The man who gave the world Tracy Turnblad, Babs Johnson and Edie the Egg Lady is being lauded for a lifetime of creativity.
John Waters, whose work has created an image of Baltimore as a place where creativity, depravity and inclusiveness are embraced equally, is being given a lifetime achievement award by the Writers Guild of America, East.
"This really is an honor, because it's coming from my peers," Waters said Wednesday from Dallas, where he'll be performing his "A John Waters Christmas" show in the 11th city of an 18-city tour. "My main career is as a writer. ... I think if I had to put something on my income tax, it would be 'Writer.'"
The award, named for blacklisted screenwriter and longtime WGAE member Ian McLellan Hunter and given for a body of work writing for film and television, will be presented to Waters during a Feb. 19 ceremony in New York City. Doing the presenting will be fellow Baltimore writer David Simon, who won the award in 2014 for his work on "The Wire," "Treme" and "Homicide: Life on the Street."
"Time and again, on film and in prose and eventually on Broadway, [Waters] has celebrated the very American notion that there is, in fact, no normal," Simon said in a WGAE news release. "That we are all, if we are honest, at least two standard deviations from the mean. ... I am proud that I share a city with this fine storyteller."
Waters, 70, is a Baltimore County native who has been making movies set and shot in Baltimore since the mid-1960s. His best-known work is undoubtedly 1988's "Hairspray," a tale of rock 'n' roll and racial desegregation in 1962 Baltimore that was turned into a Tony-winning Broadway musical, which was performed live on NBC last week. His most infamous work is probably 1972's "Pink Flamingos," in which his longtime friend and muse Divine plays a woman desperate to retain her title as the filthiest person alive.
Waters was recommended for the award by a WGAE committee, whose choice was approved unanimously by the guild's board of directors, said Jason Gordon, the WGAE's director of communications.
"His films have embodied so much of a different perspective from what you see in film," Gordon said. "But they're also engaging and entertaining and full of joy. All his movies continue to hold up, and you continue to see them infiltrate the popular culture.
"He has just always been ahead of the curve."
This summer, Waters' 1970 "Multiple Maniacs," about a traveling carnival of perversions and its murderous leader (played again by Divine), was restored and rereleased theatrically by the Criterion Collection and Janus Films. His most recent film, "A Dirty Shame," was released in 2004. Since then, he has written several books, had his artwork displayed in museums nationally and internationally and performed "A John Waters Christmas" on stages throughout the country.
"People still yell out to me on the streets dialogue from 'Multiple Maniacs' and "Pink Flamingos,'" Waters said. "That's an honor, too."
Waters added that he was particularly pleased by two aspects of the Hunter award. "I like that the award is named after a Communist sympathizer," he said. "I probably would have been a Communist in the '50s, a beatnik and an egghead."
Plus, Waters said, he's touched that the award will be presented to him by Simon, who is equally known for shining a light on the Baltimore that's not generally promoted on tourism brochures. "I'm really honored that David Simon is giving me the award," he said, adding as a compliment, "He makes the best TV shows since 'Howdy Doody.'"
The Writers Guild of America, East, and its sister union, the Writers Guild of America, West, represent writers in motion pictures, television, cable, digital media and broadcast news. Both unions hand out annual awards; among those being lauded by the WGAW for 2017 is Aaron Sorkin, whose work includes TV's "The West Wing" and the movies "A Few Good Men" and "The Social Network."
Previous Hunter Award recipients have included Andrew Bergman, John Sayles, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Richard LaGravenese, John Patrick Shanley, Claire Labine and Nora Ephron.