One of the most frustrating aspects of researching Ray’s life has been establishing some identity for his wife and son and tracking down what might have happened to them.
As an icon of gay nightclubs, you might not think that Ray was married. However, Ray’s friends, and even Ray himself, said that he was bisexual, attracted to and forming relationships over the years with both men and women.
A mention of Ray’s son first popped up in my research on Ray in the 1990s. Ray’s friends, composers Bob Wright and Chet Forrest, remembered meeting Ray’s son, Leon, on several occasions over the years. From the description, it appears that Leon would have been born around the period of World War I, in the mid to late 1910s.
Ray’s lawyer also mentioned Leon. The lawyer, Bob, and Chet all recalled that Leon was estranged from Ray, he didn’t really offer any help during the murder trial and he wasn’t interested in Ray’s estate or any of Ray’s effects after Ray died. Bob and Chet speculated that Leon might not have actually been Ray’s son, but perhaps a younger lover at some point. Ray’s lawyer, interviewed in the early 80s, recalled that Leon was a taxi driver and lived in Hawaii.
Pudgy Roberts, a female impersonator and author who knew Ray in the 1960s, recalled Ray still carrying around a photo of Leon and talking about him. He was convinced that Leon was actually Ray’s son.
In his autobiography, Ray never mentions Leon, but he does talk about his ex-wife, Eve, that lived in Los Angeles in the 1940s. He had a good relationship with her and she would sometimes take care of his dogs. Ray gave his house to her when he ran into tax problems around this time. Ray refers to her in events as late as the early 50s in his memoirs.
Ray also talks about a relationship with “Honey Burns”, a woman who managed prostitutes for Al Capone in his autobiography. Ray dates this section of the book to the early 1930s.
In interviews with Ellen Woodger in the 1990s for her unpublished biography of Bob and Chet, Bob recalled meeting a woman named “Pearl” that Ray referred to as his “common law wife” after Bob and Chet accidentally rain in on them in bed together in a hotel. This would have been in 1934. Bob never saw the woman again after that and they didn’t think she was Leon’s mother. Bob said that, to his knowledge, Ray was never married.
As a researcher, I needed some documentary proof to back up these stories. I’ve dived into newspaper databases, ancestry.com, and Fold3, exploring all manner of original newspaper articles and official documents. While I have some more info on Leon, more details about Leon or Ray’s possible wives remains elusive.
“Leon Bourbon” turns up in a few newspapers in the late 1930s and early 40s. In October 1939, Ray had a housewarming at his LA valley home. An article from the LA Times noted that some minor celebrities attended, Bob and Chet entertained, and Leon Bourbon was there.
In January through March 1940, Ray is listed in columns in the Miami Herald playing at Delicate Frank’s in Miami Beach. Joey Melborn is noted as pianist and Leon Bourbon is listed as a vocalist in the show.
Finally, in March 1946, a Miami Herald entertainment columnist notes that “The son of Ray Bourbon, the Blackamoor impressionist, suffered beaucoup machine gun wounds while serving on an LST, but lived through it.” (Ray was appearing at the Blackamoor Club at the time.)
Starting with these clues, I dived into some official documents.
I couldn’t find any records of a “Leon Bourbon”. So I decided to try some other last names Leon might have used. There was a “Leon Waddell” listed in the Social Security Death index, born April 16, 1913 and died June 1975 in Louisville, Kentucky. I also found a WWII draft card for this Leon Waddell, listing him as living in Martwick, Kentucky and born in Laurel, Montana.
Update, 12/27/19: Charles C. Cage discovered that this Leon Waddell’s parents were named Extine A. Waddell and Martha Elizabeth North, so that rules him out.
Pudgy Roberts remembered Leon’s last name as “Bertrand”. I found a few possibilities there in records from the US Department of Veterans Affairs.
One promising hit was a Leon Bertrand born November 19, 1916, died February 16, 1982 who served in the Army. This Leon was in the Army and enlisted October 22, 1943 and was released from service on January 8, 1946. This would put his release date in the time frame of the article mentioning Ray’s son being injured on an LST.
Update, 12/27/19: Charles C. Cage found that he was born in Fresno and his parents were Isadore L. Bertrand and Consuelo Batallan, eliminating him from the list.
Another promising Leon Bertrand was born May 20, 1918 and died February 12, 1979. He served in the Army from September 4, 1943 and was released from service on April 11, 1946, again putting it in the time frame of the injury of Ray’s son.
Update, 12/27/19: Charles C. Cage discovered that this Leon’s parents were Archie Bertrand and Elizabeth Commette and he was born in Southbridge, Massachusetts, eliminating another possibility.
There were also three other men named Leon Bertrand that I found, born around the same time period, but not involved in military service.
As for Ray’s wives, I found no records indicating Ray was married to anyone named Eve, Pearl, or Burns and I couldn’t find any Los Angeles or California records relating to an Eve Bourbon or Eve Waddell.
Update, 12/30/19 – I also checked “Eve Simpson”, the name of a cast member who appeared in Ray’s “Insults of 1944”, and found nothing there.
However, I did run into one marriage certificate that might be significant. There was a “Ray Bourbon” born in 1892 (the year Ray was born) who was married in Chicago to a Jennie Leonard, age 18, on February 4, 1913. That marriage certificate lists Chicago as Ray’s birthplace; it doesn’t list the specific birth day.
Going back to the Veterans Affairs database, I found a “Leon Leonard” that was born December 7, 1915 who died April 30, 1986. He served in the Navy, enlisting on July 2, 1942 and was released from service October 27, 1945. Again, that would put in the time frame of when Ray’s son was injured on an LTS. The Social Security Death Index listed this Leon’s last residence as Houston, Texas.
Update, 12/27/19: Finally, Charles C. Cage eliminates this possibility – this Leon’s parents were Leonadus “Lon” Leonard and Margrette Elizabeth “Bettie” Byrd and he was born in Milam County, Texas.
Was the “Ray Bourbon” that married Jennie Leonard our Ray? Which Leon is the son we’re looking for?
Update 12/27/19: It looks like none of these men would have been our Leon. Perhaps we have Leon’s age completely wrong or he had a different legal name that we just don’t know about.
Right now, I have no concrete data that connects our Ray to any of these people and Ray’s son and possible wife (or wives) remain a mystery.
If you have any information or ideas on how to narrow this down, contact me – perhaps with just the right small bit of information from a family tree, an odd newspaper article, or some official document, all of this can be sorted out.