Paris Todd ...
Todd was a featured performer with the famed Jewel Box Revue.
Dear JD Doyle, I have enjoyed your archived materials of female impersonation. I am so glad someone has been keeping this treasure together. I have been in contact with Kurt Mann. We worked several shows together in the 60s. I sent him some old photos and reminisced the good days of our youth. He said that I should contact you about my Jewel Box memories.
A Few Adventures with The Jewel Box Revue
by Paris Todd
I was working in a sewer called The Crazy Horse, on 8th Street in Greenwich Village, when a drag queen named Tish said that I should be working in The Jewel Box Revue. I didnt know what that was, but by luck I found a phone number. I called and again by luck, one of the owners picked up. He knew Tish and set up an audition for the weekend. Bring your drag and be prepared to wow me, he said. First I had to buy a wig & make a costume I deemed suitable. It was awful, but I didnt know any better.
The so-called audition took place at Ben Maksiks Town & Country Club out in Brooklyn. The show was starring one of the greats, Lynn Carter. They actually introduced me and put me in the middle of the show in front of a packed house. The orchestra leader asked for my music charts. I had none. I did not think I had to bring any. So I told Ned Harvey to play a chorus of More and a chorus of Love Is a Many Splendored Thing. So I toe danced the first chorus and then went into an acrobatic bit for the second. I was hired on the spot. Tish must have played me up so that they must have had confidence that I would not make a fool of myself. So they quickly taught me the opening number, outfitted me, and I did the second show. A few days later we opened at the Howard Theatre in Washington D.C. Bizarre? You bet!
The owners were Danny Brown and Doc Benner. They were always very kind to me. At first, I did my solo spot which was acrobatic work. I also did pony work(chorus girl) and did showgirl work later on. The Jewel Box was not considered drag, but female impersonation. There were 25 men and one woman. The object was to fool the audience into believing we were real women. The real woman was Storme Delarverie - she sang one song and was the M.C. for the show. Storme was a great craftsman. When I met her, I thought she was a straight man - perhaps the stage manager? She was always professional and very sweet to me. I heard she died in a nursing home in Queens. She was 93. Storme was a beautiful person inside and out.
I stayed with The Jewel Box on and off for 9 years. I would go off to do summer stock, a road show tour, or ballet, or so-called legit theatre, but whenever I had free time on my hands and I felt like it, Doc and Danny always made room to feature me. The featured performers I most admired were:
· Chris Moore - Sweet, crazy Chris. He looked like Marlene Dietrich, but sounded like Ethel Merman. (The cancer fairy eventually got her.)
· Billy Austin - A rotund comic who did Sophie Tucker. (He died of pneumonia.)
· Kurt Mann - Adorable Phyllis!! Kurt did Phyllis Diller impressions and showgirl work. (So glad that Kurt is still with us.)
· Bobby Barton - Sweet Bobby was a good pal of mine. Bobby was a tall beautiful striptease artist. (Bobby died from being pushed down steps by a lover.)
· Tony Lee - Beautiful Eurasian dancer/stripper. (Tony committed suicide.)
· Robin Rogers - He was a dual voiced performer. Very gifted. (heard that Robin had died)
· Bruno Le Fantastique - He was from Italy and did a half man/half woman spot. You would have sworn there were two people on the stage. It was so inventive. ( I believe Bruno left this world due to heart attack.)
· Dale Roberts - He looked like Jean Harlow when platinum. (Have no idea if he is alive or dead.)
We also carried 4 male dancers. They were tall and handsome and hardworking. I got to dance with all four of them when they built a production number around me for The Ritual Fire Dance.
The show consisted of three production numbers interspersed with the featured acts, chorus numbers and a costume or showgirl parade. At the end we removed our wigs and introduced the real girl. The entire show did the theatre runs usually for a month in the large theatres(The Apollo in Harlem, The Apollo on 42nd St. in Manhattan, The Howard Theatre in D.C., The Shore in Coney Island, The beautiful Fox Theatre in Detroit. When we did the nightclub run the show dropped the male dancers and the chorus. The principals then did their individual spots and some showgirl work. Only the best did the club tour. We had a thirteen piece orchestra which would also be cut down for small clubs. All singing was done live. No lip synching was allowed. We were always treated like visiting royalty when we toured. I think we experienced the last of the stagedoor Johnnys.
My last show was in Harlem. I went back as a male dancer simply because I didnt feel like going through the trouble of working on my face and hair. The show starred Arthur Blake. Arthur did not dress in female attire. He would simply don a hat or a feather boa and become whomever he was impersonating. He went on to a show at The Plaza Hotel which was written by Hugh Martin and Timothy Gray. Hugh and Timothy were kind enough to ask me to be in that limited engagement show too.
My career went on, but the memories linger. I believe that Kurt Mann and I are the last of the featured performers. The Jewel Box was truly the best in its genre. It was always classy, nothing dirty, always tastefully produced. Hats off to Doc and Danny.
photos from JBR 30th Anniversary program, Paris is on far right
They are photos from the JBR 30th year programs. You have to look close to find me in wide angle production #s. There are no posed professional shots of me in programs. I asked Doc and Danny not to use many photos of me because I was afraid at the time that it would hurt my "legit" career. So in many ways, I did the JBR "on the down low". Today I am very proud of my participation in JBR. It was wonderful entertainment that had great performers who were often overlooked for their craft. Thanks so much for a page on your site. I am honored. I believe your site is so important from a historical perspective and subject matter. It is a history that should not be forgotten and be shared with generations to come.