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World-famous female impersonator dies at his home

August
05
1973

On this day in 1973, Vander Clyde died at his Round Rock home. Clyde, who achieved international fame as Barbette, a female impersonator and trapeze and high-wire performer, was born in Round Rock in 1904. After graduating from high school at age fourteen, he traveled to San Antonio to answer a Billboard advertisement placed by one of the Alfaretta Sisters, "World Famous Aerial Queens." He joined the act on the condition that he dress as a girl, since his partner believed that women's clothes made a wire act more dramatic. Clyde eventually developed a solo act in which he appeared and performed as a woman and removed his wig to reveal his masculinity at the end of the performance. After adopting the name Barbette, he traveled throughout the United States performing the popular act. In the fall of 1923 the William Morris Agency sent him to England and then to Paris, where he was befriended by members of both American café society and French literary and social circles. His artistry was championed by French poet and dramatist Jean Cocteau who, in a classic essay on the nature of art, described Vander's performance as "an extraordinary lesson in theatrical professionalism." His performing career ended in 1938, when he caught pneumonia after performing at Loew's State, a vaudeville theater in New York. Clyde continued to stage circus productions and train performers. He spent his last years in Round Rock, where he lived with his sister.

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