St. Louis’ Tumara Mahorning Is the Last Bitch Standing

Tumara Mahorning

Tumara Mahorning holds court in grand style every Saturday night at Bar PM (Courtesy Tumara Mahorning).

“Candy James didn’t know what was going on. Sasha didn’t know,” Tumara Mahorning, 62, says in reference to her then-fellow cast members the night she and Michelle McCausland made their clandestine exit from Grey Fox. The pair had performed and directed there for most of the 1990s, during which time the bar reigned as a drag powerhouse, but they’d been secretly lured away by the new Meyer’s Grove (History repeats itself: The Meyer’s Grove space is now occupied by Prism, which was founded in 2021 by a group who left Grey Fox).

“I’d been squirreling things out of my dressing room for weeks, and nobody noticed,” she recalls. “On our last night, mine was empty, but Michelle’s was cram packed. We performed a really long number as friends hurriedly carried everything down the back stairs. When the number was over, we just drove away.”

During Mahorning’s Saturday night shows at Bar PM, she sometimes refers to herself as “the Last Bitch Standing” because she’s the oldest show director in town. She also likes to tease that she knows all the secrets, and will someday tell all.

After more than a few interview requests that were politely received but went nowhere, I was finally welcomed into her luxurious, over-the-top South County home on a rainy April afternoon. I learned that Mahorning, whose legal name is Joseph DiMercurio, was born and raised on the Hill

by well-to-do parents. Her grandfather worked for the mob, and she had an uncle who lived on the same block as Grey Fox and remembers when it was a grocery market.

Mahorning went to college in Springfield, Missouri, where she earned an MFA in theater directing and costuming. It was during that time, in 1980s Springfield, that she began her drag career. While she has more than 60 drag titles to her name, the first was “Ms. Phelps Park,” a humble pageant illuminated by car headlights.

“My first drag pics were taken at Glamour Shots in the mall in Springfield,” Mahorning recalls. “We walked really fast, but my friend was clocked and thrown against a wall as a crowd formed. No security to be had. I just started screaming, and we got out of there.”

She’s been held up in her dressing room, has endured nearly two dozen police raids and bailed many friends out of jail. She was performing at Faces in East St. Louis in 2001 when a man stabbed and killed the “First Face of Faces,” doorman Kenny Samples. While that was certainly the most horrific event to happen at Faces, she says more than anywhere she’s performed, something memorable was always happening at the legendary establishment.

“One night, we thought a man had dozed off at the bar, but at the end of the night we discovered that he was dead,” she says. “And then there was the night I was performing Cher when the drapes caught on fire. People were screaming as the bar filled with smoke, but the show never stopped.”

When asked about other memorable drag exits, Mahorning recalls the night in the mid-90s when the cast at Angles walked out amid a dispute with owner Howard Meyer. “Samantha Sky, Cherri Stewart and Nicole Richards came out with suitcases and performed ‘Someday We’ll Be Together,’ then they walked out, leaving the audience completely confused,” she says.

Mahorning has been performing at Bar PM for eight years, and says it’s the most drama-free place she’s ever worked.

As far as all the secrets she threatens to tell, she hesitates when pressed as to what they are.

“But it seems most of these queens have passed on,” I say.

“Yeah, well I don’t want them coming back and haunting me,” she says with a laugh.


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