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John Samuel Waters, Jr. (born April 22, 1946) is an Americanmarker filmmaker, actor, writer, journalist, visual artist and art collector, who rose to fame in the early 1970s for his transgressive cult films. Waters's 1970s and early '80s trash films feature his regular troupe of actors known as Dreamlanders—among them Divine, Mink Stole, David Lochary, Mary Vivian Pearce, and Edith Massey—often committing cinematic crimes. Starting with Desperate Living (1977), Waters began casting real-life convicted criminals (Liz Renay, Patricia Hearst) and infamous people (Traci Lords, a former porn star).

Waters skirted mainstream filmmaking with Hairspray (1988), which introduced Ricki Lake and earned a modest gross of $8 million domestically. In 2002, Hairspray was adapted to a long-running Broadway musical, which itself was adapted to a hit musical film which earned more than $200 million worldwide. After the crossover success of the original film version of Hairspray, Waters's films began featuring familiar actors and celebrities such as Johnny Depp, Edward Furlong, Melanie Griffith, Chris Isaak, Johnny Knoxville, Martha Plimpton, Christina Ricci, Lili Taylor, Kathleen Turner and Tracey Ullman.

Although he has apartments in New York Citymarker, San Franciscomarker and a summer home in Provincetownmarker, Waters still mainly resides in his hometown of Baltimore, Marylandmarker, where all his films are set. He is recognizable by his trademark pencil-thin moustache, a look he has retained since the early 1970s.

Early life

Waters was born in Baltimoremarker, Marylandmarker, the son of Patricia Ann (née Whitaker) and John Samuel Waters, who was a manufacturer of fire-protection equipment. Waters grew up in Lutherville, Marylandmarker, a suburb of Baltimore. His boyhood friend and muse Glenn Milstead, later known as Divine, also lived in Baltimore County, Maryland, a short distance away.

The movie Lili inspired an interest in puppets in the seven-year-old Waters, who proceeded to stage violent versions of Punch and Judy for children's birthday parties. Biographer Robert L. Pela says that Waters's mother believes the puppets in Lili had the greatest influence on Waters's subsequent career (though Pela believes tacky films at a local drive-in, which the young Waters watched from a distance through binoculars, had a greater effect).

Waters attended Calvert Hall College High Schoolmarker in nearby Towsonmarker. For his sixteenth birthday, Waters received an 8mm movie camera from his maternal grandmother, Stella Whitaker.

Early career

His first short film was Hag in a Black Leather Jacket. According to Waters, the film was shown only once in a "beatnik coffee house" in Baltimore, although in later years he has included it in his traveling photography exhibit.

Waters enrolled at New York Universitymarker (NYU). The school, however, was not what Waters had in mind:

Waters has credited his influences among others as Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Herschell Gordon Lewis, Federico Fellini, and Ingmar Bergman. He has stated that he takes an equal amount of joy and influence from high-brow "art" films and sleazy exploitation films: "I love Bergman and I Dismember Mama".

In January 1966, Waters and some friends were caught smoking marijuana on the grounds of NYU; he was soon kicked out of his NYU dormitory. Waters returned to Baltimore, where he completed his next two short films Roman Candles and Eat Your Makeup. These were followed by the feature length Mondo Trasho and Multiple Maniacs.

Waters's films would become Divine's primary star vehicles. All of Waters's early films were all shot in the Baltimore area with his company of local actors, the Dreamlanders. In addition to Divine, the group included Mink Stole, Cookie Mueller, Edith Massey, David Lochary, Mary Vivian Pearce, Susan Walsh, and others. These early films were among the first picked up for distribution by the fledgling New Line Cinema. Waters's films premiered at the Baltimore Senator Theatremarker and sometimes at the Charles Theatremarker.

Waters's early campy movies present filthily lovable characters in outrageous situations with hyperbolic dialogue. Pink Flamingos, Female Trouble, and Desperate Living, which he labeled the Trash Trilogy, pushed hard at the boundaries of conventional propriety and movie censorship. A particularly notorious scene from Pink Flamingos, simply added as a non sequitur to film's end, featured—in one continuous take without special effects—a small dog defecating and Divine eating its feces.

Move towards the mainstream

Waters in New York City.
Waters's 1981 film Polyester starred Divine opposite former teen idol Tab Hunter. Since then, his films have become less controversial and more mainstream, although works such as Hairspray, Cry-Baby, Serial Mom, Pecker and Cecil B. DeMented still retain his trademark inventiveness. The film Hairspray was turned into a hit Broadway musical which swept the 2003 Tony Awards, and a movie adaptation of the Broadway musical was released in theaters on July 20, 2007.

Waters's 2004 film, the NC-17-rated A Dirty Shame, is a return to his earlier, more controversial work of the 1970s. He had a cameo in Jackass: Number Two, which starred Dirty Shame co-star Johnny Knoxville and another small role as Paparazzo Pete Peters in 2004's "Seed of Chucky".

In 2007, he became the host (as "The Groom Reaper") of 'Til Death Do Us Part, a program on America's Court TV network featuring dramatizations of real-life marriages that soured and ended in murder. As an openly gay man, Waters is an avid supporter of gay rights and gay pride.

Waters has been known to create characters with alliterated names for his movies including Bo-Bo Belsinger, Corny Collins, Donald Dasher, Donna Dasher, Dawn Davenport, David Divine, Fat Fuck Frank, Francine Fishpaw, Link Larkin, Mona Malnorowski, Motormouth Maybelle, Mole McHenry, Penny Pingleton, Prudy Pingleton, Ramona Rickettes, Sandy Sandstone, Sheriff Shitface, Sylvia Stickles, Sandra Sullivan, Todd Tomorrow, Tony The Tickler, Tracy Turnblad, Ursula Udders, Wade Walker, and Wanda Woodward.

Other interests

Puffing constantly on a cigarette, Waters appeared in a short film shown in movie art houses announcing that "no smoking" is permitted in the theatres. This short spot was filmed by Waters for the Nuart Theatre (a Landmark Theater) in West Los Angeles, Californiamarker, in appreciation to the theater for showing Pink Flamingos for many years. It is shown immediately before one of his movies, and before the Midnight movie showing of the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

He played a minister in Blood Feast 2: All U Can Eat, which was directed by one of his idols, Herschell Gordon Lewis, and is a sequel to one of his favorite exploitation films.

In 2009, he advocated the parole of former Manson family member Leslie Van Houten. He plans to devote a chapter to Van Houten in his upcoming book "Role Models" to be published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in 2010.

Recurring cast members

Waters often casts certain actors/actresses more than once in his films.
Actor Mondo Trasho (1969) Multiple Maniacs (1970) Pink Flamingos (1972) Female Trouble (1974) Desperate Living (1977) Polyester (1981) Hairspray (1988) Cry-Baby (1990) Serial Mom (1994) Pecker (1998) Cecil B. Demented (2000) A Dirty Shame (2004)
Patricia Hearst
Ricki Lake
David Lochary
Traci Lords
Susan Lowe
Edith Massey
Cookie Mueller
Mary Vivian Pearce
Mink Stole
Susan Walsh
Channing Wilroy











Other appearances

Documentary appearances


Waters has published collections of his writings including:
  • Shock Value (1981)
  • Crackpot: The Obsessions of John Waters (1987, Revised Edition 2003)
  • Trash Trio: Three Screenplays: Pink Flamingos, Desperate Living, Flamingos Forever (1988)
  • Art: A Sex Book (2003) (with Bruce Hainley)
  • Hairspray, Female Trouble and Multiple Maniacs: Three More Screenplays (2005)

Waters has published collections of his photos including:
  • Director's Cut (1997)
  • John Waters: Change of Life (2004)
  • Unwatchable (2006)

Fine art

Since the early 1990s, Waters has been making photo-based artwork and installations that have been internationally exhibited in galleries and museums. In 2004, the New Museummarker in NYC presented a retrospective of his artwork curated by Marvin Heiferman and Lisa Phillips. His most recent exhibition was "Rear Projection" in April, 2009, at the Marianne Boesky Gallery in New York and the Gagosian Gallery in Los Angeles.

Waters’s pieces are often comical, such as Rush (2009), a super-sized, tipped-over bottle of poppers (nitrite inhalants) and Hardy Har (2006), a photograph of flowersthat squirts water at anyone who traverses a taped line on the floor. Waters has characterized his art as conceptual, saying that “the craft is not the issue here. The idea is. And the presentation."

Other works


  1. John Waters Biography (1946-)
  2. Dreamland News: Fans
  3. Leslie Van Houten: A Friendship 2009-08-03
  4. John Waters gets serious: Usually droll director sets aside the sarcasm as he writes about his friendship with Manson family member Leslie Van Houten 2009-08-07
  5. John Waters Argues For Murderer's Release 2009-08-10
  6. Levi, Lawrence. " Inside Man." Modern Painters, September 2009.

External links

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