John Waters and his Dreamlanders in P-Town
We set ground rules on the phone before I flew to Baltimore for an interview. No laborious discussions on tape of his movies. He'd done that so many times before, and there's already an excellent book, John Ives's John Waters (1992, Thunder's Mouth Press), in which his career is analyzed thoroughly via Q&A. Also, please, not another one of those tours of "John Waters' Baltimore." He's exhausted hauling journalists around to show them his fair city's fabulous underbelly. Anyway, what it means for the films was articulated long ago by Waters himself in the "Baltimore, Maryland-Hairdo Capitol of the World" chapter in his great book, Shock Value.
Waters wants to talk only about Provincetown. He's genuinely excited about partaking of a detailed oral history of his glorious, deliriously happy (often drug-delirious), days on the Lower Cape. From 1966 to 1980, he spent the whole summer, every summer, living in Provincetown. Normally, he worked in bookstores. Always, he hung with, and shuttled from lowly apartment to apartment with, a bevy of abnormal Baltimore friends. In the early P-Town days, they were an unapologetically wild bunch, a veritable Manson family minus the homicides. Swimming on acid and pumped up on speed and dead drunk at the Foc'sle, the Baltimorians shoplifted, stole bicycles. Some fucked everyone in town, sold drugs, failed invariably at menial jobs, and skipped out on the rent.
Waters loved all of it. He'd vomit at the New Agey sentiment, but he "found himself" in the midst of P-Town chaos. Spiritually, communally, intellectually, sexually, aesthetically. He became a free man. He read every strange book in his years clerking at the Provincetown Bookstore. He saw every film playing at the (then) three movie theatres. In crazy, wonderful P-Town, he wrote the sublime, insane screenplays which he turned into fall film shoots in Baltimore. Eat Your Makeup (1968), Mondo Trasho (1969), Multiple Maniacs (1970), Pink Flamingos (1972), Female Trouble (1974), Desperate Living (1977).
Each film above had its second screening in P-Town, the summer after the home-turf premiere in Baltimore. That was Waters' inviolable rule. History will note that Provincetown is where it happened: gala unveilings to the world of the Carnival-of-the-Grotesque oeuvre of filmdom's still-undervalued Aristophanes.
What was America like in the Twentieth Century? Schizophrenic! For a time capsule, all that's required is sunshine 50s TV shows with nice moms, decent dads, chummy children, plus the sleepwalking-stalking-heavy breathing nightmare comedies of John Waters. His apparitional ensemble were called Dreamlanders, and they consisted of his motley, squash-the-nuclear-family, Baltimore-to-P-Town pals.
Marlon Brando might have hitched to P-Town to beg Tennesse Williams for a chance to play Stanley Kowalski in a new play called A Streetcar Named Desire. P-Town is also where a 300-pound Divine ran wild in a dress on Commercial Street, and where he shaved his scalp and eyebrows to emerge as the dog turd-consuming "Filthiest Person Alive" in Waters's immortal Pink Flamingos.
May I add what joy it was visiting Waters in Baltimore? He's a sweet, funny, civil man. I'm being gossipy, but he has high-minded books in his lovely house, and brilliant modern art. John Updike could be comfortable here. Even the crazy stuff is neatly framed: an enviable Patty Hearst collage, delicious posters of matricide maven Patty McCormack in The Bad Seed and snarling Ann-Margaret in Kitten With a Whip. The shelves are tightly organized: downstairs, fine books any intellectual might have; upstairs (remember Alfred Hitchcock), gay-themed lit, serial-killer lit, etc. Plus a tiny alcove of uncomfortably peculiar presents from Travis Bickle-type fans.
After taping, Waters and I discussed Karl Marx and T.S. Eliot. Not really. We talked of the last days of Liberace, the "real" Pia Zadora, Michael Jackson's off-putting sex life, and the odd fact that we are probably the only two people on earth to have interviewed 1950s Hollywood star, Dorothy Malone, at the Dallas Country Club. He showed me, proudly, a rare tabloid cut-out of Zsa Zsa Gabor after three-thousand facelifts, huffing along with her heavy-as-Divine, middle-aged daughter.
Finally, Waters broke his no-tour rule and, because I'm such a genuine fan, took me to Divine's grave at a cemetery above a shopping center. There lay the immortal Glenn Milstead (1945-1988). But Waters hates, hates, hates sports, so there was no convincing him to drive me to Babe Ruth's boyhood home. A half-century in Baltimore, Waters has never ventured to the Bambino's birthplace.
While in Baltimore (great town, great Southern food: New Orleans without the attitude), I also met with extremly friendly ex-Provincetowners associated with Waters' movies: Pat Moran, Vincent Peranio, Susan Lowe, Mary Vivian ("Bonnie") Pearce. I talked later by phone to others where they lived: Dennis Dermody in New York, Mink Stole in LA, Channing Wilroy in Provincetown.
Waters and I consorted from the beginning to go beyond his story to an oral-history celebration of his whole Dreamland group on the Lower Cape. Very sadly, many of the key Dreamlanders with the most amazing Provincetown histories are no longer alive. It's to them that my section of Provincetown Arts is dedicated: John Liesenring, David Lochary, Howard Gruber, Cookie Mueller, and Divine.
What's the first you heard of Provincetown?
I was in Baltimore in the summer of 1965, and that had been a bizarre year for me. I'd been expelled from NYU for pot, and they told my parents I needed extensive psychiatry. I'd come home to Baltimore and made this movie, Roman Candles. I was very confused, and somebody said to me, "Have you ever been to P-Town? It's a very weird place." It was a guy named Doug, who was sort of the beatnik I wanted to be.
This was a very long time ago- I had a girlfriend at the time, that's how long ago it was! I changed her name to Mona Montgomery in my book, Shock Value, because I don't know where she is today. She's not in show business and she's not a public figure. Anyway, we hitched to P-Town. I don't know how my parents felt about it, but I was 19, and there wasn't much they could do.
Can you recall your first sight of P-Town?
I remember getting off Route 6 by the A&P and walking up and seeing Commercial Street and thinking, "God, is this cool!" And the first person I saw on "The Benches" at Town Hall ("The Benches" were then what Spiritus Pizza at 2 a.m. might be now) was Moulty, from the Barbarians. They were the only rock act to come from P-Town and have a huge hit, 'Are You a Boy or Are You a Girl?" He had hair to his waist, a two-year growth, which meant that he'd starting growing long hair before anyone else in the world. Plus he had a hook instead of a hand, which is something I always wanted. I was so impressed. I thought this must be the coolest place I've ever been, although Mona and I didn't know anybody.
We got this tiny room on Bradford Street with a lecherous landlord. He tried to come into our room and actually, I guess, have sex, though we never did. We ran into Mink Stole's sister Sique and also this woman named Flo, both from Baltimore, and they showed us around a bit. But we only stayed two weeks because we were bummed.
But you quickly returned?
The next year, 1966, I came for the summer, with Mona and Mary Vivian Pearce. We stayed at a place called Ahoo's, where the landlady said we could never have a visitor. What? We're 20 years old, and thought she was kidding. The first day, we had someone over, and the landlady came in screaming. God, our guest wasn't staying there or anything! Rather strict!
Mona worked at the Queen of Diamonds, and I got a job across the street at a clothing store called No Fish Today. The owner hated us, and I was fired after a week because she'd come in and I be sitting there reading. I think she expected me to say to the customers they looked great in Levis, or something.
Instead, I went to work in the East End Bookshop for Molly Malone Cook, who was a photographer at the time, and Mary Oliver, then a struggling poet.They couldn't really afford to hire me; but they let me work when it rained, when P-Town bookstores are packed. So wherever I was when it was raining I had to RUN to work! But I loved being there because Molly was a great boss, She did not believe the customer was always right. As a matter of fact, the customer was always wrong.
I saw Molly snatch a book out of someone's hand and say, "Get out!" I was very impressed. I thought, "This is my kind of job."
At the time, they worked a lot with Norman Mailer. If anyone said something bad about Mailer, I was allowed to be really rude and say, "Get out of the store and never come back!" Molly encouraged it, so it was fun to work there.
I loved them, and I'm still friends with them. I was at the table when Mary won the National Book Award. Very exciting!
But you moved on to the Provincetown Bookshop.
The third summer,1967, I came back and Elloyd Hansen and Joel Newman offered me a full-time job, which was weird because they were kind of competitors.They sought me out, I don't know why, but probably because I was passionate about books. I decided to work there because it was the only way I could afford the outrageous summer rents.
It was great because, as part of the job, you could have any book as long as you read it. I didn't abuse the policy, but I got free books that I'd never heard of in my life. I also got $100 a week, which was really a fortune then, more money then anyone I knew. But the greatest thing was that every winter they closed up, and I could go anywhere in the country and collect unemployment, and some of the early movies were financed by that.
When I showed my movies in P-Town, the Bookshop let me turn the window into a billboard. Elloyd and Joel were such good bosses they didn't care if my friends hung out. Mary Vivian Pearce and David Lochary would come in every single day.
Do you remember your first Provincetown screening?
In the 1960s, many churches were almost political. They would do almost anything to attract hippies. So I asked the reverend of the church on Shank Painter Road (who he was, I have no recollection) whether we could show there. He was nice about us screening, though he never saw my movie, Eat Your Makeup.
Among the cast was Marina Melin, who had worked at Queen of Diamonds, and who I'd taken back to Baltimore to be a Dreamland star. The film is about models who are kidnapped and have to eat their makeup and model themselves to death. I got the idea from the candy store, the Penny Patch, which I still go to in Provincetown. They sold candy lipstick with the little slogan, "The makeup you eat."
To promote our screening, I went in there and said, "I have to have every candy lipstick." Bonnie (Mary Vivian Pearce) dressed in full Jean Harlow drag, the way she would look in Mondo Trasho, the way she dressed every single day of her life. We would walk up and down Commercial Street, I would hand people a flyer from the movie, she would hand them candy lipstick and say, "Eat it, read it, and come."
People thought we were giving them drugs! But we sold out at the church. The crowd reaction was fine, though Eat Your Makeup only showed in Baltimore and P-Town because it was so technically bad.
Also, it was in horribly bad taste for a church showing.
Divine was Jackie Kennedy. We had the whole assassination scene, in which she climbs over the junk in the car, covered in blood. At the time, only a few years after, believe me it was eyebrow-raising! JFK was played by Howard Gruber, who was many years in P-Town and later owned Front Street.
Your living arrangements?
In 1966,Mona and Mary Vivian Pearce and I had a basement apartment. It was OK, though the ceilings were very low and I couldn't stand up. When we had parties, I had to be hunched over serving food. Meanwhile, my breakup with Mona was very gradual/weird because we hung out with a very mixed group of people - gay, straight - though it did sort of happen that the final breakdown was in that apartment.
Was Mona your last girlfriend?
There's one extremely odd place you lived in about 1967...
...Prescott Townsden's tree fort! It was right behind the Moors, but it's no longer there. Even the tree is no longer there. I lived there with Mink's sister, Sique, and Flo, who both worked at the A&P.
Prescott was about 78 years old, I think from a very wealthy family in Boston, and the first gay liberationist I ever heard of. He would ride around the beaches on a little motorcycle giving out gay liberation material. Mink became engaged to him. She was about 17, so it was a strange time. Was it a serious engagement? I don't know. They certainly didn't have sex.
Living in that tree fort was like Swiss Family Robinson. It was part an old abandoned submarine, a lunatic had built it, and there was no roof, so when it rained it poured in. But you could live there for free if Prescott liked you, and I can remember it as some of the happiest moments of my life, of complete freedom for the first time. I was away from everything I rebelled against.
You'd climb a rope ladder, and then there were apartments, if you could call them that. There was one mixed couple, he black, she white, with three mixed children, which was kind of radical for the time. We also lived with a guy named Alan Dahl, who had blond bleach hair, a fashion radical. He wasn't my boyfriend or anything, but it was communal living, and we certainly had fun.
And summer 1968?
I lived in a little rented cottage with Mary Vivian Pearce on Mechanic Street called Aspin. It's still there. I had a boyfriend, who was John Liesenring, and for a while I lived with him. He played the "shrimper" in Mondo Trasho, but he's no longer with us. People always ask me if I sleep with people in my movies. I think beside him there was only one other person in my movies I slept with. No, not Divine.
The first time I had a glamorous apartment was in 1970 when I lived with Mink away from the water, on Franklin Street, where some famous artist's studio was. It had a glass roof with different colors in the glass, and a pool, and bridge you walked over, and a fireplace. My other apartments were pretty bad: linoleum floors, living usually with Mary Vivian Pearce.
Was there any P-Town scene you wished then to be part of?
There was one person I was obsessed with. Her name was Donna, and she lived with Brick and Ron. They were hairdressers, and Donna was their artwork. Every day they spent all day getting her dressed. She had this amazing 60s look, long before anyone saw the Sassoon hairdo she had it, also miniskirts, 25 sets of eyelashes. Every night about 11:30, they'd walk her through town on the way to the A-House. I think that was their job, that they were paid to go there.
Donna was upper echelon, the Queen of Fag Hags. There was also Mary Vivian Pearce, dressing as Jean Harlow at all times. By the end of the summer Donna agreed to say "Hello." She might nod to me, or wave like a queen.
Ten years later, I met Donna. I told her how I was obsessed by her. She's straight now, has a husband, but remembers those days fondly. I know that one of the others, Brick or Ron, was in a shootout with the police. They did a lot of speed then, and so did we.
It came from Dr. Hebert, who is no longer with us, the notorious Dr. Feelgood of P-Town. He seemed to have given diet pills to everyone in the town. I think he didn't know that everyone was getting high. But I was 6'1" and weighed 130 pounds. It was kind of hard to think I should go on a diet.
I sold diet pills on a bicycle that I'd gotten from Dr. Hebert. I sold them to friends. It wasn't that I was a major dealer, or this could be movie production money.
By this time, 1968-70, you were seriously into filmmaking.
Everyone but me lived in P-Town in the winter. But I'd go somewhere to "further my career." I needed more action. I'd go to California or to Baltimore and make movies, such as Mondo Trasho and Multiple Maniacs. Then I'd come back to P-Town on June 1 and work at the Bookshop. I worked there for - I don't know - seven years? A long time. I could still work there. When I go in now, I feel like walking behind the counter and saying, "Yes, we have The Outermost House." We sold millions of copies of that one!
Also by this time, many Dreamlanders from your films were Provincetown regulars.
Besides Baltimore, it was the other place where we all lived, though the reputation of the Baltimore people was not really high because of the dubious practice by some of not paying rent.
My stars - Mary Vivian Pearce, Mink, Sue Lowe - all worked at the fish factory. They cleaned fish, but at night they washed up and became glamor queens.
There was the time after Multiple Maniacs when Mink, Sue, and Cookie Mueller hitched to P-town. They were almost raped along the way. This time was the height of drugs, lunacy, and fag-hagness, and they would have made the Manson girls run, these girls!
Mink looked like she looked in Multiple Maniacs. Her image was the religious whore, black lipstick, black nail polish, and she was covered in rosaries. Sue wore oufits we used to call "cunt ticklers." Skirts so short her vagina just showed! Quite a look! And Cookie was Janis Joplin meets Whatever. They were punkish ten years before punk. Their attitude: make fun of hippies, peace, and love, which our films also did. All these little earth mothers baking bread and then Sue, Mink, and Cookie arrive!
The police said to Sue, "Even for P-Town, you can't dress like that, look like that." They made her leave town. She was the wildest Dreamgirl of them all. Remember the Foc'sle? Cookie was in there always. The Advocate took her picture and used it to illustrate an article about alcoholism. The headline was SKULKING IN THE DEPTHS OF ALCOHOLIC DEPRAVITY. She sued and won, I don't know how!
Did Cookie ever work?
Let's just say "she got by." She lived on Railroad Avenue, I remember that, and she chose to have her son, Max, in P-Town. She moved to New York, then she'd come back in the summers with her girlfriend, Sharon Niesp. Sharon's a big part of later P-Town, maybe 1975 on.
And Divine in P-Town?
Divine always believed he was a millionairess, even when he didn't have a penny. He was really fiscally irresponsible.The most shocking thing he did was that he had a job in a gourmet cooking shop and took all the money. He did not bother to cover it up. At the end of the summer, when they asked, "Where are the books?", he said, "I lost them." His reputation was pretty strange. When his landlady was away one weekend, Divine paid an auctioneeer in full black tie to auction off all the furniture in his apartment, antiques and stuff, to cover his rent. That's how he would think. He had to sneak back into P-Town for a long time, after she called the police.
Divine never believed anything was going to happen to his career. After Multiple Maniacs, he was stuck with Cookie in P-Town in the winter and they had no money. The poorest they ever were. Divine was obsessed with Christmas, really wanted a Christmas tree, so they sawed down a decorated one growing on someone's lawn. It turned out to be the sheriff's, and the theft made the front page of The Advocate. Everyone was pissed off, but they never got caught.
I was in San Francisco, and Multiple Maniacs was playing at a theatre called the Palace, which was a big deal. I called Divine and said, "They are paying you to come to California." He didn't believe me. Van Smith was there, my costume designer who was responsible for Divine's looks. I said, "Do something weird with his hair." Van shaved the front of Divine's head, what would become the Pink Flamingos look. Divine got on a plane for San Francisco without one penny, in full drag and with this pathetic little purse. When he got off the plane, the Cockettes were there at the airport, it was a huge media event, and he was a star. He never went back in his mind. He was no longer Glenn Milstead.
I don't think he went back to P-Town from 1971 until a few years later, as a star instead of a criminal on the run. He'd blatantly ripped off so many people there, and I don't think they were impressed by his stardom, but the statute of limitations must have run out.
Back in P-Town in 1976, he acted with Holly Woodlawn in Women Behind Bars at the Pilgrim House. He lived with Holly as roommates - you can imagine that! A famous story about him was that he was driving so stoned on pot that, when he was looking to check his name on the marquee, he backed his whole car through Land's End Marine Supply.
And David Lochary?
His favorite thing to do in the ripoff years was to get a job in a P-Town restaurant, and then the second day throw himself on the floor and say he hurt his shoulder. He'd ger workmen's compensation. I saw him spend a whole summer in a fake neckbrace, but he couldn't go down to the beach because of insurance agents, though there was nothing wrong with him. I lived one summer with David and David's boyfriend, Tom, who was killed in a boating accident. We lived right behind the Mexican Shop, and NDA was the drug that summer, though I don't know quite what it was.
What are you memories of places in P-Town?
I'll always remember "The Benches"! That was the scene then. And behind the monument, that was the big gay scene, which was so shocking to think people were giving blow jobs an inch from the police station.
There was a great theatre around 1966-67 called Act Four, and Mary Vivian Pearce and I went to every performance. We were so on speed watching them, this shock value, off-off-off-Broadway theatre with lots of nudity.
Piggy's was also great in the 70s, a bar that was totally mixed, gay and straight. That's my favorite kind of bar. I don't like segregation. Dennis Dermody was deejay there, and that was where we went every single night. And the A-House was the coolest, where all the jazz greats played. (When Reggie Cabral died, that was a big thing for me. His wife, Mira, who I was fascinated by, died too.)
The little A-House was always gay. They were very smart and hired straight men to be the bartenders, and boy did they make a lot of money! The big room, you didn't know each year if it would be gay or straight, but it was good either way. It wasn't like now, always 100% gay.
The Art Cinema was right there, where Multiple Maniacs, Pink Flamingos, Female Trouble, and Desperate Living all premiered. This was Bill Shafer's theatre, and he's since dead. He was great but I had to basically "four-wall," meaning I was responsible for every seat in the house. But we always sold out, which was great for both of us.
Bruce Goldstein was running The Movies at the time, the competing theatre across the street, which later showed my films in repertoire. P-Town at one time had three movie theatres, also the Nu-Art, and everything played, and films changed every two days. Then Howard Gruber opened Front Street. That was the big hangout for the last years, the cocaine era, and that place was really jumping. It was also a really good restaurant. I think Front Street was the last really big scene in a club. Howard died in P-Town of AIDs in 1993.
Did your group mingle with the famous artists and writers of P-Town?
We didn't hang out with famous people. We didn't know any of them. Robert Motherwell I knew only because he was one of my best book customers. He certainly didn't know me as a film director. I was a book clerk.
I saw Faye Dunaway and Peter Wolf, because they made out in my store for half an hour. And I remember the funniest thing, seeing Judy Garland walking down the street with ten thousand gay people following her like the Pied Piper. She went into the little A-House. She was dead drunk, in bad shape, having fun, wearing a big hat. It was like the Virgin Mary appearing, a Miracle. Imagine: Judy Garland LIVE ON COMMERCIAL STREET!
You've mentioned how Eat the Makeup was inspired by candy bought in Provincetown. Are their other such associations with your movies?
Do you remember in Multiple Maniacs where I had that giant lobster rape Divine? That was from the postcard they sold in P-Town for twenty years of the big lobster over the sky at the beach. I wrote Desperate Living in P-Town, about the worst community you could live in. It wasn't P-Town but it was certainly about a similar small town. When writing Polyester in P-Town, I'd go every day next door to Dennis's house and we'd watch the "normal" family on Father Knows Best. That's how I was raised. In the Polyester script, I tried to subvert it.
What were your last complete summers spent in Provincetown?
1979 and 1980, when I wrote Polyester there. In the 80s, I would stay with Howard. In the last years, I've stayed by myself. If I go for a short time, I'll always stay at the White Horse Inn, I like Frank, it's very homey, and I feel comfortable there. But here's one thing I don't understand about P-Town. Why isn't there a nice hotel with a phone in it? It's a nightmare for me. I have to have a phone in my business. Nobody has phones except the Holiday Inn. I'm going to go to P-Town and stay at the Holiday Inn?
Does P-Town today strike you as substantially different from when you first arrived in the 60s?
People always say that P-Town is different. I think it's always exactly the same. Many of those shops have been there for 25 years. They must make a lot of money. I think sometimes if I dropped a Kleenex in 1965 it's still there. I go always into Adams' Drugstore for a vanilla coke. Otherwise, I never order a vanilla coke. It's really amazing how P-Town stays the same. In a great way.
It was earlier, I think, a little more mixed, gay and straight together. Certainly there were less lesbians. That's the big difference now: cool summer lesbians. I'm a big lesbian hag. Punk lesbians? They're my favorite.
Except for AIDs, kids at twenty are having exactly the same couple of really wild summers in P-Town we had at twenty. It's always remained pretty radical. My parents never came to visit me there. Never. To this day they'd be shocked and nervous walking down the street. If you aren't used to P-Town, it can be disorienting still.
Do kids stop you on the streets of P-Town?
They do. I feel like Uncle Remus: "Let me tell you of the time that Divine ate dog shit." But it's great: many kids today have this amazing knowledge of exploitation stuff, which they've discovered on all these weird videos. At Sundance, they actually called me,"Sir"!
Sir, no more drugs?
As I started having success about the time of Pink Flamingos, I gradually stopped taking them. I can't do anti-drug ads. I can't be that much of a hypocrite. But I'm not pro-drugs because many of the people who took them with me, including David Lochary, are dead because of them. Cookie died of AIDs probably of drugs. She died in NY but she was in P-Town till near the end, when she was very sick.
And your future in Provincetown?
I'd like to have a house there: that's my fantasy! And I still haven't missed a summer since 1965, even if it's just being there a weekend. Something bad would happen to me if I missed.
John Waters loathes sports metaphors, so I'll use one for Mary Vivian ("Bonnie") Pearce, Waters's great pal since high school. She's the Lou Gehrig of Dreamland cinema, with the longevity record of eight straight Waters films. Her string begins when she dances sexily in 1964's Hang the Leather Jacket, and it concludes with her poor, harassed princess in 1977's Desperate Living. (Later, she's somewhere about in 1994's Serial Mom.) On screen, Pearce is the ditsy, peroxide-doused Jean Harlow who moves lithely as a silent movie apparition, even as she (often) removes her blouse. Or has her toes sucked - who can forget the eye-popping scene? - in Mondo Trasho (1969). In Female Trouble (1974), she plays a fascist beautician. Normally, she's Waters's ingenue-in-residence, his neurotic "nice" girl who, alas, gets molested and defiled. Something's ever-seedy in Waters' blighted Baltimore.
Acting in Pink Flamingos ("I was with the good guys, of course."), Pearce is proud to have led an actors' revolt over the fact that cast and crew weren't fed. "John sneared when I complained to him,' she recalled. "But the next week there was cheap wine for lunch and bologna sandwiches."
Pearce lives in a downtown Baltimore apartment with two cats. That's where I interviewed her. She's no longer a dyed blonde, though she's certainly got her Dreamland superstar, good-breeding looks. For years, Pearce worked at the racetracks. This spring, she retired to become... a bicycle messenger. When she asked Waters for a reference, he replied, "What should I say if they call? That you can ride a two-wheeler?" More important, Pearce is completing an MFA in Creative Writing at Johns Hopkins University, specializing in short stories. "I actually write something every week," Pearce said. "The other students think I'm Joyce Carol Oates."
MARY VIVIAN PEARCE
In 1965, I had a Baltimore apartment with Pat Moran, when John went to P-Town with Mona and came back impressed. "It's really cool. Everyone's gay or they're heads, or they're gay heads." The next summer, I went with John and Mona.
I was 18, and it was three months after I got married. My husband was a jockey at Saratoga, and he told my father I'd left him and run off with beatniks. I was so pissed at him for telling! As far as I was concerned, it was a fake marriage to get me out of the house. I'd taken all our wedding presents back and bought books and records.
We got to P-Town before Memorial Day, and it was freezing. But we wanted to be at the opening day of restaurants and get free food. We'd go to art openings and guzzle the wine. Later, we'd go to Piggy's or the A-House and as soon as people went to dance, we'd snatch their beers. There was a restaurant across from the A-House. I'd go there and snatch people's food,
We had a basement apartment, and I'd cut through the back yard. We got thrown out because a guy complained to the landlady that I hopped his fence.
I'd been dying my hair blonde since I was 14. In P-Town, I cut it short, began wearing red lipstick and looking like Jean Harlow. It was kind of harsh, not as pretty as Marilyn Monroe, who I really wanted to look like. But I remember I had a really good time. Dr. Hebert gave me speed, "black beauties." I told him I wanted to be a model, for an acting part. He said, "OK, do you want the strong pills?" He was very old, and fell asleep examining people.
Speed was easily available. You could go into any doctor's mailbox and get free samples, or get it prescribed: it was either for depression or obesity, and everyone was fat or depressed. You didn't have to spend money on food, and speed gave you a lot of energy. For example, it would take us about ten hours to get dressed and put on makeup for our movie premieres. We could start at ten in the morning with a couple of hits.
Because I'd worked at the race track and knew how to ride, I got a job at the stable taking people horseback riding through the trails and dunes. But I got fired because of too much P-Town night life. I'd be out until 2 or 3 in the morning. I'd have to get the stable at 9, but I was showing up for work at noon.
So I was a chambermaid at a hotel. They'd pick me up, in this carpool of other maids, local girls. I was hideous. I lay around on beds watching TV. Then I was a waitress at the Flagship, and had to get this outfit that was supposed to look like a peasant. I didn't last long. I poured coffee in someone's lap. One person gave me a nickel tip I gave him such bad service. The owner said I had a mental block.
Then I had a job at Bridge's Breakfast. I lasted a week. Then I worked in a dress shop, and they liked the way I looked. I didn't do anything. Sometimes children screamed when I moved because they thought I was a mannekin. Then I was at the fish factory. There, they found out that I was a movie actress because I tacked an article about it next to a clipping about the record for packed lobster tails.
Something happened during the time I was at the Buttery washing dishes. I was interested in joining the Venceremos Brigade in Cuba and I was reading Ninety Miles From Home in my room. There was a knock, and I was afraid: someone had followed me from a bookstore and caught me stealing. I opened it - and this guy had a gun. I pushed the gun, and he ran away. I told the P-Town police he looked like a used car salesman. So the next day, they drove me to a used car lot!
My reaction was that I went out and got dead drunk, though the rumor about town was that I'd kicked the gun out of his hand.
I rode an old Schwinn bicycle covered with rust, but I almost got caught selling a stolen bicycle. The police took me in, and questioned me. Somehow they believed me when I told them I'd bought it from a dishwasher.
Did I go to the beach? Oh, no. Jean Harlow with a tan? I wanted to keep my nightclub pallor. I'd wear No.50 in the shade to watch the sun set.
Some Dreamlanders almost never had sex. We shoplifted and took speed, yet we all got crabs one summer. There was John, boiling his underwear! And John and I got scabies, too. The doctor told John he hadn't seen a case since migrant workers in the 1930s.
John Waters calls her "one of the most talented members of my film repertory group." She's been in his films since 1966, appearing in the Chelsea Girls-influenced (three 8mm films shown simultaneously) Roman Candles. She's notorious as the lesbian rapist administering a "Rosary Job" to poor Divine in Multiple Maniacs (1970), but she's most internationally famous as the repulsive pre-Yuppie, Connie Marbles, in Pink Flamingos (1972). Her greatest acting job (if only there were Oscars for tasteless John Waters indies) was as the woe-ridden mad housewife in Desperate Living (1997).
Stole has lived in LA for seven years. Nobody from the East Coast believes her when she says, "I love California very much." She told me on the phone, "I'm sitting in a beautiful apartment with a lovely back yard. I don't mind if I never see another snow flake, except when I've chosen to go on a winter vacation."
Alone of living Dreamlanders, Stole has pursued acting outside of Waters's movies. There were dry times she blames on herself: "I was clueless, believing in my 'natural' quality, that acting classes would spoil it. And I had a grandiose sense of my own importance, that, instead of having to audition, theatres should call me. Well, they never called."
Still, she's had a colorful career. She did off-off-Broadway plays with the Theatre of the Ridiculous's Charles Ludlum, dinner theatre back home in Baltimore, and lots of alternative plays, including dramas of Tom Eyen, while living in San Francisco. "Divine and I did shows there with the Cockettes." Since Stole moved to LA, she's done voiceover work (she's the off-screen voice of the head juror in David Lynch's Lost Highways), and played a recurring role as a teacher on the Nickelodeon Channel's children's series, The Secret World of Alex Mack.
Most promising, Stole has several low-budget independent films about to come out. The most amusing is called, Pink As the Day She Was Born, in which, she said, "I play the proprietor of a highly stylized S&M bordello."
I'd always wanted to be an actress. When I met John in Provincetown it was fortuitous, though then he was more a friend of my sister, Sique.
My first summer there was 1966, when I lived in the Silva A-frames on Bradford St. I moved from there to Prescott Townsden's place, separate units got together by gangplanks, and Prescott and I got engaged. He was homosexual and 78, and he bought me a diamond ring. There was speculation he might want children. The next summer, we broke our engagement, an amicable separation. I hooked up with Chan Wilroy in one apartment at Prescott's. There were four or five units, and John lived there, and my sister.
We could all kick ourselves: there are no photographs of the tree fort. It burned down in 1969 or 70, and the town was so pleaased that it was gone. The Moors leveled the hill and put in a parking lot.
In summer 1969, Sue Lowe, Cookie Mueller, and I found a shack to stay in on Bradford, on the low-rent West End. It used to drive me crazy: I'd come back from work at the Toy Store, and the two of them would be drinking jug wine and giving each other tattoos. Sue was a drunk, Cookie took lots of drugs: an equal opportunity consciousness. We were all high on something, and wrecked. MDA and quaaluds! The speed years! I remember going to bed late at night and taking a "black beauty" so I'd get awake.I remember John delivering "black beauties" on his bicycle. (After some years, John had a car, the rest of us were still on bicycles.)
I remember on acid going out to Long Nook. I could stand on the cliff, lean into the wind, and not fall. And the A-House! When I first came to town I was under age. I hung out in the alleyway desperate to be older. Sometimes they'd take pity on me and let me in for a coke. When I was 21, I had a beer at the A-House. It was a momentous occasion.
Sue left town, Cookie and I stayed. We had a pet, Hans the clam. I got hepatitis, which I always attribute to bad shellfish, the little clams we'd pick. I got quite ill, and Cookie had to take care of me.
In the summer of 1970, John and I had a big apartment on Franklin St. That's when Vincent Peranio came up from Baltimore and stayed on. We had a torrid love affair, and it was my first experience playing house. We had a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner, and I made a heartshaped cake. Sappy! We were so poor we had to give up cigarettes. In winter, we took LSD and walked on the dunes. There was no sliding, as they were frozen solid.
Divine had a thrift shop, the town closed it, and we had a hearing at Town Hall. "We need stores like this in town for people like me," I spoke up for the shop.
I'd worked at the Inn at the Muse as a hostess. That winter, I worked in the schools as a library aid, in mini-skirts and high heels. The teachers were horrified, but the kids laughed. And I thought I looked beautiful. That's what Vincent told me.
It was a tumultuous relationship. Vincent had a deaf dalmation named Pete that hated me because I'd usurped his place in bed. Then Vincent was planning to leave for Christmas. I said, "You can't leave!" Then he would not have a tree, and he would not play Christmas songs on his accordion.
Winter in Provincetown? I remember the harbor freezing. There was nothing to do except drive into Orleans for a 2nd- or 3rd-run movie. Social life consisted of the Fo'csle, maybe a few more bars, and it centered on alcohol. I've never been much of a drinker. When the weather got warm, Vincent and I both ended it. I left Provincetown in the summer of 197l. I didn't live there again, just came for a few days, a week, through the 70s. I had a summer there in 1981, when I had time to do it. But I haven't been back to Provincetown since 1988, almost ten years.
I do remember walking around town handing out flyers for Multiple Maniacs and Mondo Trasho. Were we movie stars in Provincetown? Before Pink Flamingos, we were completely taken for granted. We were the next-door-neighbors, the people who worked in shops.
Susan Lowe came to Baltimore in 1966 to study at the Maryland Institute College of Art as a 17-year-old, and soon met Divine, Howard Gruber, Van Smith. "I became a fag hag and fell into things: nudity, drinking, pot, and sex. Fun!" Her infamous attempt to hitchike to P-Town with Mink Stole and Cookie Mueller is immortalized in Mueller's essay, "Abduction and Rape-Highway 31, Elkton, Marlyland, 1969," in the 1997 posthumous collection, Ask Dr. Mueller (High Risk Books).
I met the very cool, quasi-punky Sue Lowe when I visited Baltimore, and we ate dinner with Bonnie Pearce in a cheapo Asian restaurant. Our interview was by phone weeks later. Interestingly, Lowe was cautious about implicating others in her wild adventures of the 60s and 70s, taking the blame herself for any indiscretions. Simply, she was a hopeless alcoholic then, out-of-control. "I was crazy, or having kids," she said.
Lowe has been one of Waters' people forever, as much for her off-screen friendships and Dreamlander nightclub acts as for Waters' movies. She took small roles in his films, but her one substantial role is among the best-remembered in Waters' oeuvre, as lesbian wrestler, Mole McHenry, in Desperate Living (1977). (Her part, I assume, is a splendid homage to duck-tailed, leather-jacketed, Mercedes McCambridge in Orson Welles's Touch of Evil.) "Sue's so convincing," Waters told me, "that people always assume she's that butch role."
Not at all. Lowe has long given up liquor, but,these days, she's got piles of boyfriends. She's also a university art professor, finishing an erudite master's degree, and an extremely accomplished painter. She's represented in P-Town by the Bang Street Gallery.
In summer 1969, Mink, Cookie, and I hitched to P-Town. We got a little house off Bradford Street, and I got a job at the fish factory.I was like a bum, hanging out with Howard Gruber, David Lochary, and Divine, and playing canasta. That was me on a calmer day. I was very drunk all the time, hardly ever dressed, crazy, hustling customers in the bars for drinks.
All the businesses went to City Hall, that's what I remember. City Hall people came to my door and told me I disrupted the town. So I decided to hitch home. I ended up in Pittsburgh on a fishing trip, where these guys were going to rape me. Then I met these hippies, we tripped all night, and they gave me a ticket back to Baltimore. Then John Liesenring and I hitched to New Mexico to live on a hippy farm. After a month, we hitched back to Baltimore.I was tired of traveling, and I was 18!
The next year, I was on the rebound. I was modeling at the Maryland Art Institute, seduced this drawing teacher. We went to Ireland, got married, and I got pregnant. The next year, we were in Provincetown. My husband (we were married for seven years, two children) was building houses, he built one in Truro. I worked at City Hall, selling 250th Anniversary tchotchkes. Nobody noticed it was me. I didn't do much drinking: "It's time for cocktails and a bike ride."
I had children! Then my husband left me when the youngest was three. I was on welfare. I always had boyfriends and girlfriends, and I was back in P-Town in 1976-77. I had a biker boyfriend, Kenny Orye, who played Eater in Desperate Living. He owned a bar in Baltimore's Fell's Point, used to run guns to Ireland. Everybody in P-Town loved him. He was funny, and we were all crazy and dysfunctional. He played guitar, sometimes sat in on my band. He died about ten years ago of substance abuse.
I had a cabaret review, the BB Steel Revue and the Fabulous Stilettos. We played Max's and CBGB's in New York, and they loved us in P-Town. I was the lead singer, Cookie and Sharon Niesp were backups. Also, Edith Massey played with us, and she did "Fever," "Over the Rainbow," and "Rhinestone Cowgirls."
Edith came to P-Town twice. Howard Gruber treated us to dinner at Front Street and she couldn't get over the gourmet food. She couldn't eat. She wanted chicken wings, or something like that. The Back Room gave me and Edith a room for free and a bar tab. They gave me a tab! Edith was mean when she got drunk, so she knew she shouldn't drink.
She wouldn't have been comfortable staying in P-Town. She liked her little Baltimore shop. I traveled with her in the car from Baltimore to P-Town and, let me tell you, she never was quiet! She'd count Volkswagons out loud.
In 1976, when I played the Back Room, they thought I was a drag queen. I'd tell them I was. I had a flamenco gown, red and glittery, and I'd do birdcalls. That's how I'd open up. I'd do Tina Turner songs, then rip off my clothes, and be there in a mini-skirt.
Though I'd started out in art school,in those days in P-Town, I was more interested in being a movie star and being connected with theatre people. I knew where the galleries were, but that's it. If we saw Robert Motherwell, we couldn't care less.
After the end of a second marriage, I've learned to live with myself. And I'm long sober. In summer 1996, I was in P-Town for three weeks because the Bang Street Gallery was including me in a group show. John was going up, Dennis was going up, and I had the best time. I stayed with Chan, whom I love, who bought some land and turned it into a circle of cottages. Now, P-Town is mostly a relax place: hang out and enjoy the water. Being with John, we always get a place in a restaurant. Everybody knows who we are.
But P-Town has changed a lot. It's been built up. I miss the Fo'csle. I was a Foc'sle hag! Growing up Catholic, I miss the Blessing of the Fleet. They don't have it any more. No more ritual. And I rode by Front Street and said "Hi" to it in my memory, but I didn't go in.
It feels like Poe's Baltimore, that tiny alley with abandoned, decrepit homes in the Fell's Point area. Here Vincent Peranio, John Waters's perennial art designer, lives with his wife, Dolores Deluxe. But what a property! Behind their ginger-bread sized house is a gothic castle's worth of dark gardens, hidden staircases, deserted buildings, all of which Vincent and Dolores plan to reconstruct. Their enthusiastic tour is alone worth a visit to Baltimore.
"I met John in Fell's Point," Peranio said. "Susan Lowe brought him into our house, which was Marilyn Institute of Art students and Johns Hopkins students, and we all hit it off. At one point, I lived with David, John, Cookie, and Mink at one time. I was an artist, and liked all kinds of people."
Peranio is the designer for the Baltimore-shot TV series, Homicide. But his supreme achievement was Pink Flamingos art direction on a $200 budget. The legendary film title was inspired by some plastic lawn ornaments which Peranio used to dress up a shot. "Pink Flamingos is the only work of art of mine which has shown at the Museum of Modern Art," he said.
Deluxe, who was art director of Polyester, admitted, "I missed the Provincetown thing," though she traveled with her friend Cookie Mueller to a California commune. "But Vincent took me there on a nostalgic trip. I remember going to the Cafe Blaise. And I was surprised about how much more beautiful things were in P-Town then I had imagined."
John came back to Baltimore with stories about how wonderful P-Town was, how crazy. "You'd love it as an artist,' he told me. I visited once, and then had an affair with Mink, between Multiple Maniacs and Pink Flamingos. That had to be 70-7l. I'd missed the summer madness and moved to P-Town in October. We stayed with Cookie and Sue Lowe, who were roommates, on Bradford Street. Divine lived three doors up with Howard Gruber. They had a big house and threw big parties. Divine worked in a gourmet kitchen shop, and had the best kitchen in town. He stole like crazy from these people, for his fiestas.
Mink was a high-school secretary and dressed like Pink Flamingos' Connie Marbles: the cat-eyed glasses, the high heels. It says something about P-Town that they hired her.
There were a million leather shops at the time, and I started working in one opened by Gus Gutterman on Commercial Street. I made belts, though I didn't have a traditional leather upbringing. I stayed on for several years, including winters. My apartment was $75 a month, year round. Thank God for food stamps, which they passed out Labor Day. We needed them, we were so poor. With food stamps, Divine had a fabulous party, and Mink made a steak. Divine cried. He hadn't seen a steak in so long! Our Christmas tree was a scrub branch from the dunes.The decoration was Mink's and Divine's clip-on 1950s jewelry.
Divine had a wild fur coat!
There's no bleakness like P-Town winter bleakness. I can recall: way down in the distance on Commercial Street, there'd be a little dark figure walking towards me, and then he'd turn off! One winter, we were so bored we did backup for these poor guys in a band. I guess they were desperate. My other memory is tripping on the dunes, which was a gas! I remember a wonderful February: LSD stops the cold.
Mostly, we'd go dancing at Piggy's, and also pick everybody up. This was before AIDs, and the worst fear was gonorrhea. There was a Puritan law of no dancing on Sundays. At midnight Saturday, there was music but no dancing. On Sundays, dancing started at midnight. We were avid dancers, and this may be the first time a lot of crazy outsiders spent the winter. We went to a town meeting and voted out this 200-year-old law. We outvoted the townies, and that's my great legacy to P-Town: let them dance any night of the week!
Mink was a star, especially in P-Town. She had this long scarf and did an Isadora Duncan: her scarf got caught in the spokes of her bike. Mink and I had a rather torrid, story-book romance. We would scream in the streets. She'd come into a coffee house and say, "I wish I could have a child named Vincent and kill it." How can you break up in P-Town and not see each other? I moved for a month into a tent.
I bought a '54 station wagon, and drove it back to Baltimore to do Pink Flamingos. In traffic,the brakes failed, and I crashed through cement steps. I was instantly in debt for damaging property. I've been pretty much encased in Baltimore since, including paying off that debt, though I hold P-Town dear in my heart.
Channing Wilroy is the only Dreamlander who still resides in Provincetown. In 1979, he bought a cottage colony on Pearl Street, between Henry Hensche's and the Fine Arts Worshop. He fixed it up, and rents it out. "I was on P-Town radio, playing 50s R&B on WLMR. 'The Night Train,' that was me. And I make telephone art."
Originally, he was a TV teen star in Baltimore, dancing rock'n'roll for three years on the legendary The Buddy Dean Show. The prototype of Dick Clark's American Bandstand, the program provided the inspiration, and chief setting, for John Waters' 1988 rock comedy, Hairspray.
In a way, Wilroy was the first celebrity to appear in a Waters' movie. Waters had admired him jitterbugging on TV. "I never auditioned for Pink Flamingos," he said. "John asked me if I wanted to be in it. I played the Marbles's chauffeur-impregnator. In Female Trouble, I played the prosecutor who sends Fatso to the electric chair. In Desperate Living I played the Captain of the Queers' Goon Squad. And I was music coordinator for Cry-Baby, using my 1950s R&B records."
He laughed when asked to comment on the capabilities of Waters' friends/actors in the films. "Some are better than others," he said, "but the fact that some suck adds character. We've got to give credit to Divine and Mink as the best. Otherwise, I really don't know how to judge. I do know I've gotten a lot of feedback. And we must have done something right if Pink Flamingos is around after 25 years."
I came to Provincetown in 1966 with Pat Moran and her husband at the time. John was here, and we'd all known each other from Baltimore. P-Town is where we got to be very good friends. I'd been coming to summer resorts for to work, but I thought that P-Town was an unusual place. My summer season got longer and longer, and I decided to stay. I've been living permanenently in P-Town since 1969.
In 1969, 1970, and 1971, I lived with Divine, and there was never a dull moment. He pulled a number of capers, and we always had to move because there was no rent. We lived with George Tamsitt, also from Baltimore. I don't know which of them, George or Divine, was more full of shit, and pulled the wool more over the other's eyes.
You've heard about when Divine auctioned off all his furniture? His landlady was Carey Seamen, a lawyer-real estate agent, quite old with lots of money and cheaper than shit. Divine was no longer here when the warrant was issued, but it lasted for seven years!
Divine ran a thrift shop, Divine Trash, on Bradford Street. Downstairs was the Penny Farthing Restaurant. He worked in his store and sold old clothing, china, bric-a-brac, collectibles. Some of the stuff came from the Truro dump. But he got in trouble because he didn't have a permit for a shop. Cookie Mueller was living with us at the time. That was the year she got pregnant, and had Max.
I was a chef at the Inn at the Muse in 1969 and 1970. Then I owned my own restaurant, Channings, where The Commons is today. Then I went back to manage the Muse. David Lochary lived with me in 1975, when I had my restaurant. How would he spend his day? Picking out his outfits for the evening, or sitting in front of a makeup mirror wondering how he should present himself.
David was doing lots of LSD. We all were. David reveled in it more than the rest of us. Also, he was a star, and liked to be treated as such. He went to New York and died, most likely an angel dust casualty. And he was drinking. He was still alive when found in his apartment. He had fallen on a glass and cut himself.
I go back to Baltimore occasionally and visit it, but those great days in P-Town are a while ago. They're becoming a blur.
Dennis Dermody is John Waters's best male friend, and he's not from Baltimore. "I was appropriated by the Baltimore people," he told me, when we talked on the phone. In the 70s, he met the Dreamlanders one by one when he lived in P-Town. Since, he's been to Baltimore as a house guest many times, and he lived there during the 1980 shooting of Polyester. He assumed the management of Pat Moran's Charles Theatre so that she could work on the movie. A long-time New Yorker who doesn't drive, Dermody took a bus to work every day in Baltimore. Also, he was on the Polyester set for key days of shooting, i.e., when 400-pound Jean Hill bit a bus tire. He even appeared in one shot (his only appearance in a Waters' movie): "I'm the last pervert coming out of the theatre showing the film, My Burning Bush," he brags.
The one-time off-off-Broadway ticket-taker met Willem Dafoe when Dafoe acted with the Wooster Group, and Dermody started his long-held job as nanny for Dafoe's son, Jack. He's also Senior Editor and, for ten years, the film critic for the spunky New York-based magazine, Paper. Dermody's movie reviews are knowledgeable, irreverent, genuinely hilarious, and share Waters's adoration of the absurd and bizarre.
I was working in Connecticut with retarded children, and I decided, "I've got to get out of here!" I came for the summer to P-Town in 1972, and was there outside of John's opening of Pink Flamingos, The actors arrived in cabs! I went to the theatre that week and saw it, and said, "Thank God, there are people as fucked-up as I am."
I met Cookie first, and she said, "Let's make a date to go to the movies." When I went over there, she was in the kitchen peeling potatoes, and her son, Max, was sobbing. "Potatoes are my friends," she said. "Max loves potatoes."
The movie we saw was Executive Action, and we got friendly. Cookie said to me, "You've got the same crap on the wall, you've got to meet John." She meant horror posters, similar kinds of books and artifacts. We read the same books: Grove Press publications: The Naked Lunch, John Rechy's City of Night. There was a murder in town that summer, a woman was found without hands. John got it into his head that I had the hands. He'd bug me, "I know you've got the hands. Show me! I'll give you $25!"
I worked in a record store, then I started spinning records at Piggy's, and it was really bizarre. You had two turntables, you weren't in a booth, and people literally would come up and rip records out of your hands. But you could mix anything. I remember on some JFK memorial day I played a John Kennedy speech, and then Junior Walker's "Shotgun" could be heard coming up in the background. People laughed!
I saw David Lochary at Piggy's, and he had a cool way of dancing. He had a great look: the Hawaiian shirts, the beard, the white-bleached hair. He cut quite a figure. We were in a play together, The Man Who Came to Dinner, at the P-Town Museum. I was Henderson, the axe-murderer, with one line: "Yes!" David was the all-American gentleman caller! Can you imagine! Actually, David did lots of theatre, and he was inimitable on stage, with his special charm.
I worked at The Movies, and eventually, for about five years, I was the manager. It was funky fun - old films,art films - and we'd yell at the customers. We showed Pink Flamingos and Desperate Living at midnight. I was always obsessive about movies. I'd hitch into Boston, see four movies, then hitch back. I remember one winter when we all went into Boston to see Robert Altman's Thieves Like Us.
I became close to John, and we corresponded in the winters. I was in Provincetown from 1972-1981, almost ten years year-round. I'm glad that actor Ron Vawter dragged me out of there. Otherwise, I'd be a 400-pound alcoholic at the Old Colony. I remember a showing of a video of John Huston's The Bible at the Governor Bradford. The bartender said, with no irony, "The book was so much better." I thought, "I've got to leave!"
In New York, I lived with Mink Stole for a little while. That didn't work out. I love her, but not as a rooommate! I was screaming for her when she won $15,000 on TV on Scrabble, appearing three days under her real name, Nancy Stole. She is fabulous!
I've known John for more than twenty years. I go to his house in Baltimore for Christmas, and, in the summer, we drive to P-Town together. What do I do there now? Go to a disco? I'm fifty! I never went to the beach. I do have friends there, but they are "reclusive," to put it mildly.
She's tiny, tough, and Jeanne Moreau-good looking. I talked to Pat Moran on Baltimore's waterfront, in the production offices of TV's Homicide, for which Moran is casting director. Before that, she ran Baltimore's premiere arthouse, the Charles Theater. She's also John Waters' three-decade very best friend, and confidante, and right-hand/left-hand person on the set of every one of his films. "My Siamese twin," he calls her.
"John and I have been hanging out for more than thirty years, and we talk constantly." she told me. "If he's on his way to New York, I'll call to make sure he gets there. Or he'll call me and leave a message that he's arrived. And after being together so many years, I know when he walks in the door that it's him!"
Moran is tremendously smart, and down-to-earth, and remains a 60s political outsider. Before we discussed Provincetown, Moran railed articulately against American government policy. Then we talked old movies, and she's an expert, adoring Bette Davis especially, and making me promise to see a French film called Baxter about a murderous dog.
I did. Baxter's neat.
Why did I first go to P-Town? Have you been in Baltimore in the summer with the humidity? It's like living in the Mekong Delta. But in those days, the 60s, people were footloose and fancy-free. Times were different, and you could pack up a car and take off. P-Town was reasonable enough to work and live there. The guy I was with there first had a job as a bartender at the Provincetown Inn.
In later years, after I had kids, we'd vacation there for two or three weeks. It's the greatest place in the world for kids, who can run around and everybody looks out for them. I have two, one is 29, the other 24, and we started to bring my oldest son when he was six. I went there always with Chuck, who'se been my husband for 26 years. He's a contractor who has nothing to do with the movies.
We never shared an apartment with John, Mink, and the Baltimore gang. My husband would find us a place in the East End. My husband would find a place, or we'd stay with Howard Gruber, or a lot of the time we'd stay at Poor Richard's Landing, which was perfect for my family. It was almost all gay people except for us. Poor Richard's had no sign, so you'd have to swing a gate. But when you're in there, you can sit in back and watch twenty thousand million stars. What's the sense of P-Town if you can't be right on the water? And why would you need to go to Truro? If you'd been to Poor Richard's before they filled in underneath, it was just great.
John and I have had an odd relationship with the scripts. Even though I always kind of knew what they were about in P-Town, and when he was on to something, I didn't ask him what he writing. Even today, I don't ask him.
If John is working on a screenplay, I won't talk to him from 7 in the morning until 12. Then I'll give him a few minutes until maybe 12:30. In P-Town, I was always an early riser. If John was writing, I was walking up and down, looking out my window, maybe heading down to the Portugese bakery. My husband might go shop at the fish market. Then we'd all meet up at the beach, usually off of the Landing.
On a typical day, we'd actually sit in the sun, though with 500 newspapers and maybe a trashy book, some great summer read. It was also great when a news story would break, Everyone would have an opinion, a big deal.
Sometimes, people would want to go off to Race Point, which was too athletic for me. And why would I want to go dancing? Why the hell was I at the beach?
For dinner, Chuck would cook sometimes, or maybe we'd go out, though in those days it took forever to dress, to finally see Howard at Front Street, his restaurant. Chan Wilroy was cooking at the time, and Dennis Dermody would meet us there after he got off work at The Movies. After Front Street, we'd sit on the benches gabbing, or we'd walk up to Spiritus. Or five or six kids would go up to Spiritus alone, even if it was 10'o'clock, and get a pizza. Or there were three movie theatres we could go to.
And we'd do the same thing the next day. Basically, the day was busy doing nothing. It was getting used to doing nothing in a place that was great to do it.
Well, the best day to me was the parade: magical! One float was with local firemen, another float was with Jimmy James, who looked more like Marilyn Monroe than any man ever did. And that day we'd have a big lobster cookout, often at Dennis's.
And the best thing, though not to John, was that there was no telephone. It would take a few days to get used to it. But for John it was, "Jees, I've got to walk up to Bryant's!" He'd walk there five times a day, to that phone booth, and try to get his shows together.
When Homicide was born, I stopped going to P-Town. I haven't been there in the last four years. But if I could figure out how to be in P-Town from May to October and Baltimore from October through March, that would be happiness.
It's almost as if P-Town isn't part of America. It's not harsh: it's a place where John, a non-athletic person and a sports bigot, rides a bicycle.
(Provincetown Arts, Vol.13, 1997-1998)