Queer Places:
Pratt Institute, 200 Willoughby Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11205

Edward G. Perry (1908 - January 30, 1955) was a New York arts critic, party planner and social secretary. He was known as the male Elsa Maxwell. Perry, a former actor, traveled with the Negro Actors Guild in the 1920s, partecipating in performances in the United States and in Paris. During WWII he traveled abroad for three years with a USO troupe staging the musical Porgy and Bess. In the Negro Creative Musicians inside Negro: An Anthology edite by Nancy Cunard (1933) he wrote that “during the so-called New Negro Renaissance hardly any Negro singer attempted a program without including a group of spirituals…the concerts that featured a black singer and all spirituals were the most lucrative”

The organization of the Hamilton Lodge ball codified the differences between the public styles of middle-class and working-class gay men. Middle-class men passing as straight sat in the balcony with other members of Harlem’s social elite looking down on the spectacle of workingmen in drag. Although the newspapers regularly noted the appearance of Caska Bonds, Harold Jackman, Edward G. Perry, Clinton Moore, Eddie Manchester, Jimmie Daniels, and other middle-class gay men at the balls, they simply included them in the lists of other celebrities and society people in attendance, all presumed to be straight. Some of the society people they joined to watch the queers must have known of their involvement in the gay life, and undoubtedly some of the reporters and readers of the papers knew as well. But all concerned seem to have agreed not to say anything.

Edward G. Perry was born in Jacksonville, Fla., son of Anna C. and Edward F. Perry. He moved to New York in 1924 to study at Pratt institute and under the tutelage of famed artist Weinold Reiss. As a decorator's assistant, he came in contact with socially prominent and wealthy New Yorkers and quickly learned what was considered proper etiquette in these circles. As secretary to actor Basil Rathbone, he picked up further knowledged and a few years later, in 1935, embarked upon his professional career in the Harlem community.

Edward G. Perry, “Harlem’s male Elsa Maxwell,” 1939
Edward G. Perry, “Harlem’s male Elsa Maxwell,” 1939 photo by Carl Van Vechten

During the prohibition era, he planned and executed parties for top Negro socialites and introduced many well known white authors artists and socialites to Harlem society. The gregarious advisor to many leading women, professionals and clubs, was a bachelor; and widely travelled in the United States and Europe. Advisor to many top social club and charitable organizations, Perry's biggest promotional effort was, for several years, the Urban League Guild's Beaux Arts ball which attracted patrons from all over the country. Perry was one of the few male members of the large organization. For the last four years of his life, he was advisor to "The Women" who yearly chose an outstanding worman of the community as "Woman of the Year" at their colorful "Bal de Tete." As guest columnist and feature writer his byline appeared intermittently in many of the local periodicals.

Perry was hospitalized in Harlem hospital, where he died on January 30, 1955, of an acute gall bladder condition. A brief but impressive service was held at St. Philip's Episcopal church, Manhattan. Ten honorary pallbearers in attire and wearing white carnations were: Harold Jackman, Hilton Mayers, Ralph Lewis, Drexel Dibble, Edward Coleman, Dr. Edward Rudd, Harold Ellis, Casper Barnes and Melvin Patrick. Members of the Urban League guild and "The Women" of which he was member and advisor respectively were prominent among the mourners participating in the services.

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