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THE TRUTH ABOUT GRANNY
From: The Sunday Times - 2 July 2000

Your questions are about to be answered, writes CRAIG JACOBS

Did South Africa's most notorious party animal, drag queen Granny Lee, pictured above, get married to a man called Otto in Durban? What was Lee's real age? And where is her body really buried?
Those are some of the questions which could be laid to rest by a documentary airing later this month.

The documentary, Metamorphosis: The Remarkable Life of Granny Lee , explores the life of the drag artiste who died in a car accident in 1989 as an 81-year-old white woman - but was born Leonard Malcolm Christian Du Plooy, a coloured man.

Granny Lee, famed for her outrageous party clothes, became a fixture of the gay nightclubbing scene in Johannesburg during the '80s.

Producer Mark Schwinges said the documentary, which took four months to complete, tries to capture the life of one of the country's most striking characters. " Granny Lee personifies somebody who transformed themselves during the apartheid years. Someone who changed colour, becoming the first non-white person that we know of to be buried in Johannesburg's West Park whites-only cemetery."

Schwinges, however, said there were a number of obstacles during the making of the documentary, which is directed by Luiz de Barros.

"One of the biggest challenges was the distances she moved and the people she interacted with. A lot of people were not willing to talk, either on- or off-camera. People like sex workers or people who underwent sex changes.

"Some would slam down the telephone when we called , particularly in rural areas like Kimberley. That was hardest - trying to find out about Granny Lee as a coloured male. Friends of her family refused to speak.

"But the most difficult problem the filmmakers faced was finding someone who could look and sound like her for the programme's scene recreations. "We were looking for a look-alike. We cast as many people as we knew who might potentially be similar to Granny Lee, the legend. We had to find two people - one for the voice and one for the look," he said.

Schwinges also had to separate the facts from the legends which Lee helped create about her life.

"Granny Lee created her own legends and stories. A lot was made up. She said things that could not possibly be true. Everybody heard about Otto, who supposedly married her but there was no evidence that he existed.

"There were dramatic things that made research difficult. These ranged from her actual age to the nature of her death. It was possible that they moved her body [because of Lee's race] and kept quiet about it."

Yusuf Abdullah ex-chairman of the Gay and Lesbian Pride Parade was a friend of Lee's and was interviewed for the documentary.

"She was such an important person," Abdullah said. "She was out, and a granny and enjoyed life to the fullest. She made people realise you don't live a weekend homosexual life. She was just being herself and heavily gay."

The 52-minute documentary pools archival footage - including 200 photos taken of the drag artiste who was the toast of the Johannesburg gay scene - with clips of her words, interviews with people who knew her and recreations of incidents in her life.

Ruth Barter plays Granny Lee

© Underdog Entertainment 2000