The Berlin stage theatre in 1912as erotic as it would be in the 1920s

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Tarn Stephanos

Member
German (Berlin) stage theatre in the 1920s was fascinating- very surreal, extremely erotic, quite a bit of crossdressing (women dressed as men)- I was curious if the level of eroticism that could be found in Berlin stage theatre in the 1920s was evident in 1912, or if Berlin stage theatre in 1912 was something quite different?
 
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Martin Williams

Member
I'm by no means an expert on such matters, and cannot cite examples of particular shows, performers or venues, but I'm sure that there WAS raunchy entertainment on offer in Berlin in 1912 - if you knew where to look for it. The same would have gone for London, Paris, New York, Vienna...every taste would have been catered for although, unlike today, people generally chose not to shout about their more unusual or unorthodox predilections.

It absolutely goes without saying that any explicit or serious (i.e. not deliberately comical) reference to sex and cross-dressing in the mainstream theatre of the period would have been unheard of. In Great Britain the Lord Chamberlain had the power to ban any production of which he disapproved and I think once exercised this right to close down a stage version of Elinor Glyn's famously risque 'Three Weeks'.

British men have always loved getting themselves up in drag - just think of our pantomime tradition! And, throughout the Edwardian Era, Vesta Tilley was a major crowd-puller with her music-hall turn, in which she impersonated a dandy, top hat, tail-coat and all. Tilley was massively popular in both England and the States and, after her performance at the Royal Variety Show in 1912, was hailed by one critic as 'the most perfectly dressed young man in the house'. J. B. Priestley was rather less impressed and found Tilley neither funny nor convincing. I suspect that much of the appeal to late Victorian and Edwardian audiences lay in the sheer novelty of seeing a woman parading around dressed as a man.

It is interesting to note that, after her husband (a Tory MP) was knighted in 1919, Tilley became the eminently respectable-sounding Lady de Frece. But at no point in her career had she EVER cultivated a persona as overtly erotic as that of Marlene Dietrich in 'The Blue Angel'!

Nowadays, we are all more sexually aware and can detect a certain Sapphic appeal in cross-dressing turns like Tilley's. I don't know whether she herself had lesbian tendencies but I'm sure she had a large gay following. I believe that Sarah Waters drew on Tilley for some of the inspiration behind her famous 'Tipping the Velvet' which was adapted by the BBC four or five years ago.
 
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Tarn Stephanos

Member
Plus I seem to remember a silent US film with Fatty Arbuckle in drag- now that was shocking!
 
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Tarn Stephanos

Member
As for British men in drag, nothing can touch the comedic talents of the cast of the 1960s tv sensation 'Monty Python's Flying Circus'.

As for Berlin theatre, or burlesque- It wasn't comedy- it seemed a hybrid of art, erotica and theatre...I seem to recall stills of 1920s German women wearing top hats, having painted on mostaches,with cigarette holders in hand, and ample bosoms exposed..
I suspect once the Nazis swept into power, such delightful debauchery became a thing of the past....
 
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Martin Williams

Member
Too right it did! 'Cabaret' style carryings-on were very much a feature of Weimar Berlin, as well as a source of inspiration for George Grosz, but were deemed 'degenerate' by the Nazis and so were virtually eliminated once Hitler came to power.

If you are interested in the German-Austrian tradition of satire, I'd recommend a book called 'Last Waltz in Vienna' by George Clare. It is a beautiful and moving account of the rise of an upper-middle class Jewish family in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and their subsequent destruction under the Nazis. 'Last Waltz' has just been republished here in the UK and is available on Amazon.
 
Dave Gittins

Dave Gittins

Member
In a more highbrow field, we find some fun in Der Rosenkavalier by Richard Strauss, which appeared in 1911.

The curtain rises on the Marschallin, who is getting on a bit, and her young lover, Octavian. It's obvious what they've been up to. The fun is that Octavian is played by a woman. Later, Octavian is disguised as a woman and gets chatted up by a man. Confused?

Octavian later becomes engaged to the young Sophie, giving us the spectacle of two female lovers. Fun parts to play!

A few singers have sung all three leading roles as their voices changed over the years.

Personally, I'm no fan of the piece, because I'm not keen on hearing three sopranos in the leading roles. Strauss had a thing about sopranos, but I don't share his enthusiasm.

There are earlier examples of this sort of thing, known in the trade as 'trouser roles', the most famous being Mozart's Cherubino. Today, it's common to see women playing castrato roles from the 18th century, so we have to accept a female Julius Caesar, among others. It's a funny old world!
 
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George L. Lorton

Member
>>Plus I seem to remember a silent US film with >>Fatty Arbuckle in drag- now that was shocking!<<

>>As for British men in drag, nothing can touch the comedic talents of the cast of the 1960s tv sensation 'Monty Python's Flying Circus'.<<

Chaplin also did a film in drag in 1915 were he played a very mean abusive suffragette. It was considered very funny at the time and I saw a production still photo and I thought Chaplin looked kinda pretty as lady.
 
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Jason Schleisman

Member
>>There are earlier examples of this sort of thing, known in the trade as 'trouser roles', the most famous being Mozart's Cherubino.<<

Aside from classical roles, the Edwardian role of "Peter Pan" originated on-stage by Nina Boucicault in 1904. It is traditionally an adult female-played, male role. This convention is not really intended as drag or sexual amusement, however, it is a role requiring a very robust, vigorous, and virile portrayal of a young male by a woman.

Speaking of pantomime a few posts up, here's a toast to the most recently deceased John Inman. May he RIP.
 
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