Walter Cole, star of the long running Darcelle XVand Company female impersonator show, talks about his new one-man autobiographical show.
Geoff Norcross: Why did you decide to do this show?
Walter Cole: It was time. It was time. I was ready to write my life history along with my director Sharon Knorr. A friend of ours wanted all of these things in a book. So she wrote down highlights of everything she knew about me and lo and behold it is our outline for the play.
Norcross: The two shows that you do: “Call Me Darcelle” where you are Walter and the Darcelle show where you’re Darcelle. Which one is harder to do?
Cole: Oh, being Walter. Not having that face to shield you from the people. Not having that costume they’re looking at. Not the jewelry they’re looking at. Not or the feathers or the hairdos. When you’re out there with no makeup and nothing but you, it’s harder for you.
Norcross: Tell me about that moment when you first put on a dress and decided it was comfortable.
Cole: Well, I don’t think it was a moment. What it was was a about four hour ordeal. Because I didn’t do anything for myself I didn’t paint my own face, I didn’t have my own costume.
I was 37 years old when I put on my first dress. And I was invited to a masquerade party at the Hoyt hotel. And my friend at the time, Roxy Newhart, who we’re still together after 40 some years, invited me in said he would paint my face. And he did and it took two hours. I do it in 20 minutes now.
He borrowed a costume from Gracie Hanson, who was working the Roaring 20s room. He worked with her, but he didn’t tell her he borrowed it. So when I walked in in her costume, she was not amused.
Norcross: Was it at this moment that you thought “I like this”
Cole: What I said was what the heck am I doing. That was the beginning. It was a little uncomfortable. I wasn’t quite used to it and of course the four inch heels were not easy to walk in. It took me quite a while to learn that one.
Norcross: Walter Cole and Darcelle, they’re two very different people?
Cole: Far apart. Far apart. Well, they’re getting closer together after all these years. It’s like a dual personality situation. As Walter, I’m totally afraid of heights. Darcelle did the inaugural flight for channel six’s helicopter. Darcelle dressed up really pretty. Had a cameraman in there and an interviewer and a pilot. She sat in the helicopter with its plastic floor and looked down and it didn’t bother Darcelle at all.
Norcross: There are places in Oregon where attitudes about female impersonators may not be as accepting as here in Portland.
Cole: I haven’t found that yet. I’ve worked in Elks clubs all over the state of Oregon. And Eagles. And bars. The coast. In Umatilla. In LaGrande. I haven’t found it. I don’t have this great desire to put on false boobs and a dress and parade around. I do it for my job. I’m an entertainer. And I entertain. How I do it is a little different than some people. And I’m glad of that because it’s still unique.
Norcorss: How long do you think you’ll be doing it?
Cole: Until I die. I’m not retiring. And I hope there is a full house and I kick my heels up one last time.
Walter Cole is the star of his autobiographical one-man show called “Just call me Darcelle.” You can see it Sunday’s all this month at the Darcelle XV club in Portland.
To find out more, please visit Darcelle XV.