Tag Archives: john waters

Fans plan a monument to Divine at the Baltimore site where famous ‘Pink Flamingos’ scene was filmed

A group of Divine fans are looking to put a monument to the late actor, drag queen, singer and counterculture figure near the Tyson Street site where his most notorious movie scene — the one at the end of John Waters’ 1972 Pink Flamingos — was filmed.

“There will be pilgrimages to see this, I think,” said Michal Makarovich, owner of the Hampden Junque store, who is spearheading the effort and has appeared on its behalf before Baltimore’s Public Art Commission. “We think there will be an international fan base.”

The proposed marble and concrete monument, roughly eight feet tall and three feet wide, would consist of an arch perched atop two classically Baltimore marble steps. A photo of Divine in full drag-queen makeup would stare out from the space under the arch, with a small bronze representation of the doggie doo he scooped up and ate at the end of Pink Flamingos resting on the top step. Waters’ reminiscence on the days he and his cast and crew were shooting the infamous scene — “It was a magic day in our happy young lives” — would be inscribed under Divine’s photo.

“I think it would be great,” said neighborhood businessman Neal Foore, of Neal’s The Hair Studio & Day Spa. “Anything to highlight Baltimore is good. Why not?”

Added Ray Grueninger, whose Robert’s Key Service has been a fixture in the neighborhood since 1964, “I love the idea. John Waters and Divine and all, I knew them well.”

More official voices, too, agree it’s time Baltimore erected a permanent marker to its pride in Divine’s, and Waters’, cinematic accomplishments.

“The mayor thinks that the idea sounds divine,” said Howard Libit, a spokesman for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, “and looks forward to seeing more details on the proposal.”

The monument, which supporters believe would cost between $50,000 and $100,000, would rest on the side of a house at the corner of Read and Tyson streets, on the western fringe of Mount Vernon. The actual scene, according to those who were there, was shot on a lot alongside a house in the 800 block of Tyson St., where Pat Moran — a long-standing member of the Waters troupe, known collectively as the Dreamlanders — was living at the time. The proposed site is actually across the street from the house, at a location (a blank wall) its designers thought would work better.

“This is the location,” Makarovich said of the site. “We are trying to avoid saying it’s the exact spot.”

Wherever it ends up, the Divine Monument (which is what it’s being called on its website, divinemonument.com) will certainly rank among Baltimore’s most distinctive tourist attractions. Even in a city that already has a tombstone with a Ouija board carved on its back (to mark the grave of Elijah Bond, who first patented the mystical talking board) and a huge statue outside its railroad station that is both male and female, a Divine Monument would still stand out.

“I was looking to celebrate the offbeat quality the city has,” said Baltimore County-based David Hess, who designed the monument with help from Sebastian Martorana, an artist whose work in marble has been exhibited at the Baltimore Museum of Art. Hess, too, is an accomplished artist, with works on display at the Baltimore Museum of Industry, the American Visionary Art Museum and Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.

Rawlings-Blake isn’t the only city official whose interest is piqued by the idea. By all accounts, members of the art commission, which must approve such a monument, went all-in for the idea when it was presented to them. If approved, the Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts will work with the group to obtain any permits or other permission required, said Ryan Patterson, public art administrator for BOPA.

For good or ill, John Waters has helped put Baltimore on the cultural map, noted commission member Elissa Blount Moorehead. Perhaps the time has come to visibly embrace and celebrate that fact.

“I was offended that it hadn’t happened sooner,” said Moorehead, a transplanted New Yorker who believes a monument to Divine, Waters, et. al., “is great for a number of reasons.

“John Waters is one of the few artists that has stuck around (Baltimore), sort of culturally as well as metaphysically,” she said. “He’s left a legacy that created a whole genre. . He sort of incorporated good and bad parts of its identity into the work, and then made that a genre the whole world knows about.”

As for the monument itself, she said, although they have yet to take a formal position on the proposal, “the commissioners seemed rather happy and excited that someone was taking it on.”

The group is next scheduled to appear before the commission at its Feb. 17 meeting, Patterson said.

Michael Pugh, owner of the building on which the monument would rest, did not respond to repeated phone calls, an email or a note left on the property this week by The Sun. He is included among the group members profiled on the divinemonument.com website and supports the proposal, Makarovich said.

Representatives for the estate of the late actor, who died of a heart attack in 1988, offered their unqualified support.

“We are glad to help raise awareness and support for a Divine Monument any way we can,” Noah Brodie, chief executive officer of Divine Official Enterprises, LLC, wrote in an email. Added Donna Cocco, the group’s chief financial officer, “I know my cousin Divine would have been thrilled to see the continued interest in his persona.”

Divine, born Harris Glenn Milstead and raised in Towson and Lutherville, truly did eat the pile of stuff he is seen onscreen eating. He was a mainstay in Waters’ early films (up through 1988’s Hairspray) and enjoyed an international career as a disco singer and drag queen.

But he grew tired of the infamy he derived from that single scene, many of his close friends, including Waters, have said.

Waters said that such a monument would at least prove city officials have a sense of humor. In an email, he said, “I’m not even sure how Divine would feel about it if he was alive although I’m sure he’d love some sort of public monument.”

Moran, now an Emmy-winning casting director, has a connection to the scene that goes beyond location — it was her dog, a Puli named Nazzi (short for Nazimova, after a silent-film actress), who produced Divine’s meal.

“I suppose every neighborhood can have something in it that deserves a plaque,” she said, offering at-best lukewarm support for the proposed monument, “It does hold a place in cinematic history. However, there are other places that do as well, and other things.”

Still, it’s hard to deny the scene’s infamy, or the determination of those looking to memorialize it. “I think it’s really cool,” said Martorana. “It’s a great opportunity to create something that is about the cultural fabric of the city.”

Among the group pushing for the monument is Steve Yeager, a teacher and filmmaker whose short film promoting the project will be part of a Kickstarter fundraising campaign to be launched in the next week or so. Plans call for the monument to be up before Artscape, which runs July 15-17. Its proponents promise a big-time celebration to mark the unveiling.

“John always says that Divine hated talking about it; he just really did,” said Yeager, who teaches acting at Towson University and directed a prize-winning documentary, “Divine Trash,” on the making of Waters’ 1972 film. “But notoriety is notoriety. He did it. It’s there. I can’t imagine he would be that upset.”

Waters’ wise words? John Waters’ commencement speech to become a book

Listen up young people, John Waters has some life lessons to pass on.

Waters’ wise words? John Waters’ commencement speech to become a book

Algonquin Books announced this week that a commencement speech by the cult filmmaker will be released in book form in spring 2017, just in time for that year’s graduating class.

“Make Trouble” is based on the talk Waters gave earlier this year at The Rhode Island School of Design.

Among his suggestions: “Contemporary art’s job is to wreck what came before” and “Use technology for transgression, not lazy social living.” Video of the speech soon went viral.

In a statement issued through Algonquin, Waters called the book “the perfect graduation gift from parents to their troubled children who have been driving them crazy for years.” 


Iconic filmmaker John Waters to receive honorary degree

When the Rhode Island School of Design offered iconic filmmaker John Waters an honorary degree, he was surprised. After all, he got thrown out of every school he ever went to.

Known for quirky films that push the boundaries of good taste, including 1972’s outrageous cult classic “Pink Flamingos,” Waters is the keynote speaker at the prestigious art school’s commencement this next weekend.

Waters will also receive an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree; recipients are chosen by the RISD community, and nominations are reviewed by a committee of students, faculty and staff.

“I don’t even know if I got a high school diploma. It’s very peculiar. I feel very flattered,” said Waters, who attended New York University briefly in the 1960s before getting kicked out for smoking marijuana on campus. “I feel like the scarecrow in the ‘Wizard of Oz’ when they give him a brain.”

RISD’s 2015 Honorary Degree Committee cited Waters’ body of films as an “enduring inspiration for RISD students seeking to break boundaries, challenge conventions, and define an expressive style,” said RISD President Rosanne Somerson.

“In the words of one nominator, he ‘embodies the RISD ‘tude galore’,” Somerson said.

Waters will share a stage with three members of the band Talking Heads — two are RISD alumni — and New Yorker staff writer Adam Gopnik.

Waters has written and directed more than a dozen films over his decades-long career, many of them low-budget movies featuring a cadre of unconventional characters, including drag queen Divine, Waters’ longtime friend and muse. Waters saw mainstream success with 1988’s “Hairspray,” another cult classic that was adapted into a Broadway musical in 2002. He is also a published author and photographer.

“I shouldn’t have been in school. You go to school to figure out what you wanted to do. I knew what I wanted to do,” Waters said. “I wish I had gone to RISD. They would have encouraged my ideas. I could have made ‘Pink Flamingos.””

Waters does more writing these days than filmmaking: The paperback of his 2014 memoir “Carsick: John Waters Hitchhikes Across America” debuts this month. Waters said he was inspired to hitchhike from his native Baltimore to San Francisco because his life is so scheduled and controlled.

“My inspiration has always been the same, which is human behavior I can’t understand, which is always my interest, always has been,” Waters said.

The filmmaker is looking forward to accepting his honorary degree, “Without irony, for one of the few times in my life.”

John Waters still lights up the stage, but is he too much for television?

There doesn’t seem to be anything that John Waters, America’s queer Renaissance man, can’t do. He’s a filmmaker, an author, a journalist, a visual artist, an obscure music aficionado and monologist. He practically invented (and later perfected) the indie film genre with such classic cinematic works as “Pink Flamingos,” “Polyester” and “Hairspray,” which was later adapted as a musical for both the stage and screen. A raconteur of the highest order, Waters has been touring his one-man show “This Filthy World” around this filthy world for several years, revising and refining the show with each performance.

I spoke with Waters earlier this month.

Gregg Shapiro: John, I’m glad to have the chance to speak to the living you, especially after the unfortunate March 2013 Internet report claiming you had passed. Was that the first time that you were ever the subject of an Internet prank or hoax?

John Waters: That I know of, yes. And it wasn’t that funny. The Onion would have done it much better.

The last time we spoke was at the time of the publication of your book “Role Models.” Looking back on it, how would you rate the experience of writing and publishing that book?

It was one of the best experiences of my life. It was a best-seller on The New York Times best-seller list – one week! – and it was many weeks on the LA Times best-seller list and other lists. I just finished my new book, called “Car Sick,” for FSG, the same publisher. Writing books is something that I’ve always enjoyed doing. Both “Shock Value” and “Crackpot” have never gone out of print. I’ve had good luck with writing books. I read all the time, so it’s proper that I continue to write books just as much as I try to make movies.

What is “Car Sick” about?

In “Car Sick,” I hitchhiked by myself across America, a year ago this coming Monday (May 13). The first part of the book is me imagining, before I left, the 15 very best rides that could happen, with sex and adventure, and then the very worst 15 rides I can imagine, which ended in my death. And then the next day I did it for real, which was 21 rides in nine days.

Where did you go?

From the front door of my Baltimore house to the front door of my San Francisco apartment.

In addition to being an author, filmmaker and aficionado of distinctive holiday music, you are also a stage performer. What do you enjoy about performing in front of an audience? 

I can always play myself easier than I can play somebody else. I like writing the material. It’s another writing job. It’s another way for me to tell stories. I meet my audience. I test jokes and I can talk about something that happened that very day. It’s something that is constantly revitalized, I hope, and updated. I sing for my supper, that’s how I make my living.

Can you see a significant evolution of “This Filthy World” since you first performed it?

It came from when Divine and I used to go to colleges and show the movies. It would be a 5–10 minute introduction, and I would come out dressed kind of like a hippie pimp in shirts with shrunken heads on them. I think (punk musician and actor) Stiv Bators wore that same shirt in “Polyester” years later. I would talk about nudist camp movies and things that nobody else ever talked about then. Then I would introduce Divine and he would come out. His act was very much like the act that was in “Female Trouble.” He would rip a telephone book in half. He would throw dead fish in the audience. Then, if we had more of a budget, we would have a fake cop – because I had a stolen police uniform and a short-haired wig – and we would cast some cute guy as the cop who would come on stage and pretend to take us away for obscenity, and Divine would strangle the cop. The audience would cheer and the movie would start. That’s how it began. I was influenced by the baggy-pants comedians that I used to see at the Gaiety Burlesque in Baltimore at the end of vaudeville. I’m probably the only film director that has a standup act. No, Kevin Smith does, too. He has one. His is very good.

Are there new music compilations on the agenda – perhaps one with a same-sex marriage theme?

Maybe same-sex divorce. That would be, to me, a newer subject. I always said if you want to make money, invest in gay divorce and tattoo removal. Two of the biggest growth industries we’re going to have in the next decade. All great music is about breaking up. You ever heard a good, soulful song about a happy, functional marriage? I don’t know of any. I doubt I’ll do another compilation – the record business is not so great.

Will you ever create a sitcom or dramatic series for television?

I have already written “Hairspray” as a pilot, so, yes, I think it would certainly be possible. I think TV certainly has as much freedom as independent film does, and you’re paid better and there’s more chance of getting it made.

Do you have any new movies in the works?

I don’t spend a lot of time doing that because I think the independent film as I knew it is over right now. They want me to make a movie for half a million dollars, which I’ve done, and have no desire to do again. The business has radically changed. It’s great if you’re 16 or 18 and starting to make movies, it is the best time ever. Hollywood is looking for you.

On stage

John Waters performs “This Filthy World” on May 21 at the Harris Theater in Chicago.

‘Role model’ citizen | an interview with John Waters

For more than 40 years, John Waters has been one of the most original voices in contemporary pop culture. His films, including “Pink Flamingos,” “Desperate Living,” “Polyester,” “Hairspray” and “Pecker,” brought the underground and independent creative spirit to mainstream audiences. Waters also is the author of several books, including his latest, “Role Models” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010). In “Role Models,” Waters pays homage to the people, some famous, some not, who helped to make him who he is today.

Gregg Shapiro: In “Little Richard, Happy At Last,” you write about doing a difficult celebrity interview. Since you’ve done your share of interviewing, how does that affect the way you approach interviews when you are the subject?

John Waters: I read the press – I get a hundred and some magazines a month, although that’s dwindling, I’m afraid. I read about six or seven newspapers every morning. I participate in the press, so … I try to make it good for the journalists. …But I don’t hate the press and I think that’s why I don’t have a horrible time doing it.

GS: I know that “Role Models” is a literary self-portrait, but after reading the section on gay and straight boyfriends and accidentally killing someone, I wondered if you were surprised by what you found yourself to be revealing.

JW: I think you have to reveal something in a memoir. I don’t name my boyfriends’ names, they’re not famous people. I know one or two of them might not like being in the book. …When I see celebrities revealing every personal thing to a journalist, I think they don’t have friends. And they don’t! That’s why they have to tell a journalist. The same principle applies to telemarketing. The reason some people go for it is (because their) phones never ever ring … and they’re lonely. I do have friends that I confide in. But at the same time, when I’m talking about something as serious as the Leslie Van Houten chapter – there are no jokes in that chapter – basically that is something I never revealed for a long, long time. It just seems that when you’re reflecting on somebody else’s horror, it was the closest I had to that horrible experience.

GS: You wrote about the joke you and Gus Van Sant make about the press calling you “openly gay.”

JW: They always say that, “openly gay.” Once I was on the cover of The Advocate, “Openly gay director, John Waters.” But they never asked me! So my joke now with my staff when someone says “openly gay” is, “How dare they presume I’m gay!” I’m just kidding, of course. I’ve always said I was gay. But “openly gay,” Gus and I always say, “What does that mean?” I guess it means that we’ve said we’re gay and it’s no big deal. But to me, “openly gay” somehow sounds like you’re running into parties screaming, “Got any Judy Garland records?” Like the worst cliché of what it could be. I love Judy Garland; I don’t think that’s a bad cliché. I’m a fan of Judy Garland’s, even more so now. It’s a term that’s taken the place of flamboyant, which used to mean gay when they couldn’t say it in a mean way.

GS: In addition to writing books, you’re a voracious reader, citing other people’s books in several chapters. The publishing industry is in flux. How is that affecting you?

JW: I never stop to think that my readers might not know who somebody is. …I don’t talk down. I recently did my spoken-word act “This Filthy World” at Michael Moore’s Comedy Festival and Jeff Garlin said to me, “I love that you crack a Jean Rhys joke. Not many people know who Jean Rhys is.” Well, look it up! I assume my audience is intelligent. It’s easy to look things up now. You don’t have to go to the library anymore. You hit one word and it comes up on your computer.

GS: What would you do if Oprah invited you on her show to talk about your book?

JW: I’d go in a minute. I know Oprah, because she used to be in Baltimore. Every time I see Oprah she does a Baltimore accent for me. I think my message is hopeful. I have “The Secret” to being a happy neurotic. I don’t know if Oprah admits that you can be a happy neurotic, but I have my “Secret,” too (laughs).

GS: How do you respond to people who tell you that you are their role model?

JW: They do a lot now, these days, and I’m very flattered. I joke that I’m a “filth elder.” I played the Coachella Festival recently and I really felt like a “filth elder.” It was packed with 20-year-old kids. That is the ultimate compliment that I can have. I’ve been doing this for almost 50 years, I started in ’64. These kids weren’t even alive when I made my earlier movies!

GS: Speaking of things coming around again, you wrote about burlesque queen Lady Zorro. What do you think of the current burlesque revival?

JW: It’s good and I love it, but they don’t have butch lesbian ones that are strippers. That come out nude and snarl, “What the fuck you lookin’ at?” I think they should. Just come out and say, “Yeah, what do you think you’re lookin’ at, you pig?” I’m still friends with Zorro’s daughter and she liked the book. And Playboy is printing that chapter, which I find so hilarious in a way, Zorro is finally in Playboy!

GS: Having written a few books, have you ever felt strongly enough about another author’s book to adapt it for film?

JW: No, not that I’d want to adapt. But I write to authors when I read their books all the time and tell them how much I like it. I still write fan letters… I just read Justin Spring’s “Secret Historian” (about Samuel Steward), and let me say that that’s my new favorite book. And this guy really knew how to top from the bottom.

GS: Have you started work on your next film project?

JW: No. …Right now in America I don’t know anyone who can get an independent $5 million film made. Independent film is the worst it’s ever been since I started, and it’s probably the best for Hollywood big budget movies since I started.