Those creatures preening in The Birdcage are hardly a new species. In fact, drag may well be the oldest tradition in show business, dating back through all of movie history — and long before it. (Remember, there wouldn’t have been a Juliet in Shakespeare’s day without Avon calling. And what about those outfits on the cavemen’s walls?) Here’s a selective look at the long legacy of men as women in film.
1. TO WONG FOO, THANKS FOR EVERYTHING, JULIE NEWMAR (1995)
DRAGSTERS: John Leguizamo (as Chi Chi), Wesley Snipes (Noxeema), and Patrick Swayze (Vida) portray the three musketeers in crinoline.
WHY? These three have made a certain lifestyle choice — with emphasis on style. F
ASHION STATEMENT: Leguizamo and Snipes look like unhappy hookers, while Swayze dolls up to be the daughter every mother would love.
2. CHARLEY’S AUNT (1941)
DRAGSTER: Jack Benny as the rich Brazilian Babbs.
WHY? Perennial student Benny is forced to masquerade as Babbs to provide a suitable chaperone while his pals woo their very proper girlfriends.
FASHION STATEMENT: Very tasteful. Nothing cheap for this Benny.
3. THE ADVENTURES OF PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT (1994)
DRAGSTER: Terence Stamp as Bernadette, the almost absurdly ladylike Australian transsexual.
WHY? A man becomes a woman, and dresses become him.
FASHION STATEMENT: So this is how you dress to listen to ABBA in the outback.
4. VICTOR/VICTORIA (1982)
DRAGSTER: Robert Preston as the cunning cabaret performer Toddy.
WHY? In the Paris of 1934, dressing like this wasn’t a bad living.
FASHION STATEMENT: Slightly Carmen Miranda, slightly Rita Hayworth, totally unacceptable for day wear.
5. TOOTSIE (1982)
DRAGSTER: Dustin Hoffman as soap opera rave Dorothy Michaels.
WHY? Struggling actor Michael Dorsey has to choose between portraying a woman on a daytime drama or, literally, a tomato.
FASHION STATEMENT: Double the shoulders of Joan Crawford, half the style.
6. HIGH TIME (1960)
DRAGSTER: Bing Crosby as college frosh Harvey Howard.
WHY? As a fraternity initiation rite, Der Bingle dons the frock of an aged Scarlett O’Hara.
FASHION STATEMENT: Sigma NO!
7. SOME LIKE IT HOT (1959)
DRAGSTERS: Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon as Josephine and Daphne, musicians fiddling around with an all-girl band.
WHY? If you’ve witnessed the St. Valentine’s Day massacre, it’s a good thing to go around in a disguise.
FASHION STATEMENT: Ultraconservative, befitting graduates of the Sheboygan Conservatory of Music.
8. THE CRYING GAME (1992)
DRAGSTER: Jaye Davidson as the sweet and surprising Dil.
WHY? Some boys just like the touch of silk.
FASHION STATEMENT: Never too revealing.
9. YOU’RE IN THE ARMY NOW (1941)
DRAGSTER: Jimmy Durante as accidental Army recruit Jeeper Smith.
WHY? He’s trying to escape from the military life.
FASHION STATEMENT: Durante’s personal style is right on the nose.
10. LOST IN A HAREM (1944)
DRAGSTER: Lou Costello as traveling magician Harvey Garvey.
WHY? He’s out to foil the plans of an evil throne-stealing sheik.
FASHION STATEMENT: Never believe one size fits all.
11. MRS. DOUBTFIRE (1993)
DRAGSTER: Robin Williams as the super-fastidious title character.
WHY? To spend more time with his kids, the divorced dad tricks his ex-wife into hiring him as a nanny.
FASHION STATEMENT: Too bad the apron doesn’t cover up more.
12. I WAS A MALE WAR BRIDE (1949)
DRAGSTER: Cary Grant as the blushing bride, Florence.
WHY? French military officer Capt. Henri Rochard weds WAC Ann Sheridan after WWII — but since there’s no ??war groom?? status, he must pretend to be a woman to enter the United States.
FASHION STATEMENT: Not all men in uniform look more handsome.