BY TRAV S.D. | In honor of Pride Month, we will be featuring one article per week on a different classic performer, one for each category: L, G, B, T, and Q! With only five weeks in June, that’s our limit. Check back with us next year, as our series picks up with “+” I, A, and beyond. Following up on previous posts (“L” Alla Nazimova, “G” George Kelly, and “B” Paul Swan), today we present our “T”—Terri Rogers.
Born Ivan Southgate (1937-1999) in Ipswich, Terri Rogers started out with a music hall vent act in the 1950s, accompanied by his wooden partner Shorty Harris. A biological male, he underwent a sex change in the early ’60s, and this is how Shorty got a new lap to sit on. In addition to whatever personal fulfillment the operation brought to Rogers, the alteration also brought a wonderful new dimension to the act.
Now fully female, with a conventionally female voice, she continued to provide Shorty’s male one. She herself was traditionally feminine and posh (she sometimes wore a tiara), whereas Shorty was cynical, macho, foul-mouthed and working class.
You could easily write a dissertation on the levels of such an act: existential, metaphorical, sexual, political. I hope someone has. If so, it may well have been Rogers, who was not just a performing genius (watch her clips on YouTube), but also the other sort of genius too. She invented several magic illusions for the likes of David Copperfield and Doug Henning, and wrote somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 books.
After music hall dried up, Rogers was a star of London cabarets and BBC variety shows. At the height of her fame, she brought her act abroad to venues like Hollywood’s Magic Castle and nightclubs in Las Vegas. She died of a stroke in 1999 at the age of 66.
Read more about Rogers and access performance clips by clicking here to visit Rogers’ page on the website of The Legacy Project, a Chicago-based cultural and educational non-profit dedicated to researching and promoting the contributions of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer people have made to world history and culture. Read about Bobbie Kimber, another gender-bending British ventriloquist here.
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