De Alba on Marsh 

By Entertainer David de Alba*

 Tobi Marsh wrote to me recently in an e-mail complimenting my Web site and my online Interviews.   When I told my friend Robin Price that I heard from him, he said that he thought the world of Toby and encouraged me to interview him.   I was very impressed when I found out that he had worked for the famous Jewel Box Revue and had performend in Amsterdam, Paris, and Berlin.   He even worked in Berlin with a Finocchio Club co-worker and friend of mine, Holly White.   I asked Tobi if he would participate in my Celebrity Interview Series and to my delight he accepted the invitation.   For Tobi to have worked for The Jewel Box Revue I knew that he had something special, otherwise Danny and Doc would not have hired him for their famous revue.   Since the past fuels the present I felt that my interview on Tobi would inform a lot of impersonators and other people about his long and varied Showbiz career.   So ladies and gentlemen of Cyberspace, I bring to you in all his splendor, Tobi Marsh!

Tobi Marsh 
 New York, 1966Tobi Marsh at Citadel 
 Boston, MA, 1977David:   Tobi dear, where were you born and where did you spend most of your youth?   By the way, is Tobi Marsh a stage name?

Tobi:  I was born in Greeneville, a small town in Northeast Tennessee, the home of Vice President Andrew Johnson who took office after Lincoln's assasination.   It is the heart of the Bible Belt and quite narrow minded.   My real name is John Dale Harvey and my stage name is Tobi Marsh.   My name was given to me by my now deceased but loved compadre, Joey Pheasant, who was responsible for me getting the audition with The Jewel Box Revue.

David:  Did your family influence or support your interest in Showbiz?   How did they feel about your working in drag?

Tobi:  My family was not your 'Donna Reed' or 'Leave it to Beaver' bunch.   For the most part I only had to put up with a mother and she was rather stoic about the profession.   I don't think she was thrilled in the beginning but she knew that I was happy and that is all that mattered.   She saw me work many times in New York.

David:  Did you have a mentor or Drag Mother as a young man who helped you get started in the craft of female impersonation?

Ricky RenéeTobi:  I cannot say that I had a mentor in the field of impersonation, but my brother who also worked professionally for three years had albums of Drag Stars.   As much as he tried to hide them from me, I would find them and look longingly at the pictures and dream of looking like the performers.   I had no doubt that I could.   I especially would look the blonde and lovely Ricky Renée who I thought I wanted to be out of all of them.

David:  I understand that at one time you lived in Cincinatti, Ohio, where you met our mutual friend Robin Price, whom I also interviewed in this series.   Can you tell us a little about that period of your life?

Tobi Marsh, early 1960's, New JerseyTobi:  I lived in Cincinnati from the age of 12 until I left with The Jewel Box.   The years in Cincy' are probably the most formative years that shaped me for the stage.   I was lucky enough to meet peers my age and some a little older that bonded our interests in the stage.   We loved drag but there had to be a purpose to it.   The stage was the only recourse.   We only went in drag on Halloween night so the aim was to join The Jewel Box Revue which came to Cincinnati every year in October and sometimes twice a year.   Those wonderful and sometime painful years fill my memories of running around to thrift shops with Robin Price, now retired and living in California; the fabulous Tony Sinclair appearing at The Cotton Club looking 'to the tee' like Josephine Baker, the Black American Star who was everyone's mentor that wanted to perform; K. Leslie in a fringe dress making it fly to the drummers beat.   Halloween was the only time we could get on stage and perform.   The Cotton Club and The Cat and Fiddle were most accommodating and also we were under age but no one seem to care on this bewitching of all nights.

David:  Were you influenced by any of the famous Lady Stars of your day?

Rita Hayworth 
 in GildaTobi:  Was I influenced by Stars?   I lived in the movies.   I truly think that out of all of them the one I wanted to be was Rita Hayworth.   She was sultry and Latin and she danced and sang.   I loved her most in Gilda and Fire Down Below.   I once owned the dress that she wore in Gilda, a two piece beaded jacket and skirt.   By the time it got to me it was quite frayed but to me it was gorgeous.

David:  Was the Jewel Box Revue your first paid professional job as an entertainer, and how did you come to work for the producers Doc and Danny?   How was it working for them and in their famous revue?

Tobi Marsh, Robbie Ross & GiGi Allen 
 Lowe's State Theatre, NY 
 The Jewel Box Revue, 1958Tobi:  The Jewel Box Revue was the first paid professional job that I ever had.   I was very lucky that I had Joey Pheasant and Tony Lay pulling for me to do the auditions in Chicago.   I traveled there on a Greyhound Bus in January of l957 with 25 dollars from Cincy' and lived with Joey at The Milner Hotel until there was an opening a couple of months later.   The beautiful Dorian Wayne was leaving the show and Frankie Bennet also, so that made room for other people waiting in the wings.

Doc and Danny were the owners.   I have often reflected upon the influence they had on me.   There were times I thought of them as couple of mean old men who just like teasing and stirring up trouble.   Years later as I took account of them I understood them better.   They were very strict about certain things.   They did not want you being painted as a boy in streets of any given town as it brought "heat on the show".   No morals rap if it could be avoided but some people did get in trouble.   They refused to let people wear pinkish lipstick on stage as it did not show from the audience.   They drank a lot but warned other people if they were caught drinking they would be fired.   This never quite was carried out except in such extreme cases like the notorious drunk, Titanic.

Tobi Marsh 
 at costume fittingTobi Marsh, Jerry Daye, Jade D'or 
 Front, Michael Ramos 
 Miami Beach, 1973Doc was the worker of the show.   He made costumes, choreographed and filled in as a chorus boy when needed.   Danny was the suave entrepreneur, always dressed immaculately and he himself wore make-up to look good in the nightclub lights.   He handled the money and the bookings.   His mother Bertha also took out smaller secondary units of the show.   She was a hard cookie like her son but was capable of random acts of kindness.   I often heard her talk of how fond she was of Lavern Cummings.   I will have to say that nowhere in this world could you get the training that you would get in the JBR.   I am proud to have worked with show and to have known the greats.   It was also the first fully integrated show in America.

David:  After the Jewel Box your Showbiz career was far from over.   How long were you with the revue and what did you do after that?

Tobi Marsh 
 with hairdresserTobi:  I was with The Jewel Box from January 1957 to 1960, a total of three years the first time.   I had quit to go to beauty school and right before graduation, Tony Midnite, who had left them earlier, was doing wardrobe at the 82 Club.   He called me and I went back into the business.   I was able to come and go as I fairly well pleased.   It was a stroke of luck.   Only because I was so utilitarian could I leave and return the way I did.   I could kick chorus, do show girl work, emcee and feature in dance productions.

David:  When you were working in New York did you ever encounter the great Miss Judy Garland, and if so, can you tell us a little about the experience?

Judy with Mark Herron 
 NY nightclub, 1965Tobi:  In the 12 years that I worked at the renowned 82 Club I encountered many movie stars who came to see the show.   Of all the stars that I met I would dare say that the legendary Judy Garland was the most interesting and the most fun.   She often appeared there in the late sixties.   She would be accompanied by a small entourage of three or four people.   At times there would be impersonators who did their interpretation of her.   The most fabulous being Kim August, whose singing skills and voice mimicking was phenomenal.   Her sense of compassion and camp was fabulous.   Once Kim was on stage and was not aware of Judy being there.   When Kim realized this he blew the words to The Trolley Song.   Judy, aware of what had happened, yelled out "That's OK honey, I don't know them either!"

I was in her company at least three or four times.   If you were lucky enough to be invited to her table she would usually invite you out after the show.   She was particularly fond of The Mystique, which was an after hours club in the east side of New York.   We would pile into cabs and sometimes limousines hired by her and off we go for a night of dancing and drinking.   Sometimes the party would even go beyond the clubs.   Once we were invited to a house party and the apartment was stupendous.   Vinnie Summers who was the closest to her, a production singer at The 82, seemed to always be in control of things along with the friends she traveled with.   The party was turning obnoxious at one point as people were bothering her with questions and fawning over her.   A small argument broke out which gave the Garland party a chance to leave.   As Judy was being hustled out of the party and down the stairs from the penthouse to the elevator, she exasperately commented, "Well!   My appearance at this little party ought to hold these little boys for the rest of their lives!"

[When she died in 1969] I attended her viewing at Frank E. Campbell's Funeral Chapel with several other entertainers from The 82 Club.

Lealo, Dominique, Holly White, Tobi Marsh 
 front Dolly Van Doll, Berlin, 1968David:  How did you get booked in Europe, and where did you perform there?   Did you work through a theatrical agent?

Lealo & Tobi Marsh 
 Chez Nous, Berlin, 1968Tobi:  The first time I went to Europe to work was in 1968.   My friend Lealo was in Berlin working at the Chez Nous.   Through him, an agent in New York who was a rather scurrilous character booked me.   He ripped off all the entertainers.   I stayed there three months.   I was supposed to open in Hamburg in a club owned by the same people.   I was disillusioned with Europe from the get-go.   The local entertainers were resentful of Americans working in their countries.   The standard of living was below par for an American.   I cancelled my contract and came home. What could they do to me?   Not much I thought.

In the '70s I met an entertainer from Australia by the name of Rital.   She was Egyptian born and grew up in Cairo.   I was booked in Canada where I met her.   She was extremely talented and spoke five languages.   From time to time she would book me with herself in her revue.   Her base was in London but we appeared in Amsterdam and several small clubs throughout Holland.   I must have come back and forth several times in a period of three years.

Holly White & Lealo 
 Chez Nous, 1968David:  When you were in Berlin I understand you worked on stage with Holly White.   He was working at Finocchio's when I opened there in 1971.   Did you know him from that time or did you meet him in Europe?

Tobi:  Holly White was with The Jewel Box at a time when I was at the 82 Club.   I met him once at the Town and Country.   When I went to work at the Chez Nous I was really green about the ways of European entertainers.   I have to say that most of them were rather rude and thought of Americans as crude and having no business in Europe.   Holly White was very nice to me.   She was an American from Hawaii and had been there for a long time. I would like to thank Holly for all the kindness.   Holly was extremely respected by the entertainers and I am sure a lot of jealously incurred because of Holly's beauty.   Holly mastered German and French and the European audiences loved the style.   Holly possessed elegance like no other.

David:  Can you describe to us how your act evolved over the years.   Did you sing, 'live' or pantomime, or impersonate any particular Stars?

Tobi Marsh 
 dressing backstageTobi:  My act evolved over the years through watching other performers.   I was fortunate to have started out in the chorus and to have had early training in various aspects of the Business.   I understudied the featured production dancers and would do anything they asked me to do.   My friend Brandy and I would make extra money by 'flying' in the show. In the underwater ballet we were mermaids suspended from wires behind gossamer material and a very dangerous procedure I might add.   The strip was my main act in the beginning and from there I developed other acts.   I could sing enough to belt out a song. I eventually started singing a few songs that I could manage and then started doing patter.   I was very good at ad-lib and my act was a ménage of different things.   One week I would fan dance and the next week I would tap dance.

I was mainly a dancer but I had to sing to do much in shows that required it.   I could carry a tune . . . let's put it that way.   I had a strip act with a song, a belly dance, a tap routine, and a Sally Rand type fan-dance.   I became an emcee for many shows by default because most people could not talk.   I could crack jokes and make the audience laugh.   I have danced with partners doing adagio and acrobatic choreography.   My act had many facets.

David:  Did you have any professional dance training?   What style of dancing did you do?

Tobi Marsh, 1968, BerlinTobi:  Although I had some training as a kid, there was a big gap in my training.   I had some early training in tap and ballet and acrobatics in Florida when I was living there as a child.   When I was finally able to get in a show I constantly hung on the skirt tails of the Danseuse Supreme, Chunga Ochoa, a.k.a. Roger Stark.   I would iron the ruffles on his huge cape for his 'Barefoot Contessa' number which he performed with four boys.   I watched everything Gi-Gi Allen did and I stretched and I bent and I squatted.   All these things helped me.

Kelly Starr, Leanna Harlowe, 
 Tobi Marsh, Upstate NYI was fortunate to work with Chunga Ochoa.   He took the Business seriously and was the head of all dancing when the JBR was on its way to Broadway.   He encouraged us to take classes, and lots of them he gave to us.   His Can-Can was unbelievable.   We danced on a table individually at one point, all doing different and complicated steps.   I would like to thank Bobby Lake for teaching me to tap dance.   He taught both Brandy Alexander and myself while at the 82 Club.   By the time he was through Brandy and I could have tapped anywhere.   So yes, I had a lot of training.

David:  Was Showbiz your main means of financial support or did you have a 'day job' to fall back on?

Tobi:  I was very lucky in the fact that I was mainly able to make my living performing.   There were times I would work as a hairdresser but I worked from 18 to 55 mainly as a performer.

David:  How did you land a part in the 1970 movie "Thrill Kill Murders" with Troy Donahue?   What role did you play, and how was Troy to work with?   By the way, did you appear in any other films that I may have missed?

Kitt RussellTobi as Fritzi with 
 Matt Greene as BullTobi:  In 1970 my old boss and friend Kitt Russell called me and wanted me to audition for a movie, "Sweet Savior" with Troy Donahue.   I had to go in drag to the auditon.   When I walked in there were many people there.   When it came my turn I walked in the office . . . Troy looked up and said, "Send the others home".   The part was to be that of a hairdresser, Fritzi, at a socialite party.   The movie was released as "Thrill Kill Murders" and was loosely based on the Charles Manson Murders.

I was to suddenly crossdress and lure a young man, Bull, (actor Matt Greene), to bed.   Of course I would pay for this error with my life.Actor Troy Donahue   In the beginning Matt Greene didn't want to kiss me and then he did after Troy threatened to break his neck if he did not.   Someone threatened to kill Troy and myself by letter.   There was a police investigation and the whole bit.   The movie was atrocious, but making it was a trip.   It has now gone into the camp culture genre as I understand.

Troy was not gay but he was very friendly toward gay people.  I wish I could say the same for the rest of the cast.  We remained friends through the years.  We shared a twelve-step program [AA] together and I was sorry to hear of his death.

Tobi Marsh 
 in make-upI have done several other inconsequential movies, such horrors as "Devil in High Heels", one called "Grand Illusion", very low budget stuff in the sixties, and exploitation films which are long out of print I would imagine.   Even though the movie with Troy was supposed to be a first class movie it did not turn out that way.   I got a lot of publicity and club dates from it and a gig in South America, and I got my picture on a billboard over the theatre on Broadway, so I guess it was worth something.

David:  What do you consider the highlight of your career?   Tell us a little about that and also about any low point that you may have experienced.

Tobi:  My career certainly had its ups and downs.   I was lucky to always work.   I would have the fortune of working for Jamie James of the Frisco Follies for a summer and then find myself playing in an upholstered sewer the coming fall back in Boston or wherever.   That is the nature of the Business.   I was highlighted several times and lowlighted several times in my life.   (Sounds like a hairdresser).

David:  Do you like to cook or do you eat out a lot?   Do you have any particular foods you enjoy?

Tobi:  I can cook when I am in the mood.   I am a Southerner so I like certain peasant foods indigenous to the South.   I like gourmet food but I do not drink anymore and French Cuisine does not taste the same without wine.

David:  Do you have any hobbies or interests that occupy your spare time?

Tobi:  I have always liked to read . . . biographies, history, fiction, I love it all.   I play scrabble and cards.   I like to cook on occasion.

Tobi Marsh Fan Dance 
 Club Cafe, Boston, 1993David:  What advice would you give a newcomer who is considering female impersonation as a career?

Tobi:  My advice to people starting out in the Business is to go for it.   Life is too short not to do what you want to do.   Very few of us have ever made it over into mainstream Showbiz and I have done it all . . . movies, television and plays, and it still could have been better.   Do the best you can and enjoy it.

David:  If you were to believe in The Good Fairy, and he were to grant you a wish to benefit others, what would you ask for?

Tobi:  If I were to be granted a wish from The Good Fairy, (and I have known many), I would wish for a cure for HIV.   It has been here 21 years and it needs to be over.

Well David, I would really like to thank you for inviting me to be on your Web site.   I have had a tremendous amount of fun corresponding with you during this project.   After having appeared on televison interviews through the years and having been interviewed by magazines I can honestly tell you that you truly have done the most in-depth interviews with research like no other person or association has done so far.   I think that you have preserved the art of impersonation to the nth degree.

Although I never had the pleasure of seeing you perform I have seen the photos of your interpretation of Judy, which were on the mark with attire and appearance.   I am also aware of the many awards received for your Web site and singing talent.   I would love to hear your Latin CD as I am so fond of Latin music.   I would like to thank you for allowing me to take this wonderful trip down memory lane to another wonderful and nostalgic time.   I am looking forward to meeting you in person some day in the near future.      Sincerely, Tobi Marsh.

Update:   Johnny "Tobi Marsh" Harvey passed away on November 15, 2012.   He died due to complications from an auto accident and issues with his health.   "He was a wonderful and kind person who will be greatly missed."  (Mike Powell, a dear friend.)

* Cuban/American entertainer David de Alba (also known as "Heri, Hairstylist of the Stars") is known for his live singing impressions as a concert artist since 1965.   He has worked at the world famous Finocchio Club of San Francisco (USA) for many years.   Visit the award winning Web Site "David de Alba’s Theatrical Arts & Tributes" at and you can e-mail him c/o