Emalee Farley and El Daña
DescriptionEmalee Farley (23) and her friend El Daña (75) talk about El Daña's long time male impersonator entertaining in the Fresno area and beyond. Together they talk about the gay bar scene in Fresno in the 1960s, how El Daña got interested in male impersonating, and why she loves entertaining.
Subject Log / Time Code
- Emalee Farley
- El Daña
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00:02 All right. My name is Emily Farley. I'm 23 today is Saturday, February 22nd 2020. We are in Fresno, California, and I'm here with my friend Al.
00:15 I am El Donya. I am 75 years old and I'm here in Fresno. I live here in Fresno, California and Emily is my friend.
00:29 Okay, cool, so, can you describe your experience walking into your first gay bar?
00:37 Are you supposed 1965? I was 21 years old at the Red Rock. I went to the Red Robin and I cannot believe I was in such a place because most of my life I was kind of, you know, I didn't know there were bars and there were so many gay people that.
00:56 That is the first place I made friends and quickly. Learn the Red Robin. He'll drag shows. My my soul just lit up inside of me. The very first performance. I did was La Bamba.
01:11 By Ritchie Valley the Audience by their Applause. I knew I had their approval and I was hooked at that time everyone. I met were kind and nice. It was fun. I meant mostly gay men. They were very respectful.
01:29 At that time I never had a problem with any of them, you know, everybody had fun and there was a lot of acquaintances, you know, and we liked each other and and the bar atmosphere was wonderful then it was so many there were a few women would go in there, but not that many, you know, and you like to go by El Donia. So can you explain why and when you started going by that it was 1980 I was living in Visalia and I already have performed many performances, but I was known as Elsie but in Visalia.
02:10 What does Victory know his name is Victory know he had a he had open a gay bar in Visalia actually in Farmersville.
02:20 And and he had seen me perform at the girl of The Golden West in Fresno in the 60s.
02:27 And this of course was already 1980 and he approached me and wanted me to perform to help him out with his new bar, you know to draw in the gay people and he asked me if I could get some performers from Fresno, you know recruit some and and and he said, you know, he would pay me or whatever you no negotiation. We wanted to make together.
02:50 And I did and we had some good shows there and then he was interested in the Imperial courts, you know and Fresno had the Imperial Dove Court and he said he says he'll see he's as I would like for us to start a court here in Visalia. And and and what do you think if we give it a name and he's doesn't think about it. I said, yes. I said, you know where the sequoia trees are around us this call it the Imperial Sequoia Empire.
03:21 And I said, but I don't like to go by LC Isis. My first name, I like to cut it short and my last name is saldania. So I said I said I'd like to go by El Donya and he say that sounds pretty good. So and he says I'll be Empress. Contana. He went by Tatiana he like that. So we doubled each other in for one hell dynia, and then press 1 Tatiana and we started we recruited some local members in on the community to be in our court and it went quite well and that's how I started El Donya and any time I performed its Imperial courts, I would go by El Donya. I was introduced a saldania and I just I like that I do miss my name. I can say honestly, it's my name. That's how it started. So how did you get into a male person to me in the first place? Well, it was back. Like I said 1965 at the Red Robin.
04:21 Once I once I did my first performance as La Bamba everybody really liked it. So after that, they would have liked monthly shows. So I would I would perform different numbers. I do like, you know Frank Sinatra and I even did Elvis Presley, you know, but I didn't care too much for Elvis Presley, but it went well and then I went to the world the Golden West and we did a lot of shows their you know, so it would that's how I got started and then through the years and you know just filled up, you know until I in the 70s Tom Jones was very popular and that started in Baltimore, Maryland when I was there.
05:07 Did you experience opposition from female performers? Cuz I know that they had kind of dominated that seen previously usually I was the only male impersonator. Yea though. I fell. I was on the sideline.
05:30 Opposition from them no always moral support and well wishes on our performance. We would tell each other break a leg when we had to go on and I was fortunate to perform with some of the best throughout the years AKA Judy Garland Mae West Barbra Streisand Liza Minnelli share even Patsy Cline. I don't know who has country and western and many others from the gold I call those of golden years, you know, and
06:06 My greatest honor was when I met the famous female impersonator Charles Pierce 1970 to 1973 in Baltimore, Maryland at the hippopotamus Club. He saw me perform. Tom Jones. He came to me shook my hand and told me I was the best male impersonator. He had ever seen. He said no one can do Tom Jones like you
06:31 And I said to myself. Wow, since then I try to be the best of the best cuz it was a high compliment from him. He was an actor to you know, and he did give me an autograph of him. But impress Jesse here in Fresno wanted for I had told him about meeting Charles Pierce and he asked me if he could have it then I think I gave them cuz I don't have it anymore autograph. I wish I had kept but I gave it to Jesse. I'm pretty sure I did but that's what that's what happened. And when I perform with female impersonators, like I said, I was the only male impersonator and they always gave me respect, you know, that's day and I never had any problems with them and it was hard for me through the years pic cuz I was the only gay woman performing and like I said, I was stopped on the sidelines, you know and Through the Years.
07:28 But the female impersonators some would get honored in some way but I have never seen a male impersonator get up get honored in anyway, you know and
07:40 My honor is just being the best you are the best in my opinion. Thank you. Wait until you see me April 14th of this year. Then I want you to make your judgment and then I want you to give me from 1 to 10 10 being the best sounds good. So, where did you start out? And when?
08:05 I started here in Fresno as I did as I said earlier my first performance with us at the Red Robin.
08:12 Then onto the girl of The Golden West that place was life changing experience for me because we went into production numbers. We did like Cabaret shobo Yankee Doodle Annie Get Your Gun and many others. You know, what from Broadway Productions
08:34 And we would we would pack in the bar. They were we got so well-known that days from LA and San Francisco when they knew we had a show at the girl of The Golden West we would pack them in you know, and when I did Cabaret, I don't know if you just saw the picture of me on the moon, you know what to put that picture on a t-shirt window when I go to gay functions, I'll wear it but yeah, I'll just let you know. That's my favorite picture.
09:06 And the bar owner Bob Benson, he was very into production numbers and he was our director and he was tough with us. We had to rehearse weekly, you know.
09:19 And we would have a show like every other month. So the month that we didn't have a show we we hearse and rehearse until we got it, right, you know, and that's what build up the reputation with East queens. And and we had we had a couple of black entertainers it we had a variety of entertainers to know and there were kind of already Diversified, you know, it was really nice cuz we all got along and this is back in the 60s, you know, the mid-sixties and there was to my surprise, you know, we were well received from the LA people in San Francisco.
10:06 And I have performed through the from well through the Imperial Court, I would perform in San Francisco the Bay Area La Baltimore and I have a lot of fun memories from the 60s to the 80s and I know but at the same time.
10:28 Even though I was performing I had my struggles there was times when I would struggle, you know, because since I was the only male impersonator, I really didn't get that. Well, even though I I feel I deserve it cuz I was good if I wasn't good they when they asked me to perform but I would not get the recognition that I wanted to know. Always the drag queens always, you know, but it's okay.
10:56 So, how does it feel when you perform?
11:00 Oh wow.
11:02 Is I feel I feed my soul. You know, I really do I I feed my soul and and
11:12 I'm in my own world. I get into character. I make sure my lip sync is tight. You know that I don't forget my words just trust me. I've seen some that just they're not right on it. You know, they're just not right on it. And when I'm entertaining I'm that person, you know when I like it when I do Tom Jones, you know on Tom Jones I do hold you in glasses. I'm Julio Iglesias last year. One of the community members went to the show and I was doing Julio Iglesias and he says you Channel him, you know.
11:49 And they notice that you think people don't notice when they're out in the audience there watching you, you know, and there is one Entertainer here in Fresno that wants to entertain but they can't they don't know their words, you know, they they go off with it and get it off tracking and no matter fact that person is a little upset cuz they can't perform under your limits. 11th. It's all Elite performers, you know, so I'm looking pretty much forward to that cuz it's going to be my last performance of my lifetime, you know, so I can you describe I guess the difference between male impersonator and drag queen king. Sorry and why you liked it call yourself a male impersonator not a drag King because I don't like the word King Artemis to like, you know, a lot of people they might think you know all she's a king.
12:49 She thinks she's too good or you know, I don't like that. I don't want to be overpowering. You know, I just like to be natural about it. You know, like I say do my best and I and I'm good at what I do is I love it. I enjoy it comes from deep in my soul. And I think with with the entertainment World weather be actors or or singers or org answers, they're good because it comes within their soul, you know, they love it and I don't want I don't want to I don't like to be be recognized as a king. I really be just in a male impersonator, you know, and it's a good feeling and I are the response that I get is authentic, you know in the sincere and I know that's because I'm sincere with them, you know, I don't like to be overpowering.
13:49 I don't want to be better than you or anybody else and that feels just because I can entertain and I know I'm good, you know much better than you are. No, I don't like to have that attitude, you know, because some some people think all you know, she's she is good but you know once in awhile, but maybe twice in my lifetime that happened and that made me realize that now, you know, I don't want it. I don't want to give that impression. So you start out in the 60s were bars or clubs segregated, you know to my surprise. No not here in Fresno.
14:30 Here in Fresno. Everybody was friendly, you know, we always had a moral support and entertaining, you know, we would support each other and give each other encouragement to perform and no cuz a lot of us would be nervous. I mean when I would get onstage, my niece would be shaking but once I got started and you know in the end the audience was very responsive than I was okay, but it is scary, you know, but no everybody was nice that at the Red Robin when I first start it there came on at 21 to perform. There were a couple of black female impersonators from San Francisco that they would bring down cuz they were so good. You know, they were very talented the black Hispanic, you know and wait and we all got along as wonder. I never I never had a problem in the that I can remember and
15:30 Gay bar, that's awesome. That's great to know the times that I went to San Francisco to entertain which by the way last September I went to to entertain in San Francisco, ohmigod through the same. They're friendly they're nicer even friendlier than here in Fresno, I had a wonderful time, you know, and that's the way it should be now and don't take this personally, but I think the youth is changing that you know, I don't know why I don't understand then to I'm 75 years old. I don't keep up with everything but back then we all we were nice to each other. We got along we had fun we go to House Parties, you know, you have barbecues and we would drink if somebody had a swimming pool with swim. Everybody got along and had a good time. We were happy. That's awesome and after a show like if we had a show
16:30 Bob Benson from the girls are going west he would treat us he would take after the show we go to breakfast. There was a place right there on Olive and 99 call Tiny's
16:41 A waitress they loved us cuz we come in there and that like 20 of us we have breakfast and we have a good time and then they make good tips off of us too. So it was fun. We would end up going home at 4 a.m. In the morning. I mean don't see that connects from the gay community in Fresno. I don't know what anyone else really you're missing a lot of fun. Yeah. I mean we had clean fun, you know, we did it was it was we drank some of us got real drunk, but we looked out for each other and it was a good time and you know, and then like I said, you know, like between 2 and 4 in the morning we go home and sleep and then go to work until all my God. I will go to work hungover so bad.
17:36 It was pretty rough, you know, but but it was good for me being the only male impersonator. I was among all these drag queens and all and I felt I mean most of them are beautiful my felt lucky as a home. I got all these women. I bet it did so you didn't really experienced any of rejection from the LGBT community based on your ethnicity. Did you know, I was great. I've been very fortunate about that very fortunate. So did you ever meet me lovers doing this? Oh, well. Yeah, but I was the type of person that I would be discreet cuz I've even picked up married women in the grocery store. There's a lot of horny else.
18:35 Greet now I did have two relationships in my lifetime. I wish I had stayed with the first one. I know she was very beautiful and sexy and nice and all that. But then Lisa came along which is to this day were companions, but we have a long history in a long story and
18:56 I am I only had two relationships that were serious at but the rest one time I counted up to 200 women. I've been with you know, and that's helped me because I was entertaining but I really don't like to talk about that too much because I feel that when two people are involved, you know, whether sexual or just you know, as a relationship that should be respected and I respect women. I respect him more than I respect man. I never been with a man per say I've had a lot of male friends, you know, and but I never really I never been with one and I never care to I remember at 7 years old. I fell in love with my teacher first grade teacher, you know, so it was some
19:50 What's the fastest just came natural to me? And I you know, whether you believe this or not, but there's no reason for me to lie about it. But I've had three women in my lifetime tell me if I could jar your sex. I'd be a millionairess.
20:09 That was a compliment and then Lisa and not only heard it was another one too, but I remember those few years back. At least I would get up and Benadryl clap Bravo and I will take a bow, but but but I never got serious. Just what those to you know, the rest of them. I just love them and leave them. You're a better player.
20:37 Yeah, and I think that's the way it should be really because you need to respect each other. You know, you shouldn't be with someone in and talk about them a lot. She did this, you know, you should never talk about that. Keep it to yourself. It's your own is private, you know, and the man know when I would go to parties the game and would have I go to House parties and I would see the men naked there and do the saying I didn't like how to discreetly leave, you know, but but and then they will talk about their that partner they were with your not in this to me that's being disrespectful. I don't really care for that. You know. My my main thing is to have fun entertaining. I love entertaining and I really don't care about anything else. I just want to entertain an and be in my own world. That's my escape from everything else cuz I've had a rough life, you know, I've had my ups and downs like everybody does but
21:37 I've had some up and downs and the only thing that releases me from all that is when I entertain and I enjoy it and know but I've never seen any other male impersonators I have but they're really not male impersonators, you know, like like I am like you will see on the 11th cuz they're going so yeah, that's what it is about me. So what was the overall perception of you buy a audiences eu4 form for of the years. All that died. Was that one? I want to tell you over all reception from the audience is astounding you know.
22:23 Kiss my soul complete satisfaction. It gives me full joy in my heart.
22:30 And Emily I like I want you to be there at the show so you can see for yourself, you know, but yeah that they're the audience I owe you in the past. I've had a couple of standing ovations, you know, and that's really great. But yeah, that's I mean, it feels good afterwards, you know, it's worth the the hard work because it's not easy to do, you know, I rehearsing rehearse before before a Showtime, you know, and then I still work I still work and I do this I do that right now. I'm taking care of Steve cuz he had knee surgery and I'm always busy and I just this morning. I told Steve I said, I wish I could have one day for myself just one day you know so I can I can rest now. That's what keeps me young, you know, staying hydrated saying active. Hey, I don't look bad for 75 you don't you and also I color my hair by.
23:30 Yeah, cuz you know as long as I can continue.
23:39 Do what I'm doing and stay healthy. I'm happy but I think this performance is going to be my last I'm doing Rhinestone Cowboy. Why is that? Why is it going to be your last because it's it's it's starting to egg if I get tired easily very tired and it's it's expensive. You know, it hurts my pocketbook All Through The Years, you know, I've always, you know, it's always hurt my pocketbook and it can be expensive and I just don't want to be there anymore, even though I love it so much, you know, I just can't, you know, it's time to retire from it. So this I'm so happy this show that's coming up all my friends and my family is going to be there.
24:31 Cuz I told him it might be my last performance. I said might keep him guessing. So they're all going to be there. They're already bought their tickets. The tables are reserved. Well, that's awesome. We already have sold 150 tickets and we only have like 40 left. I believe in Steve told me this morning and the the tickets came out on I think Tuesday and wet today Saturday and they're almost all gone and I told him but I see I told Steve if they know I'll dine is going to entertain they will come and he would not believe me. So I told him I says, do you know all these years that you have sold tickets for different functions. This is the very first time ever.
25:21 The tickets have sold in less than a week. This is yeah, you're right. And I said it's because of all Daniel and Jay are my friend my other best friend Jr. He's very he's on Facebook and he has a 2000 following and as soon as he found out all the details about the show and he accepted to entertain he put it on Facebook and everybody was telling him. Where do I get the tickets? I want to come and see you entertain cuz she's very popular to and it but everybody can be there. So whoever buys the ticket first there in after that. It's cut off after 200 at 200 you no more tickets cuz that you know, that's the max. Yeah, that's the place where it's going to be held on and I kept telling Steve get a big place. You can get three four hundred people. You didn't believe me, you know, he knows I'm a good Entertainer and I'm like and he didn't believe me.
26:20 This is what I mean. That's when I get I feel neglected by female impersonators, you know drag queens, you know, they don't believe what I say. Yeah, when they know it's true. I don't know if they're in denial or something. I don't know where is jealousy or something. But usually I'm right about things when I you know, and when I had my own business, this is so dangerous entertainment Hyuna lip sync Productions. I would have problems with a drag queens, you know, and I paid him. Well, I treated them well and still I didn't get the respect. I deserve, you know, most of the time it was good but not when it came, you know, when I had to do it on my own and it was rough. If so, what are some different?
27:12 Like characters you've in body through the years.
27:17 Entertaining Tom Jones Julio Inglesias Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett. I can't remember them all but you do mostly I concert in the 70s. That was Tom Jones cuz I was very good at that and they like that and then here lately is been last year. I did Tom Jones for the tire me out cuz you put a lot of energy into that and then I decided to go Western with Glen Campbell. I'm doing, doing some cowboy and then the second the song is that I try a little kindness. I did that in San Francisco last year. I haven't done here in Fresno to be the first time in April and San Francisco that you love me then huh. Oh my god. There was one Emperor their past Emperor from San Francisco. He's as I'm going to do The Rhinestone Cowboy, you know.
28:17 Make my rhinestone outfit Isis why he's black but he's a handsome black young man. I said hey, you know go for it, you know, and yeah, they want me to go back and entertain in San Francisco.
28:33 They're going to ask me again. Steve already told me cuz he has a good friend. One of the empress's misty blue comes in MCS here in Fresno sometimes and she's the one that asked me to perform because she has seen me perform here in Fresno. She says you're you're good. She's I want you to come and perform in San Francisco and San Francisco. I respect San Francisco a lot because you know it all started there and they have to be the best, you know, most of the time you know, and it's an honor. That's my only honor really the San Francisco asked me to entertain that makes me feel good.
29:14 So who is Ben your favorite to perform as glasses?
29:25 And I kind of I kind of stick with
29:29 I don't like rap or anything like that. That's not my thing cuz I've come from a different era, you know, so and I've done ballads, you know, so but mostly I'm stuck with Tom Jones and like but now Glen Campbell and I believe it or not. I'm good. I'm good at it. You're going to see ya been practicing and practicing and well if they like me in San Francisco doing planning Campbell, they're going to like me even hear better. Yeah. So what is it like when you practice like what's your like routine?
30:13 Well, my routine is first I listen to them to the music the song.
30:19 In the night, I visualize how that are singers doing and then I out when I have a chance to watch him on TV or a video I will do that and then I kind of pick up, you know their movements like Tom Jones I pick up on his movements really. Well, you know the the way he shakes, you know, and the way he has his mic near his mouth, you know, and the armed reaction know and same thing with Glen Campbell. I saw him do Rhinestone Cowboy. You know, she came out in a White Horse. I can't do that though, but I do it a little bit different but I kind of pick up my own version to that. I feel that it fits. It fits me but yet goes along with that character a Blind Eye Blind it in and it's just turns out to be good.
31:16 So I don't think about nothing else when I'm when I'm performing. I'm just focusing on that number, you know, the movements and everything and the timing of the words, you know, it looks it actually looks like I'm singing that song. I had one lady. I don't know if you know Audrey.
31:39 Naruto music in the gray Alliance and she came over to stay at one time. Steve had a dinner party and she was there and she's all hell. I know you have a beautiful voice. I said no, I don't know why I heard you sing the other at the show. I sold that was lip sync and she insisted I had a beautiful voice.
32:02 Now years ago when I did Tom Jones in the 70s at the Paragon Theater dinner theater in San Jose, the owner's wife. They would watch the shows all the time. I would have him on Sunday nights and one day we were there having dinner cuz they they had a dinner house and that she came over to our table and she says he'll see she says
32:28 I heard you on the radio the other day.
32:31 And I looked at her and I said, what do you mean you don't she says Tom Jones you were on
32:40 Please when I laugh, you know, cuz I took it is a high compliment a guy's you know, when they hear Tom Jones girls. I heard you on the radio if you were doing Tom Jones feel so good. That makes me happy. Love it. I love it.
33:09 What about your costumes? How do you pick him out? Like Tom Jones? I would have the bow tie and white shirt black vest.
33:20 And most of time with black vest on wear that jacket, you know, and then the slacks boots and with my Rhinestone Cowboy. I'm wearing all white and it's rhinestone and looks nice white boots white hat.
33:37 The Hat has a rainstorm Rim around now, you know the Stetson and that's why I say it's costly costly, you know, and then I have some sequins jacket and my friend Steve since I'm helping him out at his home cuz of the surgery he's having for for a little kindness. I'm wearing all-black. He's making me he's having me made a sequin vest cuz imma wear all black and a black cowboy hat in a no-sew dress. I tried to dress to the to the 4th at the character I'm doing and and the number should go with the number that I'm entertaining you so oh, yeah.
34:31 Fun. Yeah, well, is there anything else you'd like to share?
34:37 No, I I think I pretty much said it all you know, and it hasn't been easy for me.
34:46 But but yet at the same time, you know, it's been good in many ways and I would like to I hope a lot of I'm sure there's a lot of young women out there that would like to entertain is it but there is scary for them. It was scary for me at first but you you have to just try you have to go for it and try and and just be brave and you'll either sexy or not but it all depends on you to do it and I would like to see more male impersonators a lot of representation. I think for young women that made you want to perform but yeah, they don't have anyone to a boob look up to know which of the Great that that you just stepped into it, and actually likes to tell you the truth. I'm the only one to this day that I'm an actual real male impersonator, you know and
35:46 I've had I've had lesbians come up to me and say Hey, you know you thought that was really good. I really enjoyed that, you know, and there's some that try but it's it's I don't know but to me, it's not I don't enjoy what they do, you know, maybe it's because I'm from the old school and you know back back in my time. I was I was called a butch or a dyke, you know, but it didn't bother me. It was it was fun and also a struggle but I hope you know that if they ever whoever sees me for form the young girls and they want to do that. They'll be encouraged to do and not be afraid, you know.
36:37 Can we just a drag queens all the time? And and and you know, whether it's performing or being a comic or doing comedy but is a male impersonator. Hey, that's great, you know and I feel like I've always been a novelty and
36:57 I'll always be a novelty I guess so it was fun. Well, thank you so much for sharing with me. Thank you for listening and I hope I I I I did something right by doing this of course, you know.
37:16 And I don't know how much longer I have to live cuz I'm 75, but
37:23 I wish I could entertain another 20 years, but I can't.
37:35 Thank you for making my heart happy today.
37:39 I enjoyed it.
37:42 I have some satisfaction.