LGBT History: Gay Showcase in Reading, PA circa 1961

Vince Grimm and Will Kratz (photo by Michael K. Lavers)

photo credit Michael K. Lavers

While recounting their neary five decades as a couple, New Jerseyites, Vince Grimm and Will Kratz tell of their storied parties that were drawing huges crowds of gays, and straight admirers.

From The Washington Blade:

Kratz decided a couple of years later that he wanted to make the [drag] shows bigger. He approached the owner of the Big Apple Bar whose relatives owned a picnic grove outside Reading with buildings and a pavilion. They agreed to rent the space to him.

“Then we decided, well we’ve got to have money for these drag shows and where are we going to get it? Well let’s have barbecue chicken parties, so we had three a summer at that location,” said Kratz.

Nearly 300 people paid $5 to attend the first party that took place in 1961, but they quickly grew in popularity. Up to 1,500 revelers who came from as far away as northern New Jersey, Baltimore and even D.C. on themed buses that included those dressed as Vatican officials and the Pope attended the parties. A lesbian once arrived on an elephant with two tigers she borrowed from a local circus.

[nsip]

In addition to the three parties they organized each year, Grimm and Kratz also staged drag shows that featured choreographers and up to 10 performers on stage at any given time. Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand proved popular muses, but some participants wrote entire operettas and made their costumes.

“The fire police people and the local JPs kind of found out that we were having these shows and they said, well how come you never ask us to come to these shows. We said you can come,” said Grimm. “They started to come to the Sunday matinees; they would come in suits. Their wives would come in their furs. It was totally unbelievable. This was their theater. We were their theater and they were actually the best audience that we had. We got standing ovations. They would go crazy. They couldn’t wait for us.”

And you thought the White Party was wild.

Read the full article

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One Response to LGBT History: Gay Showcase in Reading, PA circa 1961

  1. Guy Penn says:

    I am actually from Reading PA, and I never knew about this. Great read. Thanks for sharing.

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