Queensland drag icons: Peter and Johnny Moselle


peter johnny moselle

Entertainers Peter Small and Johnny Stanton met in London in 1946 and teamed up as a double act. They later moved to Australia where they became famous as Peter and Johnny Moselle.

Billed as a comedy team, the ‘female impersonators’ went by the stage name Stanton and Small, something their agent thought too English to play in Australia. So, they became the Mad-Moiselles, a play on the French word for a young unmarried woman. Ads in the Jewish Times reveal the Mad-Moiselles as the headline act at places like Sydney’s Prunier’s 308 restaurant, ‘where food is cooked before your eyes on a charcoal fire’.

Johnny later took a break from performing and Peter moved to Les Girls in Kings Cross as the compere. Deciding there’s no ‘i’ in Moiselle, he became Peter Moselle and both ‘brothers’ used the new surname ever after.

Les Girls

A reporter tasked by the Bulletin in 1966 with writing a titillating account of Kings Cross strip clubs also popped into Les Girls.

Back home in Melbourne, we do have the occasional strip show, but we don’t strip our boys. This shock came quite early at Les Girls. I was admiring one creature very much as she disrobed. She was very tall, very languid, with beautifully shaped limbs. Just then the fellow beside me said:

“Psst. She’s a boy.”

“But, but, the shape of her . . .”

“Simple,” he went on crushingly, “they do all that with silicon injections.”

From that moment the evening was ruined.

Yeah, right. The lady doth protest too much. But he was openly impressed by Peter Moselle’s comedic talents.

Peter Moselle, who makes an entrancing female, cracks jokes like: “Mummy, what is a lesbian?”

“Don’t worry me now, dear. Wait until Daddy comes home and ask her.”

His best line was his last: “If you are disgusted at what you have seen tonight, make sure you tell everybody you know, and we’ll pack the bloody place.”

Queensland

Peter and Johnny Moselle later moved to Queensland. They became icons of both drag and live entertainment generally with long residencies on the Gold Coast and almost annual tours throughout regional Queensland.

In conservative Queensland, the Moselle revues not only made non-heterosexuality visible. They celebrated it. Over the years, the shows enjoyed renown for some of the most beautiful showgirls to ever grace a stage: Ruby, Rita, Toye de Wilde, Holly Brown, Shirley, Ginger Benson…

During my high school years, the show played a season in Hervey Bay. The local television channel filmed it for broadcast into the unsuspecting rural hinterland. Out in my tiny bush town, I watched wide-eyed as Shirley stripped totally nude but for three strategically placed 50-cent-sized silk rose pasties. One for each nipple and one in the crotch. The show was the talk of the schoolyard for days. About half a dozen years later, I discovered it wasn’t only the kids talking about it. When I told my grandmother the show I worked in was touring to Maryborough, she made me swear to keep my clothes on in front of television cameras.

Ardleigh Passable

In 1973, the Peter Moselle review moved to Fortitude Valley’s Jet Club. Ardleigh Passable reviewed the show for the Noosa Times, then an independent and fiercely progressive news platform. (Debate frequently raged in the paper over Ardleigh’s gender. However, judging by the name alone, I suspect if there’d been a rainbow in those grey years, Ardleigh might have found a place under it.)

The establishment says ‘down with lesbians and homosexuals, down with everything we can’t understand or refuse to believe’, and Ardleigh says “Why?”

Nobody gets on to the spider that eats its mate after intercourse – it’s just part of the Mother Nature scene. The House of Lords, admittedly, understands the love of one man for another (and all that jazz) but down in Mediaeval Australia we lump it all in the bin with witchdoctory, body snatching, and incest and we smash it! Apart from the obvious defense of ‘it’s their life, let them lead it’, we have never been able to find good supporting proof of justification for this sector of our society. This week we were thrust right into the heart of Brisbane’s homosexual society. And did we ever enjoy it? Immensely!

Now we have an invitation for all our readers to go down and enjoy the same experience.

Meet these people who you profess not to understand. Discover how delightfully warm-hearted, sympathetic, human and talented they are. You will find them at the Jet Club Restaurant in Fortitude Valley and they call themselves The Peter Moselle Revue. Three and a half hours of top-bracket entertainment.

Hate isn’t a nice quality

If you hate homosexuals, see this revue …. because hate isn’t a nice quality and you’ll come away with an understanding and perhaps a little love for wonderful people who have made the world a happier place to live in.

(Ardleigh describes the mainly transgender cast as homosexual, but people didn’t enjoy the same language choices in 1973 as we do in 2022.)

Peter and Johnny Moselle were both incredible performers. I once watched Johnny onstage at a Tweed Heads football club towards the end of his career. He entered the stage wearing a white bowling frock with his hair that lovely shade of blue chosen by ladies of the era to hide the grey. He carried a string bag containing two bowling balls. The audience erupted into laughter the moment they saw him. Then, every time the laughter threatened to die, he cast a sly glance at the two balls, and 400 Queenslanders who’d snuck over the border for the pokies burst into renewed cackles. I think from memory it was a good five minutes before he uttered a word.

Peter and Johnny Moselle: legends, icons, pioneers, and forebears to remember with pride.

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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3 Comments

  1. Gavin Janson
    3 December 2022
    Reply

    The lady in the black and white photo was my best friend for over 30 years. Regretfully she passed away from cancer in 2020 on the Gold Coast.

  2. Tamara tonite
    5 December 2022
    Reply

    At last a true article about about these two legends Peter and Johnny moselle. If you search YouTube for Peter moselle you can find some of their work there.

  3. JOHN TURNBULL
    8 December 2022
    Reply

    Hi what a show it was at the Coolangatta Hotel where I took Rita out to lunch what a dish unfortunately she has gone just recently I never forget those days Peter and John where fantastic.

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