When it came time to put together
the debut issue of ER, there was only one
person I wanted to interview... director/author
John Waters. I was already a huge fan of
his infamous films like PINK FLAMINGOS and
POLYESTER, and the world of video was making
his other works much more accessible. As
the publication of Crackpot (his
second collection of articles) approached,
I had the opportunity to chat with the amiable
Prince of Puke about his past, present,
future, and dream projects.
In the days since this interview
was published in October 1986, Waters has
directed such films as
CRY-BABY and SERIAL MOM, as well as publishing
the book Trash Trio, which collects
the screenplays for PINK FLAMINGOS, DESPERATE
LIVING, and the never-produced sequel, FLAMINGOS
FOREVER (Waters discusses the aborted latter
project below). In 1998 Waters flew to the
Sundance Film Festival for a 25th Anniversary
screening of FLAMINGOS, and appeared as
"John," a gay antiques dealer
on 'The Simpsons'.
Thanks again to Waters and
Martha Clark at Macmillan Publishing, who
originally arranged the following interview.
First off, what's your
new book Crackpot about?
Alright, Crackpot, well it's subtitled
"The Obsessions of John Waters,"
and basically it's just about all the things
that interest me. You know, before I was
paid to be a writer, people thought I was
crazy to just go on these little missions
of things that would interest me. But now
that I get paid to do it, people say, "Oh
how interesting." So, I think that's
really the difference between being a writer
and a crackpot. I think some of the subjects
in it are, William Castle, Lana Turner's
Hairdresser, Charo's Plumber, Pia Zadora,
"How to Have a Sense of Humor if You
Have a Life Sentence in Jail," The
Lecture Circuit, The National Enquirer,
Art Movies I Like, Why I Love Christmas,
HAIL MARY...lots of different, many varied
subjects. Hopefully it's a humorous book.
Did you come up with the
ad line, "Lowbrow fixations elevated
shamelessly to a highly original comic manifesto"?
Yeah, I'm good at ad copy.
That's right up there with
THE MUTILATOR with "Bye pick, by hook,
by axe, bye bye."
So, when's the book going
to be coming out?
The book comes out, well the publication
date is the middle of October, but it will
actually be in the major cities at the beginning
of September. It takes six weeks to release
a book all over the country, so by October
15 it should be everywhere. It will actually
be in New York by September 10.
Great. Are you working
on a new film right now?
Well, I have a script, it's finished, I
have a producer and we're going to start
shooting it in the spring. Actually, I'm
doing a rewrite on it right now. I had a
development deal on this project. The producer
is an unnamed investment banker in New York.
And it's, I'm so superstitious to talk about
it. I can say that its certainly a comedy,
the budget is over a million dollars --
which for me is a lot, but for a movie is
very little. And I certainly would like
Divine and Pia Zadora to star in it.
Did you see the article
in SPIN where Joey Ramone asks Pia about
Yeah. Well, I know Pia sort of. I mean,
I wrote the article about her and it's in
my book, and we keep in touch and I've seen
her show a few different places. I think
she's really the ideal movie star.
Well, THE LONELY LADY is
certainly a classic.
Well, I think BUTTERFLY was better. (laughs)
That's true. Isn't Orson
Welles in that?
Yes. She has a scene with him where he says,
"Let me see your breasts" and
she goes (begins moaning), and I couldn't
believe that Orson...also, Ed McMahon is
In a wonderful supporting role.
A real star vehicle I guess.
Whatever happened to ROTTEN
What that ended up being was a videotape
that my prison class, I teach in prison,
a movie that we made in prison. I mean,
it wasn't even a movie -- it was filmed
on video. The class and myself wrote it
together and they acted in it and we shot
it on video. But part of the rules of teaching
at this prison was that the film would never
leave the jail. And I think the prisoners
wanted that also. Because what they would
do with me in a classroom was not for other
prisoners to see and hassle them for and
all that kind of thing. It was very technically
like my very first films because all we
had was a video camera and sound. I mean,
no editing. I'm sorry, it had to be edited
in the camera as we shot it. But the biggest
biker in the class played April, "the
girl from the wrong side of the tracks who
had to claw her way to the top!"
You certainly have a thing
about casting large people.
He's just so "not the type," and
I had to call the guards and ask them if
they could bring down bathrobes and some
mops for wigs. You know, I actually had
to write drag memos to the guards so they
could bring it down. And they didn't know.
They would just look at me and roll their
eyes...they just couldn't believe it.
How did your first book,
Shock Value, come about? Were you approached
to write it?
Yeah, I was approached. I had told these
stories so many times that I figured I might
as well put them in a book. How a lot of
my books come about is when a movie project
I have falls through and I know I'm going
to have to wait another year. I really like
writing books because it's myself, a pad,
and a Bic pen. I don't have to, you know...with
movies, the producers always say, "Well,
will it play in Peoria?" They never
say that with books, because a book is a
smaller audience and you can be a little
crazier, I think. You know, I like writing
books as much as making movies. Really,
I'd like to go back and forth. That way
you can have two careers. You know, I always
think you should have many careers in case
you're having problems with one you can
do the other.
you in danger of becoming a writer who used
to make movies?
Well, I am going to make a movie this year.
No, I never wanted to stop making movies.
What happened was that we were going to
make a sequel to PINK FLAMINGOS and that
was probably a mistake. I spent three years
from the time that I wrote it to getting
money and nobody would really give us the
money. They all said it was too crazy, then
Edie died and I thought, "Well, you
can't really make a sequel to PINK FLAMINGOS
without Edie." Unless I could get Ann
Southern So actually, it was very ludicrous
because about two weeks ago some producers
in Hollywood called that I had been dealing
with years ago and said, "OH! We can
get the money to make this movie!"
I thought, "Now you tell me!"
(laughs) [Ed. The screenplay for
FLAMINGOS FOREVER can be found in the book
Sure, it's too late now.
I doubt it will ever be a movie now. You
can never tell...after I do this one, who
knows. I never like to say "I won't"
do anything, because you can never tell
what will happen.
Why do you think such diverse
publications print your articles?
Well, you know Vogue called me and
I'm writing for them now, which I find is
irony! I want to get a press card from Vogue
so that if there's a car accident I can
run over and say, "What did they have
ON?!" I really don't know why [such
diverse magazines publish my articles].
I think that after people saw my other articles...you
know, it's like anything else you're trying
to do. Once you get something in print and
people see it and like it, they call and
ask you to write for them also. I think
that the first thing I ever wrote was for
Oui magazine, years ago when it was
owned by Playboy and it was a lot
better than it is now. And I wrote an article
on "Why I Love Violence"...no,
I think the first one I wrote was "All
My Trials." Anyway, both these chapters
are in Shock Value. And, so I like
doing it and I like getting paid to go on
these ludicrous missions, you know, like
that article I wrote about trying to find
"Frances the Talking Mule"'s grave.
Things like that. In real life people just
think you're nuts!! So, why the different
I don't know, They ARE different types,
but I think that depending on the subject
I can write about it and I like writing
for a specific audience, for that particular
Okay, now let's talk about
your movies. Is Todd's drive-in from POLYESTER
your idea of the ultimate drive-in?
Yes. Well, no. I think my idea of the ULTIMATE
drive-in would be on that's very, very expensive,
showed obscure art films, and only had room
for three cars. So it was very hard to get
How did Stiv Bators (late
singer of the Dead Boys and Lords of the
New Church) come to play Bo-Bo in POLYESTER?
Stiv? I met him on a talk show which he
did in Baltimore with somebody I knew and
I just me him. And I liked the idea that
he was a lunatic, but in real life isn't
one. Which Stiv isn't. He probably hates
me for saying that. And I like working with
people that can play crazy people and in
real life aren't. I don't like to work with
people that are really crazy, because it's
just too complicated. And I liked his whole
image. I think at that time he was ripping
his flesh with microphones and stuff which
I thought was certainly up our alley.
Was Odor-A-Ma in POLYESTER
your attempt to bring gimmicks back to the
Sure. I have a whole chapter about gimmicks
in my book. I love the idea of the whole
thing. I knew about Smell-O-Vision which
they had had, and I saw these greeting cards
they had for kids where you scratch and
sniff them. So I found out that this company
had a library of smells. So, yeah, it was
just another joke with the movie basically.
Some of the theme songs
that you've written for your movies, FEMALE
No, I didn't write the POLYESTER theme.
You didn't? I must have
read the credits wrong.
No. I only wrote the lyrics to FEMALE TROUBLE
Actually, Debbie Harry wrote the lyrics
to the POLYESTER theme.
Anyway, have you ever thought
about putting out an album with the themes,
and Divine and Edie's songs?
That's a whole different thing. Divine DOES
have an album out of all his songs. He has
a couple of albums out, but they're all
in Europe, they're not here. We tried to
get the POLYESTER soundtrack out and (laughs)
nobody would go for it. Maybe Rhino Records
one day will revive it. Well, Divine has
all these hit records in Europe. I mean,
he's mostly in Europe now. He's a disco
star in Europe!!
Which is a scary thought!
How's Divine doing?
He's doing great. I think right now he's
in New York filming 'Tales From the Darkside'.
Oh my God!
(laughs) I want him to be on 'The Golden
Girls' or one of them. I've never seen it,
but I think he'd be a good one. (laughs)
He could play a long lost
Speaking of Divine, did
you see that he and Tab Hunter were nominated
as "Oddest Romantic Pairing in Film
What was that in?
Son of the Golden Turkey
Oh, I read that book. Yeah, there's a lot
of awards he got like that. I think they're
a perfect couple. They were made for each
I thought Tab was great
He was a good sport.
Very good at poking fun...
At his own image. Which most stars have
True. Were you asked to
direct LUST IN THE DUST, the other movie
that Tab and Divine were in together?
Yeah. But I don't want to direct anything
that I didn't write. A Confederacy of
Dunces is the only one ever that I wanted
to do that I hadn't written. But this one,
I just thought that it was Tab's baby...the
whole movie. He thought it up, he did it,
and I just thought that I would be wrong
Have you seen any movies
this year that you've really liked or really
I've seen lots I've really hated. But what
have I really like this year? I think SALVADOR
has been my favorite movie of the year.
I think James Woods was very great in it.
What have I seen that I really like? (pauses)
SALVADOR is the only one that I can think
of because I've seen so many terrible ones.
I saw a cassette of this Fassbinder film
called MARTA which I'd never seen that I
liked, but that's being a little obscure.
I liked Woody Allen's movie, I liked...let
me think. (pause) The only one that I can
think of which I really loved was SALVADOR.
Some that I really hated would be LEGAL
What about SPACE CAMP?
No, you see some of them...I'm too old and
life's too short. PRETTY IN PINK I wasn't
too crazy about. TWICE IN A LIFETIME, that's
one I really HATED! Off the top of my head
that's all I can come up with. Some of them
I know better. I know that I would be insane
from them if I didn't go.
Do you see any very good
directors coming up through the ranks who
might be able to save movies?
A lot of my favorite directors, well
Fassbinder I really like and he isn't with
us any longer. (pause) I haven't seen the
new one by the guy that made STRANGERS IN
PARADISE, but I like that one. I liked this
movie A QUESTION OF SILENCE a great deal,
that's by a Dutch director and I'd like
to see her next film. The people that made
BLOOD SIMPLE, I'm certainly looking forward
to their next film. I always hope and try
to fantasize that somewhere in East Bumfuck
America somebody is making a great movie
that's going to some out of nowhere and
just knock people off their...rockers.
How do you feel about the
passing of the drive-in?
Well, we still have drive-ins here.
It just seems that they're
dropping like flies.
Yeah, they are. I miss them, but the problem
now is that the drive-ins that are
open just show the regular crap! What made
drive-ins so great is that there were films
made only for drive-ins. They don't make
those films anymore. They just show "normal"
movies. So, unfortunately I think that "The
Golden Age of Trash" is over. I think
hardcore (porn) ruined it, and I think Hollywood
co-opting violence ruined it. Because those
were the two things that you really couldn't
have, and what was the staple of all drive-in
movies was sex and violence. Now Hollywood
makes them, so there's no rules left to
be broken. Also, for some reason, drive-ins
start before it gets dark. That's what I
really hate about them now! So you go and
you end up in complete light and you just
pray that there's not a night scene or you're
in REAL TROUBLE!!
Have you ever thought about
teaching in film school?
Well, I teach in prison...no, I would have
no desire to teach normal people, but I
like having murderers as students very much.
They're my best audience.
How do people react, the
prisoners for example, when they find out
you're THAT John Waters?
Well, they know before they sign up for
my course pretty much. Or, some of them
have no idea who I am even if they know
I'm John Waters. But, then I show them all
of my films so they get an idea. I think
their reaction is one of hope, because they
feel that if I can make a living doing this,
there's hope for ANYONE! I show them all
kinds of movies. I showed them THE EVIL
DEAD, FAT CITY, WISEBLOOD, I showed them
FREAKS, even DWARVES STARTED SMALL. That
was a really strange one because it's about
midgets taking over a mental institution
and they just say, "Where do you get
Did you attend the Ramona
Africa/MOVE trial in Philly a few months
No, I didn't go to this one. I wanted to
very much, but at the time I was under a
deadline for, I forget, the book or the
movie. I do have all the clippings, though.
A very faithful friend sent me every clipping.
So, I wanted to go very much. That is the
one trial that I missed. I regret missing
Have there been any good
No, the last big one I went to was Hinckley.
I don't think I've been to a major one since
then. Did you go to the MOVE trial?
No, I had classes, and
by the time I got there it was a pain to
It didn't last that long, either. Only a
couple weeks. She really didn't get that
bad a sentence. Well, there's still MOVE
houses aren't there?
I mean, I really don't think you've heard
the last of them.
No, they'll probably wait
a few years and then they'll do something.
Do something...have a rap festival!!
Where's the best place
you find to get ideas for your films?
Just walking around Baltimore. Just little
things that you pick up. I have a friend
who told me this story the other day. It
probably won't even work if I tell you this,
but he was walking up the street and he
passed this little hillbilly girl who looked
up at him and said, "I just killed
a worm!" Just something like that I
could make a whole scene out of. So he just
said, "Oh, her first kill. She was
SO EXCITED!" But, I mean little things
like that can certainly give me ideas.
How do you feel about Media
Entertainment backing out of the videocassette
Fine, because we got more money from the
Continental gave you more
Is DESPERATE LIVING out
Yeah, DESPERATE LIVING is out. MULTIPLE
MANIACS and MONDO TRASHO are both coming
from Continental sometime this year.
Great. What's your favorite
of your own films?
Do you have any fantasy
projects in the works?
Oh, I have so many! I wanted to have Divine
with Frances the Talking Mule. I wanted
to do a testimonial banquet where all the
Manson Family is put together again, even
the ones that are Jesus Freaks, the ones
that are totally rehabilitated, the ones
that are still into it and everything. And
just have a true documentary of what would
happen when they were all together again
in some tacky LA banquet hall, and call
it THE BIG KILL. I think that would really
be a high concept movie. I'd like to do
the final installment of the FRIDAY THE
13TH movies, when Jason goes and we have
all cameo victims like Esther Williams with
a hatchet. You know, each different old
movie star getting murdered by Jason.
Have you see FRIDAY THE
13TH PART 6: JASON LIVES yet?
I've seen every one and I HATE all of them!
There's something in the ads. I go the opening
day to every one of them, I never like them,
and I've seen every one of them. I mean,
I like the idea of it. I like the idea that
they just make the same movie over and over
and over and the same people go and it makes
lots of money. I think it's really a magic
formula. (laughs) Especially when the people
don't like them. That's what I don't understand.
They'll say, "This
is pathetic," but when Part 7 opens
they'll be there opening night.
Exactly. I like the whole pattern of the
It can't be too bad when
you make the same movie six times and make
millions of dollars.
I read that you made your
acting debut in the new Jonathan Demme film.
Oh yeah, it'll probably be cut out...who
knows. I sell a used car to Melanie Griffith
in [his] new movie called SOMETHING WILD.
I have no idea if I'll end up in it or not.
I did it because I like Jonathan and I know
him and he had a lot of cameos. He had all
different people, John Sayles played a cop
and there were lots of tiny roles like that.
Similar to what John Landis
did in INTO THE NIGHT?
I didn't see that, but yes it was that kind
of thing. And it was fun because it was
the first time I could be on a movie set
and I didn't have to worry about anything.
It was the same atmosphere. It was just
like being on the set of one of my movies
except the panic wasn't there. That's the
difference between a big budget and a low
What do you see as the
appeal of your movies to normal, middle-class
The same appeal that draws people to horror
movies, or [why] they'll stop and gawk at
an accident. Because maybe they can tell
their friends, "Boy! You won't believe
what I just saw!" Or, imagine what
their parents would think if they saw it.
This is from a videocassette
catalog and I just want to read it to you.
"Known to many as 'The Prince of Puke,'
John Waters (born 1946) has for over 15
years created some of the sickest, most
distasteful and funniest films ever from
his hometown of Baltimore. His forte is
sharply satiric and gross looks at suburban
life, and Waters regulars like Divine and
the late, great Edith Massey have become
cult figures." Is this how you want
your obituary to read? When it comes right
down to it, is this how John Waters wants
to be remembered?
Why not? It's better than, "He
worked for his father's company." (laughs)
Isn't that what your father
wanted? I hope your brother doesn't read
(laughs) There's nothing wrong with working
for my father, it's just that it sounds
a little more interesting.
True, "sickest and
funniest films from Baltimore" does
have a certain joie de vivre.
Well, they call me "The Prince of Puke,"
but William Burroughs gave me a quote for
the new book where he calls me "The
Pope of Bad Taste!" So, I guess that's
a kind of advancement...from Prince to Pope.
I think that's a leap nobody
else has ever made.