Director Jeffrey Schwarz gives us the entire story of Divine in I Am Divine, which was the opening night film at the London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival.
Born an only child in 1945 in Baltimore, Maryland to a conservative family, Harris Glenn Milstead was an overweight child due to his love of food, and in his teens he knew he was different because of his attraction to men, though he did have a girlfriend in high school. However, at the age of 17, Milstead met John Waters (who would later give him the name, Divine), and his life would never be the same.
Both were from the same neighbourhood, and with their newfound friendship, Divine starting hanging out with Water's group of misfit friends, including Mike Stole. Waters, an inspiring filmmaker, saw something in Divine and would eventually have him star in ten of his films. Once Divine got his unique look, half shaved head and eye makeup that literally went to the top of his forehead, that was the look he kept. Soon enough, Waters had Divine starring in films such as Roman Candles and Eat Your Makeup, with Divine playing Jackie Kennedy, where they recreated the John F. Kennedy assassination scene, and Waters had Divine covering up the actor playing JKF, whilst climbing on to the back of the convertible. It was 1965. Not many people at that time thought it was funny.
Divine then found his was to San Francisco and performed on stage with The Cockettes, a famous psychedelic drag queen group. However, it was John Waters next film that would take Divine to another level of stardom. Pink Flamingos, made on a budget of $10,000, shocked America and the world because of one scene, the scene where Divine eats actual dog poo. After this, Divine was soon hanging out with Andy Warhol and going to Studio 54, being mobbed at airports. It a life Milstead never dreamed he would have.
Another movie, Female Trouble, followed, and then Divine was off to New York City to star in a play called Women Behind Bars, and it was in New York where Divine became the centre of the New York social scene, becoming friends with Elton John and having limousines at his disposal. But Divine was also smoking a lot of marijuana, and continued eating a lot. What else could Divine do to become a bigger star?
He became a singer, and had several hit records, and toured the country singing in clubs, but it was his weight that was causing him problems. He would have to stop shows halfway through just to catch his breath. Another film followed, this one with the good-looking former teen idol, Tab Hunter, called Lust in the Dust. It was filmed in the desert in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Divine had a hard time in the hot temperature.
Then came Hairspray, which was John Water's most mainstream film, and with it, Divine got the best reviews of his career. Divine was at the pinnacle of stardom, which sadly came to an end. Three weeks after Hairspray was released nationwide in 1988, Divine died of a massive heart attach. I am Divine is just divine, and we finally get to know the man who was Divine.
I Am Divine is now out in UK cinemas.