This article originally appeared in the June 23, 1981 issue of the Boston Phoenix.
Lunch with director John Waters. The menu: delicately-spiced Vietnamese eggrolls. The conversation topic: eating shit.
“When you’ve got a real low budget,” explains Waters, “you’ve got to do something that the regular people won’t give you. We had $10,000 to make a movie. There were no underground movies left – you had to compete with Shampoo. So, I said to Divine, 'Will you do it? It’s gonna take 10 seconds.' And without blinking he said, 'Yeah , sure.' I mean, everybody says ‘eat shit.’ Well we did it.”
Waters, of course, is referring to the final scene of Pink Flamingos, in which Divine (to the innocent strains of “How Much is that Doggie in the window?”) devours some freshly-laid poodle turds. Filming the scene proved no small task. Although Waters had had the dog locked up for three days, it still refused to defecate on cue. So, after following the poor creature around Baltimore for an entire afternoon, Waters and his crew did the only sensible thing: they gave it an enema.
“Divine was really ready to eat it,” says Waters. “If there had been 40 people around waiting for a bus, he would have done it right in front of them. When he did it, I said, ‘Give me a shit-eating grin,’ and he did, and then he ran in the house and brushed his teeth….Later, Divine called up the hospital to make sure it was safe, and didn’t know what to say. So he said, ‘My son ate a dog turd,’ and they said, ‘What is he – retarded?’ and Divine says, ‘Yes.’ And then they told him that you could get the white worm. But Divine never go it.”
John Waters is what one might modestly call a “colorful” individual. Everything about the 34-year-old trash-film auteur has character, from his celery-stalk physique to his penciled-in micro-mustache to his voice – a low, oily drone that gives a sinister snarl of value to every third word. Of course, it’s no surprise that the man responsible for some of the most outrageously offensive movies in history is a bit of an eccentric. What’s surprising is that he’s such a sweet ingratiating guy. Always cynical but never smug, Waters has a knack – acquired, no doubt, with years of practice – of delivering grisly, oddball anecdotes with sly charm. Indeed, a talk with Waters brings back the naughty thrill of listening to your first dirty jokes.
“I believe my movies really are for kids,” says Waters, “because their humor is essentially infantile. Everybody has that side when you grow up, but you just don’t talk about it; you repress it.” Somehow, Waters never learned how. He admits that being reared in a family of conservative Catholics fed his obsession with all things bleak and ugly. Well that and living down the street from Divine. “I used to see Divine every day, when my father would take me to school,” he recalls. “And I noticed my father shuddering, because Divine would be standing there with different-colored hair every day. Until he was 16 or 17, Divine never went out of the house. He was constantly with his parents. And then he discovered marijuana. Divine really went nuts. I mean, he had huge parties that he’d give bad checks for. He was always one step ahead of the police, landlords, that sort of thing. But then, we were all like that. When we made a movie called Eat Your Make-Up, Divine’s parents found his Jackie Kennedy outfit and they said, ‘What’s this?’ Divine said, ‘I am Jackie Kennedy!’”