The famed cult-film director recalls the famous—and not-so-famous—people he has idolized over the years.
Waters is known for his campy, often hilarious films, including Pink Flamingos (1972) and the mainstream hit Hairspray (1988). In this consistently charming and witty collection of essays, he fondly remembers the many artists he has admired throughout his life, from stars, such as Little Richard, to such near-unknown figures as the 1960s Baltimore stripper Lady Zorro. Though Waters jumps from subject to subject, he somehow integrates it all into a coherent whole. The chapter “Johnny and Me” combines the author’s interviews with legendary singer Johnny Mathis and the obscure actress Patty McCormack, who played an evil little girl in the 1954 movie The Bad Seed, as well as encomiums to the actress Margaret Hamilton and Bobby “Boris” Pickett, singer of the 1962 novelty hit “The Monster Mash.” Elsewhere, the author interviews two of his favorite underground gay pornographers in similarly rapturous terms. In general, Waters admires anyone who has the courage to follow his or her idiosyncratic muse, and he makes no distinction between so-called “high” and “low” art. The author is at his most engaging when he expresses disillusionment. For example, he counts a former member of the Manson Family, Leslie Van Houten, among his friends, and believes that she has reformed in prison—but he also expresses regret that he exploited the Manson murders for kitsch value in his early films. Waters also presents a poignant interview with Lady Zorro’s daughter, during which he learns that the outrageous personality he admired so much was actually masking a selfish, irresponsible alcoholic. The only misfire is a short, somewhat vague appreciation of Tennessee Williams, which lacks the zing of the rest of the portraits. Overall, however, Waters delivers a worthy tribute to his personal pantheon of artistic icons.
An impressive, heartfelt collection by a true American iconoclast.