Danny La Rue: Queen of the stage

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".

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
sportSo, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Arts and Entertainment
Dennis speaks to his French teacher
tvThe Boy in the Dress, TV review
News
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
The Plaza Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia was one of the 300 US cinemas screening
filmTim Walker settles down to watch the controversial gross-out satire
Arts and Entertainment
Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in Tim Burton's Big Eyes
film reviewThis is Tim Burton’s most intimate and subtle film for a decade
Life and Style
Mark's crab tarts are just the right size
food + drinkMark Hix cooks up some snacks that pack a punch
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect