- Before the 20th century, men who donned dresses and adopted the movements and manners of women were mostly seen in minstrel shows. There, Francis Leon ("The Only Leon") achieved renown. Leon also appeared in musicals and vaudeville, which also made occasional use of female impersonators. Tony Hart, who became Edward Harrigan's stage partner, carried over his female impersonations from minstrelsy to the legitimate stage.Neil Burgess had been a blackface entertainer at Tony Pastor's theatre, but turned to female impersonation in 1877 at Harrigan and Hart's Theatre Comique and found his true niche. In 1879, he starred in Widow Bedott, playing the title role and finding a character he would perform throughout the remainder of his career. He also appeared in Vim; or, A Visit to Puffy Farm (1882) and The County Fair (1889). A sign of the growing acceptance of female impersonation came in 1891 when Burgess played Lady Teazle in the first Lambs' Gambol. Julian Eltinge and Bert Savoy were considered female impersonators of the first rank.
The Historical Dictionary of the American Theater. James Fisher.
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