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    Elvis, Kirk, and Velvetta – The Wild Genius of Leigh Crow

    By Jennifer Kroot and Robert Holgate–

    Leigh Crow is a gender-bending cabaret singer and drag king. For 30 years, she’s been pushing boundaries, from drag shows and country bands to films and performance art.

    As Elvis Herselvis, she was the world’s first female Elvis impersonator—much to the chagrin of the Presley estate—and toured with her band, The Straight White Males. As the swashbuckling, macho Captain Kirk, she’s won a solid cult following in the hilarious Star Trek Live drag shows at Oasis. And as Divina in the Thrillpeddlers’ production of Vice Palace, Leigh won a Bay Area Theater Critics Circle award in 2011. Divine played the role in the original Cockettes’ 1972 production.

    We first met Leigh in the 1980s, when she worked at the punk home decor shop Forma on Haight Street. Leigh was making Elvis votives that were sold alongside misshapen, surreal tea pots and nail-your-own-Jesus kits.

    Years later, when Jennifer was filming To Be Takei (her documentary about George Takei), she asked Leigh to surprise George as Captain Kirk at the historic Twin Peaks Tavern. In full Star Trek regalia, Leigh swaggered up and planted an enthusiastic kiss on the lips of a stunned, yet appreciative, Takei. Then, Leigh hit up the bar for a bourbon on the rocks.

    We’ve always loved Leigh’s all-in, mesmerizing, enthusiastic, Belushi-esque passion for performance, and wanted to hear about whatever mischief she’s up to now.

    Jennifer & Robert: Where are you from?

    Leigh Crow: Phoenix, Arizona. I lived there until I was 24, when I followed a woman whom I had a flirtation with to San Francisco. I did my first drag show later that year (1988), as Elvis Herselvis.

    Jennifer & Robert: How long did you perform as Elvis Herselvis?

    Leigh Crow: Seventeen years! It started to feel really limiting. It wasn’t a conscious decision to move on. I just started doing other things.

    Jennifer & Robert: Do you still have any Elvis outfits?

    Leigh Crow: I have my belt, which I made, and it’s the hugest belt buckle ever! I used a novelty Elvis license plate and glued sequins all over it. It’s a nod to the jumpsuit that Elvis wore. I couldn’t wear the full white jumpsuit, because touring in all white is a terrible idea. More importantly, jumpsuits really accentuate your more feminine qualities, so not a good idea if you’re impersonating a man.

    Jennifer & Robert: Did you always want to pursue drag?

    Leigh Crow: Sort of. As a kid, I saw some inspiring representations of women in male drag. Cher had a show where she did all four parts of “Tonight” from West Side Story wearing adorable, Bob Mackie boy drag. I also saw Lily Tomlin as Tommy Velour. These both really affected me. I always loved dressing up as pirates, cowboys, and Batman.

    Jennifer & Robert: Talk about your role as Captain Kirk in Star Trek Live.

    Leigh Crow: It’s been a dream come true!I’ve been a Trekkie since I was a kid. As a drag king, I look for hyper-masculine characters. Kirk is to such a degree that it’s a natural choice to impersonate him.

    Jennifer & Robert: Tell us about working with your partner, Ruby Vixen.

    Leigh Crow: Ruby’s my producing partner, and my life partner. We created the Dandy Drag King Cabaret. The next one is Sunday, October 24, at Oasis, and I’ll be a vampire.

    Ruby and I also perform in the queer country band Velvetta. During the pandemic, we could only practice about once a month, in a big backyard. This was a lifesaver, since performing is really my creative outlet. Thankfully, we’re finally performing again. We’ll be at the Riptide on Saturday, November 6, and then every Sunday, starting November 28 ( http://riptidesf.com/ )

    We recently recorded an EP of four original songs, called, Rhymes with Loretta, available online ( https://tinyurl.com/rkuts5b9 ) Now we’re conceptualizing music videos and considering doing one with Legos, so I’ve contacted some Lego masters.

    Jennifer & Robert: How did you get into country music?

    Leigh Crow: When I was growing up, we never listened to country music at home. It was all jazz and Joni Mitchell, then one day my sister brought home Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison and I was hooked.

    This is my third country band. First was The Mighty Slim Pickens, next was Flat Cracker. Before you ask, that’s a Southern term for “lesbian.” Incidentally, I first heard the word in a documentary about Aileen Wuornos, the serial killer.

    Jennifer & Robert: Hmmm, I see, and what is Velvetta?

    Leigh Crow: Velvetta is Victorian imitation velvet, like velveteen. We liked the name because of its smooth, velvety goodness, and it also sounds like cheese.

    Jennifer & Robert: Anything else?

    Leigh Crow: Yes! During the shutdown, when we couldn’t perform, we needed to do something creative, so we learned acrylic resin casting. We make bolo ties and pendants, available on https://www.dandyvixen.com/

    Jennifer Kroot is a filmmaker known for her award-winning LGBTQ themed documentaries, including “The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin” and “To Be Takei.” She studied filmmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute, where she has also taught. She is a member of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

    A humanitarian, as well as a designer, Robert Holgate is dedicated to critical social issues. With his hands-on approach to philanthropy and social justice, he supports the advancement of local and national social causes. For more information: https://www.rhdsf.com/

    Published on October 7, 2021