John Waters and Divine
© Fred C. McDarrah

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Gorgeous George and John Waters:
Divine Inspiration

John Waters never forgot his first glimpse of The Gorgeous One on the living-room TV in Baltimore, when Waters was just 11 years old. “He was bizarre, I’d never seen anything like it,” Waters said. “A man who wore women’s clothes, who had bleached hair, who made people scared but also made them laugh.” His parents were offended, shouting at the wrestler on their television; young John was mesmerized.

“It was probably the very first thing I ever saw that I thought is this, maybe it was gay, even though he wasn’t gay, right? And I didn’t know what gay meant yet. I just knew it was that this was something very, very different and something that could very much interest me. He became a kind of secret fascination.’’

Seeing George helped Waters realize that he wanted to be in show business, too. He grew up and made cheerfully filthy movies such as “Pink Flamingos” and “Female Trouble” (there’s a gory wrestling match in “Desperate Living”). His best-known and most outrageous characters were those played by Divine, the hulking cross-dresser portrayed by the late Glenn Milstead. “Gorgeous George inspired me to think up bizarre characters with humor,” the filmmaker said. “In my films, I’m beginning to realize, all of my characters have something to do with him, subliminally.

“What George did was extremely daring for that time. His hair reminded me later of Jerry Lee Lewis’s hair, when he would look at the piano and then his hair would fall down in that cascade in front—which would make me go insane when I was a teenager. And George was way before him, though, and before Little Richard and Liberace, before any of them.’’

Roughly fifty years later, Waters still has a color postcard of The Gorgeous One on his bedroom wall.


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