Filmmaker John Waters has never been in a Jacuzzi. He believes putting thin actors in fat suits is akin to putting white actors in blackface. He has a copy of Divine’s birth certificate – but he had to buy it on eBay.

Those are a few of the facts viewers learned last night when Waters and actress Ricki Lake held a virtual reunion with talk show host Andy Cohen on Bravo.

The reunion on Cohen’s show, Watch What Happens Live, was to mark the 33rd anniversary of the premiere of the original version of Waters’ film, Hairspray.

The movie debuted at the Senator Theatre in Baltimore on February 16, 1988, and was released nationwide on February 26. Lake starred as Tracy Turnblad, a heavyset teenager who becomes a heroine when she brings racial integration to a local TV dance show.

For half an hour, Lake and Waters answered questions from Cohen and fans and let viewers know what they’ve been up to lately.

Lake, 52, revealed that she just got engaged to boyfriend Ross Burningham, and he popped the question when she was naked in a Jacuzzi on the first night in her new home in Malibu.

 “It was romantic, it was very spontaneous and I couldn’t be happier,” she gushed, a little bit of Tracy Turnblad coming through.

That’s what prompted Waters’ admission about avoiding all Jacuzzis.

“I’ve never been in a Jacuzzi in my entire life,” he said. It’s “like a polio pit. Stagnant water with body fluids. It’s just too Plato’s Retreat for me. Too swinger.”

“I would soak in the bodily fluids of Ricki Lake any day,” Cohen said.

Speaking from his art studio in Baltimore, wearing a bright red scarf and headphones, Waters showed two souvenirs related to Hairspray: a clapboard from the last scene that was filmed (a shot of a rat running across a puddle of water, which required 12 takes), and the birth certificate of Divine, the actor who played Tracy Turnblad’s mother, Edna.

Divine, whose real name was Harris Glenn Milstead, died of heart failure on March 7, 1988, shortly after Hairspray was released.

“I had to buy it off of eBay, because somebody stole a lot of his stuff and it was terrible, I thought,” Waters said of the birth certificate. “I’m glad to have it.”

John Waters shows Divine’s birth certificate, which he had to purchase on eBay.

Lake, a former talk show host turned documentary filmmaker, displayed a photo of herself and Divine on the set of Hairspray, with Divine not wearing his Edna wig. Cohen showed a painting of Lake and Divine by Lake’s son, Owen Sussman.

Ricki Lake and Divine on the set of Hairspray

With Cohen’s prompting, Waters and Lake spent most of the half-hour show reminiscing about the filming of Hairspray, which Waters has called “one of the happiest times in my life.”

Waters said he regrets that a long joke shop scene with Jerry Stiller, who played Tracy’s dad, was cut down. Lake recalled a scene where “giant Baltimore roaches” were thrown at her back but then didn’t end up in the film.

Waters disclosed that Divine’s high heels were made of steel: “Divine was so heavy that his heels would snap all the time so he had to get them reinforced.”

He said Hairspray was his first and only movie that got a PG rating, which didn’t please the film studio behind the movie, New Line Cinema.

“New Line was so uptight that it got a PG — I thought, ‘My career is over now’ — that they wanted me to put the word s–t in so it would get PG-13,” he said. “But I think I was smart. I said, No, the shock value of this is that it is a PG rating, so I wanted to keep it.“

Lake said she lost a lot of weight with dance rehearsals for the film and that ran counter to the idea of making her character heavy, so the film crew came up with a solution.

“They sent me Dove Bars,” she said. “They called it fat patrol.”

“She came around the corner and was 30 pounds less weight,” Waters said. “So we, every time, Cut! Give her a Dove Bar!”

Waters devoted a chapter to Hairspray in his latest book, Mr. Know It All – The Tarnished Wisdom of a Filth Elder. It’s entitled “Accidentally Commercial.”

He recounted for Cohen the plots of three Hairspray sequels that he wrote but that never got made.

“One is a TV show, one is a Broadway musical sequel, and one is my own movie sequel,” he said. “They were all PG-13, I think. There was a hairdo miracle in one where Motormouth [Maybelle] sings so much that everyone’s hairdo in Baltimore changes.”

Another sequel was set in the late 1960s, “when the [dance] show goes off the air and they all become hippies and everything,” Waters said. “L’il Inez becomes a Black Panther. Link, he grows his hair long like a Beatle, and pimples start singing to him like The Chipmunks.”

Waters said he liked the Hairspray Live! version that NBC broadcast in 2016 even though he had very little to do with it, but he did have problems with one character.

“I was a little against that they made Motormouth Maybelle skinny with giant Vegas breasts,” he said. “To me, there are millions of giant black women in every church in America that could have sung that song…I’m always against the fat suit, too. That’s the blackface for fat girls.”

Waters told a story about the late Sonny Bono, who played Franklin Von Tussle, a racist. He said Bono was always afraid that he was going to try to make him do something that he didn’t see coming, like eat dog poop the way Divine did in Pink Flamingos. 

“At the very beginning, he said to me, ‘Now you’ve told me everything in the script? I’m not going have you say, Cut! and somebody’s going to run in and eat dogs—t and you’re going to put it in?” I said, No, we’re not going to do that.”

“He was running for Mayor of Palm Springs at the time he was playing a racist in this movie,” Lake noted.

“Couldn’t happen today,” Cohen said.

Waters, 74, also talked about current events, including an art exhibit called “John Waters: Hollywood’s Greatest Hits,” that runs until May 1 at the Spruth Magers gallery in Los Angeles, with visits by appointment only.

He said he raised $18,000 for the Provincetown Film Society when he offered to put himself up for auction and take people on a tour of sex spots in town.

He touted one of the movies he put on his list of Best Films of the Year in 2020 for Artforum magazine, Butt Boy. “The last part of the movie takes place in his rectum,” he said. “That was pretty jaw-dropping.”

Waters said he wasn’t shocked that Divine ate dog poop at the end of Pink Flamingos.

“We had been talking about it for a year,” he said. “It was the last shot in the movie. Divine was a pro. That’s why I can never understand why Ricki is complaining about roaches in her hair. Divine ate dog s—t…Divine also swam across a river in Female Trouble in full drag in November.”

Speaking of scenes that make viewers squeamish, Waters said, he had another dog-related idea.

“I never was really going to do this, but I always wanted to have a boa constrictor eat a poodle,” he said. “I know I’m going to get hate mail on this…I didn’t do it, because I couldn’t figure out how to fake it.”

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Ed Gunts

Ed Gunts is a local freelance writer and the former architecture critic for The Baltimore Sun.