Born Harris Glenn Milstead on October 19, 1945, Divine would have been 75 years old this year, if it weren’t for her untimely end on March 7, 1988. To celebrate the birth of the late, great drag icon, we’re republishing the following interview with John Waters from the January, 1983 issue of High Times, excerpted from John Water’s 1981 book, Shock Value.
John Waters: How does it feel to be the most beautiful woman in the world?
Divine: I tell you, it’s pretty disillusioning at times. It’s not all limousines and emerald earrings. I know why people in show business have breakdowns.
JW: Let’s start at the beginning. When you were a kid, did you use to get in drag?
D: I didn’t have any brothers or sisters, so I used to play with this imaginary person, Jim. We just talked all the time; I would get dressed up and talk to him. I only had about an hour and a half alone when I got home from school before my parents came home. Once I got caught by my grandmother—I had on a slip and a big hat and she chased me across the lawn.
JW: When you were in grade school, did you realize you were…special?
D: I was always strange in some ways. I don’t necessarily think I was that effeminate when I was young.
JW: Did the other kids hassle you in grade school?
D: No, that didn’t start until late junior high, early high school. They used to wait for me after school to beat me up—I was black and blue.
JW: How did you get into drugs?
D: I used to put it down at first. I thought if you smoked grass you were a junkie. But then I tried it and it was a whole other ball game.
JW: That’s when we all started shoplifting together.
D: Yeah, we were good. I had forty cashmere sweaters.
JW: What was the most audacious shoplifting adventure you remember?
D: The time I walked out of a hardware store with a chain saw in one hand and an electric drill in the other. I used to go in there every day and take stuff. I thought I was invisible then. I don’t know why I did those things.
JW: Were you ever involved in the political riots of the ’60s?
D: No, I couldn’t run as fast as you all could. I remember my father was disappointed that I didn’t go. “If I was your age, I’d be out there breaking windows,” he told me.
JW: I think you gave the best performance in Female Trouble.
D: I was thinking about that one the other day—another torturous role. I had to switch from a man’s role to a woman’s in one day. I had to shave so quickly I was a bloody mess.
JW: Did you enjoy promoting the films?
D: Yeah, that time in Philadelphia when the film had been playing for a year and I had to jump out of a cake. That’s when some fan gave me a whole big box of different-colored turds wrapped in tissue paper. It was all shit, but it was very pretty. I remember you used to drag me to the University of Maryland for appearances and we’d have to have dinner with those professors and their families. I’d be sitting there in drag—eight-feet tall—and their kids would be horrified. But I trusted you completely. When you told me to do things, it worked. To this day I don’t understand why. I walk on stage with you and abuse the audience with words and they love to hear it.
JW: Did you ever want to have a sex change?
D: No. I thought about it at one point a long time ago when we were making Pink Flamingos. I thought about having hormone injections so I could have big breasts. It wasn’t worth dying so I could wear a low-cut dress. I got over it.
JW: I know how weird it is to travel with you—when airport security opens your suitcase and sees your cheater and fake tits.
D: I still put all that stuff on top when I travel abroad. They open my bags and see two tits staring up at them and they slam it closed. You could smuggle heroin in there. Lately, coming into America, the customs people know me. They say, “I’m not gonna look through your luggage—just give me an autographed photo.”
JW: Why do you think you are popular?
D: When you think of a bombshell, you think of Monroe or Mansfield, you don’t think of a three-hundred-pound man. People like to be shocked.
JW: Since being overweight is part of your appeal, can you give us some pointers on gaining weight?
D: God, well… I love sodas. Spaghetti, candy, anything starchy.
JW: What’s the most you’ve ever eaten at one sitting?
D: I guess two pies, a quart of ice cream and a gallon of milk. I got sick. I was so afraid someone would get a piece of the pie that I had to eat it all.
JW: How do you stand politically?
D: I’d like to run for office in San Francisco and campaign for drag-queen rights. I want a coronation. I want to be Queen of the World!
JW: Did you have an affair with Elton John?
D: No. I wouldn’t tell anyone if I did. Elton is a good friend. I did his show with him as backup at Madison Square Garden.
JW: Have you ever had a big star be rude to you?
D: Yeah. Cher. I was at this party in L.A. for Three Dog Night. I was in drag in a white cocktail dress. So this photographer said, “Come on, Cher’s here—go over and stand with her so I can get a picture.” Cher said, “Wait a minute! Wait a minute! What are these pictures for?” and the photographer said, “Italian Vogue,” and Cher said, “Oh, come on. I might have been born yesterday, but it wasn’t in Poland!” and she dismissed me with a wave of her hand. I just looked at her and wanted to snap her nails off.
JW: What do you think you’d be doing today if you weren’t in show business?
D: I never gave it a thought. I want to continue doing what I do until I drop dead or somebody shoots me.