Thursday, December 15, 2011

R.I.P Carmen

Carmen at Miss NZ Drag Queen Ball, Auckland 1975. Photo: Fiona Clark

Carmen has passed away this morning in Sydney, of kidney failure, following months of poor health, reports GayNZ. "The word 'icon' does not quite encompass New Zealand's most-loved tranny, who over her 75 years achieved everything from belly dancing with a snake in Kings Cross to running for Mayor of Wellington."

ADDED Jan 17: A memorial service in Auckland has been announced... February 11, at 530pm, at St Matthews in the City. Maori Television will screen a profile of Carmen in Takatapui the following evening at 10.10pm.

From GayNZ: Obituary: Carmen Rupe - "Rest well my darling".

From "Carmen, the founder of Carmen's International Coffee Lounge, was a flamboyant personality. A transsexual with a colourful past, she returned to Wellington from Sydney in 1967 ... Carmen decided she needed her 'own stage' on which to star. She took the right of first refusal on a clothing factory with a four-bedroom flat on the upper floor. It was, ironically, located at 86 Vivian Street, next door to the Salvation Army.

In many ways Carmen's was like other coffee bars of the era. The opening hours were long, initially from 8 a.m. to 3 a.m., and later from 6 p.m. to 3 a.m. The menu was straightforward but adequate - coffee, tea, soft drinks and a great variety of toasted sandwiches, cakes, pastries and scones. The difference was in the d├ęcor, the staff and the availability of sex. Carmen referred to her waitresses as hostesses: 'that is what they were, and with the exception of the lesbians, all my girls were boys or had been boys at some time. They had to be beautiful. That was the mark of my establishment.' While she gathered around her people of all sexual persuasions, it was never a rule that her entertainers and coffee shop workers had to be prostitutes.

Staff were encouraged to sit and talk with the customers to make them feel relaxed and comfortable. A ritual known as 'the cups' was devised whereby a customer could signal his sexual preference without needing to engage in a potentially embarrassing conversation. Regular customers were also able to liven up their coffee by purchasing a nip of brandy."

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