While researching some background on the early 1930s Pansy Craze as part of my research on Ray Bourbon, I stumbled on an obscure film appearance by one of Ray’s contemporaries, Gene (aka Jean) Malin.
Malin performed as openly gay starting around 1930 and donned drag, impersonating popular personalities like Theda Barr, in his act. He appeared in Broadway shows and was reportedly the highest paid stage performer of 1930.
In 1933, Malin appeared in two films, the Joan Crawford/Clark Gable vehicle “Dancing Lady” and a romantic comedy at Fox, “Arizona to Broadway”. In the latter film, Malin portrays a drag performer that does an imitation of Mae West and performs the song “Frankie and Johnny”.
You can view Malin in excerpts from the film, released in July 1933, in this clip at Daily Motion.
Malin was killed in a freak auto accident in August 1933, just a few weeks after “Arizona to Broadway” opened in theaters. Film comedian Patsy Kelly was seriously injured in the accident.
To put this in context with Ray’s life, in May, Ray took his revue “Boys Will Be Girls” to San Francisco after crackdowns by police in Hollywood in May 1933. Ray and other female impersonators were arrested in a performance of the show in San Francisco a few weeks later. In March 1933 a few, Ray appeared as a gay underwear designer in the RKO comedy short “Hip Zip Hooray” and, that summer, his revue was staged in Salt City and Ogden, Utah, and Juarez, Mexico.
In July the following year, the Hollywood studios agreed to make all of their releases fall under the Production Code, which prohibited them from depicting various topics seen as indecent, including homosexuality.