Darcelle is the oldest working drag queen in the world, at 92 years of age. Also the owner of Darcelle XV Showplace in Portland, Oregon, Darcelle’s entertainment career has spanned more than five decades.
“I have owned a female person at cabaret for 54 years. My partner and I started it in 1967. We’re well known now around the world. Thank God.
I was in local theater for many years before I had about five different businesses in Portland. I opened a coffee house, I opened an after hours jazz club, I opened a flower shop, a candy store and an ice cream parlor. And then I bought a tavern.
Yeah. Well, urban renewal. They tear down to build freeways. It took all of my places downtown. I was forced to move on. And so then when I found this little gem, beer was 25 cents a glass and I don’t think the toilets had ever been cleaned.
It’s skid row. It was then. And my gay friends would not come across Burnside. It divides the city. Southwest and Northwest. And so I hired a lesbian bartender, Papa Scott, and we were a lesbian bar for three years. We put the show together, my partner worked in Vegas, and we put the show together because our lesbian lady friends would be a little bit upset if someone talked to their girlfriend. And so I had to take all the beer pitchers and get plastic and we used tuna fish cans for ashtrays.
The entertainment settled things down.
I love theater. I go to New York as often as I can. We used to go a lot and we go to all the shows. We do five shows in four days—come back—it’s like charging your batteries for an entertainer. And I just love entertainment and I was in local theater. I was always an attorney or a doctor. So I took my suit off and put on a dress. It’s that simple. I don’t wanna be a woman. You know, I just want to do this. This is my vehicle for entertaining.”
“We met in a gay bar, 50 years ago.
He was a dancer in Vegas and a dancer here at the Hoyt Hotel, they had a revue show and it wasn’t drag. It was regular. And then they closed, so he came to work for me. I said, ‘Well, why don’t you be a waiter but he couldn’t tell wine from beer. So he joined the show. He choreographed it and he got on stage with us. And he did his number in boys clothes. And it went very, very flat. He did the same number dressed up and all hell broke loose. They loved it.
And his name was Roxy. So he just kept the name. Roxy.
He died. In 2017.
Roxy died on a Saturday night. We were getting into the car to go to work and he died. I went to the hospital with him and came home and went to work. I couldn’t sit in this house alone and I needed the audience to bring me to reality. We’d been together for all those years. It just seemed like the thing to do.
Go to work.”
“Well, I’ve done my darnedest to make it work for people. And I think I’ve done a good job about it. [People] came in, and I proved for them that we didn’t have two heads and on and on and on. You’re here to be entertained, to forget your troubles, cuz they’re not gonna get any troubles out of me.
We hear that all the time that they always feel welcome. People say they feel comfortable.
I guess I feel that way. I mean, it’s not a phony thing. I love my audiences. Every night it’s a different audience. And I’m always nervous before I step on that stage.
You don’t know what you’re stepping into. I know they’re on my side. You never know. And I’ve heard it all anyway from stage. Anything that anybody has to say that’s negative, I just put ’em in their place. I’m the one with a microphone. I’ll take care of it. And smile.
See, when you’re doing drag, you can say—Darcelle especially—can say anything to anybody and it’s taken the right way. It’s good. I don’t worry about topics on stage or how I get involved with the audience. I try to get involved with them.
You never know who you are touching when you work on stage. One night I’m on stage. I’m doing my thing. And a lady at the end of the runway was smiling and she had four people, four ladies with her. I said, you have some really beautiful bahambas. Breasts.
See, I figured most men don’t really say that unless they’re talking trash And I say it with fun. She started to laugh and her friend started to cry. After that, I found out that this was her first night out after a double mastectomy. And I complimented her.
I take a risk by just walking you on stage. You never know. You don’t know what kind of sassiness you’re gonna get. That time was a risk. I feel that men don’t talk enough about how beautiful their wives are, how beautiful their body is, unless they wanna do it.
And I feel like I could say it.”
“I have two children. My son lives next door and he’s our bar manager and I have a daughter. She has two daughters and I have two great grandchildren.
Little Laney is three years old. She said, ‘Mama, look, grandpa puts a dress on every now and then.’ I would love to hear that when I was three years old. You know, it keeps your life open for everything.
I’ve been called everything out and around. When you’re a kid and they think you’re gay…when I was a kid, that wasn’t the word. It was worse than that.
But, I got married and had two lovely children and have a lovely wife and we’re still married after all these years. Unfortunately, she’s ill and in a care center. But my family stayed right here like this. Right with me and they enjoy what I do and are proud of what I do.
It was very hard [to tell her I was gay.]. I was sorry for any hurt, but I had to do it. I’m not sorry that I told her. Because I wasn’t me and you have to be happy. Otherwise she’s gonna be miserable one of these days anyway, because I wasn’t happy with myself.
This what I tell everybody, every interview, if you’re not happy with your family, with your friends, with your job, where you live, the city you’re in, move on. Find the place where it all works for you. Keep looking.
It was traumatic, but it had to happen. We’re still friends, you know. We do all the family things together. The kids, they were in their teens when I told. And so they were upset, and I knew they would be. But they saw that I still cared and took care of them.
I don’t regret one day in my life. Not one. 90 years. I wouldn’t change a thing.
I learned and know that if you treat people with respect and you’re happy with yourself, you can make them happy with themselves. I know that.
That’s my work.”
-When have you taken a risk?
-How have you responded to loss in your life?
-When have you felt welcomed?
-Have you been teased or ridiculed for any reason?
-Have you ever hurt someone you love by sharing the truth?
-Has anyone set you free through their words or actions?
-Do you have any regrets?