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Frenchy: Female impersonator, drag club owner, costumier

11. July 2007 – 31. December 2007

Frenchy was born Harald Linss in 1936 in Wolfshagen near Kassel. By the age of 15 he knew that he wanted to perform as a female impersonator. The decisive moment came when his father took him to a drag club in Hamburg where the family had relocated after the war. “The moment I saw those men in women’s clothes a light went on in my brain. I knew that one day I wanted to appear on the stage like that.” Frenchy completed an apprenticeship as a window dresser in the German Family Department Store and worked in their Bremen branch. Shortly before his 21st. birthday he gave his notice in and went to Paris. In 1958 he found an engagement at Chez Madame Arthur and for the next three years was part of the company at this world-renowned cabaret in Montmartre. In the beginning he appeared under the stage name of Zarah and performed Zarah Leander songs. “Later on I worked with a Swiss fellow who was about the same height and who called himself Everest. I’m six foot four and together we formed the Hi-Fi-Sisters named after the new High Fidelity Sound that was used on records. I mean after all we were also a new listening experience.”

In the following years tours and shows would take him to almost every drag and revue stage in Europe. With his new stage partner Orèl he appeared in Milan, Stockholm and Berlin. It was during an engagement in Wiesbaden that he adopted the name Frenchy from an American he met there who went by that name. “Until then I only knew the name from Marlene Dietrich in Destry Rides Again. It had to be a unisex name – in other words perfect for me.”

Frenchy belongs to the tradition of female impersonators whose art consists of imitating the “perfect woman”. He performed the transformation with the help of elaborate make-up and sumptuous costumes which he himself designed and cut. His transformation took place without resorting to hormones, silicone or plastic surgery. Part of his signature image was that he always sang live without using playback. The artist would then parody all of this perfect staging by appearing on stage as a man again at the end of the show.

At the end of 1964 French and the female impersonator Lady Jane took over the Intermezzo – Le Monocle in Hamburg. The small drag club decorated in Baroque Queen style had been opened by the female impersonator Madame Lester (Kurt Unger) in 1956. A venue for the shows was provided by a tiny dance floor no bigger than a kitchen table. Prominent guests such as Ivan Rebroff, Gert Fröbe and Peter Kraus clustered round the edges.

Frenchy withdrew from the business in 1968 and opened Frenchy´s Artistenbazar in Hamburg – later renamed Frenchy´s Modebedarf (“Fashion Needs”). Apart from selling costume jewellery, studs and feather boas, Frenchy designed and tailored costumes which were embroidered by his friend and companion Anton Reisinger. They were famous for their sequin creations and for almost 30 years they put their stamp on the drag, strip and cabaret scene. Since selling the business in the mid-90’s and after the death of his friend Frenchy lives in retirement in Hamburg.

Curator: Karl-Heinz Steinle