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John Herbert
(1926 - June 22, 2001) Canada

John Herbert

Writer

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Best known as a playwright, the most prominent of his works being Fortune and Men's Eyes, Herbert was born John Herbert Brundage in Toronto and educated there until the age of seventeen.

Herbert was educated at York Memorial Collegiate and various art schools including the National Ballet School. By the age of 18 he was an accomplished drag queen who could pass as a female model at a fashion show but was also subjected to taunts and jeers when he appeared on the streets as his visibly gay male self.

In his 20s, he was mugged on a downtown street. But, when police arrived his attackers accused him of trying to hustle them. Herbert was charged with soliciting, convicted, and imprisoned in the Guelph Reformatory, in Guelph, Ontario. At Guelph he was beaten and raped by other inmates, but that hardly stopped him from exploring drag, wearing dresses and curling his hair in prison.

John HerbertWhen he got out, he continued to do Toronto in drag. When one of the officers who charged him several years earlier recognized him one night in a laneway Herbert was hauled off again to jail. Dressing in drag was still a crime in postwar Canada. This time he was sentenced to the Mimico Reformatory outside Toronto.

In the 1950s he attended ballet school, but by the beginning of the next decade had set himself on a creer centered primarily in the theatre. In the early 1960s, he was artistic director of three Toronto companies in succession.

Through the 1970s and early 1980s, he taught in various writing and drama programmes in high schools, universities and other more specialized insitutions, though retaining his primary interest in directing small and alternative theatre companies. For years he helped a small troupe that worked out of the community centre that stands at the heart of Toronto's lesbian/gay "getto".

Over his career, he has been dancer, stage manager, director, designer, teacher, and of course playwright. he has witten also Omphale and the Hero (1974), and four gay-themed short plays gathered together as Some Angry Summer Songs (1976). He has also written articles and essays. John died in Toronto.

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Source: excerpts from: Aldrich R. & Wotherspoon G., Who's Who in Contemporary Gay and Lesbian History, from WWII to Present Day, Routledge, London, 2001

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