Easter has finally made it, complete with dyed eggs, jelly beans, peeps, baskets, and all the trimmings. The LGBTQ community seems to come alive again around Easter.
Everyone knows we love to decorate, dress for Halloween, get creative as hell and “do it up” for just about any occasion. Easter, religious or not, is a little different. There is, after all, something reverent about Easter, but don’t kid yourself. I have seen many a hot bunny in a bulging jock strap, hopping around Montrose in my day (eggs and all).
One of the best things to come along in the community is the annual Easter Bonnet contests, held in most LGBTQ community bars and clubs.
In 1933, songster Irving Berlin published the song “Easter Parade.” He had originally written the song in 1917 and titled it “Smile and Show Your Dimples” and it was meant to tell the story of a sad young woman whose lover had gone off to war. It was supposed to be an uplifting song and was recorded by a few singers of the war-time era.
With some major overhauling by Berlin, in 1942, silver-tongued crooner and orange juice hawker Bing Crosby released the new version of the song and it was to become an American staple in the musical and pop-culture realm of all that is Americana. “Easter Parade” was a huge hit for ol’ Bing and made him lots of money.
Superstar Al Jolson took the song and made it known to the world as he was, by most standards, the greatest singer of the time, and the gaudiest. The song was such a huge success that in 1948, MGM developed a musical around it with the same title. Darling of the silver screen, radio and records Judy Garland (aka “Dorothy” of The Wizard of Oz) was teamed with twinkle-toes Fred Astaire, and the rest is musical and celluloid history. The movie could have been based on a LGBTQ plot: partners, former partners and loads of jealousy!
Nothing says Easter like a big ol’, overdone bonnet with lots of “frills” upon it. Hollywood gossip columnist Hedda Hopper must have been completely orgasmic around Easter time as she loved the hats, and the gaudier the better.
Members of the LGBTQ community also love to create hats or bonnets and compete in alcohol-riddled contests in their favorite watering holes. Give a gay man a hot glue gun, some fabric, and few baubles and look out! The hats range from trashy subdued to trashy over-stated and all bring a smile to the reddened eye.
So what’s up with the Easter Bonnet and how did it all get started? No one know for sure, but there are some pretty good theories. The most accepted notion dates way back.
For centuries it has been common practice to buy and wear new clothes for Easter (the famous “Easter Outfit”), as Lent has passed and it is a time for new things and rebirth. It’s also a good time to show off, if you will.
As far back as the late 1600s, the great Bard included a line in Romeo and Juliet that gives clear indication of the importance of presenting new wears at Easter. Mercutio taunts Benvolio when he says, “Dids’t thou not fall out with a Tailor for wearing his new Doublet before Easter?”
In other words, save your newest and finest for egg day!
With the wearing of new clothes came the trend of a new “Easter hat.” Over the years, the tradition has grown and morphed into the “Easter Bonnet”. Along the way, especially in the LGBTQ world, came the bonnet contests and parades. (Sort of like the Kentucky Derby hat thing.) During the sad years of the Depression, an Easter hat or bonnet was considered a “simple luxury.” Someone even went as far as to state, “An Easter Bonnet can tame even the wildest hare!” (I have seen a few “wild hares” I’d like to tame!)
“Photographer will snap us, and you’ll find that you’re in the rotogravure…”
Everyone loves a parade and Easter Parades are huge, especially the one on 5th Avenue in New York City, still a place to see and be seen. The crazier the hat, the more the applause when parading down the avenue. I have listened to the Jolson and Garland versions of “Easter Parade” for years and have wondered about the phrase that I “thought” was “Rodo Review,” I recently checked into this word. My thinking was along the lines that the Rodo Review was some famous magazine of the time. Wrong! The correct term is “rotogravure” which when spoken, sounds like “Rodo Review.”
Rotogravure is a type of printing method that involves the engraving of an image onto an image carrier. The image or photo is places onto a cylinder and a rotary printing press is used to reproduce the image, usually for newspaper photo images but is also used in magazines, post cards, and other venues.
Easter Sunday and the bonnet contests promise to be a good time on the Island. I doubt anyone will end-up in the rotogravure, but there will certainly be pictures snapped and lots of good fun, hot glue guns and all.
However you celebrate Easter, if you celebrate Easter, have fun, be safe, and make some memories on the avenue.