26 February 2021, 23:00:00
Right: Gużi Sultana aged 23 taken by Deo Photo Studio.
Left: At the British Empire Music Hall. Gużi is seen in between sailors. At the back is Johnny, the Golliwog. In the front is Raymond known as Lulu who later got married.
Middle: Cookie and Minku who worked at the Klondyke in Balzunetta.
In 'Strait Street: Secrets and stories from behind closed doors' by George Cini (2017), the author interivewed Ġużi Sutlana of the Cairo Bar in 2010 where he was 74 back then. His narrative goes as follows:
"Everybody knows me as Ġużi of the Cairo Bar. The bar belonged to my mother, RIta known as il-Ġinġrija because she was blonde. Mum ran away from home when she was about 18, maybe younger to start working in Strait Street. She started at the Victoria then moved to New Life, the Majestic and the Cinderella. But mainly she worked at the New Life Music Hall. At the time, women wore evening dresses when they hosted men at the bars."
At 12 he wroked in a coffee shop earning £1 a week and worked between 2pm and 11pm whilst attending primary school in the morning.
"I didnt' learn English at school. I learned English because I used to hang out at the bars and there one met Englishmen mostly. I picked up the language by catching a word here and there. Then I started working in the bars."
Cini asks him if he cross-dressed. He replies:
"Yes, I worked just like the next woman. Then I started working at Balzunetta in Floriana". At Klondyke run by Minco, I worked for a couple of days. But then Cookie was jealous of me because I was extremely skilful at attracting lot of business." Rumours were spread and Ġużi was dismissed without any pay from the bar.
He moved to work at the British Empire Music Hall in Balzunetta which could fit a 1,000 patrons. Ġużi says he was such an entertainer that he would he would have made 400 tokens which translated into £40 a night. He continues "Had I looked after all the dough I earned, I would have no money worries today but I didn't. I squandered it".
"I was obsessed with collecting ceramic figurines for the house, no matter the price tag. If a figurine cost £300, I would buy it. I went to the best shops for this, like Arcidiacono's under the arches in Floriana. I was living with another man at the time.
In a particular episode, the owner of the British Empire tried to embarrass Ġużi in front of the people of the music hall to make sure he leaves.
"I was with a Maltese taxi driver who was buying me lots of drinks and the boss cam over, yelling: 'Get up and do the show, otherwise you're fired'. Above all I enjoyed making others buy me drinks and this was to his advantage too but he had been wound up by Frankie. It was a showdown. I told him: 'I'm Leaving'. And he blurted out: 'Go on, go'.
"The next morning he came round knocking on the door where I lived with a friend of mine in St. Anne Street. He came early in the morning. And said to me: "I've come to patch things up. COme and work for me again and I will let you have a flat rent free and if you want, I can pay you a wage too'. I told him "Now I'm gone, I won't be back;. And started working down Strait Street at the New York Bar run by Gejta l-Piswija".
Gejtu lived with a Maltese man for 38 years until he died. Cini asks Ġużi if he knew of any of the female impersonators who got married.
"Bobbie did marry. But do you know how? There were women, these foreign singers who married Maltese men to be able to stay in Malta. The couple didn't live together at all. These women got married so they would be able to take up residence here. I believe Sugar had married too, for the same reason."
"How many other gay men were there in Strait Street, Ġużi?" Cini asks him.
"There was Joey known as in-Nanna, another Ġużi known as Sosa who passed away. Frankie, Charlie known as Każan, Ritchie and two Englishmen who gave shows in music halls. I worked in Floriana with one of them who liked me a lot. These men were contracted from abroad by the owners of the music halls and they performed shows just like us, dressed as women and making tokens".
Was it a good life for you? Cini asks him
"It was so and so. You earned money but you came across a lot of hassle. Risking trouble."
'Strait Street: Secrets and stories from behind closed doors' by George Cini (2017)