don't call me madam

the life and work of ray bourbon


The Autobiography:

Below are some of the more humorous excerpts from Ray's autobiography.

If you are a publisher interested in examining the manuscript for possible publication, please send an email to

Rudolph Valentino and Gloria Swanson

from a chapter on Ray's experiences at Paramount studios in the 1920s

Gloria Swanson and Rudolph Valentino were making a picture called "Beyond the Rocks". They were shooting most of it on a yacht in Catalina bay. They tried the first few days with the stock girls, but theyíd get too seasick and just couldnít make it. Finally, Bill Boyd and myself were called with one of the other stock men and we had to play very English ladies on the yacht.

To say the least, the picture was a stinker. Swanson and Valentino hated each other. They both hated the director. And the director hated them and everyone else because he was so seasick. Heíd spend half of his time bent double over the rail.

Gloria Swanson was holding her own in the seasickness department and so was Valentino. I knew Valentino was going to do something to upset Swanson ? I could tell by his expression. I had worked in several other pictures with him and I was fully aware of his sense of humor.

One mid-afternoon came the big love scene between Swanson and Valentino, on the deck, both leaning against the rail. They moved in for the kiss. Swanson broke away screaming and swearing about Valentino eating so much garlic that she couldnít get her breath. Bill Boyd and myself walked away quickly -- we didn't dare let them see us laughing.

Shortly, everything quieted down. Swanson and Valentino went to their respective rooms and the makeup men made the repairs.
However, Valentino took some limburger cheese and rubbed it all around his mouth. Then, he wiped off just enough so that the stink would stay. He was powdered down and he and Swanson were ready to try the scene again.

The director had them move into position and started the scene. They moved slowly to each other -- then, the kiss.

Swanson started trying to break away from Valentino. The harder she fought, the more tightly he held her. She finally broke away and heaved all over Valentino and herself. He let go of her. I thought for a moment she was going all the way over the rail. I've never seen anyone that sick -- Valentino was covered with vomit, from his collar right on down to the deck. But, he didn't loose his reserve. He just turned away from her and went to his room. Bill Boyd looked at me, then we both made a rush for the rail. Now, it was our turn to be sick.

Swanson slowly raised up, turned around, and got her breath. She was screaming with rage.

"It's not bad enough with the garlic -- now he's been eating SHIT!" she screamed as she went back over the rail.

That was the last day they tried to shoot any more scenes on the yacht. The director ordered the yacht back to Long Beach and they finished the picture in the studio.

Ray Describes Josephine Baker's Show

In the 1930's, Ray shared billing with Josephine Baker in the Follies Bergere. Here, he describes seeing the show for the first time shortly after his arrival in Paris with his piano accompanist, Duke.

The Follies was the typical wonderful, vulgar, hilarious, magnificent, brilliant, naked, robust show it always was. In the middle of the first act, there were some of the most hilarious scenes I’ve ever seen in any theatre. In any other country, they would have been considered sacrilegious, but, the French being what they are, it was funny to them and the audience thought so, too.

There was a scene where two alter boys are trying to decide what to do at a charity social that was being given. The young priest hears them talking and offers his help. They proceeded to do a song and dance that, without doubt, could have never been done anywhere in the world but Paris. They did this difficult step, turned their backs to the audience and the two boys didn’t have a stitch on under their costume. The priest had on knee-length bloomers with a large red heart with an arrow through it sewn on the seat of the bloomers.

I thought for a moment that I was going to have to fan Duke. I’ve never heard such laughter out of anyone. The audience was in the same condition as Duke and me.

On the back of every seat there were small opera glasses. You could put a coin in the slot so you could bring the people on stage within a few inches of your eyes. Of course, the glasses were attached to a small chain so they couldn’t be taken out of the theatre. When the girls came down the long, winding flight of steps with nothing on but feathers on their heads and jewel pumps on their feet, every pair of glasses in the house was in use.

Josephine Baker was the most sensational thing I’d seen in years. Her entrance was breath taking. She came down a wide, white Baroque staircase in back-center stage. She was wrapped in a white fox coat, the skins running length-wise, dragging six feet behind her. The sleeves of the coat dragged as far back as the coat did.

When she slowly came down front and center stage, she opened the coat with her arms held high in the air over her head. All she had on was a tiny jeweled crotch cover, tiny jeweled pasties on the ends of her breasts, and jeweled five inch heels on her jeweled pumps. On her head was a black jeweled cone with white feathers and a huge spray from the top of the cone. Her Black body looked like polished ebony against all that snow-white fur.

The ovation was thunderous. I actually felt presumptuous demanding equal billing with this woman. However, I had known Josephine when she was a chorus girl in a sensational Negro musical called “Blackbirds”. Noble and Sissle were the stars and Florence Mills co-starred. Josephine was just a chorus girl who had big ambition and an even larger amount of talent.

Jean Barries and the Elephant

from Ray's experiences in Vaudeville:

One of the things that happened in Boston was quite an experience. The weather was atrocious – trains were late and five of the acts didn’t arrive in time, so they canceled the matinee. The piano player and I went to Loew’s State. Loew’s only used five acts with the picture and three shows a day
Jean Barries was headlining the bill. Jean was a good female impersonator from San Francisco and a big name in show business. He headlined every theatre he played and was next to closeing. On this bill with Jean was the "Powers Elephants", five of the biggest elephants in the world and all highly trained. They followed Jean.

The elephant trainer and handler had forgotten to take big Roxy in the alley and let her urinate before the show. As Jean was making an exit, he was backing offstage and Roxy was backing on. The audience was in hysterics – Jean thought the audience was going wild for him, but they were screaming at the big elephant ass slowly backing in sight on the stage.

Just as Jean hit his high note, came the deluge. It looked like a brown Niagra Falls, right on top of Jean. After the water, came the manure. By that time the water had hit the footlights and had blown every fuse in the theatre. The emergency light came on. Water was running into the orchestra pit – the drummer had been in the deluge also.

There stood Jean, covered with everything an elephant can let loose after not having gone for about six hours. People were laying in the aisles screaming and howling with laughter. I was just numb. This had been years ago and I still laugh.

The Boston newspapers had the wildest review of the happening. One of the newsmen said he felt the same way about the act, but couldn’t express himself as well as the elephant had.