John Waters' undyingly loyal friends double as Baltimore's first family of film. KITSCH & KIN

April 15, 1994

They've smeared themselves with molasses, spent days searching for iron lungs and pulled all-nighters with 5,000 flies.

When you belong to John Waters' cinematic inner circle, this is what's asked of you -- and more.

In a business where friendships often fade with the final credits, Baltimore's bad boy of film has cultivated a group of like-minded cohorts who have helped translate his oddball vision onto the big screen for nearly three decades.

They were there when the budgets were thin, the acting questionable and the audience nonexistent. Many are still around today as Mr. Waters' latest film, "Serial Mom," opens across the country.

Like many friends, they've weathered adversity together -- particularly the deaths of friends such as Divine, Edith Massey and Cookie Muller. Pat Moran, Mr. Waters' sidekick, refers to the remaining clan as "the relics."

Mr. Waters prefers a more endearing term.

"I think of us as an extended family," he says.

His role in the family?

"Oooh," he says bashfully. "Don't make me use the F-word."


"Serial Mom" role: Associate producer and casting director. Role in the John Waters family: "If he's the father, I guess you'd call me the mother."

Before Pat Moran met John Waters, she was headed for the Peace Corps. Instead, she wound up making movies starring Patty Hearst, Iggy Pop and a 300-pound drag queen.

In the process, she became a successful casting director who has worked not only on Mr. Waters' films but "Avalon," "Her Alibi" and Barry Levinson's "Homicide" TV series.

The center of the inner circle, Ms. Moran knows "everything" about Mr. Waters, a fact even the filmmaker confirms.

But don't ask the loquacious Ms. Moran -- who used to run the Charles Theatre -- to dish about her confidante.

"Now," she says, "I wouldn't be much of a friend if I told" his secrets.

The two met 30 years ago at the Mount Vernon Flower Mart. Her first impression: "I remember he was awfully skinny and had an awfully long neck."

In addition to casting most of his movies, she's had a small acting part in nearly every one. "I've done everything -- acting, casting, producing, catering," says Ms. Moran, who lives in Mount Vernon and says she's "a few years older" than Mr. Waters, 47.

Although she's never attended film school, she believes working with John Waters is a crash course in movie-making.

Take "Desperate Living." Mr. Waters was shooting in rural Maryland on a sub-freezing day. With filming going slowly, Ms. Moran feared the extras would start leaving.

Her solution: She commandeered a school bus they were using and blocked in all the parked cars. No one could get away until the scene was over.

"In this business," she says, "you wake up with a sword and shield to get through the day."

"Serial Mom" role: Prop coordinator. Role in the John Waters family: Archivist brother.

As the "archivist brother," Bob Adams doesn't keep the family history tucked away in a drawer or closet. He splashes it across his Fells Point shop, Flashback, where the shelves are stocked with videos, soundtracks and memorabilia from John Waters' movies.

Behind the register is his most precious commodity -- film scrapbooks and photo albums featuring never-before-published photos, including one of Johnny Depp wearing nothing but a smirk and his briefs.

Mr. Adams, who met Mr. Waters in the late '60s, says it's a twisted sense of humor that keeps their friendship going.

"He makes killing funny. Is that wrong?" asks Mr. Adams, who lives in Fells Point.

As a friend, he protects Mr. Waters from "undesirables," he says. "You don't ever give out his phone number or address."

With his network of antique dealers and collectors across the country, Mr. Adams is often given the job of finding props that seem unfindable. Among the toughest things he's located are a 1920s motorcycle muffler and an antique Old Maid card for "Cry-Baby."

"I've been through it all with him," says Mr. Adams, 48. "When you're out there working for nothing for weeks and weeks, you realize there's a special bond."

The bond is so special he allowed Mr. Waters to christen him "Pugue" after a radio riff Mr. Adams used to do called "the Psychedelic Pig."

At the moment, though, it's not his name -- but Mr. Waters' reputation -- he's concentrating on.

Mr. Adams is optimistic about the film's chances, but he worries about its reception in the South.

"Will the Bible Belt see a teacher getting run over as funny?" he wonders. "We'll have to wait and see."

"Serial Mom" role: Production designer. Role in the John Waters family: Decorator uncle.

Vincent Peranio makes his way through his Fells Point warehouse, past the antique wheelchair from "Desperate Living" and the plastic driftwood lamp from "Hairspray," talking about his beginnings in the movie business.

"John was filming 'Multiple Maniacs,' " he says. "He needed a giant lobster and asked me to make one. I have a problem saying no, and that was the start of my career."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.