By Lisa E. Davis
In the 1930s, when she was Malvina Schwartz of East New York, Brooklyn, she rode the train in to the Village to drink beer at bars that catered to lesbians, in the shadow of the old Sixth Avenue El where it turned East on Third Street. Property was undesirable and affordable. The Provincetown Playhouse, gone now, was nearby on MacDougal.
She changed her name to Kent early on, because nobody was hiring Jews, and if you looked like a lesbian, they certainly didn’t hire you. By the time she came out of the service, playing the trumpet in the WAC band during World War II, she was “Buddy.” At home in the Village, she tended bar at Ernie’s, on West Third, just off Thompson, until she broke into show biz, using some of the dance steps she’d learned at the Pearl Primus and the Katherine Dunham studios.
Her break came as a “chorus boy” in male drag at the notorious Club 181, 181 Second Avenue—the downtown end of what used to be the Yiddish theatre, now City Cinemas Village East. Elaborate floor shows at the 181 featured gorgeous boys in lace and taffeta, and handsome girls in tux. The mob managed it all, and patrons flocked from far and near to pay big cover charges. The tips were fabulous.
From the 181, Buddy moved on as part of Kicky Hall’s Review, a touring drag extravaganza that played the Moroccan Village, down some steps like an old speakeasy, at 23 West Eighth Street. She was reincarnated soon after as “Bubbles” when she put together a strip act that had a good run at Jimmy Kelly’s nightclub on Sullivan Street. Her tap routine in top hat and tails (à la Fred Astaire) went over well, but stripping down to her very attractive skivvies was an even bigger crowd-pleaser.
Jimmy Kelly’s became the Sullivan Street Playhouse, home to “The Fantastiks” for forty-two years (1960-2002). No plaque marks their passing.
On the corner of Charles Street and Seventh Avenue, Buddy/Bubbles became her own boss when she bought a piece of a club called the Page Three, in partnership with Kicky Hall, her manager, her best friend Jacquie Howe (who had played Paris), and the usual mafioso. It flourished for some ten years, into the 1960s, until disco dancing took the crowds away, and an era ended.
The next twenty years were less exciting, as an X-ray technician at St. Vincent’s Hospital—gone, too, with only a black circle of indeterminate composition sunk in a park across the street to mark its passing. But, at least, Buddy/Bubbles could walk to work from the apartment where she lived for decades on Eighth Street right across from the old Whitney Museum. The Village held so many memories,
My novel borrowed some of her recollections and her legs for its cover. Great legs! She liked the cover a lot, and thought the story rang true. We are fortunate to have known her.