Baltimore filmmaker John Waters gets star on Hollywood Walk of Fame, may ‘overdose on respectability’

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On Monday, when John Waters became the most recent Marylander to have a star unveiled on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, he brought along along a framed photo of his parents.

“I’d like to dedicate this wonderful honor…to my parents,” Waters said at Monday’s ceremony in Los Angeles, “who despite being horrified by my early films, and some of the late ones too, encouraged me to continue because I guess they just thought what else could I possibly do except be in show business?”


The filmmaker’s father, John Samuel Waters, who manufactured fire-protection equipment, died in 2008, while his mother, Patricia Ann Waters, a homemaker and mother of four, passed away in 2014. Nonetheless, they remain the people with whom Waters is most eager to share his first view of the 3-by-3-foot pink terrazzo star with his name emblazoned across it in brass letters.

“It’s a monumental event in my life and I knew they would appreciate it,” Waters said in an interview with The Sun prior to the ceremony. “They told me I could do anything I wanted to do.”


The unveiling ceremony capped a festivity-laden, two-day public celebration in California for Baltimore’s self-described “Filth Elder,” the creator of such gross-out cult classics as “Pink Flamingos,” “Polyester” and “Hairspray.”

On Sunday, the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures opened “John Waters: Pope of Trash,” which curators Jenny He and Dara Jaffe described as “the first comprehensive exhibition dedicated to the artist’s contributions to cinema.” The exhibit, which runs until Aug. 4, 2024, includes about 400 objects — costumes, props, handwritten scripts, photographs and correspondence.

On view are such artifacts as the lamb leg prop used to murder a video store clerk in 1994′s “Serial Mom”; a scratch-and-sniff “Odorama” card from the 1981 film “Polyester”; and the Zingy Zip-Up stilettos worn by character actor Edith Massey in the 1974 film “Female Trouble.”

Accompanying the show is a 255-page catalog that includes an introduction by Waters, an essay by the journalist and screenwriter David Simon, and an interview with Waters conducted by such well-known artists, actors and musicians as Cindy Sherman, Debbie Harry, Iggy Pop and Kathleen Turner.

“Here I am in the same building as the Shirley Temple Education Studio,” Waters writes in the introduction to the catalog. “Blasphemy? Miracle? Both I hope.

" I’m not one bit humbled.”

‘I am going to overdose on respectability’

John Waters hold a framed photograph of his parents during a ceremony honoring him with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame Monday.

Technically, the dual honors are unrelated. Waters is receiving his star from one organization (The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce) and the exhibit from another (the Academy Museum).

In reality, the twin celebrations are yet one more sign that at age 77, the man who dedicated his career to probing the furthest boundaries of bad taste is now widely acknowledged to be an upright citizen of good social standing and an artist whose work merits scholarly scrutiny.


“I am going to overdose on respectability,” Waters writes in the catalog, “and that is a new high.”

Waters received the 2,763rd star on the Walk of Fame, which since it opened in 1960 has expanded to cover 18 blocks in Hollywood, or more than 1.3 miles. Waters’ star joins those belonging to such well-known former Marylanders as “Mama” Cass Elliot, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Goldie Hawn, Sylvester Stallone and Tupac Shakur.

The $55,000 cost of the star is being picked up by Outfest Los Angeles, the LGBTQIA film organization that nominated Waters for the honor. At the filmmaker’s request, the star is located outside Larry Edmunds Bookshop, a Hollywood landmark that sells movie-related books and paraphernalia.

The unveiling ceremony was livestreamed to the public for free at the Charles and Senator theaters in Baltimore. Speakers at the Los Angeles event included three members of Waters’ cast and crew of regulars known as the “Dreamlanders”: actors Ricki Lake and Mink Stole and photographer Greg Gorman.

“I don’t know how he comes up with characters like the egg lady who lives in a crib in her underwear or ‘Serial Mom’ who murders to avenge society’s missteps. But I don’t care,” Stole said, speaking to the crowd gathered outside the bookstore. “What I do know is the John is brilliant. He is decent, unfailingly decent and he is the hardest working man in show business.”

Lake read a letter she sent to the filmmaker as a teenager after taking on the role of Tracy Turnblad in the hit movie “Hairspray.”


“You’ve proven to me that whether I’m big, blonde and beautiful or small, brunette and ugly, it’s what’s on the inside that counts,” Lake said.

Bill Kramer, the Towson-born CEO of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the organization that hands out the annual Academy Awards, has been watching Waters’ films since he was 13.

“I was delighted by how accessible and hilarious they were,” Kramer said. “John’s films didn’t seem off-putting and scary, but inclusive and campy. [His] movies have held up well. People return to see them all the time. ’Female Trouble’ is just as funny today as it was in 1974, and that is the sign of a great film.”

Simon, creator of the iconic HBO series “The Wire,” wrote in the catalog that Waters’ greatest cultural contribution may be that his films tirelessly wage war against the pressure to conform to social norms.

Part of the “John Waters: Pope of Trash” exhibit.

“John’s filmmaking and storytelling,” Simon writes in his essay, “from the oh-yes-we-did effrontery of ‘Pink Flamingos’ to the sweet civic affirmations of ‘Hairspray’ are among the most eloquent arguments against standardized modes of being ever lensed.

“For John, the characters who populate his film work are no mere freak shows ... for us to shock, gawk and laugh at. They are, in the last analysis, heroes to Waters and to us as well.”


According to co-curator Jaffe, that is the secret of Waters’ huge fan base.

“John is very kindhearted,” she said. “His satire is never mean-spirited, no matter how ridiculous the characters are.”

Moreover, she said, Waters is “incredibly loyal” to Baltimore.

“Even Spike Lee has made films outside of Brooklyn,” Jaffe said, “but John has never made a film outside of Baltimore, though he could have easily packed his bags for Hollywood. You don’t see that very often.”

‘I’ve always made sure to have backup careers’

“Pope of Trash” has lots of exhibits that demonstrate the John Waters that everyone knows: his humor and charm, his sharp intelligence, and an urge to provoke that might shock, but never stings.

But “Pope of Trash” also explores a less well-known secret to Waters’ success, the shrewd entrepreneur behind the colorful personality.


One of Jaffe’s favorite objects in the exhibit is the expense ledger that Waters kept from 1968′s “Eat Your Makeup,” in which he meticulously recorded in red ink charges ranging from gasoline ($1.00) to film developing fees ($6.00).

“I started studying the Hollywood grosses in high school,” Waters told The Baltimore Sun.

Divine as Babs Johnson in "Pink Flamingos," a film by John Waters.

The exhibit documents how at age 26 and in the space of one week, Waters turned “Pink Flamingos” from a flop into a success by persuading New Line Cinema to show it on the Midnight Movie Circuit, which had a cult following, especially in college towns.

Waters called all of his friends and begged them to attend the screening at Manhattan’s legendary Elgin Theater. They did, they talked the movie up to their friends, and “Pink Flamingos” began to generate buzz.

“Only about 40 people came the first week,” Waters writes in the catalog. “The second week ... the line was around the block. It was a hit.”

Even after “Pink Flamingos” ultimately ran at the Elgin for 50 weeks, even after the cult classic “Hairspray” begat a stage musical that picked up eight Tony Awards, Waters was never confident that his luck would hold out and that his next film wouldn’t be his last.


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“I’ve had ups and downs in my career,” he told The Sun. “That’s why I’ve always made sure to have backup careers. I do my spoken-word shows, and I’ve written my books and I put on my summer camps.”

It helps that he’s a workaholic.

With all of Waters’ side careers — the camps and the live performances and the television shows and the art exhibits and the books and the film-in-progress that the filmmaker isn’t allowed to discuss until the Writers Guild of America strike ends, it would seem that his fan base remains secure.

Once a celebrity is awarded a Hollywood star, it’s become customary for followers to pay their respects by decorating the stars with tributes ranging from flowers to candles to handwritten notes or (in the case of David Bowie) purple glitter.

But Waters isn’t just any celebrity, and his fans aren’t just any fans. Doubtless, they will honor the filmmaker in his own inimitable style.

How long can it possibly be before the Waters star is adorned with a pencil mustache?


“To the Hollywood Walk of Fame, you’re the best! I hope the most desperate showbiz rejects walk over me here and feel some sort of respect and strength.” Waters said Monday. “The drains on this magic boulevard will never wash away the gutter of my gratitude, the flotsam of my film career, or the waste of Waters appreciation. … Thank you Hollywood. This time I’ve finally gone beyond the ‘Valley of the Dolls.’”