Alexis was first in line at the Senator Theatre on Monday to join fellow John Waters fans in viewing the livestream of the “Pope of Trash” receiving his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
She’s not seen all of Waters’ films, but she has seen his earliest films and all of his more recent films. When pressed, she couldn’t choose a favorite movie. “I just appreciate him as a favorite son of Baltimore. I’ve seen him many times at the Maryland Film Festival on nights when he introduces a film…. It’s just great that I can come here and participate virtually and celebrate it.”
Speaking of Waters’ impact on Baltimore, Alexis says, “I think he’s had a big impact, because he’s never left here, he always features his films from here, he loves and respects the city — and plenty of people do not who don’t live here — so I really admire that about him.”
The Senator Theatre in North Baltimore has hosted several world premieres of Waters films, including the original “Hairspray” on Feb. 16, 1998; “Cry-Baby” on March 14, 1990; and “Serial Mom” on April 5, 1994.
Cast, crew members, and other dignitatires have signed their names in the cement of the siewalk in front of the theater.
Amanda Gunther, a theater critic at TheatreBloom.com, waited outside the Senator decked out in her finest “Hairspray” regalia. She described having an unexpected encounter with Waters in Club Charles late one night.
“I was having a go-round with the director of Yellow Sign Theater Company, as you do, and we stopped in front of a table and we’re arguing, and I splashed a little bit of whatever I was drinking onto this poor man’s table,” Gunther said. “I said, ‘I’m sorry,’ and kind of continued having the argument with the director, and he said, ‘You just spilled (whatever I was drinking) on John Waters.’”
“I was like, ‘OH NO, HI, I’m so sorry!’ and he [Waters] sort of said, ‘This is Club Chuck. It happens.’ Then he just sort of shook my hand and got up and wandered away,” Gunther said. “And I had so many expletives coming out of my mouth. And that was my one and only accidental introduction to John.”
When asked what she might say should she have the chance to meet him again, Gunther said other than apologizing again for spilling a drink on him, she would want to talk to him about “Liarmouth: A Feel-Bad Romance,” his debut novel.
“Here’s the one and only fiction thing he wrote, because I bought that as an audible and I listened to it. But about an hour and a half in I’m like, I am in a train wreck that I can’t get out of and listened to it all the way through to the end. And it was so horrifyingly interesting. It was funny. And I would just love to know what goes on inside that man’s head. As I’m sure most of us would.”
Inside the main theater of the Senator, the livestream began at 2:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time (11:30 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time) with Hollywood Chamber president and CEO Steve Nissen welcoming viewers from around the world and in person to the ceremony, which took place in front of the historic Larry Edmonds Bookshop. Nissen gave personal shoutouts to those watching from The Senator and The Charles after describing how Waters developed into the iconic filmmaker he became.
“John was drawn to filmmaking at an early age and as a teenager began making eight-millimeter underground movies influenced by famous directors like John Luke Goddard, Walt Disney, Andy Warhol, Russ Meyer and Ingmar Bergman. Those are pretty good influence,” Nissen said.
“Hailing from Baltimore, Maryland, John has stayed incredibly connected to his hometown. In fact, all his 16 movies are set in what our honoree calls the Hairdo Capital of the World. Wasted on me, but God bless those who can take advantage. Two historic theaters in Baltimore, The Charles Theatre and The Senator Theatre, where several of John’s movies premiered are live streaming the ceremony today, so hello, Baltimore!” Nissen said.
Three speakers spoke of their love and admiration for Waters before he was brought up for his presentation: Mink Stole (who acted in many of Waters’ films including “Serial Mom,” “Pink Flamingos,” “Female Trouble,” and the 1988 “Hairspray”), Greg Gorman (who has photographed many of Waters’ portraits), and Rikki Lake (who played Tracy Turnblad in the 1988 version of “Hairspray”).
Stole spoke of their friendship since the age of 19, describing Waters as “brilliant, decent, unfailingly decent, and the hardest working man show business.”
“I am proud of the work that I’ve done with John. But I have to tell you that I am far more proud of the fact that for well over half a century, he has been my friend,” concluded Stole.
Gorman also testified to Waters’ work ethic and confirmed that Waters is a friend like no other. He also attested to his brilliance.
“What surprises me the most is when you see John perform, he’d speak so off the cuff and for those of us that know him, well, he does so many different stand-ups during the year and every one different and every one like he’s just talking to you like I’m trying to talk to you today. And just off the cuff. It’s just so credible. And honestly, he’s the most literate and politically incorrect person I know,” Gorman said.
Lake channeled her 18-year-old self, reading a letter she’d written to Waters when the film “Hairspray” had finished shooting.
“First of all, thank you for giving me the greatest experience of my life. I realize you took a big chance with me and for my sake, I’m sure as hell glad you did. I love you like a brother, father, director, friend, savior, even lover — well, maybe not lover. However you are the one person I will never forget for the first time in my life,” read Lake.
Nissen again took to the stage, and someone threw him a Baltimore Ravens hat, which he gamely donned to cheers and applause from the crowd, both in the Hollywood audience and the Senator Theatre. He brought Waters to the stage to present him with the resolution and to deliver his speech, which Waters opened in true Waters style.
“Thank you! God! Here I am! Closer to the gutter than ever!” declared Waters.
He spoke of the synchronicity of having his star placed in front of the Larry Edmonds bookstore, as it’s his favorite spot on Hollywood Boulevard, and he’s been going there for half a century. Then, he spoke of family.
“I’d like to dedicate this wonderful honor to … my parents,” said Waters, who brought a framed photo of his mother and father to place on his star.
“To my parents Pat and John Waters who, despite being horrified by my early films, and some of the late ones, too, encouraged me to continue because I guess they just thought what else could I possibly do except be in show business? And many of my family is here today and I imagine they are as astonished as I am about this tribute in a way,” Waters said.
He concluded, “Hollywood Walk of Fame, you’re the best! And I hope the most desperate showbiz rejects walk over me here and feel some sort of respect and strength. The drains on this magic boulevard will never wash away the gutter of my gratitude, the flotsam of my film career, or the waste of Waters appreciation. Thank you, Academy, for this major show you’ve been giving me. Thank you, Hollywood. This time, I’ve finally gone beyond the Valley of the Dolls. Thank you!”
Outside the Senator, after the livestream, actor and assistant director Donald Imm spoke about the ceremony. Even though “Cry Baby” was filmed in his town (Reisterstown) and old high school, Imm cites “Hairspray” as his favorite Waters film.
Imm cited how characteristically funny Waters was during the ceremony, and loved the moment when Nissen donned the Ravens hat, but he was moved by Waters’ tribute to his parents.
“It was a really nice moment, the photograph of his mom and dad, and that was a very nice tribute. They were very supportive about him and that was a very nice gesture,” Imm said.
He’s had the opportunity to meet Waters a few times, and through a mutual friend had an interesting story.
At the very first Mountain Film Festival, Imm spoke to a friend at the festival who’d interviewed Reverend Fred Hanna, who is the one who allowed Waters to show his very first film, “Roman Candles,” in the basement of his church.
“I was shocked because I lived across the street from him [Rev. Hanna] as a family friend. I had no idea that he knew John Waters. He had no idea that I had an interest in film because I worked in that business,” Imm said.
“And he said, ‘Well, if you ever talked to John, he’ll say that he wouldn’t be in this business if it wasn’t for Reverend Hanna.’ Fast forward about 10 or 15 years later, I was at his [Waters’] Christmas party and I walked in, introduced myself and said, ‘By the way, we have a mutual friend, Reverend Hanna.’ And he said, ‘Oh, I wouldn’t have been in the business if it wasn’t for Reverend Hanna.’ Almost exact same words.”