Bobbie de Lys – Female Impersonator in the 1920s
The enigmatic Bobbie de Lys was a female impersonator and singer who made a name for himself in the Jazz Age of the 1920s and 1930s and was described as a ‘wonderful male prima donna.’ Little is known about him except a few adverts in the The Stage periodical and a series of stunning postcards published in the mid-1920s.
Bobbie de Lys served with the Allies during World War 1 and during their Majesties inspection of the battlefields, after the cessation of hostitlies, had the honour of appearing before them at Lille. During the war he had been taken prisoner by the Turks but contrived to escape disguised as a woman with his ability for female impersonation standing him in good stead.
He subsequently appeared at a command performance at the Coliseum in 1921. In 1923-1924 he was the star of a touring revuette called Forbidden Love. Then from April 1924 he went on a continental tour and was engaged at the Theatre Imperia in Malta from April 1924 – May 1925 but also visited Algiers (Summer 1924).
In July 1925 he was engaged to sing for De Forest phonofilm (talking pictures) and carried on performing around the UK wearing, what was described as ‘gorgeous Paris gowns’. He then went on another continental tour at the end of 1925 and by March 1926 was in Alexandria in Egypt, eventually ending up in 1927 at the Globe Theatre, Piazza Moniciplo in Naples.
By the 1930s he was on a world tour and arrived in Singapore in September 1933 appearing at the Adelphi Hotel.
From available photographs Bobbie was not exactly what could be described as a stunning beauty but had the advantage of a good singing voice and amazing frocks. He clearly could not make a living in the UK perhaps because the stage was not exactly well disposed toward female impersonation. Instead he travelled the world where a better acceptance was more forthcoming. There were few ’drag’ acts on the legitimate stage in the UK with the exception of the multi-talented Douglas Byng (who did not perform solely in drag) and the usual crossing dressing antics for pantomime at which several actors excelled such as G.S. Melvin and Shaun Glenville.
The real identity of Bobbie de Lys is not known nor what happened to him after 1933.
Another interesting facet of Queer history in the Jazz Age.