As John Waters gets his star on Hollywood Boulevard, fans in Baltimore toast the ‘Pope of Trash’

The ceremony in Hollywood was streamed at two historic Baltimore theaters for friends and fans of the iconoclastic director and author

Published 9/18/2023 8:35 p.m. EDT, Updated 9/19/2023 2:46 p.m. EDT

John Samuel Waters Jr. (born April 22, 1946) is an American filmmaker, writer, actor, and artist. He rose to fame in the early 1970s for his transgressive cult films, including Multiple Maniacs (1970), Pink Flamingos (1972) and Female Trouble (1974). He wrote and directed the comedy film Hairspray (1988), which was an international success and was later adapted into a hit Broadway musical.

John Waters declares he’s closer to the gutter than ever.

So said the famed Baltimore filmmaker on Monday, just minutes before his star was unveiled on the Hollywood Walk of Fame next to the historic Larry Edmunds Bookshop.

Waters, 77, said he has frequented the store dedicated to film and theater history many times over the years, making it the perfect location on Hollywood Boulevard for a star celebrating the so-called “Pope of Trash.”

“I hope the most desperate showbiz rejects walk over me here and feel some sort of respect and strength,” he said dryly during a ceremony that was streamed live for Waters devotees at two historic Baltimore theaters. “The drains on this magic boulevard will never wash away the gutter of my gratitude, the flotsam of my film career or the waste of Waters’ appreciation.”

In addition to his self-deprecating sense of humor and signature pencil mustache, Waters brought along the stars of some of his classic films to the ceremony. They included Baltimore’s own Mink Stole, who has appeared in all of his films, as well as actress and TV host Ricki Lake, who wore an acid green dress and bug-encrusted black opera gloves (no doubt a callback to her character Tracy Turnblad’s pink satin cockroach gown in “Hairspray”).

Back home in Baltimore, dozens of Waters’ friends, colleagues and diehard fans decked in beehive hairdos, fluorescent pink blazers and Divine T-shirts turned out to The Senator and Charles theaters for a livestream of the ceremony. Ahead of the event Monday, The Senator spruced up the painted cement sidewalk in front of the box office that memorializes several world premieres of Waters films at the theater, built in 1939.

“He [Waters] is one of a kind, but reflects something about the character of this region,” said Jean Hall, an 81-year-old fan. “He takes the stuffy dimension of this culture and turns it upside down.”

Hall, a Wyoming native, has been a fan of Waters ever since she moved to Baltimore in 1974. She borrowed a friend’s VCR back then to watch her first Waters film, “Pink Flamingos,” a film she considered both shocking and wonderful.

The 1972 black comedy’s most distasteful scene (pun intended), when the character Divine puts dog feces in her mouth, was mentioned by a number of those in attendance at The Senator.

Early in Stuart Sperling’s career as a film editor for Waters, he watched “Pink Flamingos” for the very first time alongside the irreverent director. Sperling said he’d been warned about the shocking moment, but couldn’t help asking the director early in the movie if it was just a bit of cinematic magic.

Waters took a drag of his cigarette and exhaled a cloud of smoke.

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“‘You just watch,’” the director replied, according to Sperling.

And that’s exactly what millions of Waters fans have been doing ever since. In fact, his contributions are also being celebrated with a new exhibit, “John Waters: Pope of Trash,” and a screening of his films at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles.

His nomination for the Walk of Fame came at the request of Outfest, the organization dedicated to empowering LGBTQIA+ storytellers, for his legacy as a trailblazer. His body of work has both attracted cult followings and permeated the cultural zeitgeist.

He saluted Outfest for the nomination and for thinking he was “gay enough to receive it.” Waters suggested that longtime friend and muse Divine receive her star posthumously next year.

During her keynote speech, Mink Stole recalled watching as Waters’ audience grew in size, diversity and devotion over the years.

“I don’t know how he comes up with characters like the Egg Lady, who lives in a crib in her underwear, or Serial Mom, who murders to avenge society’s missteps, but I don’t care,” Stole said. “What I do know is that John is brilliant. He is decent, unfailingly decent. And he is the hardest-working man in show business.”

From left, American actors Colleen Fitzpatrick, Debbie Harry, Divine (1945 - 1988), and Ricki Lake in a scene from 'Hairspray,' directed by John Waters, 1988.

Linda Boyland, who attended the streaming event at The Senator, worked as a set costumer for Waters on several of his films, including “Pecker” and “Cecil B. Demented.” Her job was to assist the actors between scenes and monitor for continuity errors.

Still, she often found the director just as entertaining as the exaggerated humor he infused into his movies.

“The best part of watching John work is watching him watch the actors,” Boyland said. “He gets so tickled with himself.”