Bert Savoy born 7 January 1880* (d. 1923)
Bert Savoy was an influential early American drag performer.
Bert Savoy - born Everett McKenzie - began his drag act 'doing a hootchie-kootchie dance at freak shows in Boston and polished it in the wilds of Alaska'. He nearly hit the big time in 1914 while understudying for James Russell of the Russell Brothers (known for their 'bitch' act: a pair of Irish servant girls) in Maids to Order when Russell dropped dead.
Savoy found greater success in 1915 when he begun a partnership as comedic partner to 'straight man', Jay Brennan (allegedly after Savoy had picked up Brennan on a streetcar). The team was a huge success; they headlined in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1918. Savoy & Brennan are pictured left.
Savoy was one of the first of such acts to clearly be associated in the minds of the viewing audience as being overtly homosexual in theme and content. Most other female impersonators of the day, such as the international sensation, Julian Eltinge, went to great lengths to let you know that they were engaged in painstaking artifice. Eltinge's career was accompanied by a pull out the stops public relations effort to show him in any number of traditional 'virile male' activities, when off stage.
Although drag had always been a main staple of vaudeville, it was not really performed as or perceived as 'gay' until the appearance of Savoy, who was pure camp on and off the stage. The two routines which gave rise to Savoy's catchphrases 'You Don't Know The Half Of It, Dearie' and 'You Mussst Come Over' were preserved for posterity on a rare 1923 Vocalion recording made shortly before Savoy's untimely demise.
The story of Bert Savoy's death is legendary and, by all accounts, absolutely true: on June 26, 1923 Savoy, his half-brother and two friends were walking along the shore at Long Beach watching an upcoming storm when a thunderclap prompted Savoy to squeal, 'Ain't Miss God cuttin' up somethin' awful?' or something similar. He was immediately struck dead by a bolt of lightning. How camp is that? In fact, the lighting focused on a bath house locker key around Savoy's neck. One friend, whose hand was resting on Savoy's shouder, was also killed and the other left paralysed. His half-brother survived.
Brennan continued the act quite successfully for a while with Stanley Rogers, owing much to the fact that Rogers copied Savoy's mannerisms and catchphrases to a tee. Brennan later became a scriptwriter in the movies and died in 1961 at the age of 78.
Mae West is alleged to have based much of her act on Bert Savoy.
Bert Savoy at Queer Music Heritage
*Musicals101.com list his birthdate as 1876 but most sources agree on 1880.
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