On San Francisco & The Cockettes
San Francisco was the very first place that any of my movies caught on outside of Baltimore, really, way before New York. I came here and I showed at the Palace Theater and the Cedar Cinema and all those places with The Cockettes and it was really the first time that [my films] got a following.
Divine came out here for the very first time—he was still Harris Glen Milstead then—and The Cockettes flew him out here. He got on an airplane in full drag without one penny in his pocket with those fake tits and everything and sat by himself on the airplane. Imagine if you were sitting next to him? He had narcolepsy too and fell asleep [Waters imitated Divine's loud snoring]. He got off the plane and The Cockettes met him at the airport in full drag and he never went back, ever, in his mind to being that other person.
On Divine Getting Through Airport Security As A Drag Queen
[Finding Divine's false tits in his luggage, Airport Security] would slam it back shut. He'd have his cheater on the top—his fake vagina—and [Divine] said he could come through customs with pot, they'd see the cheater and go, "Oh! Oh!" He would put the cheater right on top [in] his suitcase. Divine's cheater is at Wesleyan University at the Film Archives. Clint Eastwood's is too. No, Clint Eastwood is in the same place with me and I said to Clint Eastwood, "Y'know, just think, Divine's cheater and Dirty Harry's police badge will rest together forever!"
On Costume Designer Van Smith
He did everything from the very beginning. The first one he did was Pink Flamingos for us. He did the fishtail gown and all that. But then he did the roach dress in Hairspray. He did A Dirty Shame. He did them all right up until the very end. He got the most amazing obituary in The New York Times. They said he was a terrorist and an artist. I hope they say that about me! The L.A. Times, they both gave him this amazing obituary and his family—we gave him a memorial in Baltimore—they were kind of shocked by it. They knew he did it but they were afraid to see the movies because some of them were rated NP—No Parents. I never let my parents see Pink Flamingos. They paid for it too. I paid them back. They were shocked.
Financing & Promoting the Films in the Old Days
How we distributed the films before New Line, we'd try to get midnight bookings and we'd drive around the country. We would follow wherever they burned the Bank of America down. In the '60s burning the Bank of America down was like going to a rave so we would go there and I would find some theater and talk them into renting [it to us] for a midnight show like for $40. My mother would ship me the flyers and I'd stand on the corner and make Divine go dressed as Divine walk sometimes on the subways of New York. People would run out of the cars screaming and we'd give them a flyer. Or we'd give plate jobs. That's where you go into a restaurant while people are eating and hand them flyers until the management throws you out. Then I would send my father back money every week as we traveled. He was so amazed. So was I. First this was Mondo Trasho and Multiple Maniacs, before Pink Flamingos—they paid for those too—and then I would ask them for twice as much. Finally, they paid for Pink Flamingos and I started to pay them back and he said, "Look, you didn't go to college. Don't pay me back. Put it all into the next movie and don't ask me again." Which was great. But they were really humiliated by the movies. Because nobody said they were good, ever, and the newspapers would say, "Horrible homosexual films" and stuff and my father would go, "Oh God. Do they have to say that stuff in USA Today?" He still says that because it's the paper he reads.
They were great but they were humiliated by the films. My mother would come sometimes and leave in tears and say, "You're going to die in a mental institution or commit suicide." She said that once. [Though they didn't see Pink Flamingos], they had to see [Female Trouble] once. My mother said to me afterwards, "That Gator—is that the kind of man you find attractive?" I lied and said, "No."
My mother says now that she hates the people who come up to her and say, "You must be so proud." She says they're the same ones that in the old days would just ask about my brothers and sisters and not mention me like I was dead. They liked Hairspray and people will still come up—my mother's friends in Baltimore—and say, "We love your movies." And I say, "You didn't like Multiple Maniacs?" They liked Hairspray and that's fine; as long as they liked one.
When the movie came out, and when the Broadway show came out, families would go and they'd say, "We love Hairspray; let's get another John Waters movie!" In the real Hairspray before we made it Divine was going to play the Ricki Lake character and the mother. It was like The Parent Trap. But I didn't really like that idea. Even Divine understood.
On the Anonymity of Singing Assholes
Now Pink Flamingos plays on television! It's on The Sundance Channel uncut, which is just shocking to me actually. In some cities that's regular cable. The Directors Guild called and asked if they could blurb a blowjob scene and I said yes but they forgot to! So it isn't like "home-at-Thanksgiving" channel surfing. Your parents [object] to a singing asshole? What do they expect?
He comes to my Christmas party every year and my mother always says, "Who is that?" I say, "Nevermind." I've never said his name and he's asked me not to but the only good thing he said is that when his parents died, they never found out. I've said to him, "Have you ever been recognized?" He said, "Nobody was looking at my face. And the muscles ain't what they used to be." He's a totally straight guy and he works in a regular office and I said, "Have you ever shown somebody?" He said, "I gave it to a secretary once and she put it back on my desk the next day and wouldn't comment." Can you imagine? Going to some straight job—"Wanna see a movie I'm in?" He would go to screenings when it would just be a matinee and there were like five people in the audience and sit there and—when his scene came on—he'd tap strangers and go, "That's me!" He was going to do it along with [the movie] once when he was drinking a lot but people said, "No. Don't do it." Can you imagine? You'd regret it the next morning. "What did I do last night? Oh God…."
On Simulating Divine's Dogshit-Eating Scene
Recently there was a New York disc jockey who was promoting Pink Flamingos and he said that anyone who would come down to the station and eat dog shit, they'd give him $500. And no one came! I thought a junkie might. But no one did and they kept calling over and over, "Please, we have five $100 bills right here." Not one person would do it. Ever. They would in this city. This is the one city ever where we did a radio show and afterwards there was somebody waiting there and he said, "I'm into eating shit." I ran from him. This was a political act; this was not coprophagia.
[After filming the scene, Peaches asked if Divine freaked out and called the hospital.] No, they were all just smoking pot. They said, "What's going to happen?" He pretended that he was a mother who had a retarded child that ate a dog turd and [phoned a hospital and asked] what would happen? They said, "He might get the white worm." [Divine] said, "The white worm?!!" [They were all laughing at him because they were high on pot.] He also brushed his teeth with the toothbrush of someone he was having a fight with.
On Divine As An Actor
Divine was a really good shoplifter. One time he wrote all these bad checks and he got caught. The police came and he lied to his parents and said, "I didn't do it." They gave him a lie detector test and he passed, even though he did do it! He was a good actor. Now that the new Hairspray is coming out, all of the reviews are treating [Divine] like this great icon and giving him all these great reviews. I wish he knew that today. Revisionist history is fine as long as it's more positive. He got good reviews in Polyester. He got good reviews as soon as he wasn't the Divine character. In Polyester he played a housewife and in Hairspray he played a hideous-looking woman. Basically, that's when he got good reviews because it was so against type.
On Divine's Death
Divine just dropped dead from being too fat really. He did have narcolepsy. He had to sleep sitting up and he just went to sleep and didn't wake up. The next morning he was supposed to be on Married With Children playing a male character, a gay uncle, which would have been one of the first gay characters on network television and it could have been a great success. Of course I went to the funeral. [The night I heard of his death], I just sat in my bedroom with Pat Moran and people in Baltimore and we were just stunned. We couldn't believe it and the phone just kept ringing. There were news teams. It was a nightmare. I'm still shocked by it. I wake up still and think, "Did he really die?" Even with Van, I do that still. So it was terrible. Hairspray had been out a week and so it ruined the joy of that because we had just done a press tour through the whole country. Everybody had news footage of us laughing and then they'd cut to the funeral. Who wants to see that movie? It was terrible. People go to his grave still. Recently, the graveyard where he was [buried] was vandalized. His grave was vandalized. People leave dresses there and doughnuts. Somebody wrote "Satan" on it, to which Pat Moran said, "They meant satin."
The reviews of Pink Flamingos: we never got a good review of that. The whole ad campaign was negative reviews. That wouldn't happen today because critics are too hip for that; but, then, they would write, "Like a septic tank explosion; it has to be seen to be believed!" You can't get a better review than that. That's perfect.
But the best review I ever got was for Multiple Maniacs. I sent up the print to Canada and it just never came back. The authorities finally sent me a letter and it just said: "DESTROYED."
On Mink Stole's Couture
Mink Stole as Taffy Davenport in Female Trouble: didn't Courtney Love steal that look? At the beginning that sort of was her look. But Mink had the best fashion statement ever when we lived in San Francisco. She would go the day after Halloween to the thrift shops and buy all the children's Halloween outfits because they were a nickel and just wear them all year. The fairy princess, it was only a nickel the day after Halloween. She just wore them all year; that was her look. My parents always used to say to us, "It's not Halloween, y'know."
On Washington Monuments As Sex Organs
In Washington you don't hear that much about the Pentagon and 9/11, and it's sexist because the World Trade Center was phallic and the Pentagon looked like a vagina. That's why the Pentagon is never featured as much.
On His Favorite Newer Film
They ask that question and the cliché is your movies are like your children, it's Sophie's Choice, and mine all have learning disabilities. Basically, you pick the one that did worst at the box office. Desperate Living was the one that did worst of my old movies and Cecil B. Demented, it didn't do great, but they're all the same thing in a weird way because each one you get through it. When it's over you think, "How did I ever get that movie made? How did that one come out?" Each one is like a war to get made. I still have trouble getting movies made. It's not like people are waiting in line to give me money. The last one [A Dirty Shame] was such a hassle with the MPAA and that caused a great financial burden on that movie because in the video shops Netflix—which I like because they produced This Filthy World—but they put all the independent video shops out of business so all that's left are the Blockbuster chains and they won't carry NC-17 movies. So there's nowhere to buy it. So take your porn and sneak it into those shops. Put it on the shelves of WalMart or take the movies out and edit scenes in from Gag the Fag. There's this whole genre of blowjob movies that are out now. They started with Slap Happy and then The Gag Factor and then Shut Up and Blow Me and now there's a gay one Gag the Fag.
On Chucky Movies
I'd like to see a Chucky blowjob movie. I was in Seed of Chucky directed by Don Mancini. [He's out.] the ad campaign for Seed of Chucky was "Get A Load of Chucky." The best one is Bride of Chucky with Jennifer Tilly [where] she says, "Have sex with me but use a rubber" and he says, "I am rubber."
On the Acid-in-the-face Scene in Female Trouble
I just realized in Female Trouble when Edith says, "Here's something for your face, motherfucker", that is from this movie Crazy Love. I don't know if you've seen it. It's this documentary that's out about this couple that I remembered from 1971 where he threw acid in her face and then went to prison and when he got out they got married again. She's still blinded by him but it's like, "Oh well, we all have bad nights." It's a great documentary and I realized that's where it came from when I was writing Female Trouble. It was based on a real case. And you should see her. She may be blind but somebody does her hair!
On Tab Hunter and Polyester
I have to give Tab Hunter a lot of credit for that because he really had some nerve to make that movie then and he did a great job. He was greatly responsible for the success of that movie. People couldn't believe that Tab had done this and actually kissed Divine in the movie and everything. Even though that sounds like nothing, it was a big deal then. They wouldn't even show pictures of Divine and Tab together embracing in the magazines. He was very brave to do it.
[I called him] because we didn't have casting. Well, Pat Moran always worked with me; but, yeah, I just called him and I said, "Don't watch Pink Flamingos" because I thought if he saw that, he never would come. He said yes and we filmed the whole movie around him so he was only there 10 days. We did all his scenes and paid him for that amount of time. He was great and he liked it so much that he went with Divine afterwards to make Lust in the Dust, another movie I didn't write. But he had such a good time doing it that in his book that he wrote last year—which is quite good the book—he was very kind to us remembering the whole thing. It was lovely to work with him. He was really professional with Divine and the only time I saw Divine nervous was the night before when he knew Tab Hunter was coming the next day and he had to slowdance with him. That was the first scene we filmed; Cuddles' debutante party.
On Edith Massey
She treated everybody exactly the same. She could meet Jacqueline Kennedy or a bum and she would be exactly the same. She didn't know there was a difference—and there isn't really—but she was grumbly and she said everything outloud. She was never silent ever. If she were sitting here, she'd say, "Water pitcher. Glass. Light." You'd say, "Edie, ssssssh." But internalization was a concept that was mystifying to her. She did nail some of her lines deliciously, but you can ask Mink, sometimes, "Take 38!"
You can hear her in "Purr, purr, Francine." I would say, "It's poor Francine." But she couldn't say it because of her teeth. Another thing, when her teeth started to fall out, she was on the news every night in Baltimore. Day 8 of Edie's Last Tooth and she's like, "It's still here!" When it finally fell out, a dentist gave her free false teeth but she hated them because she couldn't be Edie so he made her a fake set of snaggle ones. She would have one left for real and every night she'd be on the news, "Hello, it's really going to go!" This was a news event in Baltimore.
On Kathleen Turner and Serial Mom
Kathleen was the guest of honor at a film festival where I am in the summer and we appeared live at the Well Fleet Drive-in this year. It was raining and we showed Serial Mom. It was great. They had a champagne reception. It was exactly like the scene in Polyester where we had the Margarita Duras. It really came true, this champagne reception, and it was great being with Kathleen at the drive-in, alive and in person.
She's good. I saw her—of course she played Virgina Woolf this year—she was just amazing as Martha, really really good. She has a book coming out called Send Yourself Roses. She tells some pretty rude stories about herself.
On Johnny Knoxville
Johnny Knoxville was my date for the Hairspray premiere. We sat down and he had popcorn and he said, "There's a hole at the bottom." I did write him and I know his girlfriend and I said, "Tell her I won't do anything." He emailed back and said, "How do you know I won't?" He's the gayest, friendliest straight boy and he's not one bit a closet queen. I was in Jackass 2 and there was a scene that got cut where I throw Steve-O down a flight of steps when he's wearing a jock strap.
[Jackass] is great because here the key audience is basically heterosexual straight blue collar boys and they're all sticking stuff up their ass. Have you ever seen, they had a tape Too Hot For Jackass that they never could show and there's [a scene] where one of them jerks off in front of the other one and they're like, "Eeeeeuwwww, don't shoot it over here! Eeeeeeuwwww no!" It's so great. It's true. They're two straight boys that if they were straight and jerking off they would find it repulsive. It's really funny.
There's another one where they throw up a pukeburger and then eat it and puke again. If there ever was my type.
On Johnny Depp
It's not true that I called Johnny Depp "the rimmer." His code name was Cry Rimmer. He still sends me cards signed "Cry Rimmer." We called him that and he called me John Walters, because people got my name wrong a lot too. John Walters and Cry Rimmer. Johnny's great. He's a lovely guy. I really loved that he came back and did the whole Cry Baby when we did the new version on the Directors Cut, he came back and did the commentary on it, which he really didn't have to do. Johnny's a great guy.
On Sonny Bono
He was great. He kept saying that he thought I was going to trick him; that—as soon as he'd leave the room—30 people were going to run in and eat dog shit. He'd keep saying, "Is there some scene you haven't told me that's in this movie?"
On Pia Zadora
She was lovely. I just saw Pia recently. She recently married a cop. I saw her mother, who was in a wheelchair with a headband and a fringe outfit, at a Hamburger Hamlet. She's great [in The Lonely Lady]. When she's in the shower wiping off lesbianism? It starts out with the credit of her alone walking at the Oscars with [singing] "Looooonely laaaaady." Butterfly's amazing too. C'mon, it's a movie where Ed McMahon and Orson Welles are in together! Together at last. Pia's great. She can sing. I like Pia. She's funny. How I met her, we were at the Berlin Film Festival together. Rick, her husband, had totally done the wrong thing and came with Butterfly and spent a billion dollars and had this huge party when the Berlin Film Festival was very left wing. It was the year of Fassbinder and everything. Everybody made fun of it and booed it and I wrote a thing about how brilliant it was in the paper and then we became friends.
On Patty Hearst
Patricia doesn't come back to San Francisco. You all owe her an apology. She was home doing her homework. She won't come here. I keep trying to get her to come back but she won't. She's great. She came and visited me in Provincetown. She's a good friend. I think a good comedienne. She's been in five of my movies now. She's always telling the truth even in the last SLA trial where they said, "We're going to get her on the stand." She went on Larry King and said, "I'm not afraid of them anymore" and they all pled guilty the next day. What happened to her—well, I guess I get [why] they think she did it because they were never with her when she wasn't kidnapped; but, you can be scared to death really when someone keeps you like that. It happens all the time. You're doing your homework and people come in and beat you up and take you out in a trash can and lock you in a closet; that's not a good night. But she did play a kidnapped victim's mother in my movie and that was pretty funny because who wants to be a famous victim? If you make fun of that image, they can't use it against you. Traci Lords did that with me. Y'know, she's pregnant. She's having a baby at 41. Old chickens make good soup! I stole that from Pat Moran's mother. She used to date an older guy and her mother said that to her. The other thing that Pat Moran's mother said is when you have a hangover: "Heavy hangs the head that last night wore the crown." That's a good one too.
On Airplane Disasters
I always think when I'm on airplanes and they say, "In the unlikely event of a water landing"—I hope it's unlikely! I always picture a fireball coming down the aisle, my hair catching on fire while I'm trying to open that door where I lie and say I can do it to get that one seat.
On Future Projects
I've written a terribly wonderful children's Christmas adventure called Fruitcake. It's mostly children in it and Johnny Knoxville's the father. I don't know what it's going to be rated so please don't ask me that tortured question. Because I was wrong last time when I said "R". This could be PG-13. A really hard one.
On A Dirty Shame
[The rating controversy] was so ridiculous. I don't know why they were so uptight. Maybe because I kept felching? But you didn't see anything. There was supposed talk that in the MPAA a doctor explained what felching was so I was only hoping that they would send that to me so I could say, "It isn't that! It means farting in the bathtub and biting the bubble." That's not true; but, what could they say? How could they prove what felching is, really? Not in my neighborhood. In my community it's farting in the bathtub.
On His Favorite Place To Visit in San Francisco
Kayo Books. I love that store. I went in there and got so much great stuff the other day. That store, if that was online or in L.A., they'd be millionaires because it's the best place to find a present and they're fairly priced. That sounds like I own the store; but, I don't. It's the only store that collects uncollectable books. They have a section on Catholic guilt. An abortion section. I bought The Illustrated History of the Penis there yesterday. They also had an Ed Wood book called Watts After? A book about revolution by Ed Wood? I never knew it existed. It's an amazing store. I always go there.
I go to the art galleries. Most all the hideous bars. There was one called The Hungry Hole with gloryholes where you put your ass through. I want the sign. Somewhere there is that sign. Van used to go there. But I loved the fact that it was like a gloryhole but this was for asses. Back to the bar, yeah, for indiscriminate rimming.
Cross-published on Twitch.