DCS: moms mabley

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June is Pride Month.

Loretta Aiken was one of 16 children born to James Aiken and Mary Smith. James was moderately successful  in Bevard, North Carolina, starting and operating various business ventures. However, Loretta’s childhood was anything but happy. She gave birth twice before she was 13, both times as a victim of rape and both children were given up for adoption. Young Loretta was encouraged by her grandmother to run a way from home, At 14, she did so, joining a travelling vaudeville act with popular “Chitlin Circuit”  stage stars Butterbeans and Susie. Lorretta changed her name to “Jackie Mabley,” choosing the moniker of an early boyfriend. She later commented that he treated her poorly, so the least she could do was steal his name. Just after she left home, her father, a volunteer fireman, was killed when a fire engine exploded. Soon after, her mother was stuck and killed by a car while walking home from church on Christmas.

In 1921, Jackie — the former Loretta — came out as a lesbian. She was one of the first female comedians to embrace her homosexuality and often included lesbian humor in her act. She became the first female comedian to play Harlem’s famed Apollo Theater. Appearing in dingy clothes and a bucket hat, Jackie used the stage persona of “Moms Mabley” to the delight of audiences. She spoke about women’s’ issues, as well as racism, sexuality and her aversion to “old geezers.” Her edgy routines garnered wide acclaim and soon she found herself on bigger stages in more prestigious venues, including Carnegie Hall. She appeared on the popular Ed Sullivan Show and was a favorite guest of Tom and Dick Smothers on their variety show. She was the supporting act for live performances by Pearl Bailey and Ike & Tina Turner in the 1970s.

In 1974, while filming her first and only movie, Jackie suffered a heart attack. She was given a pacemaker and continued performing, despite her declining health. She passed away in 1975 at the age of 78… but not before opening doors for young comedians who followed in her footsteps.



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