Charles Busch Takes a Selfie
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Published in: July-August 2023 issue.


LEGENDARY DRAG PERFORMER and playwright Charles Busch lets it all hang out in his candid new memoir Leading Lady: A Memoir of a Most Unusual Boy (Smart Pop Books). It’s an intensive look back at his life encompassing early memories of yearning to be on stage as a boy and success with his own plays (among them The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife and Vampire Lesbians of Sodom) and various celebrity encounters with people ranging from Milton Berle to Audra McDonald.

            Having been obsessed with cinema since childhood, Busch often sees his life through the lens of film. At one point, he concedes: “I can’t tell whether my life is unusually jam-packed with classic movie moments or if I simply translate my experiences into cinematic tropes.” Divided into a series of anecdotes about hit plays, bombs, celebrities, and even a bit of sex work, Busch’s writings are inviting and often hilarious. It’s a fascinating ode to a life in show biz and, as the author makes clear, such a career path is not one for the faint of heart.

            Busch spoke to me by phone from his New York City apartment.               — MH

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Matthew Hays is co-editor (with Tom Waugh) of the Queer Film Classics series and teaches media studies at Marianopolis College and Concordia Univ. in Montréal.