Meet the Perverts
Two Jealous Perverts
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John Waters turned a 300-pound transvestite into a glamorous movie star. How many filmmakers can say that?
From the beginning, John Waters drew most of his acting talent from his circle of personal friends. In short order he had acquired a stock company of talented, uninhibited actors.
Waters' stars included Divine, Mary Vivian Pearce, Cookie Mueller, David Lochary, Mink Stole, Susan Lowe, Channing Wilroy, and Edith Massey. They were collectively known as the Dreamlanders, after Waters' Dreamland production company.
Dreamland's thrift-store glamour girls, flamboyant hairdressers, and speedy hippies made Andy Warhol's Superstars look like wilted poseurs. A versatile bunch, the Dreamlanders portrayed attorneys, socialites, children, thieves, religious zealots, servants, murderesses, moms, nuns, fascist beauticians, royalty, garbage collectors, egg obsessives, and TV hosts—all with resonant comic energy.
The Dreamlanders elevated John Waters' movies to greatness by giving their bizarre characters surprising depth. Imagine Pink Flamingos without Edith Massey's demented sweetness, Mink Stole's acid wit, or Channing Wilroy's prissy cringing. Imagine Female Trouble without Cookie Mueller's bad-girl strut, Mary Vivian Pearce's dainty affectation, or David Lochary's effete smarm.
Divine was the most famous, perhaps the greatest, Dreamlander. Harris Glenn Milstead, by all accounts a kind and friendly person, became a star by playing female homicidal maniacs. In doing so, he neatly subverted the notion of the glamorous drag queen.
Divine was no one-note diva, though. He was a versatile comic performer, equally convincing as a long-suffering housewife, a racist (male) television producer, or a loving mother.
At the time of his death (from a heart attack), Divine was about to take a recurring role as Uncle Otto in the TV comedy Married...With Children, a raunchy comedy whose trash aesthetic owes a great debt to John Waters.
And let's not forget Waters' talented crew, who all wrought minor miracles on miniscule budgets. Set designer Vincent Peranio designed over-the-top sets that reeked of glamorous rot. Van Smith designed the garish costumes and makeup that defined John Waters' most memorable characters. And by casting local extras, Pat Moran put the finishing touch on the seedy Baltimore ambience.
These three created the distinctive John Waters movie "look". They were as integral to Dreamland as the actors.
Every John Waters fan has at least one favourite Dreamlander. Divine and Cookie Mueller in particular have their cults of devoted followers. Even the lesser-known Dreamlanders, like Susan Lowe, Paul Swift, and Bob Adams, have their loyal fans.
Sadly, many Dreamlanders died before their time, including Divine, Cookie Mueller, David Lochary, Edith Massey, and Paul Swift.
The remaining Dreamlanders endure, though. Some, like Susan Lowe, have moved on to other pursuits. Others are continuing the John Waters tradition into the 21st century. Mink Stole acts in movies and plays and writes an advice column. She and Channing Wilroy still appear in Waters' movies. Mary Vivian Pearce, Waters' lifelong friend, is the only actor who has appeared in every John Waters movie.
And—surprise! John Waters has made inroads into respectable society. His movies since the late 1970s are full of famous names: rock stars, cult movie stars, and more than one Oscar nominee. Meanwhile, the hit Broadway adaptation of Hairspray means that stage actors now have a glamorous new world open to them: the world of John Waters.
For more information about the stars and crew, visit the Filmographies page.