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Hair hoppers in Hairspray
Hair hoppers in Hairspray

John Waters' Polyester and Hairspray (the original) at the new Tomorrow Theater / Preview and remembrance

By TOM D'ANTONI // Two of John Waters' best loved films play the former Oregon Theater on Friday, March 26. Here's the story of my involvement with both movies in the previous century.

The new Tomorrow Theater in what used to be the Oregon Theater on SE Division St. is bringing us Night of 1000 John Waters on Friday, January 26 featuring two of the Pope of Filth’s films, Polyester and Hairspray (the original).

They’re advertising a free “Draw-on Mustache" with each ticket purchase.

In December the maestro was in Portland, at the Aladdin Theater for his annual “A John Waters Christmas” show. It was hilariously dirty filthy raunchy fun, as it should be from the man who made his first mark having Divine eat dog shit from a Baltimore sidewalk in Pink Flamingos.

If you don’t know who Divine was, take a moment and check. People Magazine once described Divine as the “Drag Queen of the Century.”

The 20th Century.

I am proud to have been a face in the theater crowd during the scene in Female Trouble in which Divine jumps up and down on a trampoline, waving a gun and yelling, “Who wants to die for art!!”

I wrote the first review of Pink Flamingos. This is how I remember things around the times when Polyester and Hairspray were in production.

- - - - - - - - - - -

I had made the major mistake of leaving a job producing and writing stories for a TV show called Evening Magazine (which Oregonians may remember as P.M. Magazine…same thing). It had phenomenal ratings in a time before cable when there were only four TV stations in Baltimore.

After a couple of years of that, I got the career zoomies and took a job as a news producer at the lowest rated of the three network stations. The reason it was the lowest rated station was because their news sucked. In 1980, they still had film cameras on the street which meant that the film had to be shot, then developed (remember that?) and then hand edited.

I may have been the last news producer to have film break during a newscast. It’s where the term “B-roll” came from. The A-roll was the reel of film that contained the shots with interview bites and the B-Roll (literally, of film) held the shots that covered other parts of the story (like narration).

It was not fun. Nor was the Executive Producer who showed up drunk after lunch and yelled at everyone like he was a Marine drill sergeant which apparently he had been.

I was assigned to produce the 6pm news show and had as my anchor someone who had been described by one of the reporters as dumb as a box of rocks. She was. She mispronounced her own name because it was misspelled on the prompter.

That’s dumb.

I had known John Waters for years. When a bunch of us underground newspaper hippies moved into an apartment, John and  his collaborators were moving out of it, leaving the couch upon which Divine had been raped by a giant lobster in Multiple Maniacs.

After a year or so, I became publisher of HARRY, the underground paper while John was the underground film maker of record.

When he released Pink Flamingos, I wrote a review of it (the first) in which I said something like, “People will be shocked at this but I KNOW these people.” The rest of it was glowingly twisted.

After Pink Flamingos became the Midnight Movie smash hit, I got married (again) and during one of the several estrangements in that relationship, she sub-let John’s apartment one summer, while he was in Provincetown. I am proud to have been one-half of the heterosexual couple to have had sex in John’s bed.

John is allowed to puke if he’s reading this.

Back to the newsroom at the TV station.

My desk was directly across from the “assignment desk” from whence news stories originated. They had several police radios going, which I could hear from my desk.

One mid-morning, bored to tears with the News Producer job, I was listening closely to the police radios (which I still enjoy listening to). I knew that John was filming Polyester at a suburban house (the fictional home of Francine (Divine) and Elmer Fishpaw and their delinquent children, LuLu and Dexter Fishpaw.)

Turns out the filming drew complaints to the Baltimore County Police and their radio told me that they were on the way over to investigate. It was the scene in which enraged demonstrators were picketing the Fishpaw residence, protesting the fact that Elmer ran a porn theater. They wanted to put a stop to it.

True to her character, Francine was humiliated by all this.

I quickly got on the phone with my friend Garey Lambert, who was working with John and friends, in order to warn him of the impending arrival of the cops. Garey portrayed an abortion picket in another scene.

Garey quickly got in touch with Pat Moran, John’s second in command who met with the police. They were grateful for the advance word and no one was arrested.

A couple of years later I was back at Evening Magazine, having fled the shitty station the day my contract was up. I had heard that there was going to be a reunion of the “Committee” from the Buddy Deane show (sometimes called Buddy Deane Bandstand because it aired in Baltimore in place of American Bandstand which we never saw.)

The Committee was a bunch of kids who were regulars on the show, dancing and doing what teenagers do. They were minor celebrities complete with outrageous haircuts (even the boys). They were later to be known as “hair-hoppers,” a term which may or may not have been coined by John Waters.

The circa 1985 reunion was to feature Buddy Deane himself, the DJ/Show host whom John would later re-name Corny Collins, the DJ/Show host of the re-creation of the show that Hairspray was built around. Buddy lived in Arkansas where he owned a few radio stations.

By this time I was involved in a couple of radio projects with Garey Lambert and word went from him to John about the reunion. John wanted to tag along and meet everyone.

I was happy to introduce him to Buddy Deane and the hair-hoppers. And yes, they did the Madison Time (a line dance) but the hair, what was left of it was greatly reduced.

The movie is frighteningly true to the show. All of the racial stuff was true. The hair was, too even if it was slightly exaggerated. Pia Zidora’s hair ironing scene was also true to life, a small folk-music scene had begun and most of the girls ironed their hair.

Those few did not use……..Hairspray.

Viewing tip: In a scene in which several TV newsmen (as they were then called) tried to get interviews with Maryland State Officials about Tracy Turnblad who was in jail). One of those reporters was portrayed by….Buddy Deane.

I could go on. And on and on.

Supreme Irony: Tomorrow Theater was formerly the Oregon Theater, a porn movie house where clandestine sexual activities took place. Clandestine to everyone except for theater patrons.

Hairspray is a wonderful movie. Funny and with all the right intentions. I’m not saying John would have never met Buddy on his own but I like to think that I made it easier.

That John’s work is now considered fine art is nearly as hilarious as the films themselves. (The Tomorrow Theater is, after all, run by The Portland Art Museum) He and I laughed when I did an interview with him in December before his show at the Aladdin and he brought up that families sitting at home watching Pink Flamingos on TCM could watch the singing asshole.

I think John wanted to be at home with them just to see their reactions.

Me too.

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