Mae West, actress, singer, playwright, screenwriter, comedian, and sex symbol. Rae Bourbon, actor, singer, playwright, comedian, and cross-dresser. Both entertainers’ careers spanned seven decades, as they individually and together worked in Burlesque, Vaudeville, Broadway, silent movies, talkie movies, Old Time Radio, and television, equally stirring up controversy, similarly ribald and witty, and always outrageously risqué.
Mae’s legendary vehicles included the shocking Broadway plays, Sex, The Drag, The Wicked Age, Pleasure Man, and Diamond Lil. When topsy turvey Hollywood converted from silent movies to sound, Paramount Pictures snapped her up for unforgettable series of celluloid sensations, such as the Academy Award Best Picture-nominated She Done Him Wrong (1933).
Rae’s renowned vehicles spanned the music halls of London to the Vaudeville stages of America, with stops along the way in silent movies, sound films, Carnegie Hall, and a still-popular series of wacky, wry recordings.
Their parallel lives often crisscrossed, through side by side appearances on stage, and through the blurred lines of their often flamboyant yet always fascinating images. Self-absorbed and sometimes delusional, neither realized how shockingly different their final curtain would be.
Discover their unforgettable, interwoven stories in Patrick C. Byrne’s richly researched biography.
“. . . Mae West, America’s original ‘queen of sex’ . . . Rae Bourbon, equally enigmatic ‘dame of drag’ . . . discover the heartfelt and mindful souls beneath the glamorous façades of their stardom.” -David W. Jackson, Archivist/Historian
“Both persisted in presenting their larger than life personas, becoming the subject of intense scrutiny by public and private organizations for perceived morality violations on so-called ‘vulgar and indecent’ behavior. Both paid the price for flaunting their sexuality.” -Honorable Judge Ann Mesle
"Probably no other homosexual, and certainly no other performer, has had the effect on the American gay community that Bourbon did." -David Leitsch, Gay Journal
Patrick C. Byrne’s Double Entendre: The Parallel Lives of Mae West and Rae Bourbon is a very ambitious undertaking. A biography of one grande dame is a fairly ambitious venture, a book that parallels two monumental and eventful how business careers is quite another.
I had heard about and seen pictures of Rae Bourbon performing in my hometown before I was old enough to go into a bar to see him. I believe I have loved Mae West since the moment I saw her on film at probably age ten. That their lives and careers intersected so often and so profoundly came as a welcomed surprise. Both careers had their dazzling moments, both their painful reverses and nearly always both rose again from their ashes with some new performance victory.
Byrne’s story is the warp and woof of show business in America spanning the better part of the Twentieth Century. Crisscrossing the continent both performers worked vaudeville, burlesque, and the Broadway stage. Rae appeared in silent movies both in and out of female attire. He met worked side by side with many of the greats. Mae pioneered the talkies and had a quick brush with radio. Rae made records, and Mae had her moments on television.
Both were up to their eyeballs in the business: acting, singing, writing, designing costumes, involving themselves in every aspect of production. Though Mae moved into the mainstream of American show business, Rae’s work as a female impersonator seemed often to relegate him to the periphery, yet he seemed always to eventually find work.
What comes across most powerfully is that these were two individuals exceptional character. Both possessed endless perseverance, and each of them was blessed with more talent than one person deserves (let alone two).
I love this book because it is a well-told story of the intertwining careers of two prodigious talents active in show business at a time in history that I love and that is, I am afraid, gone forever.
-- Mark K. Spano, President, Mark Spano Communications
Video: Rae Bourbon in RKO's Hip Zip Hooray