1908 - 1933

Born in Brooklyn on June 30, 1908, Jean Malin was winning prizes for his costumes at the Manhattan drag balls as a teen. He began working as a chorus boy on Broadway, but soon the management received complaints for his being too effeminate. Instead he became a drag performer at various Greenwich Village clubs. In 1930, Malin’s career shifted and he became the headliner at the swank Club Abbey. There, Malin's act was not to impersonate women but, while still in his tuxedo, to be a flamboyant, effeminate, openly gay male. Basically be himself. He moved on stage and amongst audience members as a sophisticated, swishy, wisecracking emcee. He was sometimes heckled, but always had a comeback. His popularity helped ignite a "Pansy Craze" in midtown New York’s speakeasies and later other cities. Broadway Brevities declared "the pansies hailed La Malin as their queen" and he was sometimes called a “male impersonator.” He was also reportedly was the highest-paid nightclub entertainer of 1930. Even Vanity Fair magazine published a caricature of him. In January 1931, Malin entered into a marriage of convenience with Lucille Helman, but filed for divorce the following year. In the fall of 1932, Malin took his act to Hollywood. In addition to being the master of ceremonies at various nightclubs, Malin appeared in the films Arizona to Broadway and Dancing Lady with Joan Crawford. In the latter he played a female impersonator who sang Frankie and Johnny ala Mae West. A third film appearance was scrapped and his role reshot with a less effeminate actor. Malin also recorded songs like I'd Rather Be Spanish than Mannish and That's What's the Matter With Me. On August 10, 1933, after what was ironically called his “farewell performance” at the Ship Café in Venice, CA Malin piled into his sedan with close friend Jimmy Forlenza and actress Patsy Kelly. Malin apparently confused the gears. The car lurched in reverse and went off a pier into the water. Both passengers were injured. Tragically, the 25 year-old Malin was pinned beneath the steering wheel. The iconic pansy of Speakeasy culture died of accidental drowning just as the era he had embodied was coming to a close.


Gender Male

Sexual Orientation Gay

Gender Identity Cisgender

Ethnicity Caucasian/White

Nations Affiliated United States

Era/Epoch Interwar Period (1918-1939) Jazz Age (1910-1940) Roaring Twenties (1920-1929)

Field(s) of Contribution

Art, Music, Literature & Theater





US History


Original Biography Author
Owen Keehnen
Biography Edited By
Allo Kerstein
Resources Coordination
Carrie Maxwell