Life is a Cabaret, Old Chum!
at times... it's a
Okay, by now you know that it's no secret that I'm gay! Du-uh! However, I can never remember in my childhood having ever dressed-up, or pretend I was a girl, although that's not something unusual for either well adjusted gay or heterosexual men to have experienced in their youth.
There was a time during one of those family gatherings - grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, my sister, brother and, of course my mom, when one of our uncles (I think he was a family friend that we called 'uncle' - a common denotation for male grownups during my youth) made the claim that he could hypnotize people. He asked for 'volunteers' and the next thing I knew, we kids became the subjects of his hypnosis experiment.
Being the actor of the family, even at the tender age of eight, I was ready to perform under any circumstances. And to everyone's astonishment, while none of the other kids seemed to go under his spell, little Mickey was still asleep.
He had me do many of the usual parlor tricks, hold out my arm, smell rotten things that weren't there, and he even told that I was now a little girl and my my name was Mary Jane and I was to go over to my Grandpa and tell him my name. I nearly blew it (actually, I'm sure I did) when I walked over to him and forgot the name I was told. Subsequently, I walked back to our mesmerist Uncle "Bill", and asked him, "What's my name?". At that point I have no doubt that all the grown-ups realized I was faking it, and they weren't about to let me get away with it.
It was only around 7:30 or so in the evening, but it was hypnotically suggested that I was very sleepy and needed to go to bed. My little brain was reeling with protest but I knew I couldn't dare let on without also giving away my pretense.
I left the living room obediently and went to my bed and once my head hit the pillow, I began to cry. At that point I was told it was alright and that I could now wake up, and come back out with the rest of the family. Whew!
But having called myself Mary Jane was the closest I'd come to reversing my male identity.
Years later, around 1965, I'd met other gay men who had a lot of effected mannerisms, and on Fire Island, many I had met dressed in drag, but it was all for fun. Any of the other more psychologically complex sexual identities were beyond my scope of understanding back then. The wild and crazy guys I'd met dressed very elaborately and were totally unreal.
After getting out of the army, I had a weekend in the Big Apple and ventured to the 82 Club, a famous impersonation club at that time, and saw my first, professional female impersonation show. I was amazed at how some of the performers looked so much like women, and even more amazed when I found out that the male waiters and bartenders weren't men, but women dressed like men. I used to have this great photo of this fantastic blonde I posed with - you know, snap a picture and poof! there goes $10 bucks! - but unfortunately it was one of those things lost years ago in the flood in Kansas City. (See my bio about that.)
Zooming along to when I'd moved to Kansas City, Missouri and after I started performing in a couple of local Dinner Theatres, I'd stopped in our own Impersonators' club, The Jewel Box, between Linwood Blvd. (32nd St.) and 33rd St on Troost. A senior performer who had been working there for years, Skip Arnold, had heard me sing and wanted to know if I wanted to emcee for them. I would come out on stage, sing a song and introduce the next female impersonation act. It was great! Almost every act was live, only some group comedy bits were done to a recording, and a petite performer by the name of Sandy Kay(e), lip-synced Judy Garland, but looked a dead ringer! The 'girls' were fun, with a few exceptions, and it was easy work. Mostly tourists and a few local gay fans.
This was around 1978. The Jewel Box and live impersonation, like the vaudeville days of yore, was dying. The place was becoming run down and seedy with less and less tourism. Some of the acts moved on or moved out. There were fewer live singers and the club could hire pretty, young boys who would lip sync to popular songs far more cheaply than a live performer who needed an accompanist as well.
At one point, Skip had asked me if I could fill in with some kind of comedy act, only dressed as a woman. I came up with a character called Mrs. Corrie Miller, an elderly, birdlike, English matron. I would start out in the audience pretending to be a little old lady tourist who the gay boys just adored, and on occasion, would take out of the nursing home for a night on the town. Mrs. Miller was dreadfully proper, polite and saccharin sweet, but she also had low tolerance to alcohol and only after a few sips, she'd become 'tiddly'.
Skip would introduce me to the audience as a regular patron, and then invite me up to the stage. She'd ask me what I would like to drink and I'd say I love pink champagne! And every night, after receiving her glass of 'pink champagne', sparkling water with grenadine, Corrie would sing the only song she knew...."Born Free", in a rather tortuous falsetto, and after every performance Skip would find some rather embarrassing sexual 'toy' in her purse, sending Mrs. Miller back out into the audience amusingly embarrassed. (I'll never forget how so many straight tourists reached out to help that 'frail old lady' off the stage.)
It was such a hit, that I wound up adding more and more characters and through the years I've had opportunities to either make a few bucks in a live show, or help raise money for various causes. I did dinner theater in Albuquerque, NM for a six months stint and just before I left to go home, I did a live one-man drag show for the Albuquerque Social Club. It went over so well, they flew me down a year later to do another one.
Below are some of the photos taken through those years of cross-dress theater!
The Stage at the Jewel Box Lounge in Kansas City, MO.
The Jewel Box was once a world renown female impersonation nightclub. I was one of the last of the vocally LIVE performers before it went the way of drag queens lip syncing to the voices of famous singers.
In truth, the art form was losing commercial interest back in 1974, so the club owners realized they could hire less talented performers and not have to spend money on bands or even piano accompaniment. Disco music, strobe lights, glitz, glitter and the recorded sounds of the top rock, rhythm and blues, and soul singers became the trend of the times.
Mickey Ray as "Corrie Miller" and Skip Arnold
Meg Brown (Base on the character "Nancy" in Oliver. She later became my Liza Minnelli and, yes, I used my own voice!)
Oh Lord, did I need makeup advice back then!
Skip Arnold (in drag) and his partner, Lee
Click on this link to see a list of performers at the The Jewel Box Sadly, my name and that of Sandy Kaye are not listed.
At the Limelight Dinner Theatre, I'd played the Emcee in Cabaret and incorporated that character into my act. I'd start out the show as a male emcee then, in front of the audience, I strip and change into a female and host the rest of the show.
Limelight Dinner Theater stage!
On one special occasion, September 2nd, 1982, I put on a show for my mom. It was mine and Drew's fourteenth anniversary and we flew my mom out to visit our home for the first time. I continued to bill myself as "Mickey Ray, The Kosher Ham".
Me and Mom
Me, Mom & Drew
I performed a reverse, comic strip, changing down from a man and redressing as a woman, singing, There'll Be Some Changes Made, and altering my personality as the switch progressed.
1984 Mickey Ray as "Officer Vicki" 2002
That's All Folks!!
Meanwhile, I'm delighted to add that I've been included in a list of femme performers at Kansas City's Jewel Box Lounge, however that site no longer is available!!
My eclectic, artistic background and biography.
I provide a detailed, intimate look at my personal life and background for those of you who hold such interests.
And in case you didn't already know, the owner, designer, artist & writer of this site happens to be
If this is surprising and/or especially disturbing news to you, then you're probably a stranger and got here by mistake. While being gay is a real and significant part of my life, its political agenda, its cause and effect, is NOT the running purpose of this site. This site expresses many of the personal and artistic facets of my life as well as provides a forum for professional and non-professional theatrical and artistic interests and pursuits, for both the watchers and the participants.
If you must leave before checking this site out, goodbye, good luck and may the force be with you!
My one and only life partner for 21 years!
April 9th, 1936 - September 30th, 1989
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What do you remember about the 50s??? What have your parents told you????