‘Il­lu­sion­ist’ gave voice to fe­male stars

JIM BAI­LEY, 1938 — 2015

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - By David Colker david.colker@la­times.com

Jim Bai­ley, a Las Ve­gas sta­ple who por­trayed Streisand and Gar­land, has died at 77.

Fe­male im­per­son­ator Jim Bai­ley’s on­stage por­tray­als of fa­mous en­ter­tain­ers were so un­canny — not just their voices, but also the man­ner­isms, cos­tumes and hair­dos — that some­times peo­ple thought they were see­ing the ac­tual women.

But one cou­ple in Las Ve­gas, see­ing Bai­ley in his sig­na­ture role as Judy Gar­land, took it a step fur­ther.

“The au­di­ence was from a plumber’s con­ven­tion,” wrote Bruce Vi­lanch in a 1997 ar­ti­cle for the Ad­vo­cate mag­a­zine. “One plumber turned to his wife and said, ‘I thought she was dead.’

“‘She is,’ the wife replied, ‘This is the daugh­ter.’ ”

Bai­ley, 77, died Satur­day at Paci­fica Hos­pi­tal of the Val­ley in Sun Val­ley. The cause was a heart at­tack brought on by pneu­mo­nia, his long­time man­ager, Steve Camp­bell, said. Bai­ley lived in Santa Clarita and had been re­tired for sev­eral years.

He had been a Las Ve­gas sta­ple, but also ap­peared on nu­mer­ous tele­vi­sion shows be­gin­ning in the 1970s, in­clud­ing “The Ed Sullivan Show” (as Gar­land, singing “The Man That Got Away”), “The Carol Bur­nett Show” (as Bar­bra Streisand, singing a duet with Bur­nett), “Here’s Lucy” (as Phyl­lis Diller) and nu­mer­ous ap­pear­ances on “The Tonight Show.”

He did live, full-length con­certs as his char­ac­ters at ma­jor venues such as Carnegie Hall, the Lon­don Pal­la­dium and the Dorothy Chan­dler Pav­il­ion in L.A., where he ap­peared in 1972 as Gar­land and Streisand.

“Bai­ley is a dev­as­tat­ing ta­lent and a phe­nom­e­non,” Mary Mur­phy wrote of that show in The Times. Although she ad­mired his Streisand, it was his Gar­land that got to her. “As Gar­land, he is magnificent,” Mur­phy wrote. “He is sen­ti­men­tal and strong, like a lion and a kit­ten.”

He hated be­ing called a drag act, much pre­fer­ring to be de­scribed as a “char­ac­ter ac­tor” or “il­lu­sion­ist.”

“I’m the pup­pet mas­ter, only you can’t see the strings,” he told the Or­lando Sen­tinel in 1997.

He also didn’t want to be known as camp. “It used to be, and it’s still true in some sense, that a man puts on a dress for laughs,” he said in a 2004 Times in­ter­view. “I did the op­po­site, and peo­ple were fas­ci­nated by it.”

He was born Jan. 10, 1938, in Philadel­phia and showed mu­si­cal ta­lent at a young age. At 5, he be­gan tak­ing pi­ano lessons, dream­ing of a con­cert ca­reer, but his teacher sug­gested that he go into singing. An aunt en­rolled him in the Philadel­phia Con­ser­va­tory of Mu­sic (now the Univer­sity of the Arts), where he stud­ied opera.

“The tech­nique that I learned there, study­ing to be a lyric tenor — how to breathe prop­erly, how to sing with­out a mi­cro­phone, as well as mi­cro­phone tech­nique — is what has made it pos­si­ble to do the kind of singing I do with my fa­mous ladies,” he said in The Times in­ter­view.

But he de­cided that more than any­thing, he wanted to be an ac­tor. In the mid-1960s, Bai­ley moved to Los An­ge­les, where he au­di­tioned for parts, mostly un­suc­cess­fully, and ap­peared oc­ca­sion­ally in small clubs do­ing com­edy bits and singing. The first im­per­son­ation he de­vel­oped was of Diller, and he worked it into his act.

The ma­jor rev­e­la­tion came when he was driv­ing his car and a Gar­land song came on the ra­dio. He be­gan singing along, at first in the car and then later to a Gar­land al­bum at home.

“As I did, I found my body was do­ing Judy moves that I had seen on her tele­vi­sion show,” he said. “And I thought, ‘My God, I can sing like Judy Gar­land. What does that mean?’ ”

He worked it into his act, and it be­came a sen­sa­tion. In about 1967, Camp­bell said, Gar­land showed up at a Val­ley club to see him. She ended up join­ing him on­stage for a duet of “Bye Bye Black­bird,” and they be­came friends.

The real-life Gar­land coached Bai­ley in im­i­tat­ing her, down to her fa­mous ticks and ges­tures. “You don’t want to do ev­ery­thing in the same song,” he said she told him, “be­cause then you won’t have any­thing to do later on.”

His pop­u­lar­ity led to a Las Ve­gas lounge book­ing, where sev­eral celebri­ties saw him, in­clud­ing Ed Sullivan.

The 1970 Sullivan show ap­pear­ance was key to Bai­ley’s ca­reer.

“Be­fore that, there were acts on TV with a man in a dress, like Mil­ton Berle,” Camp­bell said Wed­nes­day. “But that was camp. Jim was do­ing it with class.”

In his 20s, Bai­ley had a brief mar­riage that ended in di­vorce, but his pri­mary per­sonal re­la­tion­ships were with men. He and Camp­bell were a cou­ple for sev­eral years, but at the time of his death, Bai­ley did not have a part­ner.

He is sur­vived by his brother, Claude, of Philadel­phia.

Af­ter sev­eral years of ap­pear­ing on stage as women, Bai­ley some­times per­formed as him­self. But his un­adorned singing act did not find much fa­vor with crit­ics, and he re­turned to his “il­lu­sions.” He didn’t mind that, he said, es­pe­cially when it came to Gar­land, who died in 1969 at 47.

“I feel like I’m con­tin­u­ing a ca­reer that shouldn’t have ended,” he said in the Sen­tinel in­ter­view.

“A lot of young peo­ple who weren’t even born when she was alive get to see Judy.”

Los An­ge­les Times

JIM BAI­LEY as Judy Gar­land, a sig­na­ture sub­ject.

FE­MALE IM­PER­SON­ATOR

Jim Bai­ley trans­formed him­self into such show biz leg­ends as Judy Gar­land, Bar­bra Streisand and Peggy Lee dur­ing a ca­reer that spanned decades.

Among Bai­ley’s TV ap­pear­ances was an im­per­son­ation of Phyl­lis Diller he per­formed, left, dur­ing a

ben­e­fit show with Lu­cille Ball.

Gary Fried­man

Bai­ley, shown per­form­ing as Peggy Lee, was so spot-on with his por­tray­als that au­di­ence mem­bers some­times thought it was the real per­son.

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