Cabaret singer, author, activist, Greta Crumb died at her home on Wednesday. She was 92.
Born Hansen Crumb, he spent his childhood backstage at the Ziegfeld Follies where his mother was a dancer and later a choreographer. At a young age, he decided he wanted to be a Ziegfeld Girl himself one day. He became assistant choreographer in his teens.
He was 21 when the Follies closed and he was, in his own words, “tossed out of the cloistered world of the Follies and into the real world where there was little tolerance for a man in a dress, even a gorgeous man in a dress, which I certainly was.” He decided to live his life as Greta and gained some notoriety as a cabaret singer. At the outbreak of WWII, almost nobody knew Greta Crumb had been born a man or who Hansen Crumb was. But it was Hansen, not Greta, who was drafted. Hansen was rejected for service due to “homosexual proclivities.”
“I explained that I wasn’t a homosexual,” Greta wrote in her 1969 memoir, “but they couldn’t see past the high heels.” Crumb lived as Hansen during the war, serving as a Red Cross ambulance driver. For more than a decade following the war, Greta writes, she was “lost in the wilderness, sometimes living as a man, sometimes as a woman.” In 1957, Greta decided she would not only live the rest of her life as a woman, but would fight for the freedom to do so. Her memoir, People in Candy Houses, was an underground success and received enough mainstream attention that she became a regular talk show guest, though she refused to play the role of an oddity. “If my talent and charm wasn’t enough to get me booked I didn’t want anything to do with it.”
Greta is survived by her wife of 40 years, Iona Crumb, 81.