Best Drag Queen (2006)

Shelley Novak

When the book about South Beach in the gay Nineties is finally written (and what a story it will be), there most certainly should be a chapter dedicated to the one and only Shelley Novak. The hirsute, zaftig drag queen has been hosting her Shelley Novak Awards for the past eleven years. Eleven years! "And I've been doing drag for fifteen years. I don't think anybody I know has made that kind of commitment to anything! I know marriages that haven't lasted that long," quips the blunt-spoken Bostonian. Her awards ceremony is always ribald and ridiculous, fluffy and fun, with a couple of outrageous musical performances tossed in for flavor. "If anything, it becomes like a Friars Club Roast, but it does get taken very seriously. I try to nominate people who I know will get up onstage and break down in tears," chuckles Novak. Besides hosting South Beach's longest-lasting awards ceremony for drag queens, Shelley takes part in the education of the gay community by hosting her own monthly film-screening series, Shelley Novak's Hollywood. Before she stepped into the dazzling spotlight at crobar to hand out awards this year, Novak stood in the darkness of the Miami Beach Cinematheque, to host a suitably reverent tribute to her recently deceased namesake, Shelley Winters. Winters and Novak shared more than a first name. Both were talented yet overlooked for their more svelte and glamorous counterparts. And it's because of actresses like Shelley Winters -- and her other namesake, Kim Novak -- that Shelley Novak continues to proudly carry a torch for almost-forgotten film stars. "The reason I do Shelley Novak's Hollywood is because there was a generation lost," the adorable, self-depreciating cross-dresser reveals. "When I was a young gay kid in 1985, I had all these older gay guys introducing me to John Waters and David Lynch, and because of AIDS, that generation died. For the kids now, there's nobody to look up to for advice, or to teach them old Hollywood, or camp value, or what books to read," she explains. Novak does her part to keep the drag flame burning, welcoming young queens into the circle while simultaneously recognizing the courage and longevity of old warhorses like Henrietta, who's been dressing up since the Fifties. Always an awarder and almost never an awardee, this playfully modest South Beach institution maybe should just write a book of her own.


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