Posted by: runawayrose | September 14, 2010

Ladies Taking on the Male Role: Male Impersonators

Shying away from the typical female roles in the music hall, a few women went a more different route: male impersonating. In doing so, these women stood out from the rest. The male audience respected them; the female audience saw them as a symbol of independence.

One of the most famous male impersonators was Vesta Tilley. Tilley would dress in full male attire, even down to her undergarments. However, she would not alter her voice, instead singing in a obvious female soprano.

When Tilley stepped down in 1920, there was Ella Shields, who has been around for a little while. Shields career started in 1910 when she filled in when one half of a two man act was out sick. She donned male attire and ended up being a big hit. Tilley is most famous for her song Burlington Bettie from Bow.

Male impersonating was not new to the theatre in the 19th century. In the 18th century Dorothea Jordan performed often in ‘breeches roles’ and was praised.

These male impersonators were most likely the inspiration for some more modern day entertainments such as Viktor und Viktoria and its more popular remake Victor Victoria while starred Julie Andrews in 1982.

The book and following TV mini series Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters also draws on this. Tipping the Velvet is about a young woman who falls in love with musical hall male impersonator.

Ella Shields singing Burlington Bertie from Bow:



  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Vic , Christy B. Christy B said: New Hist. Blog Post: Ladies Taking on the Male Role: Male Impersonators […]

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