Originally published 05/05/2013
The ‘nance,’ or Nancy Boy, was a gay burlesque character from the 1930s who brought guffaws and belly laughs as he pranced about the stage, creating campy scenes and sketches of gay life. He put on an outrageous show and audiences loved him. In the late 1930s, New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, fearful of how the lurid burlesque shows would make his city look in the upcoming World’s Fair of 1939, cracked down on the houses.Part of LaGuardia’s anger was aimed at the Nance, whom critics said created audiences of lusty gay men having sex in the dark balconies of the burlesque emporiums. It was an outrage, the Mayor said, and police began swooping down on burlesque shows, closing many and forcing others to drop the nance act or greatly curb it.The Nance, that just opened in New York, is the very funny, deeply emotional, and winning, story about that crackdown.