The Autobiography

Near the end of his life, as Ray Bourbon waited in prison serving a life sentence, he worked for hours each day on his autobiography. His lawyer, William Bell, recalled purchasing a small manual typewriter for Ray to work on the manuscript.

Unfortunately, Ray passed away before the manuscript could be completed. But, around 300 pages survive, covering his experiences growing up in Texas, attending school in England, and his career in film and nightclubs. The manuscript is like a series of short stories, each looking at the many people and characters — famous and not so famous — that Ray encountered throughout his life.

The manuscript was accompanied by letters and other documents attesting to the fact that it was written by Ray and explaining the circumstances under which it was written; included were flyers, ads and publicity photos from Ray’s personal collection. The manuscript owner also provided a recorded interview with Ray’s lawyer on various aspects of Ray’s murder trial.

In Spring 2001, I contracted with the owner of the manuscript to edit it for publication.  More recently, the manuscript owner turned over the original typewritten document and all copyright ownership over to me.

If you are interested in use of the manuscript for publication, film or stage rights, or for a research project, please send me an email and I’ll be happy to discuss possible projects with you.  The manuscript and all of my research materials will be turned over to an archives in the future.

Outline of the Autobiography

1 – Early Life
In this section Ray describes his family and upbringing on a ranch in Texas. The material includes a rather touching story about the ranch foreman that had a sexual relationship with Ray and the foreman’s subsequent murder. Ray was sent to school in England because of the scandal. The chapter ends with Ray’s first meeting with Pancho Villa who helped Ray’s mother with the situation created by the murder.

2 – School in London
Ray attends a boarding school in London, describing the culture clash between himself and the students at the school. He meets a sympathetic older male instructor who takes him to see a show — Ray is hired to play a part in the show, beginning his long show business career.

3 – La Senora Diablo
This chapter of the book is reproduced from Carlton Stowers original article, based on an interview with Ray when he was in prison. Ray returns home after working in show business and winds up running guns (in drag) for Pancho Villa, becoming the mysterious “La Senora Diablo” or “Devil Woman”.

4 – Paramount Studios
Ray describes his work in silent movies in the 1920s. The chapter is a fascinating look at how silent films were made during the period. Ray was friends with then-unknown William Boyd (who would later play Hopalong Cassidy) and worked on films with Rudolph Valentino, Gloria Swanson, and Cecil B. DeMille.

5 – Vaudeville
Ray didn’t feel his career was going anywhere in films, so he returned to the stage. Here, Ray gives a fascinating look at the day-to-day life of a vaudeville performer, as he travels in large and small towns all over the country. While in vaudeville, Ray would meet and encourage a very young Robert Taylor early in his career.

6 – Shanghai
After vaudeville begins to die out, Ray looks to Shanghai for work. While there, he meets and befriends a member of the royal family of China who was living in exile with his entourage in Shanghai at the time.

7 – Chicago and Al Capone
Ray works in a nightclub owned by Al Capone. He has a relationship with a female associate of Capone’s and both have near misses in the dangerous world of Chicago’s gang wars. Ray goes into great detail about Capone’s work for underpriveledged people in Chicago and the many unusual characters in Capone’s organization.

8 – London and the Crazy Gang
Ray describes working with “The Crazy Gang”, a well-known music hall group of the period and doing a command performance for King Edward with the group. He first meets a long-time accompanist, George Duke, whom he befriends and takes under his wing.

9 – Josephine Baker
Ray works with the Follies in Paris with headliner Josephine Baker.

10 – Franco
Ray and Baker perform a dangerous command performance for Franco and Ray tries to smuggle an aspiring French actor into the US for Louis B. Meyer.

11 – Cuba
After his tour of Europe, Ray travels to Cuba with the French actor. An interesting look at the nightclubs of pre-communist Havana.

12 – The Hollywood Screen Test
The French actor comes to Hollywood and finally gets a screentest, which scandalizes the studio.

13 – Jean Harlow
Ray discusses Hollywood scandals over the years and looks at his friendship with Jean Harlow. He goes into detail about the circumstances surrounding the death of Harlow’s husband and his own involvement with the aftermath.

14 – Finnochio’s
Ray discusses his work at the famous San Francisco drag nightclub and his friendship with its eccentric owner, Marge Finochio.

15 – Miami
Ray works at a nightclub in Miami to audiences of Jewish tourists that only speak Yiddish and parties with some of Miami’s well-heeled residents in his spare time.

16 – Mae West and “Catherine Was Great”
In the late 40’s, Ray worked with West in her show Catherine Was Great. He looks at his friendship with West in detail.

17 – Lupe Velez
Ray discusses the eccentric actress Lupe Velez, an associate of Mae West.

18 – “Diamond Lil”, Colorado Incident
During the Colorado run of Diamond Lil, Ray has an experience in what appears to be a haunted house.

19 – Egypt
Ray works in a small nightclub in Egypt and is given a pet camel by the club’s owner. He meets George Duke for the final time, bringing a close to their long (and by now, strained) friendship.

20 – Pueblo, Colorado
A fitting end, in a sense, to Ray’s own look at his career. He performs in a small club in Pueblo and has an encounter with a wild cowboy and his even wilder wife.