John Samuel Waters Jr. (born April 22, 1946) is an American filmmaker, director, writer, actor and artist. Born and raised in Baltimore, Waters rose to prominence in the early 1970s for his transgressive cult films, especially Multiple Maniacs (1970), Pink Flamingos (1972) and Female Trouble (1974). He wrote and directed the 1988 film Hairspray, which became an international success and turned into a hit Broadway musical which has remained in almost continuous production, and a film adaptation of the Broadway musical was released in July 2007. Waters has written and directed other successful films including Polyester (1981), Cry-Baby (1990), Serial Mom (1994), Pecker (1998) and Cecil B. Demented (2000).
Waters at Pen America/Free Expression Literature, May 2014
John Samuel Waters Jr.
April 22, 1946
Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.
|Residence||New York City, New York, U.S.|
San Francisco, California, U.S.
Provincetown, Massachusetts, U.S.
Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.
In 2015, the British Film Institute celebrated Waters’ films with a retrospective in honour of his 50 year-filmmaking career. Later that year, he was nominated for a Grammy Award for the spoken word version of his book Carsick. As an actor, Waters has appeared in films such as Sweet and Lowdown (1999), Seed of Chucky (2004), Mangus! (2011), Excision (2012) and Suburban Gothic (2014). More recently, he performs in his ever-changing one-man show, This Filthy World. Waters also has his own film production company, Dreamland Productions.
In addition to filmmaking and acting, Waters also works as a visual artist and across different mediums such as installations, photography, and sculpture. He has published multiple collections of his journalistic exploits, screenplays, ruminations and artwork. Waters’ artwork exhibits regularly in galleries and museums around the world.
Waters was born in Baltimore, the son of Patricia Ann (née Whitaker; 1924–2014) and John Samuel Waters (1916–2008), who was a manufacturer of fire-protection equipment. His family were upper-middle class Roman Catholics. Waters grew up in Lutherville, Maryland, a suburb of Baltimore. His boyhood friend and muse Glenn Milstead, later known as Divine, also lived in Lutherville.
The film 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 Robrt L. Pela says that Waters' mother believes the puppets in Lili had the greatest influence on Waters' 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).
Cry-Baby was also a product of Waters' boyhood, because of his fascination as a 7-year-old with the "drapes" then receiving intense news coverage because of the murder of a young "drapette", coupled with his awed admiration for a young man who lived across the street and who possessed a hot rod.
Waters was privately educated at the Calvert School in Baltimore. After attending Towson Jr. High School in Towson, Maryland, and Calvert Hall College High School in nearby Towson, he ultimately graduated from Boys' Latin School of Maryland. While still a teenager, Waters made frequent trips into the city to visit Martick's, a beatnik bar in downtown Baltimore. He and Milstead met many of their later film collaborators there. Although underage and therefore not admitted into the bar proper, Waters loitered in the adjacent alley, where he relied on the kindness of patrons to slip him drinks.
Waters' first short film was Hag in a Black Leather Jacket.
Extremely influential to his creative mind, Waters said the following about seeing the film,The Wizard of Oz (1939):
"I was always drawn to forbidden subject matter in the very, very beginning. The Wizard of Oz opened me up because it was one of the first movies I ever saw. It opened me up to villainy, to screenwriting, to costumes. And great dialogue. I think the witch has great, great dialogue."
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 films Mondo Trasho and Multiple Maniacs.
Waters' films became Divine's primary star vehicles. All of Waters' early films were 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.
Waters' early campy movies present exaggerated 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.
Move toward the mainstream
Waters' 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, the last movie he produced, was turned into a hit Broadway musical that swept the 2003 Tony Awards, and a film adaptation of the Broadway musical was released in theaters on July 20, 2007, to positive reviews and commercial success. Cry-Baby, itself a musical, was also converted into a Broadway musical.
In 2008, Waters was planning to make a children's Christmas film called Fruitcake starring Johnny Knoxville and Parker Posey. Filming was planned for November 2008, but it was shelved in January 2009. In 2010, Waters told the Chicago Tribune that "Independent films that cost $5 million are very hard to get made. I sold the idea, got a development deal, got paid a great salary to write it—and now the company is no longer around, which is the case with many independent film companies these days."
Waters has often created characters with alliterated names for his films including Corny Collins, Cuddles Kovinsky, Donald and Donna Dasher, Dawn Davenport, Fat Fuck Frank, Francine Fishpaw, Link Larkin, Motormouth Maybelle, Mole McHenry, Penny and Prudy Pingleton, Ramona Ricketts, Sandy Sandstone, Sylvia Stickles, Todd Tomorrow, Tracy Turnblad, Ursula Udders, Wade Walker, and Wanda Woodward.
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 Museum in New York City presented a retrospective of his artwork curated by Marvin Heiferman and Lisa Phillips. His most recent exhibition John Waters: Indecent Exposure was exhibited at the Baltimore Museum of Art from October 2018 to January 2019 and later traveled to the Wexner Center for the Arts. Prior to that, Waters exhibited Rear Projection in April 2009, at the Marianne Boesky Gallery in New York and the Gagosian Gallery in Los Angeles. Waters has been represented by C. Grimaldis Gallery in Baltimore, Maryland, since 2002 and by Marianne Boesky Gallery in New York since 2006.
Waters' 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 flowers that squirts water at anyone who traverses a taped line on the floor. Waters has characterized his art as conceptual: "The craft is not the issue here. The idea is. And the presentation."
Waters is a bibliophile, with a collection of over 8,000 books. In 2011, during a visit to the Waters house in Baltimore, Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson observed:
Bookshelves line the walls but they are not enough. The coffee table, desk and side tables are heaped with books, as is the replica electric chair in the hall. They range from Taschen art tomes such as The Big Butt Book to Jean Genet paperbacks and a Hungarian translation of Tennessee Williams with a pulp fiction cover. In one corner sits a doll from the horror spoof Seed of Chucky, in which Waters appeared. It feels like an eccentric professor's study, or a carefully curated exhibition based on the life of a fictional character.
Puffing constantly on a cigarette, Waters appeared in a short film shown in film art houses announcing that "no smoking" is permitted in the theaters. The 'No Smoking' spot, starring Waters, was directed by Douglas Brian Martin and produced by Douglas Brian Martin and Steven M. Martin along with two other short films, for the Nuart Theatre (a Landmark Theater) in West Los Angeles, California, in appreciation to the theater for showing Pink Flamingos for many years. It is shown immediately before any of his films, and before the midnight movie showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Waters serves as a board member of Maryland Film Festival, and has selected and hosted one favorite feature film within each Maryland Film Festival since its launch in 1999.
He is a contributor to Artforum magazine and author of its annual year-end list of top-ten films.
Waters hosts an annual performance titled "A John Waters Christmas", which was launched in 1996 at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco, and in 2018 toured 17 cities over 23 days.
In 2019, The Film Society of Lincoln Center celebrated its 50th anniversary at a gala where John Waters gave spoke in tribute to the Center along with Martin Scorsese, Dee Rees, Pedro Almodovar, Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano, and Zoe Kazan.
With the motif "My life is so over-scheduled, what will happen if I give up control?", Waters completed a hitchhiking journey across the United States from Baltimore to San Francisco, turning his adventures into a book entitled Carsick. He deliberately started off with no cash. On May 15, 2012, while on the hitchhiking trip, Waters was picked up by 20-year-old Myersville, Maryland, councilman Brett Bidle, who thought Waters was a homeless hitchhiker standing in the pouring rain. Feeling bad for Waters, he agreed to drive him four hours to Ohio.
The next day, indie rock band Here We Go Magic tweeted that they had picked John Waters up hitchhiking in Ohio. He was wearing a hat with the text "Scum of the Earth". In Denver, Colorado, Waters reconnected with Bidle (who had made an effort to catch up with him); Bidle then drove him another 1,000 miles (1,600 km) to Reno, Nevada. Before parting ways, Waters arranged for Bidle to stay at his San Francisco apartment: "I thought, you know what, he wanted an adventure, too ... He's the first Republican I'd ever vote for."
Bidle later said: "We are polar opposites when it comes to our politics, religious beliefs. But that's what I loved about the whole trip. It was two people able to agree to disagree and still move on and have a great time. I think that's what America's all about."
Although he maintains apartments in New York City and (since 2008) in San Francisco's Nob Hill, and a summer home in Provincetown, his hometown of Baltimore, Maryland has been his main residence for all his life. All his films are set in Baltimore, often in the working-class neighborhood of Hampden. He is recognizable by his trademark pencil moustache.
Waters was a great fan of the music of Little Richard when growing up. Ever since he shoplifted a copy of the Little Richard song "Lucille" in 1957, at the age of 11, Waters asserted, "I've wished I could somehow climb into Little Richard's body, hook up his heart and vocal cords to my own, and switch identities." In 1987, Playboy magazine employed Waters, then aged 41, to interview his idol, but the interview did not go well, with Waters later remarking: "It turned into kind of a disaster."
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)|
|Mary Vivian Pearce|
|Alan J. Wendl|
|1964||Hag in a Black Leather Jacket||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Short film|
|1966||Roman Candles||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Short film|
|1968||Eat Your Makeup||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Short film|
|1970||The Diane Linkletter Story||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||Short film|
|1972||Pink Flamingos||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Role: Mr. Jay (voice)|
|1986||Something Wild||No||No||No||Yes||Role: Used car salesman|
|1988||Hairspray||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Role: Dr. Frederickson|
|1989||Homer and Eddie||No||No||No||Yes||Role: Robber #1|
|1994||Serial Mom||Yes||Yes||No||No||Role: Ted Bundy (voice, uncredited)|
|1999||Sweet and Lowdown||No||No||No||Yes||Role: Mr. Haynes|
|2000||Cecil B. Demented||Yes||Yes||No||No|
|2002||Blood Feast 2: All U Can Eat||No||No||No||Yes||Role: The Reverend|
|2004||Seed of Chucky||No||No||No||Yes||Role: Pete Peters|
|A Dirty Shame||Yes||Yes||No||No|
|The Junior Defenders||No||No||No||Yes||Role: Narrator|
|In the Land of Merry Misfits||No||No||No||Yes||Role: Narrator|
|Of Dolls and Murder||No||No||No||Yes||Role: Narrator|
|2014||Suburban Gothic||No||No||No||Yes||Role: Cornelius|
|Mugworth||No||No||No||Yes||Role: Sir Butler (voice)|
|2015||Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip||No||No||No||Yes||Role: Airplane passenger|
- The Blacklist, episode: "Sutton Ross (No. 17)" – Himself
- Feud: Bette and Joan, episode "Hagsploitation" – William Castle
- My Name Is Earl, episode "Kept a Guy Locked in a Truck" – Funeral Director
- 'Til Death Do Us Part – Groom Reaper
- Homicide: Life on the Street – Bartender, R. Vincent Smith
- 21 Jump Street, episode "Awomp-Bomp-Aloobomb, Aloop Bamboom" – Mr. Bean
- American Cinema
- Beautiful Darling
- Celebrity Ghost Stories
- The Cockettes
- Divine Waters
- Divine Trash
- The Drexel Interview
- I Am Divine
- Love Letter to Edie
- E! True Hollywood Story
- Fabulous! The Story of Queer Cinema
- Le Grand Journal (Canal+)
- Guest of Cindy Sherman
- HBO's First Look
- Here's Looking At You, Boy – The Coming Out of Queer Cinema
- How Porn Conquered the World
- The Incredibly Strange Film Show
- Inside Deep Throat
- Intimate Portrait
- It Came From Kuchar
- Little Castles
- John Waters Presents Movies That Will Corrupt You
- Midnight Movies: From the Margin to the Mainstream
- Of Dolls and Murder
- Pie in the Sky: The Brigid Berlin Story
- Queens of Disco (BBC Four)
- Tab Hunter Confidential
- The Simpsons 20th Anniversary Special – In 3-D! On Ice!
- That Man: Peter Berlin
- This Film Is Not Yet Rated
- VH1 Behind the Music (Blondie)
- William S. Burroughs: A Man Within
- This Filthy World – Waters' touring one-man show, made into a feature film directed by Jeff Garlin
- A John Waters Christmas – A CD of Christmas songs compiled by Waters
- John Waters Presents Movies That Will Corrupt You – TV show for the here! network
- Mommie Dearest (1981) – Audio commentary on film's "Hollywood Royalty Edition" DVD release (2006)
- The Little Mermaid Special Edition DVD (2006) – Interview on 'making of' documentary about Howard Ashman, the theatre (i.e. Little Shop of Horrors), and the inspiration behind the character Ursula: Divine
- A Date with John Waters (2007), a CD collection of songs Waters finds romantic
- Christmas Evil DVD release (2006) – Audio commentary
- Narrated the award-winning 2006 documentary film Plagues & Pleasures on the Salton Sea
- Featured in the documentary film This Film Is Not Yet Rated (2006)
- Breaking Up with John Waters – Waters' third CD compilation is currently in the works
- The Other Hollywood – Commentary and opinions about pornography throughout the book
- 'Til Death Do Us Part – A Court TV series hosted by Waters surrounding stories of marriage murder
- "The Creep" (featuring Nicki Minaj) – Appeared on a television set in The Lonely Island's music video "The Creep", which made its debut on Saturday Night Live. Waters gives the introduction to the song and he is credited as a featured artist on the album.
- Art:21 – Introducing Host for Season Two, "Stories" episode – PBS DVD series
- Waters, John (1981). Shock Value. New York: Dell Pub. Co. ISBN 044057871X.
- Waters, John (2003) . Crackpot: The Obsessions of John Waters. New York: Scribner. ISBN 0026244403.
- Waters, John; Hainley, Bruce (2003). Art: A Sex Book. New York: Thames & Hudson. ISBN 0500284350.
- Waters, John (2010). Role Models. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN 9780374251475.
- Waters, John (2014). Carsick: John Waters Hitchhikes Across America. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN 0374298637.
- Waters, John (2017). Make Trouble. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books. ISBN 1616206357.
- Waters, John (2019). Mr. Know-It-All: The Tarnished Wisdom of a Filth Elder. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN 9780374214968.
- Waters, John (1988). Trash Trio: Three Screenplays: Pink Flamingos, Desperate Living, Flamingos Forever. New York: Vintage Books. ISBN 0394759869.
- Waters, John (2005). Hairspray, Female Trouble and Multiple Maniacs: Three More Screenplays. New York: Thunder's Mouth Press. ISBN 1560257024.
- Photo collections
- Waters, John (1997). Director's Cut. New York: Scalo. ISBN 393114156X.
- Waters, John (2006). Unwatchable. New York: Marianne Boesky Gallery. ISBN 0977950301.
Awards and nominations
In 1999, Waters was honored with the Filmmaker on the Edge Award at the Provincetown International Film Festival. In September 2015, the British Film Institute ran a programme to celebrate 50 years of Waters films which included all of his early films, some previously unscreened in the UK.
In 2014, Waters was nominated for a Grammyfor the spoken word version of his book, Carsick. His follow-up record, Make Trouble, was produced by Grammy-winning producer, Ian Brennan, and released on Jack White's Third Man Records in the fall of 2017.
In 2016, Waters received an honorary degree from the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore during the college's undergraduate commencement ceremony. In 2018, Waters was named an Officier of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, a cultural award from the French government.
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- "I'm Not Psycho: John Waters's 50th summer in Provincetown". www.out.com. July 31, 2014. Retrieved July 18, 2019.
- "John Waters Biography (1946–)". Filmreference.com. Retrieved January 3, 2013.
- "John Waters – Biography". Movies.nytimes.com. Retrieved January 3, 2013.
- Kaltenbach, Chris. "Divine fans want to build a monument to late actor". Baltimore Sun. Retrieved July 1, 2017.
- Pela 2002
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- Waters, John (2010). Role Model. MacMillan. ISBN 1429944579.
- Towsontown Jr. High Yearbook, "The Key". Towson, Maryland 1959–1960, p. 33
- "Noteworthy Alumni". Boys' Latin School of Maryland. Retrieved June 28, 2018.
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- Lewis, John (August 8, 2013). "Seeing Red" (text/html). Baltimore magazine. Retrieved March 11, 2019.
- Ryzik, Melena (September 4, 2014). "John Waters Riffs on His 50-Year Retrospective". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved April 9, 2019.
- Waters, John. Interview by Robert K. Elder. The Film That Changed My Life by Robert K. Elder. Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2011. N. p281. Print.
- Cills, Hazel. "Teenage Girls Assaulted by Wild Animals! An Interview With John Waters". Rookie. Retrieved February 13, 2017.
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- Metz, Nina (December 3, 2010). "John Waters loves Christmas. Really". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved March 31, 2011.
- "The John Waters Interview". Stuff. Retrieved July 18, 2019.
You can feel the influence of rock'n'roll in so many of Waters' films. Hairspray and Cry Baby might seem the obvious candidates, but his filmography is littered with litanies, strewn with sharp-talking teens with alliterative names.
- "John Waters: Indecent Exposure". Baltimore Museum of Art. Retrieved March 28, 2019.
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- Waters 2006
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- "John Waters Fan Mail". Atomic Books. Retrieved February 21, 2018.
- Blood Feast 2: All U Can Eat (2003), retrieved August 29, 2019
- "Board Members". MdFF. Retrieved August 29, 2019.
- Waters, John. "Contributors". Artforum.
- "John Waters' gift to San Francisco: Demented holiday cheer". SFChronicle.com. November 21, 2018. Retrieved November 24, 2018.
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- "Leslie Van Houten: A Friendship". Huffingtonpost.com. August 3, 2009. Retrieved January 3, 2013.
- "John Waters Gets Serious". Baltimore Sun. August 9, 2009. Retrieved January 3, 2013.
- "John Waters Argues For Murderer's Release". Wbur.org. Retrieved January 3, 2013.
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- "Fans". Dreamland News. Retrieved January 3, 2013.
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- "Hag in a Black Leather Jacket (1964)". British Film Institute. Retrieved June 28, 2018.
- Levy, Ariel (March 24, 2008). "Still Waters". New York. Retrieved June 28, 2018.
- "Mondo Trasho, directed by John Waters". Time Out London. Retrieved June 28, 2018.
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- Hoberman, J.; Rosenbaum, Jonathan (1983). Midnight Movies. Harper & Row. p. 165.
- Maslin, Janet (May 29, 1981). "'POLYESTER', AN OFFBEAT COMEDY". The New York Times. Retrieved June 28, 2018.
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- "Pecker". American Film Institute. Retrieved June 28, 2018.
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- "Chucky kills John Waters in movie". United Press International. April 13, 2004. Retrieved June 28, 2018.
- "A Dirty Shame". American Film Institute. Retrieved June 28, 2018.
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- Harrison, Margot (August 29, 2007). "Lights, Camera... Action?". Seven Days. Retrieved June 29, 2018.
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- Anderson-Minshall, Diane (December 3, 2011). "Come to Jesus With Star Heather Matarazzo". The Advocate. Retrieved June 29, 2018.
- "New Documentary 'Of Dolls & Murder' Explores Macabre in Miniature". PBS NewsHour. October 13, 2010. Retrieved June 29, 2018.
- Murray, Noel (October 31, 2012). "Excision". The A.V. Club. Retrieved June 29, 2018.
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- Walker, Jennifer (2014). Moon Baltimore. Avalon Publishing.
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- "The Drexel InterView - Pennoni Honors College".
- "Guest of Cindy Sherman (2008)". www.imdb.com. Retrieved September 8, 2009.
- "Tab Hunter Confidential (2015) - Full Cast & Crew". www.imdb.com. Retrieved June 21, 2016.
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- "A deep dive into 'Christmas Evil', the warped 1980 psychological horror film with a cult following". Far Out Magazine. December 24, 2018. Retrieved November 28, 2019.
- "John Waters Narrates Offbeat Documentary on an Environmental Catastrophe, the Salton Sea". Open Culture. Retrieved November 28, 2019.
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- Stevenson, Jack (1996). Desperate Visions 1: Camp America: The Films of John Waters & the Kuchar Brothers: Interviews & Essays. London: Creation Books. ISBN 1871592348.
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