Iconic drag queen Carmen has died aged 75.
The one-time stripper, gay rights advocate and former Wellington mayoral candidate had suffered months of poor heath and finally succumbed to kidney failure.
When I was writing some posts about March, 1973 I came across ads for Carmen’s niteclub The Balcony which was located at 57a Victoria Street in Wellington. 57a Victoria Street is now the Wellington Public Library where I went today to read about Carmen. I have read Carmen’s autobiography before (Having a Ball), but for some reason I never got around to posting about this book, and the woman who wrote it (or, to be more honest, who had it written up for her). It was a frustrating time at the library. The copy of the Listener that has a review of her Red Mole Revue was missing, and the microfiche reel for the Dominion during the month Bob Jones orchestrated Carmen’s run at the mayoralty in 1977 had also disappeared.
Born into a family of 13 children in 1935 on a Taumarunui farm as Trevor Rupe, Carmen-to-be was dressing in his mother’s clothing at age 11. As soon as he could leave school Rupe headed to Auckland and Wellington and experimented with drag performances while doing compulsory military training and working as a nurse and waiter, before everything changed when she arrived in Sydney’s Kings Cross in the late 50s.
Driving home after my failed trip to the library I filmed this clip. Victoria, Vivian and Cuba Street were Carmen’s stomping grounds in Wellington in the 60s and 70s. She set up and closed down numerous businesses. The most famous were The Balcony and her International Coffee Lounge. None of these places exist anymore. Even the buildings are gone in most cases. The Egyptian, Carmen’s Down Town, Cleopatra’s Coffee Lounge, The Peacock.
I went chasing ghosts.
So long, Carmen.
I hope they raise a glass for you on Vivian Street tonight.