Without question William L. (Billie) Dodson is one of Savannah’s most flamboyant residents. If he were around today he would rival even Dame Edna.
He is pictured here with his alter ego, showing that maintaining a sense of humor is always a good thing. He was known as the Man-Milliner of El Monte and his chapeaus were sought after by the most fashionable ladies of Pasadena.
But hats were not his only trick, for years he worked in vaudeville as a female impersonator, wearing many of the gorgeous gowns that he had designed and sewed himself.
He was the son of one of the old Southern families that made their way to California as early pioneers. As a young boy most of his time was spent at the side of his ailing mother who was an invalid. Even after her death he stayed with his father helping to raise the younger children and keep the house.
On December 22, 1905 he married Miss Anna Manion, an actress, who had arrived that very same morning from Seattle. The bride was described as a charming girl who ‘wore a gray cloth suit and carried pink roses’. The marriage was short-lived; seemingly Miss Manion had grown weary of the quiet El Monte life. In 1907 Mr. Dodson sought and was given a divorce from his actress wife.
On New Year’s Day in 1910 William L. Dodson married for a second time to Jessie Vernon Dunham.
The Los Angeles Times ran this obituary on August 20, 1914:
William L. Dodson, a milliner, 40 years of age, died Tuesday evening at the family residence, No. 685 East Forty-First Street. He was a native son, born and reared in El Monte. His parents, Mr. and Mrs. W.R. Dodson, were pioneers of Los Angeles County. Mr. Dodson formerly was an impersonator of female characters, closing a two-year engagement on the Pantages circuit last October in Los Angeles. He was a prominent Mason and he and Mrs. Dodson were members of the Eastern Star, No. 168. Funeral services will be held at 2 o’clock Saturday afternoon at the Presbyterian Church in El Monte. Burial will be in the El Monte Cemetery.
Sources from various Los Angeles Times articles dated: December 24, 1905, January 13, 1907 and July 24, 1907