Finocchio’s, Howard Huges, and Pussy Kat

| Jun 18, 2018

Finocchio’s in 1958.

In the mid to late ‘50s when I was serving my country. I was part of a flight crew ferrying airplanes from and to the overhaul facility at NAS Alameda. NAS Alameda is located on Alameda island which is across the bay from San Francisco.

On my first visit to Alameda, I checked the “Off Limits” list posted in the transit barracks. The off-limits list is a list of the places that the military declared unfit for military personnel. I always used this list as a reference. Not for the reason it was intended but, a list of places that probably should be visited. And, ferry crews did get a little preferential treatment from The Shore Patrol as we were just passing through. There was only one place “Off Limits” “Finocchios Club” 506 Broadway in San Francisco listed. I always thought it was nice of them to post the address. In the days before smart phones it certainly saved us a lot of time.

As the sun was setting over the Pacific, I was on my way to Finocchios.

It didn’t look very bad at all from the street. There was a sandwich board by the entrance that gave some information about the female impersonators inside. Now that surely peaked my interest. However, I suspected the photos were fake and the place was a rip-off joint. I mean after all it was on the U.S. Navy’s off limits list.

When I got inside was I ever surprised. The place was rather classy. Admission wasn’t much, and the drinks were very inexpensive.  I’m sure I was clocked as military; however, everybody was very gracious. Even the owner Mr. Finocchio greeted me. Nobody was pushy and soliciting drinks or anything else. AND, the show was fabulous. I visited there every trip to Alameda.

The 1958 cast of Finocchio’s.

I left the Navy in 1958 and did not return to San Francisco until 1989. To my surprise Finocchio’s was still open. Of course, I put it on my itinerary and stopped in one evening. I was not near as impressed this time around. Thirty-one years does change one’s perspective. And, the club was showing signs of despair. Mr. Finocchio passed away in 1986. And, men dressed up as women were becoming commonplace and surely not exotic and erotic anymore.

Mrs. Finocchio closed the doors for the last time on November 27, 1999. The club had a great run of 63 years. In its prime, it was visited by tourists and the well-known. Tour busses even stopped there. There was a rumor that Errol Flynn, David Niven and two others had taken a Finocchio entertainer and her friends back to a hotel suite at the Fairmount for a night of debauchery. So there seemed to have been some shenanigans going on.

Howard Hughes and Ava Gardner.

It is also rumored that Howard Hughes also met this entertainer when he escorted Ava Gardner to the club. He later returned for another meeting and invited her to his suite at you guessed it the Fairmount. Hughes had read in a book that claimed that ancient Egyptian eunuchs were regarded as better sex objects after castration. In 1945, Hughes flew with this entertainer to Mexico City where she was castrated and was paid $50,000 ($700,000 in today’s money.) Afterwards, he installed her in a villa in Acapulco and repeatedly visited her for two years. When he grew bored with her, he gave her enough money to open a local drag club. It flourished until the police closed it down.

I don’t usually deal in rumor and innuendo. Especially when it comes from a publication that I have not read. Darwin Porter’s book Howard Hughes, Hell’s Angel (800 pages.) is the source of this information. The book is on my reading list.

However, this Hughes rumor if true would predate Christine Jorgensen’s sex change surgery by seven years. Therefore, making Christine not the first in the USA to have SRS surgery….

Does any of this really matter today? Of course not, it’s just a little history that I find interesting. The Hughes, Flynn, and Niven’s girl  was known as Pussy Katt aka Steve Clayton.

Katt was only 16 when she had her operation. Which is simply described as a castration, and therefore did not include vaginoplasty. Except for hormones this is practically the same as Christine Jorgensen had in Copenhagen. One wonders if Katt later took hormones and did she or Jorgensen have a vaginoplasty as SRS evolved in the next decades.

There seems very little written about Katt except in Porter’s book. And, there was nothing about any drag queens or transsexuals in Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator, in 2004, with Leonardo DiCaprio as Howard Hughes.

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Category: Fun & Entertainment, History

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