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Divine fans want to build a monument to late actor

A Divine monument is proposed for Mount Vernon site in Baltimore.

Here's proof that Baltimore isn't called The Monumental City for nothing.

A group of Divine fans are looking to put a monument to the late actor, drag queen, singer and counterculture figure near the Tyson Street site where his most notorious movie scene — the one at the end of John Waters' 1972 "Pink Flamingos" — was filmed.

"There will be pilgrimages to see this, I think," said Michal Makarovich, owner of the Hampden Junque store, who is spearheading the effort and has appeared on its behalf before Baltimore's Public Art Commission. "We think there will be an international fan base."

The proposed marble and concrete monument, roughly eight feet tall and three feet wide, would consist of an arch perched atop two classically Baltimore marble steps. A photo of Divine in full drag-queen makeup would stare out from the space under the arch, with a small bronze representation of the doggie doo he scooped up and ate at the end of "Pink Flamingos" resting on the top step. Waters' reminiscence on the days he and his cast and crew were shooting the infamous scene — "It was a magic day in our happy young lives" — would be inscribed under Divine's photo.

"I think it would be great," said neighborhood businessman Neal Foore, of Neal's The Hair Studio & Day Spa. "Anything to highlight Baltimore is good. Why not?"

Added Ray Grueninger, whose Robert's Key Service has been a fixture in the neighborhood since 1964, "I love the idea. John Waters and Divine and all, I knew them well."

More official voices, too, agree it's time Baltimore erected a permanent marker to its pride in Divine's, and Waters', cinematic accomplishments.

"The mayor thinks that the idea sounds divine," said Howard Libit, a spokesman for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, "and looks forward to seeing more details on the proposal."

The monument, which supporters believe would cost between $50,000 and $100,000, would rest on the side of a house at the corner of Read and Tyson streets, on the western fringe of Mount Vernon. The actual scene, according to those who were there, was shot on a lot alongside a house in the 800 block of Tyson St., where Pat Moran — a long-standing member of the Waters troupe, known collectively as the Dreamlanders — was living at the time. The proposed site is actually across the street from the house, at a location (a blank wall) its designers thought would work better.

"This is the location," Makarovich said of the site. "We are trying to avoid saying it's the exact spot."

Wherever it ends up, the Divine Monument (which is what it's being called on its website, divinemonument.com) will certainly rank among Baltimore's most distinctive tourist attractions. Even in a city that already has a tombstone with a Ouija board carved on its back (to mark the grave of Elijah Bond, who first patented the mystical talking board) and a huge statue outside its railroad station that is both male and female, a Divine Monument would still stand out.

"I was looking to celebrate the offbeat quality the city has," said Baltimore County-based David Hess, who designed the monument with help from Sebastian Martorana, an artist whose work in marble has been exhibited at the Baltimore Museum of Art. Hess, too, is an accomplished artist, with works on display at the Baltimore Museum of Industry, the American Visionary Art Museum and Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.

Rawlings-Blake isn't the only city official whose interest is piqued by the idea. By all accounts, members of the art commission, which must approve such a monument, went all-in for the idea when it was presented to them. If approved, the Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts will work with the group to obtain any permits or other permission required, said Ryan Patterson, public art administrator for BOPA.

For good or ill, John Waters has helped put Baltimore on the cultural map, noted commission member Elissa Blount Moorehead. Perhaps the time has come to visibly embrace and celebrate that fact.

"I was offended that it hadn't happened sooner," said Moorehead, a transplanted New Yorker who believes a monument to Divine, Waters, et. al., "is great for a number of reasons.

"John Waters is one of the few artists that has stuck around [Baltimore], sort of culturally as well as metaphysically," she said. "He's left a legacy that created a whole genre. … He sort of incorporated good and bad parts of its identity into the work, and then made that a genre the whole world knows about."

As for the monument itself, she said, although they have yet to take a formal position on the proposal, "the commissioners seemed rather happy and excited that someone was taking it on."

The group is next scheduled to appear before the commission at its Feb. 17 meeting, Patterson said.

Michael Pugh, owner of the building on which the monument would rest, did not respond to repeated phone calls, an email or a note left on the property this week by The Sun. He is included among the group members profiled on the divinemonument.com website and supports the proposal, Makarovich said.

Representatives for the estate of the late actor, who died of a heart attack in 1988, offered their unqualified support.

"We are glad to help raise awareness and support for a Divine Monument any way we can," Noah Brodie, chief executive officer of Divine Official Enterprises, LLC, wrote in an email. Added Donna Cocco, the group's chief financial officer, "I know my cousin Divine would have been thrilled to see the continued interest in his persona."

Divine, born Harris Glenn Milstead and raised in Towson and Lutherville, truly did eat the pile of stuff he is seen onscreen eating. He was a mainstay in Waters' early films (up through 1988's "Hairspray") and enjoyed an international career as a disco singer and drag queen.

But he grew tired of the infamy he derived from that single scene, many of his close friends, including Waters, have said.

Waters said that such a monument would at least prove city officials have a sense of humor. In an email, he said, "I'm not even sure how Divine would feel about it if he was alive although I'm sure he'd love some sort of public monument."

Moran, now an Emmy-winning casting director, has a connection to the scene that goes beyond location — it was her dog, a Puli named Nazzi (short for Nazimova, after a silent-film actress), who produced Divine's meal.

"I suppose every neighborhood can have something in it that deserves a plaque," she said, offering at-best lukewarm support for the proposed monument, "It does hold a place in cinematic history. However, there are other places that do as well, and other things."

Still, it's hard to deny the scene's infamy, or the determination of those looking to memorialize it. "I think it's really cool," said Martorana. "It's a great opportunity to create something that is about the cultural fabric of the city."

Among the group pushing for the monument is Steve Yeager, a teacher and filmmaker whose short film promoting the project will be part of a Kickstarter fundraising campaign to be launched in the next week or so. Plans call for the monument to be up before Artscape, which runs July 15-17. Its proponents promise a big-time celebration to mark the unveiling.

"John always says that Divine hated talking about it; he just really did," said Yeager, who teaches acting at Towson University and directed a prize-winning documentary, "Divine Trash," on the making of Waters' 1972 film. "But notoriety is notoriety. He did it. It's there. I can't imagine he would be that upset."

Chris.kaltenbach@baltsun.com

Twitter.com/chriskaltsun

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