An Evening at the Garden of Allah: A Gay Cabaret in Seattle

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Columbia University Press, 1996 - Female impersonators - 167 pages
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An Evening at the Garden of Allah tells the story of the community of gays and lesbians that blossomed around the cabaret during an age before the Stonewall rebellion in New York and other uprisings made gay consciousness a public issue. A wealth of arresting photographs from the collections of Jackie Starr, Skippy Larue, and other headliners at the club during the ten years it thrived, breathe life into the personal histories centered around this oasis of gay and lesbian culture. Through interviews with former patrons and performers, Don Paulson and Roger Simpson capture the joyful evenings where those on stage proclaimed to the gathered audiences, "Come out and be yourselves". Here are the lives of the female impersonators, the Prima Donnas and the Dames, singing ballads to the accompanying roar of the Garden's old theater pipe organ. Dressed regally or garishly as their stage personas demanded, their bravado helped others to affirm and take pride in their lesbian and gay identities. These precursors of today's drag queens blast many deeply rooted assumptions about gender as they detail the excitements, tragedies, and complexities of their day-to-day lives. Here too are the stories of lesbian and gay audience members who found a home at the Garden, the soldiers and sailors who patronized the club, the fashionable Seattleites slumming on notorious First Avenue, and the tourists who came to be photographed in the Garden's atmosphere of debauchery and abandon. In its moving portrait of a little-explored chapter in America's gay and lesbian past, An Evening at the Garden of Allah takes readers back in time with a vivid oral history of this special cabaret. Paulson, Simpson, and theirinformants present the story of a place where ideas about repression, identity, and resistance were beginning to be openly discussed, where hopes and dreams of liberation took shape.

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This was truly a "stunning" "exquisite" look at the Gay Cabaret scene in Seattle, WA back in the post WWII era. I read this book about 20 yrs + ago, and the vibrant characters are still with me, especially Hotcha Hinton! What a name, and what a great comic he was! This book offered up one of those rare and sublime experiences that take the reader into a different world, a fascinating, exotic world far from Kansas, or for that matter, far from my perceptions of Seattle in the 1940's. My only complaint about this book is that it ended. I would have loved staying at The Garden for at least 700 pages, not the 167 we were blessed with. The writers did an amazing job of collaborating oral histories from the audience, the employees, bar owners in addition to the Queens who ruled the night there.
I have been fascinated with "Drag Cabaret" and gender issues since my teen years Perhaps it's because I learned, to my astonishment, that my best friend in school, suffered from a condition that was a rare form of hermaphrodite syndrome. One could not tell, that "she" was anything but Female, because the male organs were microscopic and internal. She had no vagina or uterus. She related her shocking ailment to me after visiting her OB-Gyn to learn why she wasn't having her "period". Back then, they did not have imaging equipment to diagnose the condition correctly.


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About the author (1996)

Don Paulson is an artist, researcher, and writer of local history in the Seattle area. Roger Simpson is Associate Professor of Communications at the University of Washington. He is the author ofUnionism or Hearst and a number of articles on First Amendment issues.

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