Who else can claim they were in the infamous queer documentary The Queen, they were at the Stonewall riots, and that they were the first winner of the legendary Miss Florida F.I. Pageant. There’s only one who can, and it’s the indomitable, Emore DuBois.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Philadelphia.
When’s the first time that you dressed up?
I’m now 77. I started off around age 23 or 24 in Atlantic City. I know that I was at least 21 the first time that I wore a dress (laughs).
How did you come up with your name?
Emore is my real first. I took “DuBois” from W. E. B. Du Bois.
How did you start off your professional career?
I won Miss Philadelphia around 1967, which was a wonderful title to have. That started me off on this adventure.
What did you do after that?
Well, I was in the documentary, The Queen, from 1968. That’s the documentary about the pageants in New York. I was the first runner-up. I was the girl in the white gown. I was very close friends with Harlow from the film—Racheal Harlow. But I lost contact with him for many years. The first time that I saw the film was in P. Town, believe it or not.
What else did you do in New York?
I was living in Philly, but we’d take the train to New York. I was at Stonewall during those riots, if you can believe that. But I didn’t know how to handle it. I wasn’t into battling, and carrying on, and breaking things. I should of, but I wasn’t. Some of us just thought, “Okay, it’s another night. They’ve done this before.”
Do you have any other vivid memories of New York?
We used to go to The Sanctuary when it was new, the place that some say was the first gay disco. It was like, a regular church. It had the pews on either side, and the dance floor was in between them (laughs). It was the first time that I was ever shocked.
You were the first winner for the Miss Florida Pageant in 1973. What was your experience with that?
Well, first of all, I worked on the costume for three years. It was a beaded Shirley Bassey costume. I worked on it a little bit at a time. And then I rehearsed the number for over two years. I did belly dancing in the number.
What are your other thoughts about the pageant?
I’m really happy that the pageant has gone on this long. It sort of carves a niche between drag and impersonators, but it does it sort of subtly. It is really wonderful.
What other shows did you do in Florida?
I had a show on Miami Beach for years. I worked at a place called Le Crib. I also worked at the Fountainebleau in a Jewel Box Revue [the Jewel Box Revue is widely considered America’s first racially integrated drag revue].
What are your other memories of Florida?
I was the first one to do a solo female impersonator show in Florida, you know. I taught Dana Manchester, for example, how to do it. We called them “concerts.” You would do a few different celebrity impersonations in the show. But despite that, just know that I really love Florida. I get a tingle every time someone mentions it. Florida has produced so many performers. There’s something in the water there.
Where else did you perform other than Florida?
I was in little shows. I traveled all over the county. I traveled with other female impersonators.
You’re in Las Vegas now. How did you end up there?
I came to open a show here. I moved out here to do that, but the place burned down to the ground before we even did one show! I ended up working with Kenny Kerr for 20 years. I worked with Frank Marino in La Cage after that as well.
What impersonations were you known for?
I liked to do people that were less common. The audience would be more surprised by that. They always wanted me to do Diana Ross. I did her in shows for a while, and I met her many times, but she’s done so much.
Who’s your favorite performer?
My favorite performer in the entire world is Shirley Bassey. She does something to me. She has the most magnetic eyes. It’s like she’s hypnotizing you with them, or something. By the way, everyone knew me in Florida as Shirley Bassey. She came to see me when I was working at the Eden Rock there. She said that I was the best one that ever did her.
Of all your shows, which one was your favorite?
My favorite show I think was the Jewel Box. We did obscure numbers, like Josephine Baker. Everyone fell in love with it. I also did Shirley Bassey, and they loved her as well.
Who choreographed your numbers?
I thought of everything that I’ve ever done.
What’s the scariest thing that ever happened to you on stage?
When I did Shirley Bassey, I used to open with Goldfinger. The curtain would draw back, and you’d see this boy painted gold on a pole in the spotlight, with just a G-string on. I’d come from one end of the stage, and the boy would be on the other, and we’d make our way towards each other. Well, one night he slipped because of the gold paint. He fell and broke a bone in his neck.
What’s the most shocking thing that you’ve ever seen a “drag” performer do?
I had a friend in New York for a long time. His name was Crisis. He would do this number where he spoofed those Chiffon commercials, the ones where they had someone playing mother nature. He started off the number by coming out to this angelic music, and then he pulled off every bit of clothes as the number went on.
Other than yourself, what performer did the best impersonation?
I worked with Roxanne Russell, who was the second winner of the Miss Florida Pageant. He was the best Marilyn, ever. He had a masculine body, but he acted the whole thing out. That’s what made it so amazing.
Who’s your favorite female impersonator?
Roxanne Russell—his real name was Logan Carter. And I also like Michael St. Laurent from Florida, who was in the movie, The Rose. He was a comic, and he was very, very clever. Oh, and Tiffany Arieagus. She’s one of the brightest glamour queens that there is.
Speaking of female impersonators, did you ever meet Charles Pierce?
I ran into him the last time that I was in P. Town after one of his shows. Pierce was against all that drag stuff, you know. When I met him, he said to me, “Oh, I’m so glad that someone wants to talk to me about female impersonation.”
Who’s your favorite contemporary?
My favorite contemporary is Larry Edwards, a.k.a, Hot Chocolate. He does Tina Turner here in Vegas. We used to do two different eras of Tina. He did the younger version, and I did the older.
With all your years in show business, did you ever dress up when you weren’t on the stage?
No. I would never reveal myself in public. I didn’t go to the clubs in drag, and I certainly never walked around on the streets dressed up. If the show was over, my makeup was off.
Are you retired now?
Yes. I retired three years ago.
And now, a fun question. Since you performed in Miami Beach, what do you think about the movie, Birdcage?
I liked Birdcage, but it’s a bit fake for me. I mean, a man trying to act like a woman (laughs). Most of the impersonators that I know wouldn’t even consider themselves drag queens, let alone women.
And finally, would you ever come out of retirement and do a guest appearance?
Well, I made an appearance at the Miss Florida Pageant three years ago. I took my time, and I drove there. I drove from Vegas to Florida. The country is absolutely beautiful. But you never know. Maybe there’s another number in me still (laughs).