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Pink Flamingos- 1972

"What's the worst thing that can happen to me when I eat dog shit?" Divine asked us, while we were sitting around the set waiting for John Waters, who was doing some exterior shots. Van Smith, the makeup man, was painting Divine's face. David Lochary was arranging his blue hair and drinking coffee; Mink was putting her contact lenses in; Bonnie was reading the Baltimore Sun paper; I was trying to remember my lines.

There was no question that Divine would eat the dog shit; he was a professional. It was in his script, so he was going to do it.

"We'll find out what'll happen," I said.

It was a secret. Only a few people involved with Pink Flamingoes knew about the shit-eating grin scene at the end of the film. John wanted to keep it quiet; maybe he was afraid some other filmmaker might beat him to it, steal the shit-pioneer award. Anyway too much word of mouth, now, would deplete the surprise for the film-goer later.

"We'll talk to a doctor," Van said, pausing mid-stroke with the liquid eye-liner brush.

"I'll do it if it doesn't kill me," Divine said and laughed.

"Pretend it's chocolate," Bonnie suggested.

In the world there are many brave people: those who climb Mt. Everest, those who work in Kentucky coal mines, those who go into space as astronauts, those who dive for pearls. Few are as brave as actors who work with John Waters. We didn't think he was asking too much.

We didn't think he was crazy, just obsessed.

"Call a doctor right now," Mink said.

"Call a hospital. Call Johns Hopkins!" I said and handed him the phone.

"Why belabor the situation? Why worry? Get it over with," said David.

"Dial the phone," said Mink.

"Call pediatrics. Tell them your son just ate dog shit. See what they say," Van suggested.

Divine started dialing the hospital and reached a doctor.

"My son just accidentally ate some dog feces," Divine said, "What's going to happen to him?"

"What's he saying?" Bonnie asked.

"Shh..." he said to Bonnie." And then what?" Divine asked in the phone, "Hmmhu, hmmhu, OK then. Thank you." He hung up.

"So?" asked David.

"He didn't sound too alarmed," Divine said, "I guess it's just a routine question for a doctor. He said all I have to be careful about is the white worm."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Mink asked.

"Tape worms," Divine said, "That doesn't sound too dangerous."

"You don't have to swallow it anyway," Van said.

"He said to check out the dog. Take it to a vet," Divine said.

"John is doing that," I said.

"What kind of dog is it?" Mink asked.

"A miniature poodle," said Divine.

It was suggested to John to do the take in two shots. First the dog does his duty, then cut. Replace the real shit with fake shit. Divine eats it. Cut. But John knew, we all knew, that audiences wouldn't fall for that.

"No. NO. Everybody would know we replaced the real shit for fake. Divine's gotta scoop it right up still warm off the street," John had said a few days ago.

This was show biz. Divine didn't balk and he wasn't the only one. Mink Stole was going to do a big scene that called for her red hair to catch on fire. The dialogue would be: "Liar. Liar. Your hair's on fire." She didn't seem afraid at all.

"I'll do it. There'll be fire extinguishers there."

"You could use a wig," I said.

"Somebody already suggested that to John. No. Audiences want truth," Mink said.

The day John was about to shoot the hair-on-fire scene, he changed his mind; he decided it would be too dangerous after all. They tested a piece of Mink's hair and it just smoked and sizzled and smelled awful. There'd be no dramatic effect; it wouldn't have burst into flames. John was a little disappointed, but he'd think of something else. Mostly when John came up with these kinds of ideas for his actors, he was testing us or half joking; the actors were the ones who took him seriously; we were the hams. Actors know scenes like these make stars.

"Aren't you supposed to do some scene where you get fucked by a chicken?" Divine asked me.

"Fucked by a real chicken?" Mink asked.

"How?" asked Bonnie.

"In the script it says Cracker cuts off the head of a chicken and he fucks me with the stump," I said.

"Oh, that sounds easy," Divine said.

"Yeah, that's easy compared to what you have to do," I said to Divine.

"Chickens scratch pretty bad," David said, "Even without their heads."

"Bird wounds can be dangerous," Van said.

I thought about Hitchcock's THE BIRDS, but those were seagulls and I knew just how powerful seagulls could be. Compared to them, chickens were jellyfish. "I'm not worried about some little scratches," I said, "But I don't think I can watch while the head's being cut off."

"Oh come on. Chickens don't know they're dying. They're not smart enough," David said.

There was a couple other scenes in the film that we talked about.

"The whole trailer has to burn to the ground. That could get out of hand, couldn't it?" I asked.

"John's going to have a fire truck there," Van said.

"Doesn't Linda Olgeirson have to be artificially inseminated on camera? Down in the pit?" Mink asked.

"She'll have a stand-in," Bonnie said. "It's a close-up beaver shot. Nobody will know it's not her. She doesn't want to expose her pussy for the audience. I wouldn't do that either," I said.

"No, I wouldn't either," said Mink. We would all eat shit, catch on fire, fuck chickens, but wouldn't do close-up crotch shots. There has to be a line drawn somewhere.

"I have to show my dick," David said.

"But you're going to have a turkey neck tied on it," Mink said, "That doesn't count."

"Elizabeth is going to expose her tits and her dick, David. So what are you complaining about?" Divine said and we all agreed.

Making this film, we went to bed every night really excited for the next day's shoot. Perhaps there are other actors who can tell you that making films is really boring. This film wasn't. On big budget sets, actors go in their private trailers, waiting for their camera time. Not on this set. We were all in the same room between takes, busy changing costumes , remembering lines, bitching about bit actors stealing scenes, layering makeup, getting ready to emote. There were not private trailers around.

Making low-budget films is work, but it's fun, it's more fum than working in big-budget films. If you're an actor, there is nothing more rewarding, despite the meager pay. On small films you get to know the whole cast and crew in a day, and all of these people are more inventive because of the limited budget; they create effects that wouldn't have been born if there was more money. Necessity is the mother of invention; this is true. John is a master at this,his imagination runneth over.

Before we started shooting, I was living in Provincetown with two-month-old Max and Max's step father of the moment. Max and I were staying with my mother in the Baltimore suburbs for the duration of the filming, but it wasn't turning out well living there with Mom and Dad.

My mother knew there was filming going on, but I didn't tell her Max was one of the stars, cast as the newborn infant bought by a lesbian couple, and I certainly didn't tell her that I was going to have to fuck a chicken.

"Let me read the script," she'd say all the time.

"Ah...well...I don't have the script here. I left it on the set."

"Then tell me about the movie. About your part," she'd say.

"Not much to tell. It's the story of two rival families. I play the intermediary, the spy," I said.

"What's the rivalry? Are they criminal families?" she asked.

"Not really, but sort of," I said. How in the world could I describe that film to my mother?

A few days later, when John came to pick up me and Max for the day's shoot, my mother stopped me from leaving.

"Where do you think you're going?" she demanded.

"I'm going to the set," I said.


I sat down in the Victorian chair for a second. "Mom, it's not like you think. This movie's going to be funny. It's not porno. It's a whole other kind of's art...It's..." I was at a loss for the right word, the label that would legitimize the film for her. How could she ever understand?

"ART?!?!? ART?!?!? THIS ISN'T ART!!" she sputtered, and threw the script at me.

"Mom, hold on. Sit down," I said, but there was no calming her. She has quite a temper, that woman.


All I could do was start packing. Fast.

I threw Max's clothes in his little bag, grabbed his Pampers box, stuffed my clothes into my suitcase and put Max in my arms.


Outside, in the driveway, John innocently started beeping his car horn. I cringed.

"IS THAT MANIAC OUT THERE?!? I'M GOING TO GIVE HIM A PIECE OF MY MIND," she yelled and flew out the front door, me following. I hopped in the car with Max and my bags before she reached it.

"Make tracks, John!" I said to him, "My mother's on the warpath."

He sped down the driveway. My mother was standing on the lawn flailing her arms around.

"YOU'RE BEELZEBUB," she screamed at John as we tore down the street.

"Did she read the script or something?" John asked. He was upset.

"She sure did," I said, looking back at her. She was still in the front lawn screaming.

"I guess she didn't exactly love it," he said and laughed.

"Not exactly."

"You shouldn't go back there. You can stay with me," John said.

"Yeah. I can't go back there. Did you hear her? She called you Beelzebub!"

"Who's Beelzebub anyway?" John asked.

"One of the devil's footmen," I said.

"Was she serious?"

"She was brought up in the deep south as a Southern Baptist. That was high drama. She's an actress," I told him.

"Maybe I ought to give her a part in the film," he laughed.

"I feel bad just packing up and leaving so fast. You sure it's okay that I stay with you for a while? I know you're under a lot of pressure with the film right now but Max doesn't cry much. I can put him in a dresser drawer. Dr. Spock says to put your infant in a drawer when you're traveling."

John started laughing. "You're joking."

"You're not supposed to close the drawer or anything," I said.

He just kept laughing.

We went to the farm from there and got ready to shoot the chicken scene in the chicken coop. It went well, but we had to reshoot four times, the chickens weren't too compliant. Danny (Crackers) had to kill eight or nine of them; I didn't watch him slice off the heads.

Just as David had said, even without heads they were a lively, nasty bunch of fowl, flopping and kicking with all their might. I got completely scratched up by their sharp claws. I was getting hurt for real. I'd underestimated these chickens, even while I was feeling sorry for them.

In the next scene Max was great; as Little Noodles he upstaged even the bulldykes.

Later on, after we finished for the day, with the sun sinking beyond the horizon of leafless trees, we roasted all those chickens and had a big feast for the whole cast and crew. Those chickens I'd felt sorry for earlier, sure were delicious.