I dream of Genia

Queenwilly alerted me to this story about Eugenia Falleni via the Sydney Morning Herald from the archives at Sydney’s Justice and Police Museum 

Eugenia found here

The case of a transgender husband, Harry Crawford (Eugenia Falleni) convicted of murdering his wife had 1920s Sydney society in thrall, writes Tim Barlass.

By all accounts, Annie Birkett died a horrible death. Her charred body was found in open land near a flour mill in Chatswood, with cracks to her skull that could have formed through intense heat or by violence.

see larger image of Annie Birkett here 

Photographs of Mrs Birkett recently obtained by the Justice & Police Museum reveal her to be a refined and attractive woman, described later by one witness as ”very ladylike, a very quiet reserved woman never seen under the influence of liquor”.

But when she disappeared, Crawford told others that she had ‘‘cleared out with a plumber”, that she was a heavy drinker and that he had seen her a couple of times since then in Sydney.

It was not the victim that gave the case such notoriety in 1917, but her transgender husband, Harry Crawford, who was eventually convicted of her murder. 

Eugenia found here

On 19 February 1913 at the Methodist Parsonage in inner city Balmain, claiming to be a widower aged 38, Crawford went through a marriage ceremony with Annie Birkett, a widow of 35 with a 13-year-old son. Annie set up a confectionery shop in Balmain, evidently unaware that her husband was not a man, while Harry continued as a peripatetic manual worker.

Now Adriano Zumbo makes confectionery in Balmain

In 1917, after Annie had apparently threatened to report her husband to the authorities for his deception, the couple quarreled and Annie disappeared. Her body was discovered in October that year, partially burned and with cracks to the skull, in a forested picnic area near the Lane Cove River, but it remained unidentified for over two years. In the meantime, in September 1919, Harry Crawford underwent another marriage ceremony with Elizabeth King Allison, a spinster.

Spinster found here

Also in the intervening time, Annie’s son had alerted the police to his mother’s prolonged disappearance; the body of Annie was exhumed and identified, and Harry was arrested on 5 July 1920. At the time of his arrest, while living with Elizabeth in a house in Stanmore, he asked to be placed in the women’s cells and requested that his wife be not apprised that he was not a man. Among male clothing in a locked leather suitcase, police located an ‘article’, later exhibited in court, made of wood and rubber bound with cloth in the shape of a phallus or dildo.

image found here

At Falleni’s preliminary hearing and trial for murder at Darlinghurst courthouse in October 1920, the ‘Man-Woman case’ created a press sensation, with the accused appearing in the dock first in a man’s suit and then in women’s clothes. Falleni pleaded not guilty to the murder, but her alleged immorality in passing herself off as a man was made much of in the popular press, which portrayed her as a monster and a pervert.

Chief Justice Sir William Cullen in his summing up said: ”It would almost seem incredible that two people could live together for three years without Mrs Birkett discovering that an imposition had been practised …”

female johnny depp impersonator found here 

She was convicted and condemned to death, but her sentence was commuted to detainment at the Governor’s Pleasure. When released from Long Bay Prison eleven years later in February 1931 she became the proprietor of a boarding house in Paddington, Sydney. On 9 June 1938 she stepped off the pavement in front of a motorcar in nearby Oxford Street, and died of her injuries the following day.

Paddington Reservoir Oxford Street found here

playing with burnt cork

In 1920s New York, actress Dorothy MacKellar was offered the lead part in a play depicting a marriage between a white woman and a black man – a partnership that was illegal at the time.


“She is said to have accepted the role on the condition that a white actor and burnt cork play opposite her. When she was told that it was intended to have a real Negro fill the bill, she retired without more ado.”

Thanks Jahsonic

Around the same time the “Green Twigs“, a group of socially prominent middle class ladies, set out to choose a queen for a community fiesta via a popularity ballot. Early on, the tally showed 17 year old honour student Miss Dorothy Derrick was pulling ahead. This was a cause of great consternation as Miss Derrick was black.

Dorothy Dandridge NOT Dorothy Derrick

After another day of voting she had fallen to third place, having been overtaken by a Miss Violet Meyer. The Green Twigs were still not pleased as Miss Meyer was a Jew. The contest was abruptly cancelled.

Ultra Violet NOT Violet Meyer

Fast forward to the beauty contests of the 1950s. The catholic church was in an uproar about them and threatened to expel college students who participated.

Mrs Edward Belitz, whose daughter Mary Jean withdrew from the Miss Nebraska competition because her education was jeopardised said “I’m just sick. I’ve trained her so long.”

But in New Mexico, 20 year old Sue Ingersoll elected to remain in the Miss Universe contest despite being told she would be denied the sacraments for a period of time unless she withdrew.”

Sacramental Bingo

Now in Thailand pretty boys in Pattaya compete for the title of Miss Tiffany with the aim of creating human rights awareness and promoting a positive transvestite image to the world. Sometimes it’s easy to forget how far we’ve come but Marine Marine Monroe, Barbara Style Sand and Donna Summer are there to remind us.

2009 winners found here

A few years ago in Sydney, Boaz Stark published a book of inspired drag queen names.


“Having a Drag Queen baby but no idea what to call her? Uma Gawd! This Trudy Light of a book has literally hundreds of names to suit Drag Queens of every shape (Justine Ormous), age (Terri Daktil), race (Fu Ling Yu) and religion (Cath Lick). Your Drag Queen is destined to be the Bella DeBall with this Paige Turner!”

But my favourite will always be my son, Cherry Ripe.

Published in: on June 1, 2010 at 8:14 am  Comments (45)  
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daughter of a card playing jam maker

Regine Choukroun’s mother left her 5 year old daughter and younger brother in the care of their father Joseph and never returned. Joseph was a card playing jam maker whose fortunes came and went like the fox cape and jewels he gave and took back from his many wives and girlfriends.


That little five year old girl grew up to be the entrepreneurial owner of 25 nightclubs in more than a dozen cities.

In the early eighties, you could party at one of her clubs on three continents for 17 hours out of every 24. That is, if you could get in. Regine has always cultivated her life story carefully. Spend an hour with her and she will regale you with tales of the twelve-foot pet boa constrictor given to her by Federico Fellini, the weeklong fasts she undertakes before opening a club, her abilities as a judo master and turbojet pilot.


“Once, I flew with her to Paris on the Concorde, and she was the only person I ever saw who didn’t have to show her passport at Customs,” says Diane Von Furstenberg. “It was just, Bonjour, Madame Regine.”

Her first club, Chez Regine, which opened in Paris in 1958, was certainly an original: it was the spot where customers like Brigitte Bardot and Rudolf Nureyev first danced to recorded music instead of live bands; where they first bought bottles of liquor instead of cocktails; where they first did the twist to imported Chubby Checker records. “One night, I got a call at home from the Duke of Windsor,” she recalls. “He wanted me to come to his house, to teach him the twist. I told him, ‘No. You come to my club — I teach you there.’ “

Nureyev by Avedon

Regine specialized in “happenings,” like the Jean Harlow night where the women wore white satin dresses and painted their Rollses white for the night, stepping out of them onto a white carpet that covered the sidewalk — Dalí turned heads by arriving on the arm of his lover, Amanda Lear, rumored to have once been named Alan.

Keith Moon and Amanda Lear by Richard Young

In 1975 Regine decided to move to Manhattan. She packed 200 pounds of Vuitton luggage and 800 pairs of shoes into a steamboat and moved into the eleventh floor of the Delmonico Hotel, which she decorated just like her clubs, all Art Deco mirrors, brocade couches and snake-wrapped lamps.

The club was so exclusive and exclusionary that the State Liquor Authority considered suing her for social discrimination. Expelled by Regine for knocking over a table of wineglasses with her hoop skirt, Dewi Sukarno, the wife of the former Indonesian president, filed a $4 million lawsuit against the nightclub. She ended up winning one franc.


But by the end of the decade, the party began to wind down. “You didn’t feel like you could start doing cocaine on the tables at Regine’s, although it did happen once,” says society chronicler Bob Colacello, who accompanied Warhol on a tour of her clubs around the world. “She wasn’t giving out quaaludes to movie stars, she didn’t have bartenders with their shirts off. She didn’t have what people wanted when the times changed.”


not that Melba, not that Jackie

Jackie Curtis was a transgendered film star, poet and playwright.

image found here

“Jackie Curtis is not a drag queen. Jackie is an artist. A pioneer without a frontier”, Andy Warhol said of his associate. One of her plays was Glamour, Glory and Gold, which also starred Candy Darling, Melba LaRose and Robert De Niro in his first appearance on stage.

image of Jackie and David found here

Apart from acting, Curtis also wrote poetry and sang. The poem, B-Girls, much of which is based on his observations of people who visited Curtis’ grandmother’s Bowery bar, Slugger Anns, led to his inclusion in the 1979 book, The Poets’ Encyclopedia.

‘I’m not a boy, not a girl,” Curtis maintained. ”I am not gay, I am not straight, I am not a drag queen, I am not a transvestite, I am Jackie.” Tall and athletically built, he didn’t try to act especially feminine when dressed as a woman, and he repeatedly affected a macho image modeled after James Dean.

image of jackie and divine found here

Curtis is named in Lou Reed’s song “Walk on the Wild Side” which was about the ‘superstars’ Reed knew from Andy Warhol’s studio The Factory. The verse speaks of his drug addiction and fascination with James Dean: “…Jackie is just speeding away – Thought she was James Dean for a day… then I guess she had to crash, Valium would have helped that bash”

image found here

Her friend and actress Melba LaRose went on to become the Artistic Director of NY Artists Unlimited,*** a non-profit theatre company that brings professional theatre productions to under-served audiences. In this entertaining interview she recalls the days of Glamour, Glory and Gold.

image found here

Dan Sullivan said I was “Jean Harlow down to the leaden voice and incipient pot belly.” And Candy was reviewed as a woman: “This is the first impersonation of a female impersonator I have ever seen.” It wasn’t until “Give My Regards to Off-Off-Broadway” that anybody knew Candy was a man.

image found here

Jackie went all over town trying to find ’30s costumes for the show and ended up raiding the closets of his Grandmother Slugger Ann – who ran the bar Slugger Ann’s on 2nd Avenue, his aunt, and his mother. On opening night, we burst onto the stage and heard Slugger bellow from the audience, “They’re wearing my fuckin’ clothes!!!”

image found here

Jackie could often be found at his grandmother’s bar, in whichever gender. His doctor said it was amazing how his body survived going back and forth so many times with the hormones. I remember when he called and was on his way to visit me in LA, a friend said, “Aren’t you going to dress up?” I said, “For Jackie? Are you kidding? I don’t even know what sex he’ll arrive in.”

***NY ARTISTS UNLIMITED is dedicated to taking professional theatre to under-served audiences. The company focuses on works that evoke dignity of the individual and sanctity of the human spirit. A multicultural nonprofit touring company, we travel self-contained to NY’s inner city neighborhoods as well as to remote regions of the Northeast. Audiences are composed of people who, because of economics, geographical location, disability, age, and the like, cannot afford tickets or gain access to thought-provoking entertainment.

Published in: on January 28, 2010 at 7:37 am  Comments (31)  
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