Baltimore Insider

John Waters gets to play one of his idols on 'Feud: Bette and Joan'

The great John Waters got to play the great William Castle on TV over the weekend, proving that typecasting is alive and well and a major plus in entertainment.

In Sunday's installment of the FX series "Feud: Bette and Joan," an eight-episode re-creation of the epic rivalry between fading Hollywood stars Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, Waters got to play Castle. The legendarily gimmick-obsessed movie producer is shown introducing an axe-wielding Crawford (played by Jessica Lange) before a showing of their 1964 film, "Strait-Jacket."


"It wasn't hard to talk to me into it," Waters says over the phone from New York, where he's busy promoting this week's release of "Make Trouble," his latest book. "I was thrilled to do it."

Waters has often spoken fondly of Castle, a producer of low-budget horror films in the late '50s and early '60s who was renowned for promoting his movies with such gimmicks as Emergo (having a skeleton dangle over the audience at a key point in "House on Haunted Hill") and Percepto (attaching electric wires to selected theater seats that made them vibrate at key moments in "The Tingler").


Waters wrote an introduction for the 1992 re-issue of Castle's autobiography, "Step Right Up!: I'm Gonna Scare the Pants off America," and was among the prime interviewees in Jeffrey Schwarz's 2007 documentary, "Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story."

Waters, who shot the scene several months ago, says the filmmakers were not at all bothered by one indisputable fact: the ramrod-thin director doesn't look at all like the rotund Castle (John Goodman, who played a thinly disguised version of Castle in 1993's "Matinee," looks much more the part).

The casting was "conceptual," Waters says he was assured. And in truth, who better to capture the spirit of William Castle than the man who brought the world Odorama, wherein audiences could experience the smells during key scenes in Waters' 1981 "Polyester" by using scratch-and-sniff cards?

But as much fun as it was playing one of his idols, Waters says the real joy of appearing on "Feud" was spending the day alongside Lange. Unlike him, she really was made up to look like the character she was playing.

"It was so weird," he admits with admiration, "spending the day with Joan Crawford."