Like San Francisco’s Finnochio’s, or the Jewel Box Lounge of Kansas City, Le Carrousel is one of those landmarks in transgender history which are in some ways at least as important as Compton’s Cafeteria or the Stonewall Inn. The club opened as a cabaret in 1926 under the name “Chez Josephine,” an homage to Josephine Baker by her partner, Guiseppe Pepito Abatino. From about 1936 onward the club became known for its female impersonators, which actually included a growing percentage of transgender women along with the stage performers. The club became most famous for its transgender cabaret in the 1950’s and 1960’s, and was the stage and home to many notable transgender persons from history, such as April Ashley, Coccinelle, Sone Teal, Capuchine, Bambi, Kiki Moustic, and scores of others, including some transgender men.
By the 1970’s the attraction to transgender cabaret had died down, and the club became a typical champagne bar. The club still exists in the Pigalle district of Paris, returning to its roots and bringing back the cabaret aspect.
What I have featured here on this page is a very uncommon piece of transgender and gender non-conforming history – an original program from Le Carrousel, which I purchased from a seller in Paris. The program is more of a retrospective covering multiple years, and it appears to contain photographs dating from 1959-1965. You may note that some pages contain reference to “Chez Mme Arthur,” which refers to another nearby and closely associated club that also featured transgender performers.
As usual here at Transas City, I have scanned every one of the 36 pages of this program in very high resolution, and the high-resolution images can be accessed by clicking on the smaller images below. As far as I can tell these images are not still in copyright, and I have placed no watermarks nor altered them in any way. Please download and save these as you see fit, to help preserve our transgender heritage.
Bambi (Marie-Pierre Pruvot) is an Algerian-born French transgender woman who performed under the stage name Bambi. She performed in the revue at Le Carrousel for approximately 20 years, and appeared in several documentary films, such as Costa Azzurra (1959) and 90 Notti in Giro per il Mondo (1963). While working as an entertainer she attended the Sorbonne in Paris, receiving several degrees and becoming a teacher of literature in 1974.
April Ashley (shown as “Tony April” here) has the distinction of being Britain’s most famous transgender woman. Ashley’s life is an incredible rags to riches to rags story which at many times seems simply unbelievable. Starting her authentic life in the London LGBT community of the 1950’s, she moved on to perform as a woman on stage, eventually headlining the show at Le Carousel, then touring Europe in style along with other drag performers and transgender actresses. She had her sexual transformation surgery in Casablanca and then burst onto the international club scene in Europe as a dancer, fashion model, actress, and general party girl extraordinaire. She was definitely no angel, and by her own admission she lived a hedonistic and self-centered life.
Sone Teal (sometimes spelled “Sonne”) was much-loved within the transgender community world-wide. She and two other performers died tragically in the BOAC 911 air crash at Mt. Fuji, Japan on March 5, 1966.
The most famous French transgender woman in history (excepting perhaps the Chevaliere d’Eon du Beaumont), Coccinelle made her debut as a transgender showgirl in 1953 at Chez Madame Arthur. She later performed at Le Carrousel. In 1958 she underwent her sex reassignment surgery in Casablanca, under the care of the famous Dr. Georges Burou. She returned to the stage and to greater fame, and was the first transgender woman to become a “star” in France. She released several albums of songs, and later wrote several autobiographical works focusing on her life on the stage and her transition. Her first marriage was the first transsexual union to be officially acknowledged by the government of France, establishing transgender persons’ legal right to marry.