna look at you."

Through her composure, Christine does get a little catty when she's bragging about her size 10 dress size, relaying stories from her electrolycist's office about hairier real women, and whining about female drunks being more boisterous than their male counterparts. Other interesting tidbits include her early military service at the ironically named FORT DIX, and one probably well-rehearsed answer about how (papraphrasing) "There's nothing sexy about years of doctor's visits and operating rooms." And when asked how she feels about putting Denmark, where she had the operation, on the map, Christine modestly answers that "Denmark didn't need me to become famous. They already had bleu chesse and the smorgasbord." Nutty! But I can't help but compare it to another drag interview lipsynch "play", in which Lypsinka mimed to a Joan Crawford interview. After the fact, largely due to MOMMY DEAREST, there's a lot of laughs in us knowing posthumously what a witch Joan really was. Most aren't as familiar with Christine's tales as we are with Christina's and "No more wire hangers ever!", and though she owns a unique slice of herstory, her personailty simply isn't as sensational as Joan. So CHRISTINE JORGENSEN REVEALS is more of a history lesson than a blockbuster. But, if you are interested in history and gender roles, this is definitely a show for you.

CHRISTINE JORGENSEN REVEALS' website (with a sound clip in the intro):



Anonymous Anonymous said...

I too "seek a fishier new life in the shadows with a husband and white picket fence."

Thank you for that wonderful review. I love when you write about movies and the theatre. Always such fresh perspective. Plus, you make we want to see the show.

6:53 PM  
Blogger Lady Bunny said...

Thank you! Check out the www.christinereveals.com: the show does travel around to festivals and such. --B

7:34 PM  
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My first college roommate was Christine's nephew. He said, "We don't talk about Uncle George much any more."

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