Queens Ball Legends Simone Signoret And Gloria Swanson


Simone Signoret Gloria Swanson Queens Ball

Queensland drag performer Simone Signoret and Gloria Swanson both died in recent months. Bill Rutkin and Peter Cotterell remember two legends of the annual Queens Ball. 

Simone was an unforgettable personality, writes Bill Rutkin

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Kevin Deane, aka Simone Signoret, passed away a few weeks ago. Although Simone was an unforgettable and flamboyant personality, the exotic exterior masked a shy and complex person.

Simone Signoret was a generous host, a fabulous cook (best chili con carne ever), a hilarious raconteur and a talented artist.

Her unquestioned crowning achievement was a vocal range almost equal to Yma Sumac. (If you don’t know Yma search for the YouTube vids.)

Queens Ball Posters

Kevin was the much-loved younger brother of legendary Queensland LGBTIQ icon Dame Sybil Von Thorndyke, foundress and indomitable driving force behind the Queen’s Birthday Ball, the longest running gay event in the world.

Sybil relied on Simone’s talent to produce the fabulously creative posters promoting the annual Queens Ball.

A fine operatic voice

She was also a regular performer for several decades, singing live in a voice rumoured to occasionally shatter glass.

Early one morning in the seventies a rather inebriated Simone, Sybil, Jean Harlow (another legendary Brisbane queen) and myself went to Fortitude Valley’s Jet Club to see the Peter Moselle All Male Revue.

After a few drinks, Simone was often in fine operatic voice.

On this night she insisted on entertaining the bar with a selection of arias despite repeated requests from the management to shut the fuck up.

Eventually the bouncers lifted her from her bar stool. Simone did not alter her posture, remaining in a rigid seated position as they carried her in her satin evening gown and high heels out to Brunswick Street.

She also did not stop singing, holding a single high note all the way from the bar to the gutter.

We shall not see her like again. Vale dear Simone Signoret.

No matter where she was, Queensland performer Gloria Swanson was a star, writes Peter Cotterell

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The wonderful Gloria Swanson (pictured above, right) died alone in hospital a few weeks back, at the grand old age of 88.

I knew Gloria from the mid-60s, until I left to work overseas in 1968. I stayed away 47 years, and since returning, have managed to renew only one friendship from that time of my precocious youth. Sadly, that one person was not Ms. Swanson.

In the mid-60s, Gloria’s domain was the Windsor Beauty Salon (or Saloon – if you prefer) where she worked together with a woman called Connie.

Named for a Hollywood legend herself, Gloria loved the stars.

She saw it as her god-sent duty to live up to them, to rival them, and to surpass their flamboyance.

Her voice sounded like gravel in a barrel and was used to great effect in a never ending stream of droll declarations.

Got your eyebrows plucked? You were a star!

Got your wig set with beer can ‘60s rolls which Gloria called tornadoes?

You were a star!

Brought a few extra XXXX to the Saloon on a Saturday afternoon? You were a star!

Walked back from Gloria’s to the Pink Palace with Sybil von Thorndyke at 8:00am on a Monday morning, still in drag? You were a star!

No one who met her could forget Gloria’s mom. She who woke at daybreak, said good morning to the drag queens who’d been on the hooch all night, and then played piano for everyone.

Then there was Gloria’s straight lady friend and drinking buddy who often got morose after a binge.

On one occasion she tried to end it all by jumping off the Story Bridge but made the attempt at low tide, and just ended up thigh-deep in mud.

I can still hear Gloria’s raucous laughter as she retold the story. Gloria saw the funny side of everything.

For all Gloria’s outgoing ways, she was a lone ranger even in those days. We rarely saw her at parties.

Although she looked fabulous in drag with her upwards, reverse, Nike-swipe eyebrows and impeccable high cheekbones, she was a loner. The dreaded booze may have played a part.

The police once pointed to a stack of empty cartons on her landing. “All yours?”, they asked. “Yes,” said Gloria. “I like a drink.”

I’ve kicked around for many years in many countries and lived a life through extraordinary changes and through extraordinary times.

I’ve known some wonderful people and plenty of assholes of all colours, genders, shapes and sizes, but Ms Swanson is one person whom I shall fondly remember for the rest of my days.

And remembering, I chuckle to myself. Gloria Swanson was 88 when she died a few weeks back.

As the big caller in the sky says: “All the 8s – 88,” and another space on life’s bingo card crossed out in pink marker.

I’m miserable now because I was unable to locate you when I returned, but, rest in peace, old friend.

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