The star of the cult film Pink Flamingos was one of the most radical performers to ever find mainstream success. Undoubtedly the most famous drag queen of his day, Divine’s influence on drag endures today.
Harris Glenn Milstead’s Baltimore childhood encompassed both privilege and adversity.
“I was an only child in, I guess, your upper-middle-class American family. I was probably your American spoiled brat.”
But the spoiled brat was also fat and effeminate which marked him for bullying in 1960s America. After leaving school, Glenn took a beauty course and worked for a while as a hairdresser. And he began experimenting with drag. By his early twenties, the young drag queen found his own ‘family of sorts’ among other local outcasts including aspiring filmmaker John Waters.
Waters gifted Divine his drag name, inspired by a character in Jean Genet’s transgressive masterpiece Our Lady of the Flowers.
Making films costs money and John Waters had none so he enlisted his friends as actors. Divine quickly proved a standout. In 1971, he starred in Water’s Pink Flamingos, ‘an exercise in poor taste’.
With a budget of just $10,000, John Waters set out to shock. And shock he did. Pink Flamingos is a movie like no other. Divine plays ‘the filthiest person alive’. Filthy she is.
Where to begin?
Probably the birthday party and a party trick we just don’t see often enough these days. A naked contortionist grabs his audience’s attention by tucking his ankles back behind his ears. Nothing we’ve never seen before though admittedly I never tire of watching a naked contortionist wearing their ankles as earrings. But then he ‘lip-syncs’ a song… so to speak.
Readers will be familiar with the expression ‘talking out of his arse’. Something similar. The Singing Asshole ‘mouthed’ the words to a song with his anus. The time has come… to lip-sync for your arse. Good luck… and don’t f_ck it up.
Then, the blowjob scene. Divine performs unsimulated oral sex on her son. Well, the actor playing her character’s son at least. John Waters later described the mother/son blowjob as the only scene he regretted in the film. Not because suggesting incest bothered him but because Divine and the actor playing her son were friends. That made shooting the scene awkward. Apparently, that’s not what friends are for.
According to the script, the highly-aroused ‘son’ is desperate for a blowjob. He pleads with Divine to suck his dick. But that dick ain’t happy. It remains stubbornly limp despite his mum’s valiant oral ministrations.
Now did I mention the dogshit?
How did I forget that?
Divine also scoffed down dogshit in the movie — not some carefully crafted chocolate confection, but the real deal — fresh from the dog. That’s suffering for your art.
Following the filming of Pink Flamingos, Divine moved to San Francisco and worked with the legendary Cockettes including future popstar Sylvester.
Over the next few years, she acted in stage plays and made more movies for John Waters.
You Think You’re a Man
But the big break came when Divine teamed up with composer Bobby Orlando to record disco singles like ‘Shoot Your Shot’ and ‘Love Reaction’.
After falling out with Orlando, ‘the Most Beautiful Woman in the World, Almost’ released the Stock/Aitken/Waterman-produced ‘You Think You’re a Man’ and found international success.
With success, Divine took on more mainstream projects. He starred with Tab Hunter in Lust in the Dust and later in John Water’s wholesome movie musical, Hairspray.
Sadly, soon after the release of Hairspray, Divine died in his sleep of heart failure aged just 42.
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