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Waters: Growing older but not up?

'Pink Flamingos' to 'Pecker'

Come on in: John Waters is just fine

Web posted on: Wednesday, October 14, 1998 12:09:14 PM

A NewsStand: CNN & Entertainment Weekly report
From Correspondent Rebecca Ascher-Walsh

BALTIMORE (CNN) -- John Waters made a name for himself as a bad-boy director, thumbing his nose at acceptable behavior. With his first feature film, "Pink Flamingos," he even made people sick to their stomachs.

These days, the prince of puke is resting comfortably in the mainstream. Waters' latest film, "Pecker," is a comedy in which Edward Furlong stars as a teen-age Baltimore photographer -- nickname, Pecker -- whose pictures of his eccentric family and bizarre surroundings become the toast of the New York art world.

It's proof that Waters hasn't completely cleaned up his act, even if he insists that Pecker got his name because of his finicky eating habits.

Despite what you may think, "Pecker" is about a young photographer who inadvertently makes the big time

"I love to actually see 'Pecker,' the word, on the Senator marquee," he says. "A very happy moment."

"Pecker" premiered last month in Baltimore, Waters' home town, where he has shot all 13 of his films. He's come a long way from where he started.

"People have not vomited in my films for quite some time," he says. "After the 'Pink Flamingos,' I retired with my mantle of filth firmly in place, my Imperial Margarine crown of filth tilted but quite secure, and never competed again to be the filthiest person alive."

In 1972's "Pink Flamingos," Waters introduced us to the gross, the perverse -- and Divine, a six-foot, 250-pound drag queen who shared Waters' taste for the tasteless.

'I'm amazed by bad taste'

"I'm amazed by bad taste," he says. "It's a freedom I don't have. I was raised to worship good taste."

Waters learned about taste from his upper-middle class conservative Catholic parents in suburban Baltimore. It was a setting he rebelled against, even as a child.

"(My parents) used to drop me off at a beatnik bar downtown because they thought, 'Well, I don't know what else to do with him, and maybe here he will find himself,' and I did," says Waters.

Waters' father: "(John) was tough to live with"

In downtown Baltimore, Waters found inspiration in another world. He also found a group of friends who were living on the edge of society. Many of them would go on to appear in his films.

"We had all left different suburban environments to be something, artists, beatniks, lunatics, drug addicts, just, you know -- we went downtown to rebel, basically," Waters says.

Living in Dreamland

They created their own movie studio called Dreamland. Divine was the star. Waters saw something special in him.

"Divine was my Elizabeth Taylor, but we modeled Divine's initial character on Jayne Mansfield, Clarabelle the Clown and Gorgo," says Waters.

Waters' filmmaking family also included actress Mink Stole and casting director Pat Moran. Both still work with him today, but all of them have grown up; the once-defiant rebels are now responsible adults.

"We can't carry around the angst that we had when we were 21," says Moran. "Now, we'd look like morons."

"You can only be an underground rebel for so long," says Stole.

In 1988, when Waters made "Hairspray," everything changed. The film made Ricki Lake a star, and pushed Waters right into the mainstream.

Waters at the premiere of "Pecker"

"'Hairspray' is certainly -- I made a family movie, and I didn't mean to," the director says. "It was accidental."

Divine's ending

Unfortunately, Divine died of a heart attack a week after "Hairspray" premiered, after he'd gotten the best review of his life.

Divine's death was one in a series of painful losses that thinned the ranks of Waters' professional family.

"David Lochary, unfortunately, died a long time ago from a drug overdose," Waters says. "Edith Massey died. She was in her late 60s, and all my friends, who should be here today that aren't (because of) AIDS -- and that's very horrifying to me. It's something you'll never ever get over. AIDS robbed our generation of a great older generation, the first really eccentric old people we would have ever had."

As one world crumbled, Waters made his way in a new one. By the early 1990s, he was a Hollywood director.

He made "Serial Mom" in 1994, and cast a real-life movie star, Kathleen Turner.

"In 'Serial Mom,' I asked you to root for a violent woman that was ludicrously violent and have you like her," he says.

Not long ago, Waters was fined and censored by Baltimore authorities. These days, he's treated like a favorite son.

"And I'm a pretty happy guy. I don't have a lot to complain about. I've had a very nice life. I live in a nice house. I get to make movies all the time with the actors I wanted to be in it. What do I have to be bitter about?" he says.

At age 52, Waters continues to make movies about a world of misfits, but the stories, like the director, have mellowed with age.

His next project is a movie called "Cecil B. Demented." He said he'd love to cast Meryl Streep, but says she won't return his calls.

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