Mona’s Candle Light (ca. 1950)

Mona’s Candle Light was discovered among reels of film that Geoff Alexander, of the Bay Area-based Academic Film Archive of North America, bought at a flea market in an unmarked box. There are no credits, so it is impossible to determine who shot it and for what purpose. The film is 1950s footage, probably amateur, of a well know lesbian club (which had opened in the 1930s), Mona’s, and it is an invaluable document of that underground scene.

The film opens with a panning shot of neon signs against a night sky, probably in the North Beach section of San Francisco. The camera comes to rest on a sign spelling out “Mona’s Candle Light” in blue script that fills the frame, then cuts immediately to the interior of Mona’s where a woman, who has been identified as Jan Jensen, is singing. Although Mona’s was known as a club that featured lesbian performers dressed as men, Jensen, a large women who resembles Kate Smith, wears a conventional evening gown, as she does in a still photograph with other performers, all of whom are dressed as men, taken in Mona’s several years earlier. The only other identifiable performer is Jimmy Reynard, a so-called “drag king” who is dressed in a man’s suit and tie. Reynard’s hair is cut in a short but feminine bob and she wears bright red lipstick, suggesting that unlike most male drag queens she was not trying to impersonate a member of the opposite sex.