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Helping Barbara choose outfits, Anthony began to express interest in women's fashion when he was about 15. His best friend at the time, Edwin Toy, played football at King High School. Anthony kept his more effeminate side secret.
Kurt King, a Louis Armstrong look-and-laugh-alike, knew Wanda for 22 years. "[Anthony] knew he was gay, he knew he was a drag queen, and people didn't accept it," King says. "He told me he dropped out in 11th grade."
After leaving school, Anthony went to Chicago and then Gainesville for short stints. He returned to Tampa around 1992. There, he adopted the name Sally Sasquatch and performed at several gay clubs, including Rene's, Tracks, and Pleasure Dome. Despite the fact that he dressed as a woman, Anthony's size and bearing left little doubt he was a man.
"Maybe if you were standing in Alaska somewhere and looking over there," says Divinity Everlasting, who idolized Anthony as a newcomer. "You could sandpaper it down to the max, but that height tells a whole other story."
It was almost as if drag transformed Anthony into a combination of superhero and supervillain. In 1993, he was arrested for beating and throwing bleach at a woman who owed his friend money. He pleaded no contest to the charges and was sentenced to six months of probation.
Soon, a friend told Anthony to get down to Miami, where the club kids would readily accept Wanda.
(A quick taxonomy lesson: There are pageant queens, comedy queens, and club kids. Some queens impersonate celebrities, and others gender-bend so artfully that trying to tie them to the human species — never mind a specific human — becomes akin to a postgraduate seminar in semiotics. Then there are the club kids, who exploded the post-Warholian concept of branding, becoming famous for simply being fabulous in the '90s. Drag queens were welcome among them — RuPaul had started off as one of the original club kids in New York a decade earlier — and the rule was the weirder the better.)
So Anthony relocated in 1995 and changed his name from Sasquatch to South Beach Wanda. He quickly made his way into the VIP room of the Warsaw Ballroom on Collins Avenue, one of the most notorious gay clubs to ever exist. "Only the crème de la crème got into the VIP section there, and [Wanda] was so weird and ghetto," says Power Infiniti, who began a blossoming friendship with Anthony there. "I thought, How did that bitch get up here with that attitude?"
The never-ending party soon became a routine for Anthony and his fellow club kids: finding sleep as the sun was rising, beaching in the afternoon, and trudging back to the dance floor at midnight — fashionably late, considering the tourists would get there at 10. Liquid, Twist, and Story were always a blur, but everyone ended up at Warsaw each night, dancing to house music in the large black box of a club and trading drink tickets for $6 vodka-and-oranges at the room-length bar.
The only break in the routine was when celebrities would fly down for special events, such as Arabian Nights (featuring real camels) and the White Party, when the line for entry would wind from Collins Avenue and Española Way to Lincoln Road. Although the legal capacity of Warsaw was 900, it wasn't unusual for managers to stuff up to 2,000 people into the place. "Clubs could throw a party that cost $30,000 or $40,000 back then because the owners weren't paying $60,000 in rent," says Maxwell Blandford, former general manager of Warsaw.
At first, drugs made Anthony happy and more agreeable. "I've seen him higher than a giraffe's pussy, and yes, his behavior might change a little bit, but he was actually in a better mood," Infiniti says.
But excess gave way to addiction. In 1995, officers arrested Anthony for scooping up an abandoned brown paper bag with crack inside. A charge of purchasing the drug was later dropped, and adjudication was withheld for cocaine possession.
To friends, it was obvious he was an addict. His sunken face and hair-trigger temper during those years proved it.
If he had a foil, it was Elaine Lancaster, who has been performing under that name, she says, "professionally since 1997, but ever since I could open my mother's closet door, really." Miami Beach Mayor Matti Herrera Bower declared Lancaster an official city mascot in 2010. "I get into drag to make people feel happy, like they're in Disney World," Lancaster says. "Wanda got into drag to terrorize people."
Lancaster, who these days regularly appears on The Real Housewives of Miami, remembers the time she almost had Anthony arrested. "I was leaving the InterContinental Hotel, and all I hear behind me is click, click, click, click," she says, tapping on the coffee table of her immaculate apartment. "I thought, Oh, what is she going to do now?"
What Anthony did was pull off Lancaster's blond wig and snarl, "Who do you think you are? You're not going to take everyone's jobs!"
So Lancaster called the police, who later apprehended Anthony. "I let him squirm for about five minutes before I let him go. I just wanted him to be afraid of me," she recalls. Anthony would just show up at places, with people initially throwing him five or ten bucks to play nice and giving him drink tickets to calm him. "He never made money, but he extorted people for money," Lancaster says.