They are forever linked in cinema history; Harris Glenn Milstead and John Waters. Waters you know, and Milstead is much better known by his stage name Divine, who People magazine once called the “Drag Queen of the Century”. The 2013 documentary I Am Divine is now playing on Showtime while, John Waters is being celebrated with Fifty Years of John Waters: How Much Can You Take?, a film retrospective now playing at Lincoln Center. Neither Waters or Divine would be who they are without the other and this documentary celebrates that with some of the best talking heads you could ever get; Jackie Beat, Brenda Bergman, Greg Gorman, Mink Stole, Michael Musto, John Epperson, Holly Woodlawn, Bruce Vilanch and more. Divine got involved with Waters’s acting troupe, the Dreamlanders in the 60s, starring in his very first films Mondo Trasho (1969), Multiple Maniacs (1970), Pink Flamingos (1972) and Female Trouble (1974) which all are now cult classics.
“They always refer to my films as cult movies and I’m never quite sure what they mean. All cult really means today is that something is popular and no one foresaw its success.”
Divine later starred with 50s heartthrob Tab Hunter in the mainstream successes Polyester (1981) and Lust in the Dust (1985). In the early 80s Divine became a disco diva and achieved global success with hits like “You Think You’re a Man”, “I’m So Beautiful”, and “Walk Like a Man”. Sadly, Divine died suddenly in 1988 of a massive heart attack while still basking in the glow of the hit Hairspray (1988). It’s a cliché to say, but it’s true – Divine paved the way for all of the future Rajas and Jinx Monsoons and the Bianca del Rios of tomorrow.
Fifty Years of John Waters: How Much Can You Take? is at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, September 5-14. I Am Divine is currently on Showtime and Netflix.