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My-Oh-My! See history of New Orleans lakefront club that featured fabulous drag shows.

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In gauging readers’ reactions to the brief history of West End published earlier this month in this space, one thing is clear: 

West End, that lakefront entertainment mecca that for more than a century offered New Orleanians a taste of breezy escape from the day-to-day humdrum, meant different things to different people. 

In its earliest days, it was largely about live music and dancing, with bandstands and dancing pavilions erected for those purposes. Later, it was a dining paradise, with from-the-lake-to-your-plate offerings at its collection of waterfront restaurants. 







Souvenir photographs reveal Club My-O-My female impersonators collected by eight Wisconsin women on a tour of the south in 1954.




But for reader David Campbell, and for many like him, West End was something more. It was a sanctuary of sorts. 

Back in 1957, Campbell was a wide-eyed Texas kid freshly relocated to New Orleans to attend Tulane Law School. 

He was also a gay man, at a time in which social attitudes – and, more importantly, the legal system – frowned on anything perceived as a threat to the black-and-white “Ozzie and Harriet” façade of the day. 

“Back in the ’50s, we had to evade bar raids by the police, having names and photographs published in the Times-Pic, being harassed and often the object of violence,” Campbell wrote. 







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Kirsch’s Seafood Restaurant next to the My-O-My Club on the lakefront near the Jefferson-Orleans line was completely destroyed by fire in 1972. Efforts of Orleans, Jefferson and East End fire fighters could not save the building.  




As the first in his class at Tulane, he had everything to lose if his secret got out. 

“I wanted to hide,” he said. “I was, frankly, scared and paranoid.” 

Then, in 1958, a gent he met at Café Lafitte’s on Bourbon Street – and who would be his partner for the next quarter century – took him on a date to West End.

There, he was introduced to the unforgettable Club My-O-My. 

“It featured drag shows – for straight people,” Campbell added. “New to all of this, I was absolutely fascinated!” 







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Joe Dusin, A.K.A. Billy DeVoe, former New Orleans entertainer at Club My-O-My.




He was not alone. 

Operating along the same stretch as such West End institutions as Bruning’s and Fitzgerald’s, Club My-O-My for decades offered audiences – gay and straight alike – an opportunity to walk on the wild side, even if vicariously, through its stable of cross-dressing crooners. 

“We had tourists galore,” former My-O-My emcee Joe Dusin (stage name: Billy De Voe) told The Times-Picayune in 1993. “And, of course, lots of loyal fans who would come two or three times per week.” 

Before setting up shop on the lakefront, it got its start as the Wonder Bar at 125 Decatur St. as early as October 1934, which is when it was first mentioned in The Times-Picayune. 







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Club My-O-My was a popular female impersonator nightclub on the lakefront from the 1940s until the 1970s.




But by February 1936, it had caught the attention of the New Orleans Police Department, which sent a team of officers to raid the place. Six female impersonators were arrested and charged with disturbing the peace and – for reasons now unclear – being fugitives from justice in Chicago. 

All were booked under their legal names – Ray, Gene, Don, Johnny and Francis – except for one, who, in a hilariously heroic act of defiance, gave his name as Peaches “The Duchess” Buckingham. 

After a judge denied Wonder Bar owner Emile Morlet’s request for an injunction to stop police from staging such raids, he pulled up stakes and relocated to a structure built – like most West End businesses – on pilings over the lake. 

In a final thumbing of the nose to NOPD’s finest, the new bar was located just over the Jefferson Parish line – technically in East End – and out of the reach of New Orleans police. 

If Jefferson Parish cops cared, they didn’t really do anything about it. 

For the nearly four decades that followed, the eventually renamed Club My-O-My entertained audiences, as its performers – many billed with “Mister” before their names, as legal cover – shook, shimmied and sang during the three nightly one-hour floors shows, which featured a live band. 

Promising “the world’s most beautiful boys in women’s attire,” the club soon gained a measure of national fame – although it wasn’t exactly what you might call glamorous. 

“It was sleazy,” former My-O-My performer Tom “Bobby Lane” Carlino said in a 1996 documentary for WYES-TV. “It was fun, but it was sleazy underneath. As my friend Poppy Lane said, ‘Bobby, this is the a-hole of show business – but it’s still show business.” 

The club made headlines of the wrong sort in May 1948, after a late-night fire in a storeroom at the neighboring Swanson’s Restaurant swept through it and the My-O-My building. Three other West End restaurants – Bruning’s, Grover’s and Iacoponelli’s – were also damaged, but Swanson’s and the My-O-My were fully leveled. 

The show would go on, however. The My-O-My Club was rebuilt on the same site and continued its nightly revues until January 1972, when fire struck again. 

This time, the fire – a dramatic conflagration shooting an estimated 50 feet in to the air and visible for miles around – won. 

In addition to destroying Kirsch’s Seafood Restaurant next door, it again flattened the My-O-My, burning it to the pilings and leaving only the club’s marquee. 

A unnamed club spokesman told The Times-Picayune it  would reopen. “We’re not going to let a little fire stop us,” he said. 

The owners tried, too. But it didn’t take. 

That “little fire” marked the end of an era for West End and the end of the line for Club My-O-My – although it lives on in the memories of New Orleanians like Campbell. 

Sources: The Times-Picayune archive; NewOrleansHistorical.com; DigitalTransgenderArchive.net; WYES

Do you know of a New Orleans building worth profiling in this column, or just curious about one? Contact Mike Scott at moviegoermike@gmail.com.

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