Grande Dame Guignol: The Grandest Dame of Them All (originally posted 4/10/2010)While younger generations may only be vaguely aware of Divine as the original Edna Turnblad, the 60's hausfrau whose full figure daughter finds fame and social awareness thanks to a dance show in John Water's Hairspray (a role later bastardized by John Travolta in the musical version), many of us recall Divine's less family-friendly roles where she usually played unstable, homicidal, maniacal mother figures; the kind of woman who would stop at nothing to keep her twisted world in tact.
1970's Multiple Maniacs finds Lady Divine, the ring leader of a traveling group of freaks who bring their "cavalcade of perversion sideshow" to the suburbs so that the well scrubbed can stare at homosexuals, drug addicts, foot fetishists and various other odd balls in a circus tent. However, once the show is over, many of the audience members are kidnapped, robbed and murdered by Lady Divine's troupe. What's even more disturbing is that Lady Divine and her gang have been taking credit for a series of murders that occurred a few years earlier in Los Angeles (That would be the Manson murders). Once the word gets out that Lady Divine and crew were not the people who killed Sharon Tate and company, she begins a slow decent into madness that includes (among other things), getting a "Rosary job" in a Catholic Church on Good Friday (you just have to take my word, that this is one of the most appalling things ever put on film). Later on, a crazed and delusional Lady Divine finds herself being raped by a giant lobster...
...now, totally off her nut, our heroine is roaming the streets of Baltimore, foaming at the mouth, carrying an axe and threatening the public until she is set up on by an angry mob...
and gunned down by the National Guard (while Kate Smith warbles God Bless America on the soundtrack).
Several years later, John Water's brought back his leading lady in another epic, Pink Flamingos. Here we find Divine playing Babs Johnson, a hefty beauty living a happy existence in a dilapidated trailer house somewhere in the woods of Maryland. Babs lives with her mentally ill - egg-craving- mother (the inimitable Edith Massey), her psychotic son, Crackers (Danny Mills) and her blond bombshell "traveling companion", Cotton (Mary Vivian Pierce). Pleased that she and her clan are known as "The Filthiest People Alive", Babs spends her time shoplifting steaks and hiding them in her panties, taking dumps on people's lawns, and faking out hitchhikers (slowing down as if she were going to give them a lift, and then leaving them in the dust once they approach the car door). And then, one day, word gets out about a couple named Connie and Raymond Marble (Mink Stole and David Lochary); who kidnap women, chain them up in their basement, have their servant impregnate them, and then sell the babies to lesbian couples. Babs is outraged that anyone might steal her title and war is declared!
...after her baby is born (whom she dub's "Taffy") Dawn finds that she needs to earn money as she is now a single mother. She works as a waitress and an exotic dancer for awhile, but finds that there is much more money to be made as cat burglar - so along with her pals, Chicklet and Concetta, (Cookie Muller and Susan Walsh), the threesome mug bums in the alley, and steal television sets to make ends meet.
Still, it's tough being a loving mother, so one day, after little Taffy has worked Dawn's last nerve, she ties the moppet to her bed (after beating her with a car antenna) , and upon the advice of her friends goes to get her hair done at The Lipstick Beauty Salon - once there, Dawn meets, and instantly falls in love with the only heterosexual hairdresser employed there, Gator (Michael Potter) - the two have a whirlwind romance, and marry much to the chagrin of Gator's aunt Ida (Edith Massey) who would be much happier if her nephew "was a queer". Unfortunately, the marriage falls apart and Dawn and Gator divorce and somehow Dawn finds herself a pawn in the plans of the owners of the beauty salon, Donald and Donna Dasher (David Lochary and Mary Vivian Pierce) . This oddball duo worm their way into Dawn's life and on one fateful evening they witness her smash a chair over her now adult daughter's head (Taffy now played by Mink Stole)...
...where she discovers that the Dasher's have used the photographs as evidence of her crimes and turned against her. Still, in her scrambled mind, she thinks that she is the top fashion model of the world, and when she is found guilty and given the electric chair, to her, it's the equivalent of an Academy Award...
...her final words :
I'd like to thank all the wonderful people...that made this great moment in my life come true. My daughter Taffy, who died..in order to further my career My friends Chicklette and Concetta..who should be here with me today. All the fans who died so fashionably...and gallantly at my nightclub act. And especially all those wonderful people...who were kind enough...to read about me in the newspapers...and watch me on the television news shows. Without all of you...my career could never have gotten this far. It was you that I burn for...and it is you that I will die for. Please remember...I love every fucking one of you.
Divine, of course, was a persona created and owned by the late, great Harris Glenn Milstead.