I never visit Deviates, Inc. without seeing, reading or learning something new.
My latest discovery is Lulu – not to be confused with the shouting ’60s pop star or Frank Wedekind’s femme fatale. No, this Lulu belongs to the category of frocked-up funambulists – a category that until now I naïvely imagined to have one sole occupant: the divine Barbette.
But 60 years before Texan-born Vander Clyde soared above the heads of le tout Paris with the look, name and mien of a zero-gravity soubrette, there was Lulu. Born Sam Wasgate in Maine in 1855, the orphan took to performing in Britain with his adoptive father, famed tightrope walker William Leonard Hunt, “The Great Farini”. Once the child acrobat had amazed London audiences with his dexterity as “El Niño Farini”, a cross-Channel, cross-dressing teenaged Wasgate was soon wowing Paris in frills and ruffles as “The Beautiful Lulu the girl Aerialist and Circassian Catapultist”.
As was the case for Clyde/Barbette later, it was an accident which finally brought Wasgate/Lulu down from the heights, coupled with a reluctance to continue with the female persona. “There was much embarrassment amongst male admirers,” reports an article on the V&A’s website, “when it was revealed in 1878 that Lulu was in fact a man.”