1932: Drag Star ‘Fashion Plate’
On Sept. 21, 1932, Karyl Norman (né: George Paduzzi), a cross-dressing performer who billed himself as “the Creole Fashion Plate”, opened at Club La Boheme, at 8614 Sunset Blvd., in the Sunset Plaza section of the Strip. Norman was one of the stars of what was then called “the Pansy Craze,” which referred mostly to cross-dressing–known as “drag” today — and also included singers who specialized in ribald lyrics and biting repartee — now called “camp”.
Norman’s signature act was an impersonation of Joan Crawford in the movie “Rain”–a performance given the seal of approval by Crawford herself, after having seen it accompanied by her friend, former MGM star Billy Haines, according to Billy Wilkerson’s Hollywood Reporter. Variety called Norman’s show “the smartest and most entertaining floor review seen in these parts in a long time,” and said it stood out among the proliferation of “female impersonator shows flourishing in this neck of the woods.” There were other acts on the bill, according to the Times, including “a moonkist chorus of beautiful girls.”
After performing at Club Boheme, Karyl Norman returned to vaudeville and reportedly opened his own club. In January 1934, Club La Boheme and two other nightclubs on the Strip that were popular with celebrities–the Old Colony Club, 1131 North Alta Loma Drive, and the Clover Club, 8477 Sunset Blvd.–were raided in a round-up of illegal gambling.
Club La Boheme closed, but in June the proprietor, Joe Borgia, a former singer with the Metropolitan Opera, reopened it as Club Trianon, which closed almost immediately. The space was not vacant long, however. It was acquired by Hollywood Reporter publisher Billy Wilkerson, who remodeled the building and opened it as Cafe Trocadero, which would soon become one of the most famous nightclubs in the world.
(Read about the opening of Cafe Trocadero here.)