Passing Performances

Queer Readings of Leading Players in American Theater History

Subjects: Sexuality Studies, Theater and Performance, History, American History, Cultural Studies
Open Access : 9780472904198, 352 pages, 17 B&W photographs, 6 x 9, June 2023
Hardcover : 9780472096817, 352 pages, 17 B&W photographs, 6 x 9, October 1998

This open-access version is made available with the support of Big Ten Academic Alliance member libraries.
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Recovers the hidden history of theater professionals who transgressed gendered expectations of their time


Passing Performances gathers a range of critical and biographical essays on notable personalities whose major contributions to the stage occurred before 1969, the year of the Stonewall riots that kicked off the gay rights movement in the United States. How these theater practitioners variously "passed"-- i.e., managed unconventional sexual inclinations both on- and offstage--significantly determined the course of their personal and professional lives and thus the course of U.S. theater history.
The actors, directors, producers, and agents examined here include Edwin Forrest, Charlotte Cushman, and Adah Isaacs Menken, whose personal lives and careers traded on the same-sex erotics of "true love" in the antebellum period; Elisabeth Marbury, Elsie de Wolfe, Elsie Janis, Nance O'Neil, and Alla Nazimova, whose intimate female liaisons were variously interpreted around the turn of the century; the "lavender marriages" of Alfred Lunt to Lynne Fontanne and Guthrie McClintic to Katharine Cornell; the lesbian collaborations of Margaret Webster and Cheryl Crawford; the comic antics of Monty Woolley, which negotiated codified constructions of homosexual perversion in the post-Freudian interwar years; and the on- and offstage performances of Mary Martin and Joe Cino, which resisted the paranoid enforcements of heterosexual normality in the McCarthy era. Central to these investigations are the complex connections of performances of sexuality and gender and their different implications for men and women practitioners working under pervasive sexism and homophobia.
The volume also includes striking archival photographs of the performers and their performances, and an index to facilitate the cross-referencing of subjects' intersecting careers. Passing Performances will engage both general and academic readers interested in theater, gay and lesbian history, American studies, and biography.
Robert A. Schanke is Professor of Theatre and Chair of the Division of Fine Arts, Central College, Iowa. Kim Marra is Associate Professor of Theatre Arts, University of Iowa.

Robert A. Schanke is Professor of Theatre at Central College, Pella, Iowa and editor of the journal Theatre History Studies. His last book was Shattered Applause: The Lives of Eva Le Galliene. Visit Robert Schanke's website at

Kim Marra is Associate Professor of Theatre Arts, University of Iowa, and book review editor for Theatre Survey.