My Son Divine, by Frances Milstead with Kevin Hefferman...

Editor's Choice

October 21, 2001|By Michael Pakenham

My Son Divine, by Frances Milstead with Kevin Hefferman and Steve Yeager (Alyson Books, 256 pages, $18.95, paper).

It would be both inhumane and inaccurate to say that that consummate Baltimore filmmaker, John Waters, invented the character Divine -- hugely prominent and entertaining star in Waters' Female Trouble, Pink Flamingos, Polyester and Hairspray. Until Waters took him up and named him, however, Divine was Harris Glenn Milstead, angelic choirboy and then somewhat effeminate and troubled teen-ager. He became an enormous and irresistible drag queen. Through Divine, Waters most eloquently expressed his genius for filling screens with ironies that are as cheerful and outrageous as they are immortal social commentaries.

Divine died in 1988 in his sleep, from a heart attack, at the peak of his career. He had reconciled with his family, after a long and difficult rift. In this thoroughly engaging, fluently readable biography and tribute by Divine's mother (aided by two professional filmmakers who have tracked Waters and his madcap tribe), the whole saga becomes crisp, enchanting and somehow celebratory. A fitting presentation of a Baltimore cult hero(ine). Glorious photographs, too.

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