Friday, June 20, 2014

Straight Chatting from the Library: Barbette and Kyle Taylor

The Library welcomes Kyle Taylor, author of WILDFLOWER, as part of his virtual book tour organized by Goddess Fish Promotions. He has brought the subject of his book, Barbette, with him. Kyle is giving a $25 Amazon gift card to the commenter who leaves the best question/comment--so be thinking what you want to ask Kyle or Barbette. Click on the tour banner to see the other stops on the tour.


For almost twenty years, Barbette reigned as queen of the largest theaters and clubs in Europe. His gender-bending act, where he impersonated a woman with over-the-top costumes and couture and then dazzled the audience on the trapeze and high wire, was an instant sensation. Later he went on to direct aerial ballets for Ringling and a host of other circuses, feature films and productions. He joined me, looking dapper as ever, his visage surly defying his years, at the King Cole bar at the Saint Regis in Manhattan.

Kyle: You’re looking marvelous!

Barbette: As are you. That Armani – it is Armani, isn’t it? – is quite becoming.

Kyle: I dressed up today just for you. I know how much you enjoy a well turned out man.

Barbette: Oh darling, are we having fruit for dinner?

Kyle: Cocktails.

Barbette: You’re too young and too pretty. You shouldn’t lead an old man on like this.

Kyle: Why were you so discrete, back in the day? Jean Cocteau took lovers and was quite open about it. He even lived quite openly with a French matinee idol.

Barbette: We lived in different times. Different worlds. The French adored Cocteau. He was French. He was one of them. Perhaps because he was so French, he could be scandalous. I’m an American. They wouldn’t have tolerated me in Paris. Certainly not America.

Kyle: You were arrested in London on a morals charge…

Barbette: (frowns) Must you dear? The problem with your world today, there is no discretion. We made love behind closed doors. Now it’s all on television and – god forbid! – the internet! I remember when the curve of a woman’s ankle could turn heads. Now these women in their thongs in my face all day – what do they call it? – twerking – the height of vulgarity.

Kyle: So you wouldn’t have called your act vulgar.

Barbette: Certainly not! Some may. Some did. But there was a refinement. Today is all crudity and exhibitionism.

Kyle: I want to ask you about some contemporary things. Just one word, and I would like you to respond.

Barbette: Oh dear, must we? How much are they paying you to do this?

Kyle: It’s a freebie.

Barbette: I should have known.

Kyle: Okay here we go…Ru Paul.

Barbette: Fabulous. A genuine performer in the vein of what I aspired. There is a perfection to the presentation, yet also a certain effortlessness about her that only a true professional can pull off. Besides, she does the ‘Barbette’ walk on her runway. I adore Ru Paul!

Kyle: Favorite book.

Barbette: Cocteau’s Le Grand √ącart. I remember in Paris, in the twenties, a journalist walked unannounced into my hotel room one day, obviously hoping to find something unimaginable. I was lying naked on my bed at the time, my face smeared with a blackish skin-bleaching cream. ‘Two-sexed on the stage and two-colored at home,’ he wrote in his account of the visit, and he expressed amazement at seeing on my bedside table Joyce’s Ulysees, Cocteau’s Le Grand √ącart, and a book by Hayclock Ellis.

Kyle: Cirque du Soleil.

Barbette: They’ve stolen all my best work! There would be no Cirque du Soleil if there was no Barbette. What they do now, we did fifty, even seventy years ago. But if they call, I’m certainly available to direct. I have so many wonderful ideas!

Kyle: Gays in the military.

Barbette: Was there ever a time when there weren’t?

Kyle: Gay Marriage.

Barbette: Oh dear! Why ruin it by getting married? I guess if it’s what everyone wants, but really! It’s so suburban.

Kyle: Kim Kardashian

Barbette: You want Barbette to get bitchy, don’t you – you sly puss! Did I miss something, what talent, other than having a derriere the size of an orbiting planet – what talent does she possess? At least she doesn’t smack her gum.

Kyle: Thank you Barbette!

Barbette: Order me a martini darling and I’ll go on all night!


“More fun than a sex party!”
— Barbette

Long before Ru Paul eyed his first pair of six inch stilettos or Boy George donned his colorful caftan, a handsome young man from the small town of Round Rock, Texas barnstormed the stages of Europe’s most lavish theaters and night clubs as Barbette, a beautiful aerialist drag queen who became a scandalous sensation throughout the Roaring Twenties.

Performing his erotic, high wire and trapeze routine in lavish, feminine regalia, Barbette shocked audiences by revealing the true nature of his gender at the very end of his act.

From a child who picked cotton and walked his mother’s clothes line to headlining at the Moulin Rouge in spectacular drag, Wildflower reveals long-forgotten secrets of this enigmatic performer: his arrest in London on morals charges, his bout with polio, his infamous collaborations with some of Hollywood’s greatest stars— Orson Welles, Vincente Minnelli, and Judy Garland, Jack Lemmon, and Tony Curtis as well as his hidden affair with French surrealist Jean Cocteau.

Wildflower captivates with every page, dramatically revealing the startling and at times heart-breaking story of Round Rock’s first and greatest drag queen.

With all his might, Vander swung the trapeze as high into the air as he could tolerate, the muscles in his feet screaming out. As he reached the apex, he released his feet, tucked into a tight ball and did a backward somersault. In an instant, he was bouncing on the safety net, thrilled by what he had just done!

Bobby Fuller stuffed his cigar into his mouth and applauded loudly. Audrey too was impressed. From the platform, she did a swan dive, turning onto her back at the right instant for a soft landing on the safety net. She then walked over to where Bobby and Vander were standing.

“Now, son, I need you to be honest with me. You’re new to this aren’t you?” Bobby asked as he stared intently at Vander.

“I did shows in my back yard—on the wire. I’m good!” Vander said trying to sell himself. He wanted more than anything to get back up to the trapeze.

“You a run away?” Audrey asked with her hands on her hips.

“No. My momma sent me off today on the train, from Round Rock.”

“He’s got balance,” Audrey said. “It’ll take him time to train.”

“I’m a fast learner! I even doubled up my studies and finished high school two years early!”

Bobby rubbed his chin. “We’ve only got a week, ten days tops, to get him trained. If we don’t get this act back on track, they’ll can us and then where’ll we be?”

Audrey’s pale blue eyes looked serious. “Did you see, how he moved his arms? He sure looks the part. He’ll look sweet in a dress.”

Vander’s mouth dropped. “A dress?”

Bobby Fuller scowled, “The part’s for a female trapeze artist. Didn’t y’all read the advertisement?”

“We’re the Alfaretta Sisters!” Audrey interjected. “World famous aerial queens.”

Vander Clyde was trying to absorb what they were saying.

“He’s got a good figure, not quite a man yet,” Audrey said looking over Vander’s body. “A little taking in here and letting out there and Lydia’s costumes could fit.”

“You ever put on a dress, boy?” Bobby asked. “It’s no big deal. Wouldn’t be the first time a boy in a trapeze act did it.”

“You look better in a dress, up on a trapeze,” Audrey encouraged. “More beautiful, the dress flows, you know.”

Vander remembered Miss Nelson told him all the actors during Shakespeare’s time were men or boys and they played the female parts as well.

“Like Shakespeare, you mean the way the boys played the girl’s parts?” Vander asked.

Bobby and Audrey laughed.

“Yes, son, just like ol’ Will Shakespeare!” Bobby chuckled. “You’ll get five dollars a week—no pay until we get the act back up. Deal?” Bobby extended his hand.

Vander Clyde couldn’t believe it was all happening so fast! He enthusiastically extended his hand. “Deal!”


Kyle Taylor is the author of Wildflower, Exposition and Billion Dollar Dreamer. The Kyle Taylor character debuted in Billion Dollar Dreamer as a journalist who was assigned to write a story about high school history teacher cum overnight billionaire John Driskil. He resides in New York—and of course he is a work of fiction! You can contact Kyle at

Author Web Page:
Author Facebook Page:

Buy the book at Amazon or Barnes and Noble.


  1. I really enjoyed the interview with Barbette. Such a character so full of spunk thanks for sharing!

  2. Good Morning! Thank you so much for hosting! Thank you Amy for the kind words. I have to say this was such a fun idea to try! The answer Barbette gives about what he reads is actually a quote from the real Barbette! I was so excited when I saw the question and remembered the story! Feel free to ask me questions everyone! Happy Friday!

  3. The interview left me with a big smile this morning!

    Trix, vitajex(at)Aol(Dot)com

    1. Thanks so much Trix! Your kind words this whole tour have just been wonderful! I really appreciate them!

  4. From this interview, I absolutely adore Barbette. I would so enjoy being there at whatever dinner party he was attending!

    Since Barbette is a real person, and you've written about other real things and events (the SS United States and the Columbian Exposition), I'm curious about your research process. As a librarian, I like to hear how authors go about their research. Are you a print and/or online researcher? Are you obsessed with researching the details or are you satisfied with getting the general flavor (it is fiction, after all?)?

    1. Hi Catherine Lee!

      I become obsessed over the topic I'm researching. Barbette surprised me because there is this one layer of things that are online, but once I started digging, I discovered more. I did a great deal of work online. It is amazing what is out there. I also went to the Round Rock library to see what I could find there.

      The Rosetta Stone for Barbette was an interview he did for The New Yorker magazine in 1969. He recalls stories of how he came into the world of drag and the circus, who his friends were, etc. What I had to do then was research the people from the various time periods of his life. So I dug as much as I could to understand the people he was with so I could write as authentic of characters as possible. I looked at old circus logs and census records to track where he lived. I researched medical history to better understand why his performance career ended. I could go on and on.

      I didn't interview surviving family members who knew him, however because the work was a historical fiction. (But there are some I found living in Round Rock.)

      I didn't have enough meat to do a true biography in print. (But I think there is enough for a documentary, btw.) I felt the way to bring Barbette alive was via historical fiction.

      I have never in my life dug so hard to find things for the book. I use actual quotes from the characters. Scenes from circus hands who worked with him. I found actual hotels where Barbette stayed as well as the theaters he played in. At the end of the book, I devote a section for the reader to sort out what was fact and what was fantasia. It was a wonderful project and I'm so glad I took the year to chip away at it.

  5. Hi Everyone - Thank you so much for your support. I am so sad to say, I had to put my beloved golden retriever to sleep this evening. My heart is filled with grief. You have no idea how nice it was to come back to your kind words and enthusiasm tonight. Peace be with you all!