That was Lady J.
Our Lady J fancied herself a cut above your average boy-in-a-dress and had taken to hanging out at some of the finer downtown lounges and lobbies, hoping to give the higher-end hotel call girls a run for their johns’ money. And damned if she wasn’t pulling it off!
This queen, who modelled herself on Jackie Kennedy, was so elegant (when she wasn’t busting up mirrors) that staffs at the Hotel Vancouver, the Devonshire and the Georgia hadn’t a clue. She tipped extravagantly, always leaving $20 (big change in those days) on the counter when chatting up the night manager. And she always had a two-spot (yes, we had $2 bills in 1970) for anyone who might happen to hold a door for her. Just enough palm greasing to keep her in the action.
So it came to pass one evening that Lady J was passing the elevators in the lobby of the Hotel Vancouver as a group of people were arriving, greeting one another and getting ready to dine together upstairs in the Panorama Roof.
Suddenly, an elegantly dressed matron arrives and everyone greets her with “Happy birthday, Grace . . . Wonderful to see you, Grace . . . You’ve never looked lovelier, darling . . . So happy I could be here today!”
So what does our Lady J do but seize the moment and rush into the crowd, arms extended for a big familiar hug, with a shout of “Grace, sweetheart, I’m just back from Cannes and I’m exhausted, but I couldn’t miss this special day!”
It’s amazing what you can do on speed!
And what with the hustle of other partiers arriving and greeting and getting themselves into elevators to be carried to the Roof, Lady J just hustled along with everyone else and moments later found herself seated for dinner.
Seated, we should mention, by the Roof’s weeknight maître d’, who, after his shifts, often joined our own little 3am party at the Granville St White Lunch. So he knew exactly who she was (and confirmed this wild story) and couldn’t have been more astonished.
Then ordering, chatting with everyone at the table, relating how horrible the weather had been in Cannes and how she couldn’t wait to get to Palm Springs, but wasn’t it marvellous that she was in town right now . . . for Grace’s birthday!
Grace’s husband was a pretty smooth old boy himself and lobbed numerous softball questions Lady J’s way, clearly trying to get a handle on who the hell she was and how she had come to know Grace. Everyone else, including Grace, apparently assumed that Lady J was someone else’s friend. Nobody was going to be so rude as to ask.
Using a visit to the powder room as an excuse to pass the maître d’s station, Lady J whispered, “Who the hell are these people?” and learned that they were the Buckshons, as in the Buckshon Pharmacy family.
Dinner went charmingly, and at some point during dessert Mr Buckshon invited Lady J for a turn on the dancefloor — possibly to the music of the Dal Richards Orchestra.
“Don’t worry, my dear,” old Buckshon whispered in her ear as they began the beguine. “I know who you are, and your secret is safe with me.”
Needless to say, our heroine almost fainted at this, until he continued, “I’ve seen your picture in the tabloids and I think it’s wonderful that you can pull this off!”
Well, apparently old Buckshon was no more clued in than anyone else at the party, but he had his own fantasy going on, so Lady J dined and waltzed the night away, taking her leave hours later, with many thanks, fond farewells and promises to “see you in Palm Springs, daahlings!”
We certainly enjoyed her telling of the adventure later that night as we gathered as usual in the White Lunch for 3am reports on the night just past. And no doubt Grace was charmed by her birthday party celebrity mystery guest . . . or always wondered who the hell that crazy woman really was.
Kevin Dale McKeown was Vancouver’s first gay columnist, penning QQ Writes . . . Page 69 for the Georgia Straight through the early 1970s.