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Bunny Breckinridge in Plan 9 from Outer Space.
|Born||John Cabell Breckinridge
August 6, 1903
|Died||November 5, 1996
San Francisco, California
John Cabell "Bunny" Breckinridge (August 6, 1903 – November 5, 1996) was an American actor and drag queen, best known for his role as "The Ruler" in Ed Wood's film Plan 9 from Outer Space, his only film appearance.
Breckinridge was born in Paris, France to a wealthy Californian family, the great-great-great-grandson of U.S. Attorney General John Breckinridge (and the great-grandson of both U.S. Vice President and Confederate general John C. Breckinridge and Wells Fargo Bank founder Lloyd Tevis). He spent time at Eton College and Oxford University in England.
Openly gay at a time when it was daring (and even dangerous) to be so, he was well known for his flamboyant lifestyle, his outrageous sense of humor, and his penchant for perfume and costume jewelry. He performed in Shakespearean plays in England before moving to San Francisco in the late 1920s. He also frequently performed in drag.
In the 1940s, male-to-female sex change operations were becoming more widely available in Europe, and Breckinridge expressed many times his desire to undergo the procedure. With the nationwide attention given to Christine Jorgensen's sex change in 1952, Breckinridge became more determined than ever to become a woman. In 1954, he announced plans to travel to Denmark and undergo the operation so he could marry his male secretary. Though Breckinridge was by this time a grandfather, his granddaughter supported him in his efforts. Shortly thereafter, a San Francisco judge scuttled his Denmark trip by ordering him into court for failing to make good on an earlier agreement to pay $8,500 a year to support his elderly, blind mother in England. He then made arrangements with a sex-change surgeon in Mexico, but got into a terrible car accident en route. He gave up his pursuit of the matter afterwards.
In 1958, Breckinridge agreed to play the role of an alien leader in the film Graverobbers from Outer Space (later retitled Plan 9 from Outer Space), directed by his friend, Ed Wood. Wood and Breckinridge were introduced to one another by their mutual friend Paul Marco, who played Kelton the Cop in three Wood films.
Breckinridge and Marco were living together in the latter's modest home at the time, despite the fact that he was a struggling B-movie actor and Breckinridge was an independently wealthy socialite. David Demering, who played the airplane co-pilot in the film, also lived with them.
Breckinridge's previous stage experience convinced Wood to cast him as the alien ruler who oversees an attempt to take over the Earth using an army of reanimated corpses. Indeed, his background made him one of the few truly experienced actors in the entire cast. Dressed in a pajama-like outfit which is curiously less ornate than those worn by his underlings, he sports very visible mascara and lipstick, and constantly rolls his eyes and mugs for the camera.
In 1959, shortly after Plan 9 From Outer Space's disappointing release, Breckinridge was convicted on ten counts of "sex perversion" for taking two underage boys on an excursion to Las Vegas. He was committed to the Atascadero State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, and released the following year. Upon his release, he returned to his San Francisco home, a Spanish style bungalow adorned with gold framed photographs of the many celebrities he met and befriended, including Princess Margaret, Noël Coward, J. Edgar Hoover, Elvis Presley, and Ed Sullivan. Breckinridge frequently opened his home to members of the growing hippie movement, who were enthralled not only by his stories of his flamboyant youth, but also his favorable opinions on free love and his encyclopedic knowledge of both gay history and the lives of closeted Hollywood stars.
By the 1970s, Plan 9 from Outer Space had amassed a cult following among B-movie buffs as the "worst film ever made", making Breckinridge's name known to a new generation. Meanwhile, he returned to stage acting, appearing mostly in local productions in San Francisco.
In 1994, Breckinridge was surprised to find himself portrayed as a character in a major motion picture, played by Bill Murray in Tim Burton's 1994 biopic Ed Wood. His advanced years and failing health, however, prevented him from participating in any of the publicity surrounding the film.
Breckinridge maintained homes on each coast – one in New Jersey and one in San Francisco – until his death in 1996 at age 93, in a Monterey hospital. He was quoted in his obituary as saying, "I was a little bit wild when I was young, darling, but I lived my life grandly."
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