Chapel of the Pines Crematory, 1605 S Catalina St, Los Angeles, CA 90006
Bothwell Browne (March 7, 1877 – December 12, 1947) was born Walter Bothwell Bruhn in Copenhagen, Denmark. When he was a child his family moved to San Francisco. Bothwell went to New York City and began working as a dancer and female impersonator. In 1911 he made his Broadway debut in Miss Jack. He quickly became one of the most popular acts in vaudeville. Bothwell was known for performing very sexy and often controversial shows. During one show he danced with a live poisonous snake. Critics were constantly comparing him to Julian Eltinge, a more famous female impersonator.
Director Mack Sennett cast Bothwell as an aviator who dresses as a woman in the comedy Yankee Doodle In Berlin. To coincide with the release of the movie Bothwell put together a show that starred some of Mack Sennett's bathing beauties. In December of 1919 he was a headliner at the Palace Theater in New York and was featured on the cover of Variety. Bothwell continued to appear in vaudeville throughout the 1920s. After retiring he opened a dance school in San Francisco. Bothwell, who was openly gay, never married or had children. He died on December 12, 1947 at the age of seventy. Bothwell was cremated and buried at Chapel Of The Pines Crematory in Los Angeles.
Bothwell Browne (Copenhagen, March 7, 1877—Los Angeles, December 12, 1947) was one of the best known female impersonators on the vaudeville stage, hailed by Variety as early as 1910 as second only to Julian Eltinge. Like most female impersonators of the day, Browne relied on beautiful gowns to put across his act, but he also would generally appear in a playlet or sketch, supported by a number of attractive women, but none more beautiful than he. He was a handsome man (and woman), slimmer and far better looking than Eltinge.
Born in Denmark, Walter Bothwell Bruhm emigrated with his family to San Francisco, where he studied dance. He appears to have started his career with the Cohan and Harris Minstrels. He made his New York debut on September 6. 1908, at the Fifth Avenue Theatre in a sketch titled "Winning a Gibson Girl." Writing in Variety (September 12, 1908), Sime Silverman thought him "a de-cidedly clever female impersonator," but added, "has still to be judged by more than one character." Browne was back at the Fifth Avenue Theatre in September 1910, playing a variety of female roles, including a showgirl, a suffragette, and "The Pantaloon Girl," and closing with a dance as Cleopatra. Variety noted that his one weakness was the lack of a strong singing voice. Despite such a debility, Browne did appear in one musical comedy, Miss Jack, which opened in New York at the Herald Square Theatre on September 4, 1911, but ran for a mere sixteen performances.
The story line of Miss Jack had Browne as a college boy imprisoned in a young ladies seminary. He took on the guise of one of the young women who had run away and carried the characterization through three acts. He did not unwig for the finale. The musical comedy opened on August 14, 1911, in Asbury Park, New Jersey, prior to its New York opening. It was generally assumed that Miss Jack opened in New York one week in advance of Julian Eltinge's The Fascinating Widow in order to take advantage of the latter's publicity.
Despite these early New York appearances, Bothwell Browne proved more popular on the West Coast and throughout the teens tended to concentrate his vaudeville appearances in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Spokane, and Seattle. In 1913, he produced a sketch titled "The Serpent of the Nile," featuring his cousin Frances Young as Cleopatra, which opened at the Pantages Theatre, Spokane, on September 22. Following a tambourine dance by eight harem girls, the queen's messenger (played by Phyllis Lambert) appeared, performed a sword dance, and then told Cleopatra of Marc Antony's death. A snake was called for, and Cleopatra proceeded to remove various veils. Only at the fifteen-minute presentation's close was the audience apprised of the sex of Cleopatra with the removal of "her" wig.
Frances Young was also featured in Bothwell Browne's "Exotic Art Dances," which opened at the San Francisco Hippodrome on September 4, 1916. It began with Browne, dressed in a gold cloth, introducing Young, who performed a dance as an ancient Persian swordsman. Variety (September 15, 1916) reported, "This lad is about as handsome a built boy as one wants to see and he danced so easily and gracefully his efforts met with good results." Browne then reappeared to perform "The Dance of Vanity" in the guise of a Japanese maid. The act closed with Young, as a scantily clad Egyptian slave, ministering to the needs of Browne as Cleopatra. From today's viewpoint, the whole thing sounds somewhat effete, but Variety called it "the best staged, produced, costumed and elaborate dancing turn that ever left the Pacific Coast."
In 1919, comedy film producer Mack Sennett starred Browne in a vulgar, anti-German comedy titled Yankee Doodle in Berlin, which had Browne as an American aviator donning female attire in order to obtain German secrets. Photoplay's critic Julian Johnson thought Browne's impersonation "very creditable and inoffensive." As a result of the film's popularity, Browne put together a vaudeville act with a group of Mack Sennett Bathing Beauties and headlined with them at the Palace in December 1919.
Bothwell Browne was adept at publicity. He was featured on the front cover of Variety for December 12, 1919, dressed in both male and female costumes, and made the covers of The New York Dramatic Mirror on October 30, 1919, and January 21, 1920. The last announced that he was topping the B. F. Keith bills with his Bathing Beauties in a 20th Century Revue, assisted by the Browne Sisters. (The latter were, in reality, his brother Nicholas's children, Dorothy and Flavilla.)
Browne's popularity declined in the 1920s, as his act tended toward repetition. On October 24, 1923, he opened at the Hill Street Theatre, Los Angeles, in an Egyptian sketch with six girls and himself as the queen (!). In later years, he taught dance and produced revues at nightclubs such as the Half Moon on New York's West 80th Street. No hint of scandal ever attached itself to his name. Supposedly, as a child, he asked his mother plaintively, "Do I have to get married?" The answer was no, and Bothwell Browne died a bachelor.
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