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One of the Sydney Gay Scene's Most Loved Theatre Artists Passes On
Rose Jackson, 1935 - 2011
Rose and the other cast members lived above [the Purple Onion] in what she described as "a drag kibbutz".
One of the Sydney gay scene's most loved theatre artists died peacefully early on Thursday morning (21st July 21, 2011) at St Vincent's Hospice. Perhaps best known as the star performer at Capriccios, the first gay club to open in Oxford St in the early 1970s, Rose's career as both a costumier and entertainer boasted many highlights.
Born Barry Jackson on 11th September 1935 at Paddington Women's Hospital, Rose said she knew "from the minute she was born" that a male body was not right for her.
An athletic young man, Barry loved to swim and for a short period was even a Bondi lifesaver. But it was "too butch". Soon, gay men were introducing Barry to a secret Sydney world of parties, fine dining and fashion; and he began going out in public as a woman. He took the name Rose, after Marilyn Monroe's character in Niagara, Rose Loomis.
By the age of eighteen, Barry was working as a window dresser at David Jones. His design talent was noticed and he soon accepted a position as display manager for Curzons, where he coordinated around 300 fashion parades as well as designing and supervising the seasonal window displays. At twenty-four, Barry went to Europe and, after time in London and Paris, worked as a display manager for a leading chain of department stores in Sweden.
By the time Barry returned to Sydney five years later, in 1964, his home city had changed. Walking home one night to his apartment in Kings Cross, he discovered a club called the Jewel Box, where not only were there drag performances but some of the boys were taking hormone therapy.
By the late 1960s, Barry was living fully as a woman in Paddington. Making costumes for Sydney's leading theatre company, the Old Tote, by day, he performed at the Purple Onion club at night. It is the Purple Onion — on the site of the current Ken's at Kensington — that can claim to have pushed Rose's costume design skills to the fore, as well as introducing her to regular performing. Rose and the other cast members lived above the premises in what she described as "a drag kibbutz".
In 1969, Dawn O'Donnell opened Capriccios, to offer drinks, a dance floor, and a fully costumed drag show. It wasn't long before Rose was the undisputed star, with a persona that highlighted an elegant femininity.
In 1983 David Mitchell and David Penfold created a show for Rose based on her life and career called Rose's Turn. It played at Kinselas and was a huge success. She then opened her own club, Rose's, on Goulburn St.
There Rose performed with stars including Judi Connelli and Tony Sheldon. Sheldon has said his interpretation of Bernadette in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, currently playing in New York, is based on Rose Jackson.
In 1990 Rose Jackson was entered into the Drag Industry Variety Awards (DIVA) Hall of Fame, one of the most prestigious awards presented on their annual night of nights. The eligibility for this award is simple, however the contribution of the individual is great. Each individual must have made a significant impact and/or long-term involvement in entertainment. This You Tube video shows Rose presenting an award later that evening.
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