By Rick Rose
I recently read about Beautiful By Night, James Hosking’s documentary in which he invites the audience into the lives of three older drag performers at Aunt Charlies, a legendary venue in San Francisco’s Tenderloin. Olivia Hart was one of those three veteran performers in what some consider a disappearing art form. You wouldn’t know it from talking to Olivia. I had the pleasure of asking her ‘6 Questions,’ which she graciously answered. – Rick
Miss Olivia Hart
Her Excellency, Royal Countess de Orenburg
“From the Heart, Through the Court, For the Community”
Born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania
First time dressing-when I was 4 or 5 with the neighbor girls
Joined the Army right after High School and stayed for about 18 years
Married (a woman) when I was 24 (stayed there in Hell for 12 years)
Started performing around 1989-ish
Graduated Culinary Art School in my late 40’s
Move to San Francisco and have not looked back
RR: Olivia, thanks so much for answering some questions. Do you remember the moment you first meet James Hosking? And did your involvement with Beautiful By Night come about?
OH: It would be nice to have some exotic meeting with James Hosking in a dark alley or bathhouse but actually I met James at a show at Aunt Charlies, while I was covering for Collette LegGrand as the cocktail waitress. I do think instantly we became friends. He then approached me about Beautiful By Night. I was handpicked by the author, and it felt good.
RR: The documentary is very revealing and defines the stories of you and your colleagues, Donna Persona and Collette LeGrand, as “intimate portraits.” Would you share with us something that is even more intimate and dear to your soul than what we see on screen, please?
OH: Oh my … something more intimate and dear to my soul than being filmed in my bra and panties? Hmm. I was a very shy boy back in the day. Drag helped me meet people along the way. Being gay was the reason I became an alcoholic trying to hide from the world the fact that I was gay. It at times was very difficult growing up being gay. I came out to my Mother when I was 13. I got drunk on New Year’s Eve and blurted it out. The worst was the strain it put on my family. I became distant from that point on. My mother wanted it to go away and it was not spoken about till I was in my late 30’s. Then I let her know my marriage was over and I am coming out again.
RR: Besides Aunt Charlies Lounge, at what other clubs and showrooms across the world have you performed and enjoyed the most? Have you experienced drag in other cultures? Did you learn anything from these experiences? My favorite drag shows were in Munich and St. Petersburg.
OH: Aunt Charlies has become my home bar, but I have performed at Rainbow Mountain Resort where I was unofficially named the Queen of The Mountain or Miss Poconos PA. I performed in New Jersey and New York, also back in the days of living on the east coast. I haven’t performed but did go out DRESSED in Germany which was interesting with a more liberal thinking society, making it more easy to be accepted
RR: I love this quote from your interview in OUT Magazine: “I am a man in a dress, and I’m not afraid to show that. Olivia and I are pretty much one and the same.” Was there ever a time you were uncomfortable in yours/Olivia’s skin?
OH: It’s not a total transformation. I’d need to see a psychiatrist if that happened. In the beginning I would actually have withdrawals from not dressing. Once I started putting on dresses I could stop and later that eased off and my true personally became evident. I started being able to be more of myself whether I was dressed or not. Now my only addiction is trying to manage two wardrobes.
RR: Passed-on or alive, who was/is your best friend? What values do you place on friendship?
OH: Growing up I didn’t have very many friends even in High School and I do believe that came from hiding in the closet. My true friendship came in my forties with my friend Judith. I really found out how to be myself in front of others with an unconditional friendship. I truly believe that friends are a relationship that takes communication to grow. I have learned to relay honesty with friends and respect.
RR: If you could turn back time, when would you dial back to and why?
OH: I was wondering when we would get to Cher’s final tour … If I could turn back time I would like to go Back to NOW. I am 54 years old and really for the first time began enjoying life as life was intended for me. To go back, I may not have survived. I, being very flirty and comfortable with my sexuality, may have become like many of my friends that have passed to HIV/AIDS. Growing up was cruel at times to a fat , country boy. Sorry Cher, my tour has just begun!