1950: Judy Canova, a ‘moon man’, apparently meaning gay

judy canova sydney truth

The biggest problem with old newspaper articles about queers is working out what’s true. Take this 1950 Sydney Truth snippet about Judy Canova, a man in ‘drag’.

Judy Canova

“Remarkable things go on in Sydney after dark,” reported the Sydney Truth alongside a stealth pic of a man standing at his front door in drag.

“The ‘moon man’ (as he is known in the vernacular) – at the door goes by the name of Judy Canova. He is in ‘drag’ — women’s clothing.”

(Back in the day, drag queens often took their names from movie stars. The comedian Judy Canova was a popular radio, television, and movie star in 1950.)

“Inside the house, the ‘moon men’ — some in drag — are conducting a party.”

‘Moon men’ does not show up anywhere else as code for gay men. Makes sense though. Love or lust by moonlight or, at least, after the moon rose in the night sky – something of a tradition throughout the ages. But was there really a party happening? Readers had to take the paper at its word.

judy canova sydney truth
Sydney Truth 23 July 1950

But, if we examine similar articles, we discover the newspapers were often remarkably well-informed about queer shindigs despite the risk of police raids.

Take Clive Madigan whose story historian Garry Wotherspoon tells in Through the Gay Looking Glass.

In 1949, Sydney Truth described an event organised by the notorious Clive.

Parties of the painted pansies

“Giggles and squeals pierced the night air as they tripped daintily along the platform of the North Strathfield railway station. High-stepping little things in ‘drag’ (women’s clothing to the uninitiated) were tenderly escorted by their ‘boy’ friends as they frolicked their way to the darkened street where their ‘hostess’ for the night awaited them.

“Old-world courtesy prevailed as the laddies helped the ‘girlies’ onto the back of an open lorry, and while passers-by stared in silent wonder, they started their short journey to the Hollywood Tennis Courts Hall, Smythe’s St., Concord. For it was there on Saturday night of last week that Sydney’s naice boys had their latest ‘do’— one of those ducky little affairs which are now known as ‘parties of the painted pansies.’

“Right to the last minute, the venue had been a top-line secret. Only very close and trusted associates of the master of ceremonies, one named Clive Madigan, knew where the parade of the performers was to be held that night.”

Now, to simply read that without access to further info, one might think ‘Bullshit!’

Come on… groups of drag queens catching a Sydney train in 1949 and riding through the streets in the back of an open truck?

But read Garry’s book and discover that such things actually happened. You gotta give it to us queers. In many ways, we’ve always been a bold and resilient mob.

More newspaper exposés:

Sydney’s Kamp Kult – depression era fabulousness.

Brisbane’s Secret History: 1930s Same-Sex Weddings.

Homosexualists take over the streets of Sydney.

sydney truth judy canova

For the latest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) news in Australia, visit qnews.com.au. Check out our latest magazines or find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

Destiny Rogers

Destiny Rogers embarked on her career in the media industry immediately after high school, initially joining Mirror News, which later evolved into News Ltd. She fondly recalls editing Ian Byford's 'Passing Glances: A History of Gay Cairns' as one of her most fulfilling projects. Additionally, Destiny co-researched and co-wrote 'The Queen's Ball', chronicling the history of the world's longest-running continuous queer event. Her investigative work on the history of Australia's COON Cheese and Edward Coon culminated in the publication 'COON: More Holes than Swiss Cheese', a collaborative effort with Dr. Stephen Hagan. Destiny's journey at QNews began as a feature writer, and she was subsequently elevated to the role of Managing Editor of QNews Magazine in 2018. However, in July 2022, she decided to resign from this role to refocus on research and feature writing. For contact, please reach out at destinyr@qnews.com.au.

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