Portrait of Bothwell Browne
Though cross-dressing vaudevillians were fairly common in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, dancer Bothwell Browne (1877-1947) broke from a tradition of broadly humorous bawdy or vulgar impersonations in favor of work that explored a more nuanced view of gender. Famous for playing characters such as Cleopatra, Browne often drew from an Eastern tradition he imagined as sensual and feminine. Browne is not dressed in women's clothing in Orval Hixon's portrait, but his sinuous pose and draped costume certainly challenged conventions of American masculinity. Some audiences found Browne's style discomforting, and while he gained great fame on the stage, he found little success in the era's comic films.