Archives Center, National Museum of American History

Academy of Washington Records

Collection ID:
Academy of Washington
bulk 1956-2017, undated
Physical Description:
14.2 Cubic feet
44 boxes
The records of the Academy of Washington, an incorporated organization devoted to drag performance and recognition of drag performers and entertainment. These records also include the personal records of Carl Rizzi ("Mame Dennis").

Scope and Contents
Scope and Contents
The Academy of Washington Records provide a comprehensive documention of the life of one of the preeminent drag organizations in the United States. Based in the Washington, DC metropolitan area, the records cover all aspects of drag performance, the life of Beekman Place, a drag house founded by Carl Rizzi who performed as Mame Dennis for decades, and the personal records of Rizzi who was one of the leaders of the drag community in Washington, DC, but also was known nationally.
The records add insight into such previously less documented areas as underground LGBT organizations, drag performers, drag houses, rituals and pageantry, the Academy's events and how they were inspired by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences annual awards, the Oscars, Hollywood icons, and mainstream beauty pageants.
The records document a part of national and Washington, DC history that has received little attention. While a Washington, DC based organization, the collection reaches into Maryland, Virginia, and beyond. Researchers of the gay and drag community will find a wealth of information in these records. Researchers in social history, costume, use of urban space, and race relations (some of the houses were formed by African-American female impersonators), will find material as well.

The collection is arranged into three series:
Series 1: Organizational and Business Records, Newsletters, 1968-2014, undated
Subseries 1.1: Organizational and Business Records, 1968-2014, undated.
Subseries 1.2: Newsletters, 1973-1994.
Series 2: Academy Events, Pageant Records, Troupe Lists (Restricted), and Scrapbooks, 1961-2016, undated
Subseries 2.1: Miss Gay America, Miss Gaye America, Miss Gaye America DC, 1970-2014, undated.
Subseries 2.2: Academy and Non-Academy Events, Troupe Lists (Restricted), 1956-2016, undated.
Subseries 2.3: Scrapbooks, 1961-2007, undated.
Series 3: Rizzi, Carl (Mame Dennis) Personal Papers, Beekman Place House, and Publications, 1956-2017, undated
Subseries 3.1: Beekman Place House, 1970-2005, undated.
Subseries 3.2: Personal Papers (Rizzi, Carl aka Mame Dennis), 1963-2017, undated.
Subseries 3.3: Publications, 1956-2013.

Biographical / Historical
Biographical / Historical
This history is quoted from a history provided by the donor, T. Frank Taylor.
"The Academy dates itself to 1961, when founder Alan Kress, aka Elizabeth Taylor, held the first Oscar awards for drag performance. At the outset, the Oscars was a female impersonation social and performance group. In a period, where [sic] drag was illegal in some jurisdictions and unwelcome at most bars, theaters, and hotels, Kress's creation offered regular private events, mentoring in the arts and skills of impersonation and of performance. The group offered annual awards, modeled on the Oscar statuettes, to those who were most active, supportive, and talented.
Members of the Oscars adopted the names of well-known American actresses or roles, e.g. Alan Kress became Elizabeth Taylor, Carl Rizzi became Mame Dennis, Alex Carlino became Fanny Brice, etc. In the mid-60s, Elizabeth Taylor's sometimes autocratic behavior led to formation of a rival organization, the Awards Club led by former Oscars member Jerry Buskirk aka Beulah Buskirk. Carl Rizzi, aka Mame Dennis, and Alex Carlino, aka Fanny Brice, both joined the Awards Club. Rizzi and Carlino both created their own drag houses, Beekman Place and Henry Street respectively in 1970. Drag organizations began to form in Baltimore, Hagerstown, Norfolk, and Richmond and these groups all established relationships with the Oscars. Buskirk's Awards Club also established organizations in other cities.
During the 1960s and the early 1970s, the major events that became part of the Academy's roster were established: the Oscars, Miss Gay Universe, Miss Gay America, the Black and White Ball, the Winter Cotillion, and more. In 1970, Carlino's Henry Street drag house created the Showstoppers Review, which lasted through the decade and presented very popular annual shows each autumn.
As the 60s ended, and drag houses were being established (Maryland House was added in 1971 in Baltimore), a local DC business owner and bisexual entrepreneur, Bill Oates Sr., brokered a truce in the 1960s "drag wars," as Rizzi called them. Oates was friendly with all of the major players and saw to the creation of the Academy Awards of Washington in the summer of 1973 bringing together Elizabeth Taylor (as head of Butterfield 8 drag house), Carl Rizzi (of Beekman Place), and Alex Carlino (of Henry Street) in a single operation. Taylor became chairman of the group, Rizzi became president, and Carlino became vice-president. Oates also arranged for the Academy to use third floor space at Louis Sigalis's 9th Street NW club, Louie's, for Academy events. The Academy's theater space became known as Oscar's Eye.
The 70s and 80s were years of growth and strength for the Academy. To the original three houses of Butterfield 8, Beekman Place, and Henry Street were added Maryland House in Baltimore, Camelot in Norfolk, Blake Manor in Richmond, Dragonwyck in Hagerstown, Liberty House in DC, Twelve Oaks in Richmond, and Phoenix House in the Maryland suburbs. Addison Road and 42nd Street have been recent house additions.
The Academy celebrated its first 15 years (dating from 1961) during the bicentennial in 1976 with a gala revue at the Lost and Found club and wrote its first history of the organization. In 1986 the Academy celebrated its 25th anniversary and in 2011 its 50th, both with gala productions.
The Academy has never had its own meeting and performance space. In fact, much of the planning of events took place at Carl Rizzi's Arlington home on 11th Street South. When Louie's closed on 9th Street, the Academy followed its successor club, the Rogue, to K St. and 5th. Eventually the Academy found a home at Club 55 at 55 L St. SE where it held weekly events until well into the 90s. With the demise of Club 55, the Academy began a peripatetic journey that included Ziegfeld's, Club Apex on 22nd St NW, the Almas Temple at 14th and K St NW, and La Cabana at 3614 14th NW.
The Academy and its houses have a long history of philanthropic fundraising for LGBTQ organizations in the city. During the worst years of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s Academy fundraising provided strong support to the AIDS Education Task Force at Whitman-Walker Clinic and to other programs of the clinic. Other groups supported by the Academy include Brother Help Thyself, the gay rodeo, Rainbow History, Pets DC, and more. In the early 1990s, the Academy created the HOOP (Helping Our Own People) fund for supporting members whose ill health or death created a financial crisis.
Beekman Place has long been the largest of the Academy Houses with nearly 1,000 members over the years. Membership records indicate that the Academy of Washington has had nearly 2,000 members in its 54 years.
As membership dwindled and participation lagged, particularly following the death of Carl Rizzi in February 2015, the board of the Academy saw difficulty in perservering, the Academy closed down on October 23, 2015 ending 54 years of support and performances."
This history of Beekman Place was written in 1976 by an unknown author. (Quoting in part.) "Mame Dennis formed the Beekman Place Family on May 1, 1970. The majority of the original family members had been together since their association with the Mintwood drag group of the mid-1960s. Beekman Place became an Academy Family in May 1973.
The monarchy of Beekman Place is comprised of Mame's nephews, sons, and daughters, many of whom now have chidren and grandchildren of their own in this large family tree. A six month waiting period as a Kissin Cousin is required before a member can be accepted into the family (in May and December). The unique unity of BP'ers is based upon their many house traditions and solemn family vows which bind the members together as friends and as a group.
Family dues are $1.50 a month. Finances are handled by family Treasurer, Patrick Dennis. Each family meeting celebrates birthdays of the month with dinner, family gift and individual cards.
The Beekman Place House Color is Blue.
The Beekman Place motto is, "Live my dears live, life is a banquet and some poor sons 'a bitches are starving to death."
Since its formation, the Beekman Place Family has celebrated Thanksgiving with a progressive dinner. Two annual affairs that are free to dues-paying members are the Christmas Party in December and the Family Anniversary Party in May.
The Beekman Place Family Awards were established in May 1973 to recognize individual family member's talent, personality and dedication."

Franklin A. Robinson, Jr.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
The collection was donated to the National Museum of American History, Archives Center, by T. Frank Taylor in March 2018.
Processing Information
Processed by Franklin A. Robinson, Jr., archives specialist, 2018-2019, assisted by Katarina Walther, intern. Supervised by Vanessa Broussard-Simmons, archivist.

Digital Content
More …
Using the Collection
Conditions Governing Use
Collection items available for reproduction, but the Archives Center makes no guarantees concerning copyright restrictions. Other intellectual property rights may apply. Archives Center cost-recovery and use fees may apply when requesting reproductions.
Conditions Governing Access
Collection is open for research. Troupe lists are closed under terms of the Deed of Gift until March 27, 2028.
Preferred Citation
Academy of Washington Records, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.

Related Materials
The Division of Medical Science (now Division of Medicine and Science) holds objects donated by T. Frank Taylor.

Keywords table of terms and types.
Keyword Terms Keyword Types
Contests Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Drag shows Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Female impersonators Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
LGBT Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Lesbian and gay experience Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Taylor, T. Frank Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid

Repository Contact
Archives Center, National Museum of American History
P.O. Box 37012
Suite 1100, MRC 601
Washington, D.C. 20013-7012