Gary Christ / Snyder
2022 Photo: The 1740 House, Domenick Scudera, M.F.A. (aka Summer Showers) Kevin Gilmore (aka Phoebe Manntrappe) Gary Christ / Syndar of New Hope
My introduction to drag in New Hope happened in 1972. I was only 19 at the time, but due to my stature, I was able to pass for 21 and was allowed into the Prelude. Two friends, who were frustrated drag queens, Mark and Bud, aka Margaret and Betty, dared me to go in drag for a Halloween costume party at the Cartwheel. Margaret had the body of a burly man, but was feminine in every other way, always talking in the third person. Betty was just a crazy queen who would push the limits. Our friendship was tested that night, as my first time in drag I not only won first prize, but much to Margaret and Betty’s dismay, I was asked to audition for the drag shows at the Prelude by then owner Tom Reddy! They both wanted to be in the shows, but sadly they lacked the talent and finesse to do so. I quickly became a regular in the weekly shows; it was grueling!
Tom Reddy and his lover Neil (whose last name eludes me) owned the Prelude, and were local celebrities in their own right. They settled in New Hope after living for many years in New York. When they first arrived in New Hope they were actively involved in the Music Circus in Lambertville, and then purchased the Playhouse Inn directly next to the Bucks County Playhouse, where many of the famous celebrities who appeared there would stay. Tom and Neil became friends with many of the stars. Then, they acquired the Prelude (probably @ 1968) and began producing drag shows. Tom’s productions were truly theatrical productions… extravaganzas. They were amazing Broadway-like shows; we performed two shows on Friday night and two different shows on Saturday night. Regular performers, including myself, were Charles Robinson, a local hairdresser; Jack Cochran who came to New Hope after retiring from the Jewel Box Review in New York; “Little Al”, also a hairdresser from Philly; Georgie, and a few others. It was not unusual for celebrities like Ann Miller and Mickey Rooney to come to “our” shows after the show they were performing in at the Playhouse was over. It was both intimidating and exhilarating to perform for such celebrities.
In early 1976, Tom and Neil sold the Prelude to retire to Carmel, California. That was the end of the big drag shows in New Hope, but certainly not the end of drag. January’s the club opened right around the time the Prelude closed. I performed there along with Billy Lane Grower, aka Sheba, who owned a cosmetic shop, The Queen of Sheba, on Waterloo Street. (Sheba later became the first local person to undergo sex re-assignment surgery at Johns Hopkins in the late 70’s.) It was at this time Ricky Paris, aka Ricky Crosby, came on to the drag scene. He performed at the very end of the shows at the Prelude, and then with Sheba and myself at January’s. Ricky and I also performed at Don’s Colonial Inn in Warminster every Friday and Saturday night in 1976-1977. The Raven was also just coming into its’ own at that time, and the new owner, Eddie Gerace, was anxious to create a place where the gay community could party, and celebrate their “queerness” openly and with unabashed pride. The big weekly productions at the Prelude were soon replaced by camp drag shows, often to raise money for locals who had fallen on hard times, or just to camp it up (including Mama Cavalucci’s many weddings). These events were supported by the local community. Gay, straight, or somewhere in between; it didn’t matter. We came together to have fun, party, and support those in need. New performers came on to the scene including Danee, who came to town with Danny Windsor and his “troupe”. Other well-known drag queens like Jerry Day and Terry Daniels, who performed at the Canal House, and who put Mama Cavalucci in drag, would come to New Hope a few times each year to perform, along with the local drag queens, including Mama Cavalucci (who was becoming a New Hope icon), Diane (Arte) Jones, and later Robbie Starr, Barry Lyndon, and others.
The Cartwheel was also moving into the new age of New Hope, and frequently hosted drag shows. In the early 80’s when Tom Smith and his lover (we always referred to her as “Elizabeth Taylor”, but who real name I can’t remember) bought the Cartwheel, and weekly drag shows returned on Friday and Saturday nights. Well known actress Anne Jeffreys retired to Bucks County, and was a regular at the drag shows, always with a front row seat!
Other local notables at the time were Roger, who was a well-known drag performer in New York, and his costume designer lover, Kenny, who retired to New Hope. Roger would occasionally make a guest appearance at a show, and Kenny would make me several fabulous dresses for special shows. Charles Robinson and Jack Cochran were also regular performers at the Cartwheel during the early and mid-80’s. We also performed on the weekends at Johnny Frances’s Canal House (on Mechanic Street, where Mama Cavallucci worked for many years).
Sadly, as the older drags retired or passed away, Miss Pumpkin became the new “reigning diva” of the local drag scene, frequently hosting fundraisers at The Raven, and then John & Peter’s, as the face of drag moved into the 90’s and new millennium.
For @ 35 years, Santa Saturday was also a big event in New Hope, the Saturday after Thanksgiving, hosted by the Bucks Motorcycle Club, as a fundraiser for local charities for disenfranchised youth and minorities. A star studded drag show was an integral part of the festivities, and we would raise upwards of $20,000 in a few hours thanks to the nearly 500 “queens” who supported the event. For years the Prelude and Cartwheel served as the venue, but when both bars closed, Rand and Terrance, then owners of The Raven, stepped up until the event moved to Asbury Park, where it is still held annually.
The rest as they say is history. Here is where each of you can pick up the story, and fill in the blanks.