Notorious Glamazon About Town
Having traveled the country with pioneering female illusion troupe The Jewel Box Revue throughout the ‘50s, performing under the moniker Miss Robbie Ross long before that name brought to mind thoughts of anyone named “Diana,” Robert Bouvard went on to an illustrious career as a Hollywood and Broadway make-up artist and stylist-to-the-stars. A bona fide throwback to a bygone era, in so many ways, Robbie is a real life “Golden Girl.” Perhaps that is why he felt so compelled to contact us when he read an article in the Sonoma County daily newspaper about The Golden Girls: Live in Guerneville.
While the cast has long discussed the possibility of taking The Golden Girls on the road, we often wondered whether our production’s appeal might be strictly San Francisco-based. Our fears where quickly laid to rest when the Russian River Resort proved not only a perfect weekend escape but also the ideal testing grounds.
Many of our avid fans, who I deemed “Golden Groupies,” made the hour-and-a-half trip to Guerneville to see two of their favorite episodes come to life on the world’s smallest (and perhaps most rickety) stage. Even more snapped up tickets after reading about us in the local press, filling both Saturday performances to capacity. The following day, the poolside area was brimming during our midday “Golden Girls Experience.” According to Vinsantos, it became the resort’s most climactic pool party ever when Cookie Dough and I – “Sophia” and “Rose,” respectively – out-slutted even Blanche with a striptease to “Big Spender” before diving into the water, wigs and all.
After such a tremendous weekend, and being treated like rock stars by Gregory, Jimmy Strano, Tucker and the entire staff at the Triple-R - which had been decked out in brand new neon palm trees to add a combination of Vegas and tropical paradise to the getaway - I was personally a little sad to leave the gorgeous Sonoma County destination. At the same time, I was also curious about Bouvard, who had called on Friday, offering to donate several wigs to our production. So with my car packed to capacity with costumes, Heklina and I set out for Rohnert Park.
While we were both a bit hesitant, since we had absolutely no idea what might await us, Heklina was more than willing to take the risk to save a nickel. We were both pleasantly surprised to find Robert’s house surrounded by adorable shaded walkways and gorgeous beds of tulips, nestled in a quaint little retirement mobile home community just a few minutes off the highway.
The elegant transplanted Kansan who started his drag career as a teen in San Jose greeted us at the door. Tall and still thin, he invited us to take a seat in his living room, which was immaculate, like a showroom. We both seemed instantly at ease. It was a little like visiting grandma’s house.
“You’re probably too young to remember an actress named Yvonne De Carlo,” Robert said early on, pulling out an 8x10 photograph taken with the woman whose exotic beauty made her a favorite in countless movies before she achieved celluloid immortality as television’s Lily Munster, “But I was her close personal friend and personal stylist for ten years.”
When Robert offered to share albums of photos and memorabilia from his drag career, Heklina and I were like children at Christmas. As we flipped through what could easily be considered the history books of our profession, his story began to unfold. We were captivated by anecdotes about his famous friends and old-school Hollywood.
“Even though she was naturally beautiful, Yvonne was much more comfortable in jeans riding dirt bikes with her sons than being glamorous,” he told us about the star he idolized as a teen, only to befriend years later when she walked into his Hollywood Boulevard wig shop in 1962. “I always said she should have been a dyke!”
We were even more mesmerized by his tales of being a traveling drag performer in the ‘50s. Long before his work as a make-up artist for more than two-dozen Broadway tours took him around the world, he criss-crossed the United States as a principle in the 25-person Jewel Box Revue.
Revolutionary not only because it was a touring drag production, the show was also among the first to be racially and ethnically integrated.
Though I was amused when he recounted black Muslims protesting, chanting “Get the fags out of Harlem!” as the Revue prepared for a performance at the legendary Apollo Theatre, it was a story about a trip to Dallas, TX, that truly hit home. Recalling how excited the troupe was to perform at the city’s gorgeous theatre, all that changed when they arrived to find the marquee read, “Big Fag Show Tonight.” “We all go back in our cars and refused to perform until that was changed,” he said as Heklina and I cackled.
Later, on the car ride home, we tried to piece Robert’s story together to ascertain his age. Though we could not quite guess his age – turns out he’s 72, according to Internet reports – it was very clear his wealth of stories, knowledge and experience far exceeded what we learned during our 45-minute visit.
“He’s part of a generation that’s almost gone,” Heklina said out loud. We both knew we went to Rohnert Park to get a few free wigs. Turns out we uncovered a gay national treasure.
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