Books by Bernard Jay

Released: Aug. 10, 1994

The life of the most outrageous drag queen of them all, told with plenty of tenderness and campy humor by his former manager. Divine was born Harris Glenn Milstead, the son of Baltimore Baptists, and grew up something of a monster, perhaps because of his parents' wild indulgence of their angel-faced, big-boned boy. Long after he had ballooned to 300-plus pounds and left his beauty parlor business to become a gay icon and movie star, Divine was borrowing his parents' credit cards, purchasing furs and other extravagances without informing them, imperiling both their financial and mental health. Jay, a London theater manager, discovered the strange and surprisingly winning Divine in the bizarre off-Broadway hit Women Behind Bars. He describes his charge's beginnings in director John Waters's films, including Pink Flamingos, the role in which the ``Divine'' character came to full flower. Jay then describes how he and Divine decided to work together and goes on to recount his trials with the often selfish star, ``the epitome of excess and vulgarity'' with his wild eating binges, nonstop pot-smoking, dyspepsia, narcolepsy, and near-toxic flatulence. Jay's sad story of the struggle to save Divine's character from one-dimensionality includes Divine's days as a mega- selling disco diva in Europe and the aging performer's increasingly desperate attempts to become a player of character roles, which met with some success (including male and female parts in Waters's hit Hairspray) before Divine's sudden death at age 42 from sleep apnea, or occluded breathing, in 1988. Jay succeeds with grace and writerly flair in his self- appointed task of giving us Divine ``the man,'' illuminating his subject's troubled character without divesting him of his surprisingly affecting humanity. Read full book review >