John Waters Says His Book Helped a Manson Girl
By Nicki Gostin Posted May 10th 2011 10:30PM
John Waters, the fabulously subversive director who brought us Divine, gave Johnny Depp his first big movie break and the original 'Hairspray' has given us another treat: The paperback version of his collection of essays, 'Role Models,' which is just like the title says, a grouping of Waters's favorite role models. We wasted no time asking the directing legend about his most controversial role model, Leslie Van Houten, a Manson girl. Waters argues that Van Houten has "great remorse" for her crimes and should be released. "She should have gone to jail, but she's been in jail for forty years. It's not like nothing happened to her." He says his chapter on her has improved her living conditions in jail, even.
In his extended chat with PopEater, Walters also talked about the success of 'Hairspray,' his shock at how long it's been since Divine's death, whether he thinks 'Glee' has helped the lives of gay teens and why he loves Johnny Mathis so much.
How did the book come about?
When the Tennessee Williams memoirs came out they asked me to write the intro and he was a real role model for me so I got the idea that really I had so many role models so I started making a list and it came together very quickly.
The controversial one would be Leslie Van Houten, one of the Manson girls.
Yes, but Leslie has told me she has felt a great change in the visitor's room and from the guards since the book has been published. Her family was grateful because let's face it nobody has written anything nice about any of them. That chapter was my pleading for her to be released. I also brought up the worst things that the victim's relatives said about her release which I felt I had to do in order to be fair.
What do you say to the victims children?
I don't say anything to them. I say they can never be wrong because I'm fighting this from society's view point not from a personal view point and I can never address them. I don't feel it's my place to do that. There are people who have forgiven. Could I? I don't know. But I think you have to realize is that Leslie was with a mad man when she was 17 but as one of the victim's nieces said, 'I took LSD and I didn't kill anybody,' and so did I. There's not a fair answer to this question except I do believe that she has great remorse. She should have gone to jail, but she's been in jail for forty years. It's not like nothing happened to her. She hasn't just been sitting there. She's tried to make a life for herself, the best she could with this horrible thing that she did that she can never take back. All she can do is make herself a better person than she would have been hadn't this crime happened and I think she probably has.
Do you regret dedicating 'Pink Flamingos' to three Manson girls?
I regret that I was so flippant in a punk rock way, certainly Marilyn Manson did the same thing but at that time certainly I did not pay any respect to the victims and treated it almost as if it wasn't real as if it was a movie or an art project. After I taught in prison I started to really realize the effects on the families of the victims and the families of the killers. None of those people who were in the Manson family that I know had really terrible parents, they were horrified. That was every parent's nightmare what happened to them and their kids met the biggest pimp conman in the world who was really good at it. I was at the trial and he was incredibly charismatic then and it was electrifying and frightening. I can see how as a group how the insanity built and how it could have seemed appealing at the time. In the beginning it was not violent but by the time he turned them to violence they were too far gone.
I was surprised that Johnny Mathis is on the list.
The first time you go to a make-out party you remember the soundtrack. Johnny Mathis had instant success. He was a black man singing romantic songs that white girls listened to. Also you never hear about Johnny Mathis. He's incredibly famous but at the same time he's not like a cult figure. He's genuinely mainstream, popular all over the world yet you never see a picture of him in a gossip column. I've never seen him on a red carpet and that's fascinating to me.
Do you think it's easier coming out now?
The coming out story is sort of corny to me. Now there's all these rules like you can't have gay villains in movies. I'm against all that. I'm for the rights of lesbians to be bad parents. I'm for not lowering any kind of standards because we're gay. The gay Olympics is offensive to me. What are we, handicapped? I believe gay doesn't make you better or worse. I know some gay assholes and some of the smartest and nicest people I know are gay.
Do you think shows like 'Glee' have helped gay teens?
I mean, people are certainly more used to it. It's okay to be gay if you're rich and in an upper class school. If you're in the ghetto and gay it's worse than it ever was. The main people who are fighting gay marriage are Hispanic and black churches, so if you really want to have a gay march go picket black churches. Now that's a photo op from hell.
Is it weird how 'Hairspray' has morphed into such a mainstream hit?
No! I bought an apartment in San Francisco from it, it was great.
Okay wrong word. Not weird, ironic.
I've done like 15 movies and covered everyone. Kids only know me because I was on 'The Simpsons' or I was in the Chucky movie. You've got to spread it out there. If somebody likes one thing of the things I've done then I feel successful.
Do you miss Divine?
Yes I do miss him. The thing that amazes me the most is that when someone dies you still think of him as your age and I'm 65 and Divine died when he was 42. That's really shocking to me when I realize how long ago it was and how really young he was.
Ever get tired of being asked if he ate dog crap in 'Pink Flamingos?'
I don't get asked about it that much anymore because I don't think there's a second of that story left that I haven't exploited. I've always said I did one take, I'm not a sadist. Divine got sick of it. If only he'd lived long enough to see the career of Johnny Knoxville.
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