Guilda, French Queen of Drag, 1924-2012
The French artist Jean Guida made himself known on both sides of the Atlantic through his drag performances under the name Guilda, but it was Québec that he called home since 1955. He died last month, at the age of 88.
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Born Jean Guida de Mortellaro to an aristocratic family, he began his career as a “transformist” in the middle of the 1940s after the liberation of France, while hobnobbing with stars like Charles Aznavour, Maurice Chevalier, Jean Marais and Édith Piaf. Impersonating Marlene Dietrich, Marilyn Monroe or the singer Mistinguett whom he could double for, he was best known as the beautiful and eccentric character Guilda.
A well-respected figure in the world of performance, Jean Guida helped to popularize drag and was one of the first and most popular drag queens. During his career, he performed in over 60 reviews, beginning in the 1950s, all over the world: in France, North Africa, the US and Canada. He was a regular performer at the Théâtre des Variétés (which became the club La Tulipe after its closure in 2000), one of the top venues for burlesque and musical reviews in Montréal.
Once upon a time… Guilda
Jean Guida also ventured into painting and music, releasing several albums. After multiple television appearances, Guida, who always dreamed of becoming a film actor, got to play le Chevalier d’Éon is the series Les Grands Esprits.
In his autobiography, Il était une fois… Guilda, published in 2009, he recounts the beginning of his career, as well as his remarkable life: a bisexual, he had three children and two marriages as well as relationships with several men. He also spoke of his childhood, where he went from being well-to-do to being completely destitute. He wrote of evading the clutches of the Gestapo during World War II, for whom he wanted for having hidden Jews from deportation.
In 2005, on Télé-Québec, he expressed his wish to have this phrase written on his tombstone: “They were two. Now there is only one left.” In this video from 1997, Guilda takes shots at Mado, and reminisces on fame, aging, and “glamour”: