Research on Ray has been an ongoing process over the past twenty-five years, sometimes with fits and starts and often with long periods where nothing turns up.
Here’s an overview of what I’m currently researching about Ray and leads I’m following this summer. If you have any ideas on places to look or resources to draw on, let me know!
Ray’s Early Life
I’m still looking for some kind of confirmation of Ray’s story about the killing of his lover, George, the ranch foreman and Ray’s subsequent murder of the man who gunned down George. I’ve confirmed to my satisfaction, Ray’s accounts of his growing up on a ranch outside Sierra Blanca in west Texas. There was a newspaper in Sierra Blanca at the time, but it appears that only some issues from the 1920s survey – George’s murder probably happened around November-December 1906.
Is there another way to track down some kind of documentation of this obscure local news story?
Ray and Mae West
Ray claimed for many years that he was in the cast of Mae West’s show “Sex” that was raided by the New York police in 1929. I’ve not found any program or other material listing Ray in the cast. I have a request out for the NYC archives for the arrest records of both of Mae’s shows that were raided (“Sex” and “The Drag”) to see if Ray turns up in the list.
Ray’s Trip to Europe
In the autobiography, Ray spends considerable space outline a trip to Europe he made in late 1936. While there, he appeared at the London Palladium with the “Crazy Gang” in October, then appeared with Josephine Baker at the Folies Bergère in October-November. We found ship’s manifests that document Ray’s trip, so we can place him there during the time frame.
I’ve found some London Palladium programs from September 1936, the month before Ray’s appearance, showing that the “Crazy Gang” was appearing there in a show called “Okay for Sound” (made into a film in 1937) that month. I dug through some old London newspaper ads from October and the show was still running, when Ray would have appeared with the group, with ad noting the addition of one new cast member – “Ray Sax”. The ads are small classified ad type listings – a program might have Ray’s listed under his own name or, if he performed as “Ray Sax”, would show what type of act or number was performed.
Ray tells of doing a command performance for King Edward VIII with the Crazy Gang during this trip. Edward had travelled extensively around the world, but was in England during this time frame. Ray identifies the location of the performance as “Belvedere Castle”. It’s more properly called Fort Belvedere and was Edward’s home from 1929 and was the location of his abdication. According to sources online, the Crazy Gang was a favorite of Edward, so Ray’s story is plausible. The performance would have taken place in October, 1936; Edward abdicated in December.
Anyone know if the British royal family keeps records of performances like this and how to research them?
For Ray’s appearance with Josephine Baker, I’ve confirmed through a biography of Baker, written by her son, that she had an unrewarding and frustrating tour of the US in 1935 through early 1936. In May 1936, Baker was signed for a big triumphal return to the Folies Bergère. The book also notes that Baker had say over who would appear in the show, backing up Ray’s claim that Baker specifically asked for him.
Also, Ray tells the story of a dancer, Frederick Rey, that appeared with Baker in the show and asked for Ray’s help to get a visa to visit the US – some movie studios had tested him in Paris and wanted him to come to Hollywood. Ray talks with Louis B. Mayer and works out a bribe for someone at the embassy in Paris, as well as travel funds, smuggling Frederick in through Cuba. In January 1937, Frederick arrives in Hollywood, does a near-nude screen test that is positively received, and promptly gets arrested and deported when he’s caught with narcotics with another gay man.
Interestingly, in the biography of Josephine Baker, Frederick Rey is highlighted as Baker’s dance partner in her late 1936 shows at the Folies Bergère.
What would close the deal for me with this would be locating a newspaper ad or Folies Bergère program listing Ray in the cast during this time period. Unfortunately, there are several Paris newspapers from late 1936 digitized and online, but they’re in a commercial database I don’t have access to at Duke University. I haven’t turned up any leads on programs from the period either. Any help tracking down the newspaper ads or a program would be appreciated.
Ray also discusses at length a command performance by Josephine Baker, himself and other members of the Folies Bergère for Franco in Spain, outlining the treacherous flight there and back. The theater manager, according to Ray, left it up to the individuals in the troupe on whether they wanted to go. At least based on sources I’ve found online, the story is plausible, based on what Franco was doing during this period of the Spanish Civil War – he was proclaimed Head of State on October 1, 1936; the performance would have taken place later in December or sometime in November.
Any ideas on confirming this story?
“Daddy Was a Lady” Script
In 1966, Ray toured in a show that almost went to Broadway, “Daddy Was a Lady”. According to a person I interviewed that knew the director, the show was actually written by Mae West and West planned on appearing in the show, but had to drop out due to ill health. West’s part was taken over by Hermione Gingold, according to this source. In October, 1966, articles appeared in “Variety” and other sources, indicating that Ray scrapped the show after disagreements with his backer on toning down the bawdy humor. One article described it as “a brassy musical comedy about homosexuality, murder, etc.”
I’m trying to locate the script for the show. Ray’s personal effects were, literally, taken to the landfill after he was arrested for murder. Since Hermione Gingold was in the show, I’ve tried to track down what happened to her personal effects – I’ve sent an email to the Gingold Theatrical Group, a company founded by David Staller in her honor, to see if they might know what happened to her papers.
Going on the lead that the play was actually written by Mae West, I tried looking at archives with West scripts, but nothing has turned up there.
Any ideas on other sources to check out for the script?