Female Impersonator Craig Russell and His Wife, Lori Russell Eadie
by Brian Bradley
Dundurn. 360 pages, $22.99
OUTRAGEOUS! was a popular and critically acclaimed 1977 movie starring female impressionist Craig Russell, who went on to win the Silver Bear for Best Actor at the Berlin Film Festival. The plot was derived in part from a story in Russell’s friend and one-time roommate Margaret Gibson’s 1980 collection The Butterfly Ward. In the movie we go from Russell working as a hairdresser in Toronto to a hit performance in a gay club in New York’s Meatpacking District. (This was many decades before that neighborhood’s gentrification.) Woven into the plot is Russell’s close friendship with his young schizophrenic friend Liza.
Craig Russell was born in Toronto in 1948 as Russell Craig Eadie and was adopted at birth by a childless couple. His adoptive father was actually his biological uncle. Intrigued from his earliest years by women’s clothes and jewelry, Craig was championed by his grandmother, supported—at least until adulthood—by his mother, and reviled by his father. He was “fascinated by femininity, and strong women appealed to him,” and he believed that “feminine strength” was more enduring and reliable than its male counterpart. He went to California for several months in 1967 for his dream job: working for Mae West, who was about 74 at the time. More than idolizing her, he was obsessed with her and organized her Canadian fan club, of which he was the only member. He’d seen her 1930s movies, caught her TV appearances, and immediately felt that he had to know her. He was quoted as saying that she was like “a truck driver in drag, with something enchanting about her.” West taught him everything he needed to know to start his stage career. He answered her mail, surreptitiously tried on her outfits, and explored L.A.’s gay scene.