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    80 Years of Fabulous: Honoring Absolute Empress Marlena on a Milestone Birthday

    Marlena, Absolute Empress XXV of the Imperial Court of San Francisco, is being deservedly showered with numerous tributes and celebrations this milestone birthday month. Today, November 14, is her 80th birthday. Happy Birthday, Marlena!

    On November 9, an outdoor screening of the documentary 50 Years of Fabulous, telling the incredible story of the Imperial Court here, took place at Proxy in Hayes Valley in honor of Marlena’s Birthday Week. The event benefited the GLBT Historical Society. Marlena looked ravishing in an emerald green gown at the well-attended screening, which ended with viewers erupting into enthusiastic cheers.

    Like so many of you, we love Marlena. Let us count the ways.


    When Marlena (Garry McClain) strides on stage, all eyes rivet to her towering presence, beautiful attire, and unmistakable charisma.


    Marlena was among the first to recognize the importance of Hayes Valley as a destination for the LGBTQ community and its allies. Her namesake venue at 488 Hayes Street opened shortly after the Loma Prieta earthquake struck. At the time, as the website Grub reported, “Hayes Valley still was in the shadow of the Central Freeway.” Marlena helped to take this now burgeoning nighttime area out of the shadows.


    For more than 22 years, McClain provided countless opportunities to San Francisco-based nonprofit 501 (c)(3) organizations to freely host their fundraisers at Marlena’s Bar. The bar closed in 2013, but is still very fondly remembered by many.

    Down to Earth Diva

    The comments about Marlena’s online speak to the character of its matriarch. As one customer (“Ruby L.”) wrote of a night at the legendary bar: “The owner sat and talked to us: really outgoing, loves the business, clearly cares about the customers. This place is a bar with regulars and where everybody knows your name if you come often.”


    Many of the world’s greatest drag artists, including Donna Sachet (see “Donna’s Chronicles” in this issue), greatly admire and respect Marlena. She is always ready to lend advice, when needed, and to help in other ways.

    Embodiment of LGBTQ Pride

    As Marlena says, “We are so lucky to live in a city that allows us to be ourselves because I know who I am, what I am, where I am, and why I’m here.”

    Long live the great Marlena!