note: entire contents copyright 2006 by Carl A. Rossi
Christine Jorgensen … Bradford Louryk
Interviewer (Mr. Russell) … Rob Grace
When I was a college freshman, over three decades ago, I passed a middle-aged woman on the stairs of our theatre. She was handsome, not beautiful; her hair was copper-colored and crowned with a black fur hat; her kidney-shaped lips, a vivid red. Though her figure had started to thicken she was impeccably shaped and dressed. This classy-looking woman asked the way to the building’s recital hall; I gave directions, was graciously thanked and we parted. The next day the campus newspaper reported that Christine Jorgensen had appeared at our theatre on her college lecture tour and there was a photo of the woman from the night before. I blinked --- I had encountered Miss Jorgensen without knowing it --- had I known, I would have done what others had done before me: stop, stare and wonder.
Christine Jorgensen, of course, was one of the most famous women of her day, being born George Jorgensen, Jr. in 1926 and undergoing one of the first successful sex changes in 1952. Miss Jorgensen underwent her transformation never dreaming that fame and notoriety would be thrust upon her (“Ex-GI Turns Blonde Beauty!”) but she lived out the rest of her life with grace and good humor as a personality, a nightclub performer and an admitted curiosity. Now Miss Jorgensen herself has become a performance in CHRISTINE JORGENSEN REVEALS, entirely lip-synced by two actors to a 1958 recorded interview. In Miss Jorgensen’s own words:
“In November , I was approached by two high-pressure promoters to make a recording that would “sell millions,” according to them. It was an interview-type of long-playing record, to be entitled “Christine Says,” and the interviewer was Nipsey Russell, who later became a well-known comedian. Nipsey and I made the recording, a candid and truthful presentation of the circumstances surrounding my transformation. But when the record was sent to me, it bore the title “Christine Reveals,” which seemed to me a trifle more provocative than necessary, and I took immediate steps to restrain its release under that title. However, I could have saved the effort, as the promoters proceeded to do very little promoting, with the excuse that they didn’t have enough money to coax the disc-jockeys into playing it on the air to stimulate sales. It was a rather ridiculous view. As a nonmusical recording, it simply wasn’t the type of thing that announcers would push or sandwich in between Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley. The result was that I never received a cent of royalty from it, though I still believe it was a very good interview, and covered the subject extremely well from my standpoint.”
The recording plays the way Miss Jorgensen’s autobiography reads, with Miss Jorgensen taking pains to appear gracious and accommodating in answering Mr. Russell’s blunt questions. Susan Stryker, in her preface to the book’s reissue, writes, “It’s a shame the prejudices of others persuaded her to tone down a vibrant, often bawdy personality for the sake of posterity’s opinion. … She smoked and drank excessively, and had a tongue sharp enough to drive away the most dedicated and long-suffering supporters. … She was litigious, constantly embroiled in petty lawsuits and legal actions. She peddled an endless steam of improbable projects that never went anywhere: Danish cookbooks, wretched screenplays for movies in which she played the female lead, a guide to the graves of movie greats. Towards the end of her life she even contemplated a new no-hold-barred, tell-all autobiography, complete with nude photos of herself. It, like all the other projects, ultimately failed to pan out.” Miss Jorgensen died of bladder cancer in 1989; thanks to her book, her record and numerous photographs, she is best remembered as a lady poised between Joan Crawford and Loretta Young, living the glamorous life and who passed me on those stairs, so long ago.
Bradford Louryk mouths Miss Jorgensen and Rob Grace, a white actor, does Mr. Russell. Mr. Louryk appears onstage, dressed in New Look regalia; Mr. Grace, on a 1950s television screen. (The content of Miss Jorgensen’s recording has been rearranged for smoother continuity.) The Messrs. Louryk and Grace lip-sync and react remarkably well; thus, Miss Jorgensen’s ghost rises not once, but twice: not only does the audience see “Christine Jorgensen” before them, but the novelty of Miss Jorgensen’s existence is reinforced by the novelty of her being channeled through Mr. Louryk, making her different and new, again. Mr. Louryk does not physically resemble Miss Jorgensen who adopted the hard manikin look of the mature Crawford (Mr. Louryk is next door to the mature Dietrich) and since the evening begins with a televised montage of Miss Jorgensen, hearty and commanding, Mr. Louryk’s imitation seems reserved and tremulous, in comparison --- otherwise, his is an amazing piece of conjuring, played without a trace of Camp as the legendary Lypsinka would do, and he goes along with the recording’s unintended sound effects (i.e., the squeak of Miss Jorgensen’s chair; the sudden dissonance from the microphone, etc.). The Roberts Studio Theatre at the Boston Center for the Arts has the right acoustics so that the recorded dialogue does seem to be coming from the right directions.