John Waters says drag legend Divine’s intimate memorabilia is being ‘held hostage’

Drag queen Divine (L) and John Waters (R).

Director John Waters wants to reclaim drag legend Divine’s ‘cheater’ – a piece of drag paraphernalia used to hide a queen’s penis – for a new exhibition celebrating his work at LA’s Academy of Motion Pictures exhibition.

The 77-year-old filmmaker – whose films include genre-defining cult classics such as Polyester, Multiple Maniacs and Pink Flamingos alongside mainstream hits such as 1988’s Hairspray – was childhood friends with trailblazing drag icon Divine, famously the inspiration for The Little Mermaid‘s sea villain, Ursula.

Waters and Divine worked together many times before the drag queen’s death in 1988.

The new exhibition, John Waters: Pope of Trash, highlights Waters’ 60-year career across 400 objects, including a section dedicated to Divine, real name Harris Glenn Milstead, who Waters helped make one of the biggest names in drag during the second half of the 20th century.

However, the exhibition is missing a key item of Divine memorabilia, which Waters said is being “held hostage” to the tune of a “ludicrous amount of money”, in interview with Entertainment Weekly.

Divine (Centre L) stars in John Waters' hairspray.
Divine (Centre L) stars in John Waters’ hairspray. (Getty)

Waters explained that Divine’s ‘cheater’ was inherited by a friend after the drag queen’s death, who subsequently promised Waters he would attribute it to the director in his will. However after the friend passed, his family auctioned off several of his items, including the coveted cheater.

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“Somebody bought a box with a million things in it, including the cheater,” Waters said. “And then called me and wanted a whole lot of money, like held it hostage, kind of. I mean, they literally didn’t do that, but they asked for a ludicrous amount of money.”

The new owner refused to allow Waters to add the cheater into his archive. “They still have it somewhere,” the director said. “I want that cheater back!”

In a separate interview with Variety, the transgressive director reflected on why anti-drag bills being pushed across conservative states in the US such as Tennessee, Kentucky and Montana are actually helping the art form to thrive.

“I think they’re helping, the way Anita Bryant was the best thing for gay rights ever,” Waters said. “She killed her career because of her stupidity, trying to attack something that had already been accepted.” Bryant was a notorious 1970s anti-gay activist and singer who inadvertently sparked a queer revolution.

RuPaul has done great work. She has made drag acceptable for Middle America. It ain’t going back,” he concluded.

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