Darcelle at Portland's Keller Fountain Park for the city's 2012 "Pedalpalooza" bike ride
|Known for||Oldest female impersonator on the West Coast of the United States|
|Notable work(s)||Just Call Me Darcelle|
|Home town||Portland, Oregon|
|Partner(s)||Roxy Neuhardt (1969–present)|
|Awards||Spirit of Portland Award|
Walter Cole (born 1930), better known as Darcelle XV, is a drag queen in Portland, Oregon, United States. Cole was raised in the Linnton neighborhood and served in the military until the late 1950s, after which he lived a "conventional" life in southeast Portland with his wife and two children. Funds he received from the military helped Cole start new business ventures. He first purchased a coffeehouse near Portland State University called Caffé Espresso, which later relocated and was expanded to include a jazz club called Studio A. In 1967, Cole purchased a tavern in northwest Portland called Demas, which became Darcelle XV Showplace.
Cole first wore a woman's dress at age 37. By 1969, he had developed the "alter ego" Darcelle and came out as gay. He left his wife and began a relationship with Roxy Neuhardt. During the 1970s, the Showplace became a popular destination for drag performance. In 1999, Darcelle became the oldest female impersonator on the West Coast after the closing of San Francisco's drag venue Finocchio's. In 2010, Darcelle served as grand marshal of the Portland Rose Festival's Starlight Parade and received the city's Spirit of Portland Award. That same year, Cole and Sharon Knorr published his memoir, Just Call Me Darcelle; Knorr also served as director of Cole's 2010 one-person show of the same name.
Cole was born in 1930 and lived in Linnton, Portland, Oregon during his childhood. His young personality has been described as a shy, "four-eyed sissy boy". Cole was discharged from the military in the late 1950s following the Korean War, after which he lived a "conventional" life in southeast Portland with his wife and two children. Cole worked at a Fred Meyer store and described himself as having "a crew cut and horn-rimmed glasses". With $5,000 he received from the military at the time of his discharge, Cole purchased a coffeehouse near Portland State University called Caffé Espresso. He later moved the coffeehouse to Southwest Third and Clay, expanding the basement to include a late-night jazz club called Studio A. Urban renewal caused Cole to sell his business. In 1967, $5,000 in urban renewal compensation provided a down payment on a tavern called Demas, located on Northwest Third and Davis. Cole would turn Demas into Darcelle XV Showplace.
Cole, who had an interest in acting and had worked at Portland Civic Theater, developed his "alter ego" Darcelle and came out as gay. According to Cole, he first wore a woman's dress at age 37. In 1969, he left his wife of eighteen years and began a lifelong relationship with Roxy Neuhardt, who also served as an artistic collaborator. Cole remained legally married to his wife; his relationship with his two children was strained, but stayed intact.
Darcelle wore false eyelashes, jewelry, and shiny clothing. Cole has described Darcelle's persona as having "sequins on the eyelids, lots of feathers, big hair, big jewels, and lots of wisecracks". Avoiding an Oregon law that prohibited the use of more than one instrument during performances, entertainers at Darcelle XV Showplace lip-synched. The business was fined after Neuhardt performed a "ballet-like adagio" with another man. During the 1970s, the Showplace became a popular destination for drag performance. With the closing of San Francisco's drag venue Finocchio's in 1999, Darcelle became the oldest female impersonator on the West Coast.
Darcelle and the Showplace have become part of Portland's culture over the years. Darcelle attends many social functions throughout the city. In 2011, she served as grand marshal of the Portland Rose Festival's Starlight Parade and received the city's Spirit of Portland Award. That same year, Cole and Sharon Knorr published his memoir, Just Call Me Darcelle. The book recalls Cole's life, including his childhood, military service, and experiences as Darcelle. Cole also shared stories of Portland's culture, from his visit to Old Town Chinatown with his mother in the 1930s, to Magic Garden as a lesbian club in the 1960s, to his description of the Hoyt Hotel. Knorr served as director of Cole's 2010 one-person show of the same name.
Darcelle XV Showplace has hosted the longest-running drag show on the West Coast. In 2011, Willamette Week 's Kelly Clarke called Darcelle the "unofficial welcome wagon" to Portland for forty years. She wrote that Just Call Me Darcelle reads blandly, "like a plainspeak transcription", but also acknowledged the value of his recollections of Portland culture, spanning more than 75 years. In her review of Cole's memoir, Clarke described him as "an energetic businessman whose desire for a life less ordinary catapulted him from a job at Fred Meyer to become the proprietor of a counterculture coffee shop, an after-hours jazz club, a rough-'n'-ready 'dyke bar' and, finally, a nationally known drag revue, without ever leaving Portland.
- Clarke, Kelly (February 16, 2011). "Walter Cole Just Call Me Darcelle: That's no lady; that's Darcelle.". Willamette Week (Portland, Oregon). Retrieved July 3, 2013.
- Brown, Valerie. "Cole, Walter (Darcelle)". The Oregon Encyclopedia. Retrieved July 2, 2013.