Chicago’s own legendary drag queen, Marlow La Fantastique, will be honored this weekend with a cabaret-inspired multi-media revue of her remarkable career, from the drag balls and cabarets of Chicago and New York to Berlin’s famed Chez Nous. La Fantastique will serve her audience with recollections of her many adventures, including co-starring in the seminal film The Queen.
In anticipation of her upcoming event, Marlow La Fantastique spoke to Chicago’s Windy City Times. Born in Chicago, La Fantastique first started doing female impersonation in the tough Chicago Southside clubs of the 1950s. Marlow, who prefers the term ‘travesti’ to ‘female impersonator’ or ‘mimic’ as was common in those days, eventually werked her way up the scene to performing at the historic Regal Theater.
It wasn’t long before the bigger New York ball scene beckoned and the young travesti was on her way. La Fantastique recalls performing at the “grand” balls of the time, including Coliseum, Crazy Horse Saloon and Manhattan Center. At these balls, the Chicago native made a name for herself amongst some serious competition. Rising to the occasion, La Fantastique impressed the town with what would become her signature, prize-winning pieces; the fan dance and the mirror dress.
In 1967, as Miss Marlow recalls, she and her friend Crystal (aka Miss Crystal LaBeija) were asked to participate in a documentary about a female impersonator pageant by a producer known as Flawless Sabrina. The documentary was The Queen, which would become a milestone in drag and queer cinema culture. In the film, La Fantastique used the alias Miss Alfonse and took the 4th runner up prize, in what would become the most notorious crowning ever captured, after Miss Crystal accused the pageant of being rigged.
Miss Marlow became close friends with Miss Crystal after The Queen. This friendship led to Marlow becoming an early member of the House of LaBeija, which Crystal LaBeija founded, kickstarting the ballroom culture made world-famous in Paris is Burning. La Fantastique would also become friends with StormA, the famous lesbian drag king and civil rights activist who was already fuming and threatening to riot at a local gay bar called Stonewall one year before the melee kicked off.
It was in 1968 that Marlow La Fantastique would leave New York for Berlin. The star and her fan dance would find a loyal following at the legendary cabaret Chez Nous. As the event promoters for La Fantastique’s upcoming cabaret revue note, “Chez Nous was a star-studded dance club, visited by celebrities and featured in Hollywood films. Chez Nous celebrated the artistry of female impersonators and trans women, including Coccinelle, the first French trans woman to legally change her name following gender-confirmation surgery.”
“Berlin was great. Later I met my lovely friend (Now we are married and still together). His name is Gunter but I call him Curly,” says Marlow on her gallery-filled website about her return to Chicago to retire with her German partner. As a trailblazer in the drag movement, La Fantastique isn’t too retired to enjoy her honorary ball or even to read the new queen of drag, Rupaul, noting that, “he [Rupaul] didn’t really create it [drag]; he added to it. He was not there during the rough times, so to speak. Police would arrest you for every little thing. Oh that was such a crime back in the ‘50s and the ‘60s! You couldn’t walk these streets.”