Terry’s fortune in fancy frills

When Terry Fortune steps onto the stage for the start of the second season of Remembering the Lux at The Baxter on Thursday 25 August it’s like stepping onto the stage where he was born.

Well, not really, because the original Lux is now a thing of the past. But Terry, from Woodstock, is part of the rich legacy of the entertainment world in Cape Town that has performed around the globe but it was on the stage of the Luxurama Theatre in Wynberg were Terry the drag artist was born.

Before Terry there was Tyrone (his real name) who went to UWC to study social work, but fate put him on another path.

“It was about 1968, I just turned 21 and was working in the housing department of the city council,” he says.

“I did not complete the course at UWC because I was going to change the world because I already knew everything.

“The housing manager in his wisdom decided to assign me to Glider Crescent. At the time the most notorious and problematic street on the estate.

“What a challenge! After my training I had all the solutions, I will make all these problems disappear with one talk.

“There was me full of fire going into house to clean with the owners, but many of them just wanted me to do it and not learn from my example.

“I managed to get fences for some of the houses and the next day one of them was gone, sold for alcohol.”

The end came shortly afterwards with a tragedy that ended in death.

“I worked with a 19-year-old from a troubled family with brothers already in jail. Got him to go to church, into a soccer club and even a job with a cleansing department. I was proud knowing that I was making a difference but one Monday my manager called me in to say that he came home from work drunk and stabbed his mom to death.

“That was it. I resigned, bought a ruck sack and took to the road – supposedly to hitch-hike around the world.”

This “journey” around the world led to him getting into the entertainment industry as a singer in Johannesburg but in 1971 he came back home to Cape Town.

“My father told me to call the council and I got my old job back – and then just waited. This was it: behind a desk until I turned 60 something. But then, my eye caught an ad in a local newspaper.

“R2000, Talent Contest, Princess Bioscope.”

“The Princess in Retreat Road was just down the road from where I lived and R2000 was the equivalent to two years salary working for the council. I entered.

“I won the semi-final and finals were at the “new” Luxurama in Wynberg and I was up against Zane Adams, Taliep Petersen, Tony Schilder, Roy Gabriels, Donald Behm and Frankie Cord so I know with such a line-up I had to be different.

“I minced on stage dressed in a green sequined evening dress, sat on top of the baby grand and accompanied by Richard Schilder sang ‘I’m just an Old Fashioned Girl’ in the style of Eartha Kitt, slid of the piano to do ‘Pata Pata’ and at the end removed my wig. 

“The audience loved it and on that night Terry Fortune, the female impersonator, was named and became my alter ego. Zane won the competition, I was runner-up.”

Terry has toured the world working at venues in Europe, on cruise ships and theatres across South Africa.

“One of the highlights of those naughty days was when ship had to come back to port for me. It’s Sunday sometime in the early 90s and I am in Funchal, Madeira. It’s my last cruise for the season so I thought that I would buy some gifts for the folks back home.

“Unfortunately, for them, I realise that most of the shops are closed but what to do with the money that I have exchanged? I’ll do a bit of a pub crawl. Funchal is mountainous with a winding road leading from the top down to the harbour area so a pub crawl starting at the top, would get me down to the bottom and back on board by early afternoon.

“When I woke up it was 19:00 in the evening, the ship had left at 17:00. I stumbled down to the harbour and contacted the port authority. They call the captain and I’m asked: ‘Are you Terry Fortune, the South African singer? The captain says to wait – they’re coming back for you but you’re in big trouble’.

“And that day a passenger liner with more than a thousand people on board, turned around to fetch me. Needless to say I got into big k*k.”

It’s been an exciting life for the veteran performer. “I’ve never been a mime act, I can really sing. There’s also the fact that I was so ‘different’ in those early years. That a person of colour chose drag not as a way of life but as an occupation during the apartheid era was part of the success. It was a novelty that people, of all races, loved and here I am still doing it.
Remembering the Lux takes you back to those exciting times highlighting the talents that we had in Cape Town. How can I hang up my gowns and high heels if the response from the audience still motivates me to step on stage every time?”

The new season of Remembering the Lux will be at The Baxter Theatre in Rondebosch from Thursday 25 August to Saturday 17 September. Booking at Computicket.

Terry Fortune, centre, gets into glamorous mode with some attention from Loukmaan Adams, left, and Nur Abrahams in the production of Remembering the Lux starting at the Baxter next week. PHOTO:Andrew Brown

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