Yes, we’ve written up Frank DeCaro‘s new book, Drag: Combing Through the Big Wigs of Show Business. I said it was a “must-have” and apparently, I wasn’t wrong as it’s already in its second printing. And contrary to what some may think, RuPaul’s Drag Race isn’t the main focus, although Mama Ru gets her due, but Drag Race doesn’t even appear until page 214, so this is a deep and wide look at this art form. FYI, don’t miss DeCaro at RuPaul’s DragCon LA next weekend. Frank sat down with Queerty to spill all the T.
“The performer who is considered the grandmother of modern drag was Julian Eltinge and this is what blows my mind: He had a Broadway theater named after him in 1912. Nineteen-twelve! He was a star of high-profile stage shows, early Hollywood movies, and he even had his own lifestyle magazine for women. As I say in the book, he was the RuPaul, Charles Busch, and Brini Maxwell of his day.
One of the biggest takeaways from my research was that cool people – what they used to call “the smart set ” – have always sought out drag entertainment. It wasn’t truly mainstream the way it is today, and yet, it kind of was. It was a way to take a walk on the wild side, but not too wild, and people did.
This book was written for anyone who thinks drag began with season one of Drag Race. I wanted these kids to know how long the tradition of crossdressing in show business truly is. It’s very rich and so worth diving into. The genuinely brilliant queens of today – from Mama Ru on down – know the “herstory” of drag. They can quote Divine and Flip Wilson’s drag character, Geraldine, sing Sylvester songs, and dance the Time Warp like the best “Sweet Transvestite.” Ginger Minj knows her shizzle and you should, too. As one of the reviews of the book said, “Drag” is a history lesson for some and a walk down memory lane for others. The book is pop culture in a yummy package.
I think drag comes in as many flavors as there are at Baskin Robbins – you can be a gorgeous fashion queen like Violet Chachki, a performance artist like Sasha Velour, a clown-in-a-gown like Bianca Del Rio, or anything in between.
I wanted to show in the book that such variety has long been the case. That’s why I single out drag legends – “big wigs,” as I call them – like Divine, who was the ultimate proto-punk, and also a traditional Barbra Streisand impersonator like the late, great Jim Bailey. They were working at the same time, but at different ends of the mascara wand, if you will. A lot of people know Divine and they should. But Bailey is worth learning about, too. He, I kid you not, performed in drag on a primetime network TV salute to the Super Bowl in the late Seventies. He arrives in an open convertible dressed as Streisand in “A Star is Born” singing “Don’t Rain on My Parade.” It’s on YouTube. You’ll die when you see it. It couldn’t be more camp. THAT’S subversive.
What’s also subversive to me – in the best way possible – is Drag Race winning the reality competition Emmy over The Voice. That’s the real “Ru-volution,” as we say. That addictive little show about men in dresses has done more to prove that drag queens live – and deserve to live – lives as full as anybody else in America. You really can’t say enough about the power of Drag Race in terms of normalization, if you will. As LGBTQ people, we owe it a real debt.
I was the bartender on Watch What Happens Live the other night – I have to work that into every conversation now – and RuPaul, who actually attended the gala, said not a lot of people who walked the pink carpet got it. They didn’t understand the meaning of “camp,” which granted is a nebulous concept.
Katy Perry dressed as a chandelier is fabulous, but it’s not camp. Billy Porter carried in on a sedan chair by a fleet of musclemen, that’s a lot more like it. What I wanted to see at the Met Gala was Cyndi Lauper and Madonna attending the event dressed as Blanche and Baby Jane Hudson. Can you imagine Miss Kinky Boots pushing Madame X in a wheelchair? That would have been divine. Hell, someone dressed as Divine at the Met Gala would have been divine!
Drag: Combing Through the Big Wigs of Show Business is available on Amazon and at Barnes & Noble and at fine booksellers everywhere. An audio companion from Audible is coming in late May – and Lady Bunny co-narrates it with me! You really do need both if you’re a drag fan, though. The photos in the book are gorgeous and it is so beautifully designed. As I like to say, “Drag” is what well-dressed coffee tables are wearing this spring!
I’m also going to be doing a panel with Leslie Jordan, Miss Coco Peru, Drew Droege, and James St. James at RuPaul’s Drag Con on May 26. Then we’re doing signing events at 7 p.m. on June 4 at Barnes & Noble at the Grove in Los Angeles, and on June 26 at Barnes & Noble Union Square in New York. I post all of these on social media @frankdecaroshow. Also, every morning I post “Your Drag Moment of the Day” photos on Instagram and I’m always looking for nominations!
ConDRAGulations, Frank! See you at DragCon! Get your tickets here.
(Photo, Frank DeCaro; via Queerty)