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Divine Interview Magazine, 1988

This month, in Waters' bizarrely gentle, shockingly moral new '60's musical, Hairspray - about American bandstands, integration, barrel curls, and war with Cuba - Divine gives you two, two, two stints in one. For those who forever love him as the most oddly voluptuous creature this side of Brigitte Nielsen in a kimono, he is Edna Turnblad, happy housewife. But, for those who miss Huey Long, a helluva guy, he is Arvin Hodgepile, segragationist owner of a Baltimore TV station. Divine may be the only one of us left who can still swing both ways and smile.

Hal Rubenstein: Well, suprise, suprise. After fostering a screen image that combined the best of Joan Crawford, Ida Lupino and Broderick Crawford, you've turned into Myrna Loy.

Divine: Imagine me, a concerned mother. Now that's acting.

HR: You're practically sweet in Hairspray. Is this your new leaf for '88?

D: No, I am sweet. It's just that no one asked to see this side of me before.

HR: But you're so wholesome, so caring. Is this a career turn? Should we be expecting a remake of The Best Years of Our Lives anytime soon?

D: Well, put it this way: For all those people who always thought I was nothing more than a drag queen, wait until they see what I agreed to look like in Hairspray! Drag queens are supposed to be hung up on glamooouur. Meanwhile, on my first day on location, I came out as Edna Turnblad - in my flip-flops and hideous housedress, with varicose veins drawn on my nubbly shaved legs and everything that is wrong with me accentuated, schlepping along in these pin curls and barely any makeup - and I walked right by the crew. Just kept going. Not one person on the set recognized me or even noticed me, because I looked like half the women in Baltimore. I had to go up to John and stand face front for him to realize who I was. He was thrilled. I was crushed.

HR: Initially, I was disappointed that you didn't have the lead in Hairspray.

D: Funny, I had the same reaction. I wanted to do it, to play both mother and daughter, like those Lana Turner movies where she's sixteen years old and then she's eighty. I thought it would add the right touch. But I think the producers were a bit leery, so they hired Ricki Lake to be my daughter. She is nineteen and delightful. I hate her. I got to admit, some of those kids were a little young, and no matter what kind of makeup I devised, I wouldn't have held up next to a fifteen-year-old boyfriend. The camera is so cruel.

HR: Chronologically, you could easily be Ricki Lake's real mother.

D: Thank you for reminding me. As if the kids didn't tell me enough times. But they were sweet. It was great to watch them, because they had never heard of the dances of the '60's. So John would go, "C'mon, Divine, show 'em how to 'mash potato'; do the Madison for them." I mean, they had a dance instructor, but I would show Ricki special steps, in hopes of making her a baby Divine...

HR: You are more popular as a cabaret performer in Europe than you are here.

D: Europeans are not uptight about the female attire. Men have always played women's parts in the theater. It's not questioned and no one really cares. It's just a way to give people a good laugh.

HR: But if you want to be known as a character actor and want to get more male roles, doesn't perpetuating a drag character hinder you from changing the perceptions of ready-to-pigeonhole Hollywood casting people?

D: I have to work. I have a certain way of life I want to maintain. I don't want to be poor again. Besides, I love what I do. I've only been making money for the last five years, so I certainly haven't been doing this for bucks. At this point, I can't help it if others have a lot of misconceptions about what I do, if they're not willing to believe I am a character actor and one of my characters just happens to be a loud, vulgar woman. Nevertheless, it hurts. The other night I had dinner with a friend I hadn't seen in a while, and he told me his roommate warned him not to eat with me because "God knows what she will do, probably stand up on the table and moon and vomit all over people." C'mon fellas, give me a break.

People don't even know the meaning of the word "transvestite." I don't live in drag. Now, Candy Darling was a transvestite, and a very beautiful one. But I don't sit around in negligees and I don't wear little Adolfo suits to lunch. Of course, if I had a couple of Bob Mackie outfits, things might be different...

© 2006 Jeff Jackson. Can you spare a buck? Help me!