Here are 17 crossdressers even far-right Republicans love

Here are 17 crossdressers even far-right Republicans love
Republicans have always loved drag - until they thought they could win political points Photo: Meme

New legislation just signed into law in Tennessee and proposals introduced in several other red states by MAGA legislators outlaw public drag performance. What does that mean?

For one, it means no more Mrs. Doubtfire at movie nights in the park.

It means no more outdoor USO shows featuring cute, young, primarily straight soldiers in high heels and wigs for another. And it’s the end of Benny Hill tribute bands.

Legislators say they know what “bad” drag looks like — the kind that promotes sexual deviancy and “grooming” — and that’s what they’re going after, not the “lighthearted” variety.

Have they seen Rudy Giuliani in a dress?

The problem is, these laws are so broadly and poorly written that practically anyone not conforming to some kind of American Taliban dress code could be subject to punishment.

The lawsuits — and trials! — will be entertaining, as “Arrest me!” and “Call a cop” become popular refrains for anyone stepping out in the wrong shoes.

A recent email to the LGBTQ Nation editor asked, “If women wear pants, does that make them felons because they’re in drag?”

Reader Anne Kim added, “I saw Adam Lambert on America’s Got Talent. He was wearing a suit, but he had on a lot of eye makeup, with glitter. Would that constitute drag and make him a felon?”

Anne, however talented or not you think Adam Lambert is, yes, he could probably be arrested and carted off to jail if AGT was shooting a country-themed episode in a public park in Nashville someday. But Howie Mandel hates to fly, so that’s unlikely.

But to your point: rodeo clowns, pop stars, and men in kilts could all be subject to Tennessee’s drag ban. Are morality police far behind?

Before we slide into a fascist fantasy like Marjorie Taylor Greene’s “21 Club,” let’s take a moment to appreciate the long tradition of drag performance that once brought Americans across the political spectrum together, when anyone could wear a girdle without all the hassle.

Here are 17 memorable crossdressers that even a far-right Republican could love.

1. Bugs Bunny 1939

The troublemaking hare, first introduced in the late 1930s at Warner Bros., is a famous early example of crossdressing in the movies, although certainly not the first.

Charlie Chaplin, Stan Laurel of Laurel and Hardy, and Curly from the Three Stooges all occasionally appeared in drag for laughs, as did Fatty Arbuckle of Hollywood Babylon fame, and Oscar-winning actor Wallace Beery, who played a stout Swedish maid in a series of early silent shorts in the 1910s.

But it was Bugs, most famously voiced by Mel Blanc, who made a career within a career out of drag, appearing in over 40 cartoons in lipstick and/or a dress, from his cross-dressing debut in Hare-um Scare-um in 1939 to Joe Dante’s Looney Tunes: Back in Action in 2003, when Bugs confronts a Warner Bros. VP played by Jenna Elfman and cracks wise, “Lady, if you don’t find a rabbit with lipstick amusing, you and I have nothing to say to each other.”

2. Milton Berle on the Texaco Star Theater 1948-1956

Berle was television’s first superstar as host of the Texaco Star Theater on NBC, where outrageous drag was one of his trademark gags. In May 1949, Newsweek described him as “Television’s Whirling Dervish” in a cover story depicting the comedian as a Technicolor Carmen Miranda, all chunky jewelry and lipstick under a headscarf full of fruit.

Berle lasted long enough in show business to get paired with RuPaul at the 1993 VMA’s, where the Drag Race queen got shady and improvised that lately, the comedy legend had been wearing diapers instead of dresses. Berle snapped back: “Oh, we’re going to ad-lib? I’ll check my brain, and we’ll start even.”

3. Benny Hill on The Benny Hill Show 1955-1989

One of the U.K.’s most famous comedians was on the air for over 30 years with one version or another of The Benny Hill Show, a mix of live comedy, burlesque, filmed skits, and lots of adolescent double entendre. Feminists grew to loathe the squat comedian’s leering comedy, but Michael Jackson claimed he loved it.

Among Hill’s crossdressing characters: News presenter Ann Afford, reporting from London; Rita Fripp, ITV’s most loyal viewer; and cooking show personality Fanny Craddock, who along with husband Johnny inexplicably, and of course inscrutably, turns Chinese for one appearance, with the attendant English mispronunciations and Oriental malapropisms.

4. Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis in Some Like It Hot 1959

Billy Wilder’s crossdressing classic feels as fresh today as it did when the movie premiered over 60 years ago. Lemmon and Curtis play musicians on the run from Prohibition-era gangsters, disguising themselves as members of an all-girl band playing a gig at a luxe Florida hotel. The pair make adorable girlfriends who hook up for love (Curtis with Marilyn Monroe) and money (Lemmon with an attentive millionaire played by Joe E. Brown), all while getting in touch with their feminine sides.

Wilder’s script with I. A. L. Diamond was a subversive Oscar nominee.

5. Monty Python’s Flying Circus 1969-1974

Crossdressing in British drama goes back to Shakespeare’s time when all the performers at the Globe Theater were men. The Monty Python troupe continued the tradition, with the all-male members playing most of the female parts on their stream-of-consciousness sketch show, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, on the BBC.

Terry Jones and Graham Chapman specialized in what the BBC termed “ratbag” old women and housewives, while Michael Palin, Eric Idle, and John Cleese went in for more “posh” portrayals. Know them by their trademark Python falsetto.

6. Flip Wilson as Geraldine on The Flip Wilson Show 1970-74

Comedian Flip Wilson’s titular The Flip Wilson Show premiered on NBC in 1970, and he hosted a Who’s Who of Black celebrity royalty, including Lena Horne, Harry Belafonte, The Supremes, The Jackson 5, Aretha Franklin, The Temptations, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Red Foxx, Muhammad Ali, and Ella Fitzgerald.

If they were lucky, Wilson’s guests got screen time with the comedian’s most famous creation, Geraldine, whose catchphrase, “What you see, is what get!” summed up her appeal in a flip wig, short skirt, bright colors and bold patterns.

7. Jackie Gleason and Bob Hope, The Bob Hope Special 1974  

Judging from the pix shot by legendary celebrity photographer Ron Galella, these two titans of television, the biggest names in the business in 1974, had a ball shooting a skit for Hope’s anniversary special for NBC marking 25 years with the network and recorded live in New York’s Central Park. The pair play a couple of undercover vice cops in drag. Most notable — beyond their obvious comfort level with the wardrobe and each other — is how stacked they are. “Thanks for the memory!”

8. Jamie Farr as Corporal Klinger in M*A*S*H 1972-1983

When the TV version of the movie of the book premiered on CBS in 1972, there was a new character that hadn’t appeared in the first two iterations of the 4077th hospital story: Corporal Maxwell Q. Klinger, who crossdressed to prove he was insane and earn a psychiatric discharge from the Army.

He could be sassy. When one higher-up demanded, “Klinger, I want to see you out of that dress tonight!” he replied tartly, “Never on a first date, sir.” While each week brought a new and more outrageous outfit, Klinger’s superiors were never fooled. Despite the drag, he never got his Section Eight.

9. Tom Hanks in Bosom Buddies 1980-82

On Bosom Buddies, two friends/advertising creatives dress up like women to score a decent apartment, making the short-lived sitcom a Some Like It Hot/Three’s Company mash-up. The NBC effort was a title in search of a premise but did earn one distinguishing characteristic with the later big-time success of one of its leads: Tom Hanks — in a dress.  

10. Julie Andrews and Robert Preston in Victor/Victoria 1982

Despite the gay stuff, Victor/Victoria had Julie Andrews in the titular lead, plus tough guy James Garner from The Rockford Files, football star Alex Karras, The Music Man’s Robert Preston, and the director of those funny Pink Panther movies, Blake Edwards. All that made the film palatable to mainstream audiences, and maybe even a little daring for housewives to bring along their husbands just for the reaction.

Besides Andrews, who dons men’s tuxedos in her turn as Victor, and gowns as Victoria with her glass-shattering talents as a crossdressing male soprano, the best drag in the movie is Preston’s hilarious last-minute substitution for “Victoria,” an endearing, self-deprecating tour de force as credits roll.

11. Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie 1982

Dustin Hoffman is trying to make it as an actor in New York. He’s talented, sure, but he’s also a pain in the ass, and no one wants to work with him. Solution? Start auditioning as a woman. Michael Dorsey becomes Dorothy Michaels, a sensitive yet ball-busting feminist starring in a network soap.

Says Michael as Dorothy to her bosses on the show: “I think I know what y’all really want. You want some gross caricature of a woman to prove some idiotic point, like power makes a woman masculine, or that masculine women are ugly. Well shame on the woman who lets you do that.”

Hoffman and writer Larry Gelbart were both Oscar-nominated.

12. Dana Carvey as the Church Lady on Saturday Night Live 1986-90

As the Reagan era’s Moral Majority vibe got tired in the mid-1980s, Dana Carvey’s uptight Church Lady on SNL struck a nerve with audiences: they couldn’t get enough of the sour-pussed, bible-thumping evangelist and her trademark punchline, “Could it be… Satan?!” The act was all more delicious because the Church Lady’s hypocrisies were delivered by a man in a dress — albeit a very modest and well-tailored one.

13. The Kids in the Hall 1989-95

Like the Python troupe, cross-dressing for the Canadian Kids in the Hall was a comedic choice and a casting necessity for the mostly male group. Scott Thompson’s impression of Queen Elizabeth was one of the few celebrity drag bits, while most of the cast’s female impersonations played it straight.

Thompson contrasted the group’s approach to the Pythons, saying the Kids weren’t winking at the audience: “We were never, like, going, ‘Oh, look at me! I’m a guy in a dress!’ Never. We would always try to be real, and that, I think, freaked people out.” Mark McKinney’s half-man Chicken Lady was an exception.

14. Martin Lawrence as Shenehneh in Martin 1992-1997

On the sitcom Martin, starring Martin Lawrence, the comedian played the lead, an up-and-coming Detroit DJ, as well as a gallery of supporting characters, including Big Momma, who would go on to movie fame in Big Momma’s House, and Martin’s neighbor across the hall, Shenehneh Jenkins. This girl was a mess. Unapologetically trashy, with a massive ass, inches-long nails, and frightening weaves, Nehneh was prone to fights and delivered her vast collection of catchphrases in a distinctive, marble-mouth Black vernacular: “Oh mah goodnehhh!” Looking for the origin of “Oh, no you didn’t”? You found her.

15. Robin Williams in Mrs. Doubtfire 1993

Tootsie’s cross-dressing cousin finds Robin Williams fired from his marriage and looking for a way to spend time with his kids. With the help of prosthetics wiz Harvey Fierstein, he’s transformed into British nanny Euphegenia Doubtfire, as if Mary Poppins was a man in a much larger dress. While light on feminism, the movie charms with Williams’ manic improvisations, costume changes, and endearing nanny-isms, plus Sally Field and the San Francisco backdrop.

16. Eddie Murphy as Mama Klump and Granny Klump in The Nutty Professor 1996

Eddie Murphy suited up for seven roles in this remake of the Jerry Lewis classic, with two female impersonations in the mix. While Granny Klump doesn’t say much — and manages to be hilarious in the process — it’s Mama Klump’s non-stop patter that warms hearts and makes you think, Hey, Eddie Murphy is a pretty good actor under all the makeup. And who can forget “Herc-a-lees!”?

17. Nathan Lane and Gene Hackman in The Bird Cage 1996

Talk about wholesome entertainment! This remake of La Cage Aux Folles from director Mike Nichols and writer Elaine May was an instant classic when it premiered in 1996, capturing the zeitgeist of Pat Buchanan’s original “culture wars” perfectly. Robin Williams and Nathan Lane have a son engaged to the daughter of a conservative senator, played by Gene Hackman, embroiled in scandal after his colleague is found dead in the bed of an underage Black prostitute. A white wedding could be the perfect distraction, but the groom’s bio mom is missing in action.

Lane has to slip into pearls and his most “traditional” ensemble to fool the senator and his wife into thinking theirs is the perfect family, which of course, we come to appreciate was perfect all along. Lane is the picture of a blushing wife, and spoiler alert: the conservative senator ends up in a dress.

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