Danny La Rue: Queen of the stage
Monday 01 June 2009
Female impersonator Danny La Rue spent more than half a century on the stage.
The entertainer's take on glamorous leading ladies like Marlene Dietrich and Zsa Zsa Gabor made him a British institution.
La Rue was one of the first to take cross dressing to the wider British public.
But he disliked being called a drag artist, preferring the title "comic in a frock".
La Rue was born Daniel Patrick Carroll in Cork, Ireland, on July 26 1927.
His father Tom, a soldier in the Irish Republican Army and cabinet maker, died when he was only 18 months old.
La Rue's mother took the family to London, and a flat above a dress-hire shop in Soho, when La Rue was nine years old.
Years later, La Rue joked to an audience at a show in Cork: "See what they did to me in England.
"I left in short pants and I've come back in a frock."
La Rue was evacuated to Devon during the Blitz, left school at 15 and got a job as a window dresser in Exeter.
He first donned his wig and eyelashes during a Navy concert party in Singapore at the end of the Second World War.
La Rue got his stage name in the early days, thanks, to Harry Secombe.
He said: "I dabbled with the occasional stage appearance, but my great friend Harry Secombe advised me to forget fame and fortune.
"He said I'd never make the big time and I should stick with my proper job."
A few months after the conversation with Secombe, La Rue had the chance to fill in for a singer at London's Irving Theatre.
"I wanted to call myself Danny Street so Harry Secombe wouldn't know I'd gone back to the stage. But there was already a singer called Danny Street, so I became Danny La Rue," he said.
La Rue was snapped up as a West End cabaret star at London's Churchill's nightclub, followed by Winston's Club, where he starred alongside Barbara Windsor.
As La Rue's name became bigger than that of his venues, he opened his own nightclub in Hanover Square in 1964.
The venture was a huge success, attracting more than 13,000 members, and shooting La Rue to fame.
Celebrities Judy Garland, Warren Beatty, Shirley Bassey, Noel Coward, Zsa Zsa Gabor and Dame Elizabeth Taylor were all patrons.
Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon also enjoyed nights out there.
La Rue appeared in dozens of TV shows, including The Good Old Days, Tonight with Danny La Rue and Royal Variety Performances.
His pantomime appearances began in the 1960s, making La Rue one of Britain's most established panto dames.
La Rue made theatrical history by being the first man to play a female role in a major musical when he took on the part of Dolly in Hello Dolly!
The star, who performed everywhere from Canada to the Middle East, became a millionaire at the peak of his career but would lose his fortune in a property deal.
He later said: "I've had success and I've had failure, and from failure I have learned more than from success because it makes you really look at yourself."
When his former partner and manager of 32 years, Jack Hanson, died in 1984, La Rue sank into depression.
After a year of drinking every night, La Rue returned to form when he was warned by a friend that he was in danger of losing everything.
La Rue was appointed an OBE in 2002, and performed more than 30 times at royal shows at Buckingham Palace.
He was the first female impersonator to appear at the Royal Variety Performance before the Queen.
La Rue was named Theatre Personality of the Year in 1970 and Entertainer of the Decade in 1979.
Noel Coward called La Rue "the most professional, most witty and most utterly charming man in the business", while Bob Hope described him as "the most glamorous woman in the world".
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