John Waters was born today, April 22, in 1946. He is a film director, screenwriter, author, actor, stand-up comedian, journalist, visual artist, and art collector, who rose to fame in the early 1970s for his outrageous cult films.
Waters's 1970s and early 1980s films feature his regular troupe of actors known as the Dreamlanders—among them Divine, Mink Stole, David Lochary, Mary Vivian Pearce, and Edith Massey (aka Eddie the Egg Lady). Starting with Desperate Living (1977), Waters began casting real-life convicted criminals (Liz Renay, Patty Hearst) and controversial people (Traci Lords, a former porn actress).
Waters dabbled in mainstream filmmaking with Hairspray (1988), which introduced Ricki Lake and earned a modest amount in the United States market. In 2002, Hairspray was adapted to a long-running Broadway musical, which itself was adapted to a hit musical film that earned more than $200 million worldwide. After the crossover success of the original film version of Hairspray, Waters' 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, Alicia Witt, Kathleen Turner, and Tracey Ullman.
Waters was born in Baltimore, Maryland. 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 (at right with Water), later known as Divine, also lived in Lutherville.
In 1962, for his 16th birthday, Waters received an 8mm movie camera from his maternal grandmother/
Waters' 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 has further credited his influences as, among others, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Herschell Gordon Lewis, Federico Fellini, William Castle, 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.
In January 1966, Waters and some friends were caught smoking marijuana on the grounds of NYU, which he attended briefly; 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' 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. A particularly notorious scene from Pink Flamingos, added as a non sequitur to the film's end, featured—in one continuous take without special effects—a small dog defecating and Divine eating its feces.
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.
In 2004, the NC-17-rated A Dirty Shame marked a return to his earlier, more controversial work of the 1970s.
In 2007, Waters became the host ("The Groom Reaper") of 'Til Death Do Us Part, a program on America’s Court TV network featuring dramatizations of marriages that soured and ended in murder.
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. 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' 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."
In 2014, Waters was nominated for a Grammy-award for the spoken word version of his book, Carsick.
An out gay man, Waters is an avid supporter of gay rights and gay pride. Although he maintains apartments in New York City and San Francisco, and a summer home in Provincetown, Waters still mainly resides in his hometown of Baltimore, Maryland, where most of his films were set.