Hall of Fame - Page 42 - John Waters

Hall of Fame
- Page 42
John Waters
Director of ‘Hairspray’ helped build the film industry in ‘a city full of characters’


Age: 73

Born: Baltimore

Education: The Calvert School (“The only one that was any good,” he said. “At the rest I didn’t learn one thing.”) Career: Director of 16 films, author of nine books, photographer, artist and lecturer

Civic/charitable engagement: Member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences and the board of directors for the Maryland Film Festival, and a key participant in the Provincetown International Film Festival since it began in 1999. Past member of the boards of the Andy Warhol Foundation and Printed Matter, and a former member of the Wexner Center International Arts Advisory Council.

Family: Sisters Trish Waters Neer and Kathy Waters Marshall; sister-in-law Sharon Waters; niece Anna Waters Gavin.

He’s been asked to give commencement speeches, awarded two honorary doctorates and hailed by the Writers Guild of America, the British Film Institute and the French minister of culture. And now, with John Waters’ induction into The Baltimore Sun’s Business and Civic Hall of Fame, the transformation appears complete: The ultimate outsider has turned insider.

What does the director/writer/performer, who’s made a living out of filth, make of all the respectability? As he wrote in his latest book: “The worst thing that could happen to a creative person has happened to me: I am accepted.”

It turns out it’s not such a bad position for this bad boy. For one, it’s not the first time The Sun has shone on the underground filmmaker from Lutherville; he was the newspaper’s Marylander of the Year in 2002. And here’s a secret: He’s really not all that bad (just bawdy).

“People don’t have any understanding of how hard he works, and what he gives up to do that,” says Jed Dietz, who founded the Maryland Film Festival in 1999 and retired as its director last year.

“He’s the ultimate professional. He’s one of these people, if he says he’ll do something, it’s done.”

Mr. Waters, now 73, has made 16 films — including 1972’s “Pink Flamingos,” which was so filthy it caused people to flee the theater, and 1988’s “Hairspray,” which made him a household name and Hollywood hit. He’s also written nine books (themost recent of which was released May 21: “Mr. Know-It-All, The Tarnished Wisdom of a Filth Elder”), shownhis photography in galleries around the world, appeared in multiple films, written and starred in one-man shows, and exhibited his creations at the Baltimore Museum of Art and elsewhere.

He’s an active member on the board of the Maryland Film Festival—personally presenting a favorite, often obscure film at each of the 21 annual events thus far— and a tireless booster of greater Baltimore, where he was born and raised and still spends most of his time.

It was here that hemade his first filmas a teenager, before he grew his signature pencil-thin mustache, and made his latest as an AARP-eligible artist — 2004’s “A Dirty Shame.” All of them helping build the city’s film industry and presenting pictures of its more rebellious residents that are both profane and profoundly tender.

“Baltimore is definitely his muse,” says Debbie Donaldson Dorsey, who’s the director of the Baltimore Film Office and has worked as a location manager on four of Mr. Waters’ films. “We’re a city full of characters. He embraces that, he doesn’t poke fun. He wants everybody to know it’s OK to be you. He makes everyone feel comfortable and good.”

Mr. Waters grew up in a fairly conservative Catholic household, the eldest of four children. His dad owned a fire safety company that his brother took over and is nowrun by his niece, Anna WatersGavin. Asa kid,hewas just “crazyUncle John” to her, theguywithpopart fake foodin his house and a knackwith puppets (he used toputonprofessional showswhenhewas aboy and nowperforms for his nieces and nephews).

Heonce sent PattyHearst and Suzanne Somers to baby-sit her so her parents could appear as extras in the1994 film“SerialMom”; generously promised to help her out as a teen if she were ever “hopped up on drugs or pregnant”; and inadvertently introduced her to gay pornwhen he hired her at17 to help catalog his vast collection of varied books, which nownumber around 11,000.

“He is very meticulous,” she says. He carries note cards around with him to jot down ideas as they occur and treats art like a business in a way that’s unusual for creative people, she says. “A lot of his work ethic comes from my grandfather.”

Though Mr. Waters’ preferred media has changed through the years, fromfilm to print andspokenwordandbackagain, his mission hasn’t.“I’m a storyteller,” he says—and busier than ever. “I don’t want to retire,” he says. “I’d probably drop dead.”