A Brief Biography
Long before Lily Savage, La Cage Aux Folles or
Priscilla Queen Of The Desert, there was Danny La Rue, Britain's foremost female
impersonator who single-handedly turned cross dressing into mainstream family
Danny La Rue was born Daniel Patrick Carroll in Cork, Ireland, on 26th July
1927, the youngest in a family of 5. He was just 9 years old when he was brought
to England by his widowed mother Mary, and the
family settled initially in London. However he was evacuated during the Blitz, and
spent the next few years in the tiny Devon village of Kennford.
He left school at 15 and worked in a fashion store in Exeter.
A term in the
Royal Navy involved him in concert party entertainment and set acting career. Back
in civvies, it was years of slogging away in repertory, and variety, taking him to almost
every theatre in the provinces and affording him an invaluable, ringside view of all the
biggest stars of the day.
He made his London
debut in a tiny revue at the Irving Theatre, breaking into cabaret at
Winstons Club alongside Barbara Windsor. Danny sustained ten years-unbroken West End success in this way,
while annually performing in pantomime for Tom Arnold.
He opened his own, now legendary,
nightclub called "Danny La Rue's "in Hanover Square, London in 1964, attracting well over 13,000 members and
celebrities such as Judy Garland,
Warren Beatty, Shirley MacLean, Dorothy Squires, Shirley Bassey, Noel Coward
,Zsa Zsa Gabor and Dame Elizabeth Taylor were all patrons. Even H.R.H
Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon would pop in for a laugh.
Whilst making late
night appearances at his club, Danny also had a show or TV program or both
to occupy, the earlier hours of the day. We was a workaholic and was proud that
he never missed a show or engagement. He would always hide any discomfort or
illness, remarkable in such along career.
It was in these
circumstances that he made his West End show debut in the musical hit "Come Spy With
Me" at the Whitehall; played a smash hit holiday season in Margate and then starred
in one of the longest running pantomimes ever known "Queen Passionella And The
Sleeping Beauty" at the Old Saville Theatre.
His nightclub work continued
even during a season in Coventry' and for his return to the West End in "At The
Palace," which ran for two years. twice the intended run, until April 1972. By
that time it had been seen by more than a million people. Highlights were later recorded
for television, the program topping the week's rating on transmission.
On the West End stage he has triumphed in no less than seven major shows:
One of his most adventurous roles
was that of 'Dolly Levi' in the world famous musical "Hello Dolly!".
was the first time in theatrical history that the part of 'Dolly' had been played by a man and the first
time that a man has played a female role in a major musical. He fitted the role
perfectly and his frock for that show was one of the most famous through all the
He undertook record-breaking summer
seasons and pantomimes at venues all over the country. His annual national tours, with his dazzling Danny La Rue Show,
play consistently to outstanding business at the box office. As journalist Marjorie Proops
once said : "Danny La Rue is a beloved national monument." He played
every major venue in the UK and Australia.
His television work included many editions of The Good Old Days, a
production of Charley's Aunt a pantomime The Queen Of Hearts, several
spectaculars and specials including Tonight With Danny La Rue and the TV
version of Come Spy With Me as well as numerous guest appearances on major TV
series. Danny continued to be in great demand and appeared at
Buckingham Palace - his 30th Royal Show!
Internationally he triumphed in Canada, played successful seasons in Hong Kong, Singapore and the Middle East,
and achieved super
stardom in Australia where he used to spend half of his working year. Indeed
such was his standing in Australia that in 1988 he was personally invited to be ambassador for
Britain at the Expo '88 celebrations for the country's bi-centenary.
With all his
successes have come the acknowledgments of the profession:
Variety Performances of 1969. 1972 and 1978.
Showbiz Personality of the Year Award in 1969 from the Variety Club of Great Britain,
who also feted his then 25 years in show business with a tribute luncheon in his honor in 1976,
Theatre Personality of the Year in 1970.
Entertainer of the Decade in 1979
recently the prestigious Brinsworth Award from the EABF for his outstanding contribution
to the entertainment profession and the community'.
Danny in a glittering and glamorous career
spanning over 60 years, established
himself as one of the most popular and prolific performers Britain has ever known.
Noel Coward called him "The most professional, the most witty...and
the most utterly charming man in the business"
Dame Anna Neagle echoed "One of the kindest
and most generous men I've ever met".
Remarking on his talents as an entertainer, Bob Hope called him "The most glamorous woman in the world".
He enjoyed phenomenal success in virtually all the diverse aspects of
entertainment from television to films, from concert to cabaret...and all points in between.
He went from being so poor with no shoes to being
the highest paid entertainer in the UK in the early
70s, mainly due to hard work and doing several shows a day.
He was earning over £20000 a week in the 70s which
enabled him to have the lifestyle many could only
dream of. His homes were always the centre of the party scene. Even Liberace
dropped in to stay at one of Danny's Castles, the ill fated Walton Hall.
In the foreword to his best-selling autobiography, "From Drags to Riches", the
distinguished actor Donald Sinden described Danny as a "truly original" -
just two words which summed up what people from all over the world, have known for years.
Unlike many drag performers, Danny would always perform parts of his show in
men's clothes, and always started his perfomance with " Wotcha Mates" to make it
clear he was a man and did not wished to be taken seriously. Unlike his
contemporary's Lily Savage and Dame Edna, Dan was never in costume on television
shows unless performing. Richard Branson once asked Dan to open the Virgin
megastore in Darling Harbour Sydney in drag, Dan declined!. He would never
appear in the street in anything other than smart civil clothes and was
immaculate in his appearance at all times.
In later years, he had
been more open about his private life and the fact that he was a homosexual, he
did not like the word "Gay"! and in fact had lived for many years with his partner and manager, Jack
Hanson, until his death in Australia following a stroke in 1974. Unfortunately
another of his partners Wayne King, a very talented pianist and showman, also
died young. Danny became celibate in his 60s,
Danny was given an OBE in the 2002
Queen's Birthday Honours List for his Charity work particularly with reference
to disabled children and HIV charities such as InfantAid. He was incredible
proud that someone in a frock could be given such an honour. He worked
hard on making minorities and the vulnerable to be accepted.
In early 2006 Danny suffered a mild stroke
whilst on holiday in Spain and all planned UK
performances for were cancelled. Unknown to his fans, he had also been suffering
for many years from prostate cancer.
Danny's last appearance was in "Hello Danny" a biographical show performed at Benidorm Palace, Spain on 11 November 2007. The part of La Rue was played by
Jerry Lane, and Danny appeared at the top of the show and then appeared in an
interview on stage in the second half. He also performed a number of songs,
accompanied by Dave Peterson to the sellout crowd. Also staring in the show were
Barry Britten, Asa Elliott, Liam Stewart, Dene Michael, Nikki Miller, Wendy
Manfield, Jenny Renn, helping to portray La Rue's early life and recreate songs
that he had performed in past shows.
"In a business he loved
so much, Danny La Rue was a giant. He was 100% professional. He was a nice guy,
and if anyone could captivate an audience, Dan could ".
Danny is laid to rest with his partner Jack Hanson in
St Mary's Cemetery
He passed away on May 31st 2009