On rise: A drag cabaret in the Village
• • A top-shelf drag queen, Mother Superior was a mainstay at the most popular gay nightspot — — Paul and Joe's on West Ninth Street — — famous for its drag cabaret. In coded language, Paul and Joe's (run by two Italian family men who lived in New Jersey) was careful to drop hints about being a place for pansies. These skillfully worded pansy ads appeared in The New York Times and elsewhere.
• • Floyd Dell's book Love in Greenwich Village (and many other books) described this former speakeasy on West Ninth Street. In 1920, the regulars filed through a dark-panelled portal three steps down from the pavement. Paul and Joe's was a place where people wanted to be delivered to temptation — — or wanted sin to stay in touch.
• • Since Floyd Dell died in July, let's give him a few lines here.
• • Floyd Dell [born 28 June 1887 in Barry, Illinois — died 23 July 1969 in Bethesda, Maryland] was a radical journalist and novelist whose fiction examined the changing mores in sex and politics among American bohemians before and after World War I.
• • From 1910 until 1920 Floyd Dell was a major force in American literature. In Greenwich Village, with hs buddy George Cram Cook, Dell was at the center of the Provincetown Players who fostered the career of Eugene O'Neill and invented the modern American drama.
• • Mae West might have heard of Floyd Dell via the Provincetown Players, where she and Texas Guinan attended the plays of O'Neill. The theatre was a short walk from Guinan's West Eighth Street apartment and the popular Paul and Joe's.
• • The Pansy Craze was a period during the Prohibition Era when gay clubs and performers (known as pansy performers) experienced a surge in underground popularity in the USA. Socialites, politicians, and even athletes (such as Jack Dempsey) frequented Paul and Joe's where they liked to sit on the mezzanine level and observe the spectacle from a discreet distance.
• • The gay clientele included Greenwich Villagers who were drag community leaders such as the Duchess and Mother Superior. The Duchess was the expert on drag deportment; it was the Duchess who instructed young drag queens on in-group codes of dress, style, speech, and etiquette.
• • The Duchess and Mother Superior (who were very helpful to Mae when she conceived "THE DRAG") were well-known activists who often wrote in the daily papers to protest gay bias.
• • This was the gay cabaret that inspired MAE to write her controversial play "THE DRAG," a work that kicked New York's legal machinery into gear on 9 February 1927. MAE spent that evening in Jefferson Market Police Court and was forced to stay overnight in Jefferson Market Jail.
• • Act I, Scene 1 of "COURTING MAE WEST" opens in Paul and Joe's on West Ninth Street. In the play the speak is called "Cafe Giovanni" and the wait-staff and the cigarette "girl" are in drag.
• • "COURTING MAE WEST" opens at 6 o'clock on Saturday night July 19, 2008 at the Algonquin Theatre [East 24th Street and Park Avenue South].
• • "COURTING MAE WEST" — — showtimes
• • July 19th, 2008 — — 6:00 PM
• • July 20th, 2008 — — 2:00 PM matinee
• • July 21st, 2008 — — 6:00 PM
• • July 22nd, 2008 — — 9:00 PM
• • Tickets to "COURTING MAE WEST" are $18 per adult.
• • Theatermania.com sells the tickets — — http://www.theatermania.com/content/show.cfm/show/144297
• • Questions? Phone 212-779-3051.
• • The play is 95 minutes.
• • Get ready to come up and see Mae West, Texas Guinan, and the gang onstage in mid-July 2008.
Courting Mae West
• • Photo: Mae West • • the drag cabaret that inspired "The Drag" • •