August 1931 Program
from the Winter Garten Theatre - Berlin, Germany
Barbette was an American female impersonator, high wire performer and trapeze artist born in Texas on December 19, 1899. Barbette attained great popularity throughout the United States but his greatest fame came in Europe and especially Paris, in the 1920s and 1930s. Barbette began performing as an aerialist at around the age of 14 as one-half of a circus act called The Alfaretta Sisters. After a few years of circus work, Barbette went solo and adopted his exotic-sounding pseudonym. He performed in full drag, revealing himself as male only at the end of his act. Following a career-ending illness or injury, Barbette returned to Texas but continued to work as a consultant for motion pictures and training and choreographing aerial acts for a number of circuses.
After years of dealing with chronic pain, Barbette committed suicide on August 5, 1973. Both in life and following his death, Barbette served as an inspiration to a number of artists, including Jean Cocteau and Man Ray. Barbette made his European debut in 1923, having been sent by the William Morris Agency first to England and then to Paris. He appeared in such venues as the Casino de Paris, the Moulin Rouge, the Empire, the Médrano Circus, the Alhambra Theater and the Folies Bergere. He returned to America in 1924 to appear in The Passing Show of 1924, which ran for four months beginning in September. Also in this timeframe he became a featured attraction with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus and toured London, Brussels and Berlin.