As a young boy, Osborn loved to go to the theater and watch Sonja Henie films. Dreaming of being an ice skater himself, he practiced every chance he could. Years later, his training paid off when he auditioned for the Henie touring troupe and won one of the prized positions.
Osborn skated with the touring company from 1948 to 1953. He says that many of his fellow skaters were also gay. The allure of skating with Henie was not only the joy of performing for large audiences, but also being able to wear wonderfully colorful outfits.
After leaving the troupe in 1953, he worked for Conoco in Houston, going on to other professional positions over the years. He became friendly with many of the gay people in Houston who were associated with the Diana Awards, and in 1967 became their first drag performer, at Diana 14 at the Village Theater.
“Ava” would continue to be the center of show-stopping production numbers at each successive Diana Awards show, up through the late 1980s. Although he was nearly 50 by that time, he still executed flawless dance steps, to cheering audiences. He took his drag name from actress Ava Gardner.
During the 1970s, Osborn served as a trustee of Houston Ballet Foundation, and was on the search committee formed in 1974 to find the new artistic director that brought Ben Stevenson to Houston in 1976, setting motion the process of raising Houston Ballet to an international stature. As a passionate ballet enthusiast, Osborn befriended Stevenson and many of the dancers from the 1970s–1990s and went on to become lifelong friends of both Stevenson and scores of the dancers.
The onset of arthritis ended his dancing days with the Dianas, but in 1993 he made an encore appearance at Diana 40 at the Majestic Metro. “I didn’t move much,” he said. “But just being in drag was heavenly.” As always, he wore a fabulous outfit, and was surrounded by hot-looking young men. The following year, he performed publicly for the last time at Diana 41 at the Tower Theater.
A memorial service was held June 24 at the Lambda Center. —Brandon Wolf