10/19/11

In Honor Of What Would Have Been His 66th Birthday, Here's a Divine Flashback!

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. 
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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!
Of course, there is still time for fun - so when Bab's celebrates her birthday and receives a bottle of RID, and a pig's head, and listens to a "singing asshole" (trust me, you don't want to know)  it's all fun and games ... until the Marbles call the police who raid the party - but Bab's and her guests overpower the cops...
...tear them limb from limb, and eat them!  Now it's on, and Babs will stop at nothing to bring down the marbles.  At one point, she breaks into their home, and she and her son start licking the house from top to bottom so that the Marble's home might "reject" them...
...this scene ends with Babs bestowing upon her son "the greatest gift a mother can give"; yup, she sucks him off - do you think I am making this up?  Be that as it may, Babs and her family set the women in the basement free, kidnap the Marbles and execute them before the press and then decide to beat a hasty retreat to Boise Idaho...However, while on their way to the bus station, Babs spies a dog doing it's thing on the sidewalk, and since she's craving a snack she, well, she helps herself to a taste of what fido has left behind.
**
Finally, if there were any justice in the world, Divine would have won an Oscar for her role as Dawn Davenport in 1974's Female Trouble.  The tragic and violent tale of a woman who goes from teenage hell-raiser to a deluded mass murder craving fame at any price, is probably Divine's finest performance.  After she runs away from home on Christmas morning (after knocking her mother out and tossing the Xmas tree on top of her) Dawn meets up with Earl Peterson (also played by Divine), a nasty brute in soiled underwear, who takes her to a dump, screws her, and leaves her pregnant and broke...
...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)...
...the Dasher's photograph this event and then later, when Aunt Ida shows up and throws battery acid in Dawn's face, they photograph that event as well...
...the Dashers convince Dawn that her disfigurement has made her more beautiful, and they want to photograph her new face while committing crimes ("crime is beauty" they claim).  Furthermore the Dasher's start a new beauty regiment with Dawn; liquid eyeliner, that they show Dawn how to mainline.  By now, whatever grasp on sanity she might have once had is out the window, and Dawn is stark raving mad - sure that she is the most gorgeous woman in the world!
When she gets home from the hospital, Dawn finds hat the Dasher's have imprisoned Ida in a bird cage at her house and talk her into chopping off the woman's hand.  Again, she is photographed while doing the deed...this only makes Dawn even more crazed, and between her addiction to liquid eyeliner, and her love of notoriety there is no turning back.
Finally, on the night of Dawn's big one woman show, she strangles her daughter (who has now become a Hare Krishna devote) and then proceeds to the stage doing trampoline jumps, and claiming that she "blew Richard Speck"...
...now totally, out of her mind, Dawn pulls out a pistol and screams, "Who want's to die for art?" and begins shooting into the crowd who have come to see her.  Panic ensues and the police are called - Dawn goes on the lam but is eventually caught and brought to court...
...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. 




































6 comments:

wavingpalms said...

The past few years have left me boggled- how prescient Waters & Divine were! To think that in their Dawn Davenport characterization they were the first to diagnose and describe Reality TV Cast Member Syndrome... thirty-five years ago!

JMS

Pax Romano said...

WP,

Indeed. Dawn Davenport today would have her own trashy reality series. Maybe one of the Real Housewives of Baltimore.

Prospero said...

I remember watching "Pink Flamingos" on VHS in my parents' living room around 1980, while my 13 year-old sister was baking cookies in the kitchen. I would howl with laughter/disgust/disbelief and she would come in asking "What? What's so funny?" and I kept yelling "Get back in the kitchen! Get back in the kitchen!"

Then of course, there's the hilarious SCTV sketch featuring John Candy as Divine playing Peter Pan at the Melonville Center. I still miss him. Imagine how much better "A Dirty Shame" would have been with Divine in the Tracy Ullman role...

Michael Williams said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michael Williams said...

Thanks for leaving this wonderful tribute to a fearless actor. The first time I saw Pink Flamingos was at a midnight show in Cincinnati with a friend and pour girl friends. They stormed out of the theater during the "chicken snuffing" scene and wouldn't talk to us for the rest of the weekend.

M

Rob said...

Pax, "Female Trouble" really damaged me--I took it WAY too seriously! This is a great tribute to Divine, who seemed like a sweetheart, according to Tab Hunter in his autobiography (he recounts her tears of joy when finally accepted as a star at the premiere of Lust In The Dust). I guess Pink Flamingos is Water's greatest work, but I prefer Polyester: that picnic with Edith Massey when she tries to cheer Dawn Davenport up,too sweet! And Divine even gets a fashion show sequence a la Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman.
Then again, Female Trouble...
Cha Cha heels!"
In one of Water's books, he talks about mistakenly premiering Female Trouble at a prison; bad idea but too funny!