Arts & Entertainment
Jerri Daye 1962/James Pascoe
James Pascoe, Who Performed as 'Jerri Daye,' Dies At 77
By Tim Retzloff
Originally printed 6/5/2014 (Issue 2223 - Between The Lines News)
James Pascoe, a star Detroit female impersonator at the Diplomat Lounge and the Gold Dollar Show Bar during the 1960s who later worked clubs from Vancouver to Atlantic City, died May 31 in Las Vegas, where he had resided for many years. He was 77. According to his longtime friend Dave Hummel, Pascoe suffered a stroke a week before his death.
Born in Detroit on September 16, 1936, James Burrell Pascoe was raised by his grandparents, Artemas and Doris Brandow, in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. While in high school, he took up ice-skating as a creative outlet and a reprieve from the bullying he got from his classmates for being different. As a teenager, he found clandestine homosexual opportunities even in the Upper Peninsula of the 1950s. "I was a very pretty boy, and I had a very pretty tush from skating. I met lots of people," he recounted in an oral history interview conducted in 2012.
Also during his high school years, Pascoe discovered the gay scene in Detroit around Farmer and Bates streets downtown. Pascoe soon made regular weekend jaunts to the Motor City with friends by Greyhound bus, a 350-mile trip. "There was a little restaurant on the corner called the Hub Grill, and all the teenagers, gay teenagers used to hang out there," Pascoe recalled. "Well, I found another world. Look at all these people, what they're doing, how much fun they're having. So it really opened up a whole new world."
Pascoe soon began hitchhiking to New York, where he made his initial entree into show business at age 17. While skating in an ice show at Madison Square Garden, he took a serious fall. A collapsed lung forced him to withdraw from the performance, and a doctor told him he should stop skating entirely. Some friends who performed drag at the famed 82 Club suggested that, since he could balance himself on blades, he should try high heels. He adopted the name "Jerri Daye" and began a forty-year career as a female impersonator.
Following stints with the Jewel Box Revue and at clubs throughout the country, Pascoe eventually landed back in Detroit where, in 1961, Jerri Daye was featured at the Diplomat Lounge. Known as "The Face," Daye appeared with such other local mainstays as Bobbi Johns, Win Wells, Toni Albright and Fat Jack. Sunday afternoons the cast put on musical extravaganzas, drag versions of such Broadway hits as "Carmen" and "Hello Dolly." The shows made the Diplomat, owned by Sam "Bookie" Stewart and Morrie Weisberg, one of the most popular gay bars in the city at the time.
Dave Hummel of Traverse City performed at the Diplomat in a comedy pantomime duo before joining the regular troupe of impersonators. He worked with Pascoe from 1959 to 1968, and in recent years, resumed contact with his old friend. "I'm so glad we reconnected the last couple of years even if it was via long distance," Hummel said in an email. "We talked every week and it was like 50 years had vanished. Even his voice was the same, as well as his wonderful sense of humor. It seemed like we had never lost touch."
In the early 1960s, several of the Diplomat performers moved on to the Gold Dollar Show Bar on Cass Ave. "Most of the clientele at the Dollar were straight. And a lot of neighborhood people," remembered Pascoe. "That was a terrible neighborhood, and there were a lot of gangsters, I mean really serious guys with guns and stuff, and they just adored the show, they just loved us." In the meantime, Pascoe continued to perform stints out of town. He stopped playing the Gold Dollar after it changed hands in the late 1960s and the acts became, to his mind, sleazy. "This isn't show business, honey," Pascoe told the new owner.
Pascoe happened to be in New York at the time of the Stonewall Riots in 1969 and felt particularly proud of the street queens who fought back against police harassment. "It changed the world. It changed the world. People said, that's enough," he said.
In subsequent years, Pascoe continued to dazzle audiences around the country. He appeared with Danny Windsor in Atlantic City in the 1970s, and boasted engagements from Joliet, Illinois and New Hope, Pennsylvania to London and Berlin. By the mid-1980s, he landed on the Las Vegas strip where he headlined at Bogie's Speakeasy Restaurant and Disco. He retired Jerri Daye from the stage in the mid-1990s, but went on to handle VIP services for Siegfried and Roy until 2003.
Two years ago, reflecting back on his life, Pascoe marveled at the changes he had seen since he was a teenager in the 1950s. "I've watched things turn around in my age a great deal, when you'd just be so ashamed and so afraid to let anybody know you were gay," he said. "But I was in a business where nobody really cared."
According to his domestic partner, Alex (Alika) Borge, Pascoe requested no memorial. He has been cremated and he asked that his ashes be scattered in New York City.
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