Born in Cleveland, Ohio, Carter served in the United States Navy during World War II. He began his performance career in 1947 in a Chicago nightclub where he met Pearl Bailey who became an early supporter of his act. Kay Thompson's threat to sue him was to his benefit, and through it he became known in Los Angeles. As an encouragement, Josephine Baker gave him numerous Dior and Balenciaga gowns and tutored him in French.
Carter worked with big bands (typically 15 musicians), small ensembles, and with a solo pianist, as well as other dancers, such as the Jewel Box Review Chorus Boys and the Four Cartiers. He impersonated many famous actresses and singers including Pearl Bailey, Josephine Baker, Tallulah Bankhead, Fanny Brice, Carol Channing, Cher, Bette Davis, Marlene Dietrich, Phyllis Diller, Hermione Gingold, Hildegarde, Eartha Kitt, Ethel Merman, Barbra Streisand, Kay Thompson, and Mae West. He also created several original characters. He is best known for starting in the long-running Jewel Box Review showcase.
Carter recorded one album entitled She's a He in 1957 on Fiesta Records. He appeared on the Merv Griffin and Mike Douglas TV Shows (1960s), in the Fun City Review (1968), and in the film The Man from O.R.G.Y. (1970). In 1971 Carter became the first female impersonator to perform at Carnegie Hall.
Critics attributed his success to his ability to give his characterizations authenticity and depth as well as humor.
Carter's final performances were in "Hooray for Hollywood," a revue at the St. Regis-Sheraton Hotel in 1984. After suffering declining health caused by multiple heart attacks and AIDS related complications, Carter died of pneumonia in Manhattan in 1985.
Mother Camp: Female Impersonators in America by Esther Newton
Paperback: 158 pages
Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; 1 edition (May 15, 1979)
Amazon: Mother Camp: Female Impersonators in America
For two years Ester Newton did field research in the world of drag queens—homosexual men who make a living impersonating women. Newton spent time in the noisy bars, the chaotic dressing rooms, and the cheap apartments and hotels that make up the lives of drag queens, interviewing informants whose trust she had earned and compiling a lively, first-hand ethnographic account of the culture of female impersonators. Mother Camp explores the distinctions that drag queens make among themselves as performers, the various kinds of night clubs and acts they depend on for a living, and the social organization of their work. A major part of the book deals with the symbolic geography of male and female styles, as enacted in the homosexual concept of "drag" (sex role transformation) and "camp," an important humor system cultivated by the drag queens themselves.
"Newton's fascinating book shows how study of the extraordinary can brilliantly illuminate the ordinary—that social-sexual division of personality, appearance, and activity we usually take for granted."—Jonathan Katz, author of Gay American History
"A trenchant statement of the social force and arbitrary nature of gender roles."—Martin S. Weinberg, Contemporary Sociology
More LGBT History at my website: http://www.elisarolle.com/, My Ramblings/Gay Classics
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