The Dramatic Life of Barbette —
Round Rock’s First and Greatest Drag Queen
“More fun than a sex party!”
Long before Ru Paul eyed his first pair of six inch stilettos or Boy George donned his colorful caftan, a handsome young man from the small town of Round Rock, Texas barnstormed the stages of Europe’s most lavish theaters and night clubs as Barbette, a beautiful aerialist drag queen who became a scandalous sensation throughout the Roaring Twenties.
Performing his erotic, high wire and trapeze routine in lavish, feminine regalia, Barbette shocked audiences by revealing the true nature of his gender at the very end of his act.
From a child who picked cotton and walked his mother’s clothes line to headlining at the Moulin Rouge in spectacular drag, Wildflower reveals long-forgotten secrets of this enigmatic performer: his arrest in London on morals charges, his bout with polio, his infamous collaborations with some of Hollywood’s greatest stars— Orson Welles, Vincente Minnelli, and Judy Garland, Jack Lemmon, and Tony Curtis as well as his hidden affair with French surrealist Jean Cocteau.
Wildflower captivates with every page, dramatically revealing the startling and at times heart-breaking story of Round Rock’s first and greatest drag queen.
Welcome Kyle! Please start off by telling us a little about yourself.
Kyle Taylor grew up in New York’s Upper East Side just down the street from Anderson, the fellow on CNN. Yes, they were friends, but never lovers. Though they did babysit Rosemary’s Baby, also named Ronan Farrow. Mister Taylor is an award-winning journalist and author. He appeared in print playing himself in his first novel, Billion Dollar Dreamer. By the way,Kyle loves to refer to himself in the third person when asked such questions. He’s also a total work of fiction.
Let’s cut to the chase. Why did you want to write a book about a drag queen?
We presently have a residence in the same town Barbette grew up in a hundred years ago—Round Rock, Texas. We couldn’t believe a Texan from a small cotton town could wind up being a spectacular, famous drag queen. Top it off, Barbette wasn’t just your run-of-the-mill costumed queen, but he was an aerialist performing on the trapeze, tight rope and rings. The more we learned about him, the more we wanted to tell his story.
Barbette had two careers didn’t he?
Yes he did! He suffered a terrible fall in the late 1930’s after performing nonstop for twenty years. He contracted polio. It ended his sensational drag performances. Instead, John Murray Anderson contacted him to direct the aerial ballets for the Ringling Circus. Anderson was the director of the Ziegfeld Follies. He was big time Broadway. The circus they worked on in the early 1940’s was considered tremendously avante garde. Anderson also hired Balanchine to choreograph an elephant’s ballet to a polka especially written by Stravinski. Barbette’s opening featured fifty female aerialists dispersed throughout the arena draped into hanging silk lines, performing stunts in unison. It was a breathtaking and dazzling performance by all accounts.
Anyway, this opened the second act of Barbette’s career when he became the go-to guy for Hollywood-types when they needed to stage circus routines. Orson Welles and Vincente Minnelli were two of his first customers.
What on earth was Orson Welles working on that he needed Barbette’s talents?
Welles and Cole Porter teamed up to produce a massive Broadway spectacle called Around the World. Welles was becoming a pariah in Hollywood and encamped in New York. He got it into his head he wanted to do a stage version of Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days. Welles was the writer, director and star of the show. He was totally out of his league and ran way over budget. Michael Todd, who was underwriting the show, finally pulled out. Welles had to borrow money from studio honcho Harry Cohn to open the show. Barbette was called in to stage a sensational oriental circus number that closed the first half. The whole production was a resounding fiasco, save Barbette’s circus with its parade of colorful aerialists and acrobats, which won raves. Having to pay back Cohn, Welles managed a comeback directing his stunning wife, Rita Hayworth, in Lady from Shanghai, a noir classic. Barbette went on to work with other Hollywood greats.
Why did you chose to write the story as a historical fiction novel? Why not a biography?
Actually, we would have preferred to make it a motion picture. Barbette’s life would be a fabulous biopic. Kyle Taylor thinks of himself as more of a director than a writer, anyway. There is a warmth and vibrancy of character that comes alive in historical fiction. Barbette was a complex person. Maybe actually it was best to retell his life in a historical fiction novel because the format can help tap into the soul of a person—and Barbette needed that.
This is your third novel isn’t it? What makes a Kyle Taylor novel?
Yes. The first was Billion Dollar Dreamer, about a gay high school teacher who inherits a billion dollar fortune and decides to undertake the renovation of the fabled ocean liner the SS United States. It’s a comedy. The second novel, is Exposition. It features a sumptuous love triangle that takes place during the construction of the great Chicago World’s Fair, the Columbian Exposition, in 1893. We’ve nicknamed it, Homo in the White City!
What makes a Kyle Taylor novel?
Kyle Taylor novels have engaging stories with some sort of historical bent. They are filled with exquisite detail and actual dialogue from characters portrayed. The main characters are typically gay, but these aren’t your typical pop gay fiction novels. There is a soul to Kyle Taylor books, a bit of grit. At least we hope so!
What’s next for Kyle Taylor?
We are going to take a long summer holiday on a very private yacht! Kyle shan’t reveal more!
With all his might, Vander swung the trapeze as high into the air as he could tolerate, the muscles in his feet screaming out. As he reached the apex, he released his feet, tucked into a tight ball and did a backward somersault. In an instant, he was bouncing on the safety net, thrilled by what he had just done!
Bobby Fuller stuffed his cigar into his mouth and applauded loudly. Audrey too was impressed. From the platform, she did a swan dive, turning onto her back at the right instant for a soft landing on the safety net. She then walked over to where Bobby and Vander were standing.
“Now, son, I need you to be honest with me. You’re new to this aren’t you?” Bobby asked as he stared intently at Vander.
“I did shows in my back yard—on the wire. I’m good!” Vander said trying to sell himself. He wanted more than anything to get back up to the trapeze.
“You a run away?” Audrey asked with her hands on her hips.
“No. My momma sent me off today on the train, from Round Rock.”
“He’s got balance,” Audrey said. “It’ll take him time to train.”
“I’m a fast learner! I even doubled up my studies and finished high school two years early!”
Bobby rubbed his chin. “We’ve only got a week, ten days tops, to get him trained. If we don’t get this act back on track, they’ll can us and then where’ll we be?”
Audrey’s pale blue eyes looked serious. “Did you see, how he moved his arms? He sure looks the part. He’ll look sweet in a dress.”
Vander’s mouth dropped. “A dress?”
Bobby Fuller scowled, “The part’s for a female trapeze artist. Didn’t y’all read the advertisement?”
“We’re the Alfaretta Sisters!” Audrey interjected. “World famous aerial queens.”
Vander Clyde was trying to absorb what they were saying.
“He’s got a good figure, not quite a man yet,” Audrey said looking over Vander’s body. “A little taking in here and letting out there and Lydia’s costumes could fit.”
“You ever put on a dress, boy?” Bobby asked. “It’s no big deal. Wouldn’t be the first time a boy in a trapeze act did it.”
“You look better in a dress, up on a trapeze,” Audrey encouraged. “More beautiful, the dress flows, you know.”
Vander remembered Miss Nelson told him all the actors during Shakespeare’s time were men or boys and they played the female parts as well.
“Like Shakespeare, you mean the way the boys played the girl’s parts?” Vander asked.
Bobby and Audrey laughed.
“Yes, son, just like ol’ Will Shakespeare!” Bobby chuckled. “You’ll get five dollars a week—no pay until we get the act back up. Deal?” Bobby extended his hand.
Vander Clyde couldn’t believe it was all happening so fast! He enthusiastically extended his hand. “Deal!”
Kyle Taylor is the author of Wildflower, Exposition and Billion Dollar Dreamer. The Kyle Taylor character debuted in Billion Dollar Dreamer as a journalist who was assigned to write a story about high school history teacher cum overnight billionaire John Driskil. He resides in New York—and of course he is a work of fiction! You can contact Kyle at BillionDollarDreamer@gmail.com.
Book Trailer on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DuvxqzmRVqA
Author Web Page: http://www.billiondollardreamer.com/
Author Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002247108853&ref=tn_tnmn
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11 thoughts on “Author Interview of Kyle Taylor featuring The Dramatic Life of Round Rock’s First and Greatest Drag Queen: Barbette w/a $25 GC giveaway!”
Why Round Rock? I live in Texas so I’m curious. Because of the culture of the times?
Hi Harlie – Barbette actually grew up in Round Rock. He attended Round Rock High School. He spent the summers out in the fields picking cotton alongside of his mother. Go figure, huh!
What did Barbette’s parents think about his ‘career’?
Hi Zach — I didn’t interview any surviving family members for the book, but we can gather a couple of things. First, Barbette noted his distaste for Texas in general excepting his family. He also was forced to move back in with his family in the late 1930’s and into the very early 1940’s because of a sixteen month recuperation from polio. He is listed on the 1940 census as residing in Round Rock. Barbette is buried in his step-father’s Round Rock plot. His step father was Samuel Loving, who was one of Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders. He was a real man’s man. In my mind, I thought if he hated Barbette, he wouldn’t have ended up in the same cemetery plot, We know Barbette had great respect for his mother and her creativity from an interview he gave in the late 1960’s. I get the sense they were close and respected one another.
Thanks everyone for the kind words! Feel free to ask me questions. I love when you do so!
This sounds like a really interesting book – thanks for the spotlight and giveaway
junegirl63 at gmail dot com
I really enjoyed your comments. It makes the story sound so much more interesting. I loved the excerpt.
Sounds like such an interesting book! Can’t wait to read this one!
Good Morning Michelle!! I can’t thank you enough for hosting today. It all looks great. I hope people find the interview interesting! I keep wanting to move onto another project, but I’m finding more Barbette tidbits all the time. I was wondering this morning if I should put together a documentary.
I’ll be around all day today. Ask interesting questions and you might find a $25 gift card in your mailbox!
Thanks for hosting!
Congrants and Thanks for the chance. contestmichelle at hotmail dot com