When your home state's motto is"Live Free or Die," it's not much of a stretch for a young boy to make the transition from the Artful Dodger in Oliver! to a career as a prima ballerina -- and from there to the glamorous life of Jem Jender, America's Sweetheart and Methodist Queen of Dragdom.
Not content with conquering stages around the globe, the glamorous Jem is now sprinkling some Jender Magic onto the worlds of film and Broadway-bound musicals.
2006 Jem laid the foundation for PureJem
Pictures LLC, with support from
The Actors Fund of America and Career
Transition for Dancers, More
Than A Woman is Jem's debut
as a screenwriter. Jem is also co-author
of the new musical Diva Diaries which
had sold out runs at The Tampa Bay
Performing Arts Center, The Broward
Center for Performing Arts and the
Lakeshore Theater in Chicago. Jem
has also written another new musical
Sugar Creek which is currently in
development. Other writing credits
include Total New York, The New York
Times, Wire Magazine, Rizzoli & Chronicle
Originally from Plaistow, New Hampshire, Jem Jender a.k.a. James
O'Connor Taylor startedhis career in musical theater as a child. In addition to Oliver!, he was in My Fair Lady, Mame, Annie Get Your Gun, The Music Man -- and starred as the gayest Tom Sawyer ever to grace New England stages. After growing his way through both boys' roles in The Sound of Music, he found himself unemployed.
Luckily, he then received a full scholarship to train in classical ballet at the North Carolina School of the Arts. A summer engagement with Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux and Patricia McBride at the Chautauqua (N.Y.) Arts Institute led to another full scholarship -- this time at New York City Ballet's School of American Ballet. After graduation he went on to dance with the Joffrey, the Boston Ballet, Pennsylvania Ballet and the Universal Ballet of Korea.
In 1990, he turned in his tights
for a tutu when he signed with
Ballet Trockadero de Monte Carlo. A wig and eyelashes were part of the deal -- and a ballerina was born! Jem was the prima ballerina with the company, touring with them for several years. As a famous swan, thousands used to pack stadiums just to see him die.
During this period with the Trocks, he produced a book in Japan with the Belgian photographer Wouter Deruytter: Tu-Tu Much, an intimate view of Jem's life on and off the stage and a look at the art of dance and travesti. On a short break from the company, Jem starred Off Broadway in Tony Stevens's musical review Skin Tight, produced by Barton G.
The time was now right for James to move on to a freelance career as drag diva Jem Jender. He was soon swooped up by the fashion world, strutting runways in Paris, Milan, Barcelona and New York for designers like Giorgio Armani, Donna Karen and Isaac Mizrahi. He was also featured in music videos of Boy George, Cyndi Lauper, Crystal Waters, LLCool J, Madonna, Christine W and Lisa Stansfield. He also performed at Barbra Streisand's final concert in Madison Square Garden.
Jem Jender holds the New York record for the longest drag booking ever at John Blair's Saturday Night at the Roxy.
Guest television appearances have included Late Night With Conan O'Brian, The Jon Stewart Show, Saturday Night Live, Entertainment Tonight and Lorne Michaels' sitcom Press Junkie.
Under the guidance of the HBO producer Sheila Nevins (whom he credits as his fairy godmother) Jem starred in three HBO documentary features -- "Girls, Girls, Girls," directed by Jonathan David, and "Dragtime," directed by Patti Kaplan. Thanks to "Dragtime," America also got to meet Jem's parents, Rendal and Thelma Taylor: they've since been adopted by gay communities throughout the United States as the most fabulous gay parental role models ever.
A few of Jem's film credits include: Woody Allen's new untitled summer project, Motherhood, Hitch, My Super X Girlfriend, Little Manhattan, Miss Congeniality 2, The Summer of Sam and HBO's Angels in America.
He is a member of the historic Players' Club in New York (Helen Hayes was its first woman member; Jem is the first more-than-a-woman member in its history).