Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Club Laurel

Miss Beverly Shaw, Sir!
Club Laurel

Location: Corner of Laurel Canyon and Ventura Boulevard, North Hollywood, California, USA

Founded: Early 1950s

Closed: 14 years later

Beverly Shaw was an openly lesbian singer who used to perform at some of the more elegant nightclubs of the late 1940s and 50s.The Chi Chi Club, the Flamingo Club, and Mona's in San Francisco (reputed to be the country's first lesbian bar, and featured here at Lost Womyn's Space) are just some of the venues that featured her.

Famous for her "sultry delivery" of "songs tailored to your taste," "Beverly Shaw, Sir!" (the name under which she promoted herself) moved to Los Angeles in the early 1950s, where she performed at Club Laurel. After three years, she purchased the club and became "the star attraction, drawing crowds for fourteen years."

Club Laurel was surprisingly upscale for a lesbian nightclub of the time, and was certainly more posh than the random gay bar of the 1950s, which was typically little more than a dive, vulnerable to police raids and general harassment. As one anonymous admirer stated,

"It was a real club--not just full of caracatures. It seemed out of its time and place to me. You saw a lot of movie stars and that made it seem even more unreal. I guess you could call Beverly Shaw a role model of sorts but we didn't have terms like that then. It gave me the first idea that gays could have a place like that.

We couldn't believe the Club Laurel. It was fabulous. Here was this uptown club unlike anything in the way of a gay club that we had ever seen. You knew right away this was different. It was our first time except for Ptown that we had ever been totally at ease and comfortable in a gay place. You didn't need to keep one ear checked for breaking glass in a place like the Laurel. At the time, I remember wondering how she did it or what it cost her."

In a 1997 article on the San Fernando Valley lesbian community, an older woman also conjured up fond memories of the Club Laurel:

The Rev. Flo Fleischman, 67, of North Hollywood still remembers the clubs--Hannan's Joanie Presents and Shaw's Club Laurel--as classy spots where she and her friends could gather. They may have been living under the pressure of a secret life, or gotten teased at work during the week, Fleischman said, "but on Saturday night--that was date night--all that was forgotten."

Shaw was once asked what made her shows so special, and this was her charming reply:

On the slow songs, I would drape the microphone over my shoulder and look right into the audience. I always chose a few women in the audience and sang directly to them. It gave a personal feeling to the show which is so important.

Beverly Shaw recorded an album, "Songs Tailored to Your Taste," sometime in the late 1950s or early 1960s, which has become something of a collector's item. She died in 1990 at the age of 80.

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