Gloss and Glitter
Coffee table books must have a certain amount of gloss. Books about drag queens must have a certain amount of glitter. Drag: Combing Through the Big Wigs of Show Business delivers both. Graced with an inviting forward by the inimitable Bruce Vilanch, this book is replete with voluminous anecdotes that bring the reader into the world of drag. Author, Frank DeCaro puts into words an artistic genre that is more familiar than many might realize. While DeCaro’s previous work has been conversational and lighthearted in tone and has included recipe collections from famous dead celebrities, memoir and countless New York Times pieces of commentary and opinion, his newest book takes a more scholarly tone as evinced by the amount of research required.
A college course in the history of drag in American culture
This colorful tome spans the vaudeville age to early television, to modern pop culture’s RuPaul’s Drag Race. With this book as a roadmap, a course in drag history would seat itself well in art or film/television department in any institute of higher learning. Sectioned into chapters by era, each chapter in Drag contains biographical overviews of individual performers. For those performers who are longer living, historical research and interviews with contemporaries of the deceased artists substituted for personal interviews. Featured among the pages are familiar names such as Milton Berle who spent much of his career in drag, Bugs Bunny who appeared multiple times in drag, and RuPaul, who of course popularized the art in an unforeseeable way. Drag even briefly touches on the lesser-known but equally entertaining work of drag king, Murray Hill, who is a male impersonator and somewhat the functional inverse of a drag queen. Each bio follows a rough pattern which includes how the performer began in drag, who inspired them and their thoughts on the art itself.
Los Angeles, of course, was a featured drag hotspot, but one might be surprised to learn that Rochester, New York, and Cleveland, Ohio are also dens for drag denizens. The popularization of drag brunches is seen in surprisingly smaller and smaller towns. Hailing from small-town Erie, Pennsylvania and featured in Drag is Alaska Thunderfuck. In addition to being a runner up in season 5 of RuPaul’s Drag Race, this beehived beauty co-hosted in Disney-sanitized form as simply “Alaska” Freeform Network’s 2019 Halloween Extravaganza Bash.
Like the ladies featured within its pages, Drag’s glossy pages themselves are heavily embellished with photographs on vibrant colored backgrounds that appear to sparkle. The book’s hardcover and weight of the paper make it ideal for a coffee table presentation and an impressive gift to bestow upon your bestie. Paperback would not do justice to this work of art.
Along with meager beginnings in small clubs, the pervasive theme is that drag is truly a form of creative expression and artistic release with many of the performers featured expressing a sense of confidence and empowerment when in character as females. The long road the art of drag has taken from silly to subversive to mainstream popular culture is a transition that only came about through the non-stop dedication of the performers who put themselves out there night after night. This work is not offered as an e-book but an audiobook narrated by a featured drag queen, Lady Bunny is available.
About Frank DeCaro
Writer/performer Frank DeCaro is the author of the bestselling Drag: Combing Through the Big Wigs of Show Business, out now from Rizzoli New York. The companion Audible audiobook is co-narrated by Lady Bunny. DeCaro is best known for his 12 years as the host of the daily national satellite radio program The Frank DeCaro Show, and his much-lauded, six-year stint as the flamboyant movie critic …
Frank DeCaro on FB https://www.facebook.com/frankdecaroshow/
Review and photos by Sara Culver Provencio