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Jason Kempin/Getty Images for EJAF

15 Filthy Facts About John Waters

Jason Kempin/Getty Images for EJAF
Jason Kempin/Getty Images for EJAF

The Sultan of Sleaze, the Baron of Bad Taste, the Pope of Trash—all of these monikers have been used to describe John Waters, the Baltimore-born filmmaker who has been shocking audiences with his transgressive cult films for the past 50 years. Here are 15 facts you might not have known about the lovably vulgar visionary. 

1. HE GREW UP WATCHING SLEAZY MOVIES.

As a kid, John Waters used a pair of binoculars to watch B-movies—and a few X-rated ones—at his local drive-in. The tawdry flicks triggered his love of trashy cinema, and helped shape the aesthetic of his purposely-lowbrow works. 

2. HE LAUNCHED HIS CAREER EARLY.

Waters’ grandmother gave him his first 8mm movie camera when he was a teenager. He used it to film his first movie, a 17-minute short called Hag in a Black Leather Jacket. By this time, Waters had already befriended the gang of colorful characters who’d eventually star in his feature films—most notably Harris Glenn Milstead, who would later assume the persona of drag queen Divine.

3. HE WAS KICKED OUT OF COLLEGE.

Waters never finished college. He briefly attended New York University’s film school, but was expelled for smoking marijuana on campus. After leaving NYU, Waters returned back home to Baltimore, where he made The Roman Candles (1966)—his first film to star both Divine and the future cast of Pink Flamingos

4. HE’S HAD BRUSHES WITH THE LAW.

Waters and his friends were arrested and charged with “conspiracy to commit indecent exposure" while filming part of his first full-length movie, Mondo Trasho (1969). The scene in question featured a naked hitchhiker in a convertible, and was shot on Johns Hopkins University’s campus. The only problem? Waters hadn’t thought to ask the college for permission.

5. HE’S RESPONSIBLE FOR ONE OF AMERICA’S MOST NOTORIOUS FILMS.

After several lesser-known projects, Waters released Pink Flamingos, the 1972 film that shocked theatergoers around the world. The gross-out flick—which culminated in Divine eating real-life dog feces—was initially banned in Australia, Canada, and Norway.

Film critics didn't praise its merits, either. “I am not giving a star rating to Pink Flamingos because stars simply seem not to apply,” Roger Ebert wrote. “It should be considered not as a film but as a fact, or perhaps as an object.”

6. HE CASTS CONTROVERSIAL CHARACTERS.

Waters’ movies often feature his troupe of close friends—a gang called the Dreamlanders, named after his production company, Dreamland Productions. However, he’s also known for casting real-life convicted criminals in his films—including Patty Hearst and Liz Renay—as well as former pornographic actress Traci Lords.

7. HE’S THE BRAINS BEHIND HAIRSPRAY.

While films like Pink Flamingos, Desperate Living, and Female Trouble were underground cult hits, Waters did eventually achieve widespread success with Hairspray. The 1988 film depicted Ricki Lake as an overweight teenager who dreams of being cast on a popular TV dance show. While the film saw modest returns in theaters, it garnered underground fame and was adapted into a Broadway musical in 2002. The stage production won eight Tony awards; a subsequent film version of the musical, which starred John Travolta and Amanda Bynes, was released in 2007

8.  HE’S APPEARED IN MOVIES AND ON TV SHOWS

Thanks to his eccentric personality, Waters has become more famous than his trashy characters. He’s shown up in movies like 2004's Seed of Chucky, and he has also hosted several TV shows. A film anthology series called John Waters Presents Movies That Will Corrupt You ran on Here!, a LGBT interest network, in 2006. In 2007, Waters presided over Court TV’s ‘Til Death Do Us Part, which recounts tales of marriages that have ended in murder. 

9. HE TOOK STYLE CUES FROM LITTLE RICHARD.

Waters is almost as recognizable for his razor-thin pencil moustache as he is for his films. He grew his iconic facial hair when he was 24 or 25 because he wanted to look like Little Richard. “I just thought he was so alarming,” Waters told The Baltimore Sun. “He scared my parents.”   

                                                                            Wikipedia

10. HE’S BIG INTO BOOKS.

Waters is way more than just your average bookworm. He collects books, and has over 8000 titles in his Baltimore home. “If you go home with somebody, and they don't have books, don’t f*ck 'em," he once famously said. He’s also published several collections of essays, memoirs, and criticism. 

11. HE’S A VISUAL ARTIST.

Waters isn’t just a filmmaker and writer—he’s also a visual artist whose photography and installation pieces have been exhibited across America and in Europe.

12. HE LOVES CHRISTMAS.

Waters has such an affinity for the winter holiday season that one of the chapters in his 1986 book Crackpot is titled “Why I Love Christmas.” His bizarre musings on the holiday’s high—and low—points eventually inspired an annual traveling stand-up comedy show, “A John Waters Christmas.” 

13. HE ONCE HITCHHIKED ACROSS AMERICA.

In 2012, John Waters hitchhiked from Baltimore to San Francisco. Last year, he published a memoir about the experience called Carsick.

14. HE HAS A DOCTORATE

Earlier this year, Waters was awarded an honorary doctorate from the Rhode Island School of Design. He also delivered the class of 2015’s commencement address, telling students, “It's time to get busy. It's your turn to cause trouble, but this time in the real world, and this time from the inside." The speech went viral, and in the spring of 2017 it will be published as an illustrated book called Make Trouble.

15. HE’S REPORTEDLY STILL MAKING MOVIES.

Waters’ last movie was 2004’s A Dirty Shame. Although he has said that he may never make another film, he recently told The Wall Street Journal that he has another cinematic venture in the wings. “Oh, I’ve got a project, but I can’t talk about it. All development deals, it’s like bad luck to talk about it before they happen,” he said. “I’ve never tried to get pregnant, but it’s the same thing. You don’t tell people. Because then it doesn’t happen."

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7 Things You Might Not Know About Audrey Hepburn
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Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Though she’ll always be known as the little-black-dress-wearing big-screen incarnation of Holly Golightly from Breakfast at Tiffany’s, there’s probably a lot you don’t know about Audrey Hepburn, who passed away in Switzerland on January 20, 1993.

1. HER FIRST ROLE WAS IN AN EDUCATIONAL FILM.

Though 1948’s Dutch in Seven Lessons is classified as a “documentary” on IMDb, it’s really more of an educational travel film, in which Hepburn appears as an airline attendant. If you don’t speak Dutch, it might not make a whole lot of sense to you, but you can watch it above anyway.

2. GREGORY PECK WAS AFRAID SHE’D MAKE HIM LOOK LIKE A JERK.

Hepburn was an unknown actress when she was handed the starring role of Princess Ann opposite Gregory Peck in 1953’s Roman Holiday. As such, Peck was going to be the only star listed, with Hepburn relegated to a smaller font and an “introducing” credit. But Peck insisted, “You've got to change that because she'll be a big star and I'll look like a big jerk.” Hepburn ended up winning her first and only Oscar for the role (Peck wasn’t even nominated).

3. SHE’S AN EGOT.

In 1954, the same year she won the Oscar for Roman Holiday, Hepburn accepted a Tony Award for her title role in Ondine on Broadway. Hepburn is one of only 12 EGOTs, meaning that she has won all of the four major creative awards: an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony. Unfortunately, the honor came to Hepburn posthumously; her 1994 Grammy for the children’s album Audrey Hepburn’s Enchanted Tales and her 1993 Emmy for Gardens of the World with Audrey Hepburn were both awarded following her passing in early 1993.

4. TRUMAN CAPOTE HATED HER AS HOLLY GOLIGHTLY.

Blake Edwards’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s may be one of the most iconic films in Hollywood history, but it’s a miracle that the film ever got made at all. Particularly if you listened to Truman Capote, who wrote the novella upon which it was based, and saw only one actress in the lead: Marilyn Monroe. When asked what he thought was wrong with the film, which downplayed the more tawdry aspects of the fact that Ms. Golightly makes her living as a call girl (Hepburn had told the producers, “I can’t play a hooker”), Capote replied, “Oh, God, just everything. It was the most miscast film I’ve ever seen. It made me want to throw up.”

5. HOLLY GOLIGHTLY’S LITTLE BLACK DRESS SOLD FOR NEARLY $1 MILLION.

Audrey Hepburn in 'Breakfast at Tiffany's'
Keystone Features, Getty Images

In 2006, Christie’s auctioned off the iconic Givenchy-designed little black dress that Hepburn wore in Breakfast at Tiffany’s for a whopping $923,187 (pre-auction numbers estimated that it would go for between $98,800 and $138,320). It was a record-setting amount at the time, until Marilyn Monroe’s white “subway dress” from The Seven Year Itch sold for $5.6 million in 2006.

6. SHE SANG “HAPPY BIRTHDAY” TO JFK IN 1963.

One year after Marilyn Monroe’s sultry birthday serenade to John F. Kennedy in 1962, Hepburn paid a musical tribute to the President at a private party in 1963, on what would be his final birthday.

7. THERE’S A RARE TULIP NAMED AFTER HER.

Photo of Audrey Hepburn
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In 1990, a rare white tulip hybrid was named after the actress and humanitarian, and dedicated to her at her family’s former estate in Holland.

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11 Things You Didn't Know About Dolly Parton
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Brendon Thorne, Getty Images

Over the past 50-some years, Dolly Parton has gone from a chipper country starlet to a worldwide icon of music and movies whose fans consistently pack a theme park designed (and named) in her honor. Dolly Parton is loved, lauded, and larger than life. But even her most devoted admirers might not know all there is to this Backwoods Barbie.

1. YOU WON'T FIND HER ON A DOLLYWOOD ROLLER COASTER.

Her theme park Dollywood offers a wide variety of attractions for all ages. Though she's owned it for more than 30 years, Parton has declined to partake in any of its rides. "My daddy used to say, 'I could never be a sailor. I could never be a miner. I could never be a pilot,' I am the same way," she once explained. "I have motion sickness. I could never ride some of these rides. I used to get sick on the school bus."

2. SHE ENTERED A DOLLY PARTON LOOK-ALIKE CONTEST—AND LOST.


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Apparently Parton doesn't do drag well. “At a Halloween contest years ago on Santa Monica Boulevard, where all the guys were dressed up like me, I just over-exaggerated my look and went in and just walked up on stage," she told ABC. "I didn’t win. I didn’t even come in close, I don’t think.”

3. SHE SPENT A FORTUNE TO RECREATE HER CHILDHOOD HOME.

Parton and her 11 siblings were raised in a small house in the mountains of Tennessee that lacked electricity and indoor plumbing. When Parton bought the place, she hired her brother Bobby to restore it to the way it looked when they were kids. "But we wanted it to be functional," she recounted on The Nate Berkus Show, "So I spent a couple million dollars making it look like I spent $50 on it! Even like in the bathroom, I made the bathroom so it looked like an outdoor toilet.” You do you, Dolly.

4. SHE WON'T APOLOGIZE FOR RHINESTONE.


Getty Images

Parton is well-known for her hit movies Steel Magnolias and 9 to 5, less so for the 1984 flop Rhinestone. The comedy musical about a country singer and a New York cabbie was critically reviled and fled from theaters in just four weeks. But while her co-star Sylvester Stallone has publicly regretted the vehicle, Parton declared in her autobiography My Life and Other Unfinished Business that she counts Rhinestone's soundtrack as some of her best work, especially "What a Heartache."

5. SHE IS MILEY CYRUS'S GODMOTHER, SORT OF.

"I'm her honorary godmother. I've known her since she was a baby," Parton told ABC of her close relationship with Miley Cyrus. "Her father (Billy Ray Cyrus) is a friend of mine. And when she was born, he said, 'You just have to be her godmother,' and I said, 'I accept.' We never did do a big ceremony, but I'm so proud of her, love her, and she's just like one of my own." Parton also played Aunt Dolly on Cyrus's series Hannah Montana.

6. SHE RECEIVED DEATH THREATS FROM THE KU KLUX KLAN.

A photo of Dolly Parton on stage
Getty Images

In the mid-2000s, Dollywood joined the ranks of family amusement parks participating in "Gay Days," a time when families with LGBT members are encouraged to celebrate together in a welcoming community environment. This riled the KKK, but their threats didn't scare Dolly. "I still get threats," she has admitted, "But like I said, I'm in business. I just don't feel like I have to explain myself. I love everybody."

7. TO PROMOTE LITERACY, SHE STARTED HER OWN "LIBRARY."

In 1995, the pop culture icon founded Dolly Parton's Imagination Library with the goal of encouraging literacy in her home state of Tennessee. Over the years, the program—built to mail children age-appropriate books—spread nationwide, as well as to Canada, the UK, and Australia. When word of the Imagination Library hit Reddit, the swarms of parents eager to sign their kids up crashed the Imagination Library site. It is now back on track, accepting new registrations and donations.

8. PARTON'S HOMETOWN HAS A STATUE IN HER HONOR.

A stone's throw from Dollywood, Sevierville, Tennessee is where Parton grew up. Between stimulating tourism and her philanthropy, this proud native has given a lot back to her hometown. And Sevierville residents returned that appreciation with a life-sized bronze Dolly that sits barefoot, beaming, and cradling a guitar, just outside the county courthouse. The sculpture, made by local artist Jim Gray, was dedicated on May 3, 1987. Today it is the most popular stop on Sevierville's walking tour.

9. THE CLONED SHEEP DOLLY WAS NAMED AFTER PARTON.

In 1995 scientists successfully created a clone from an adult mammal's somatic cell. This game-changing breakthrough in biology was named Dolly. But what about Parton inspired this honor? Her own groundbreaking career? Some signature witticism or beloved lyric? Nope. It was her legendary bustline. English embryologist Ian Wilmut revealed, "Dolly is derived from a mammary gland cell and we couldn't think of a more impressive pair of glands than Dolly Parton's."

10. SHE TURNED DOWN ELVIS.

After Parton made her own hit out of "I Will Always Love You," Elvis Presley's manager, Colonel Tom Parker, reached out in hopes of having Presley cover it. But part of the deal demanded Parton surrender half of the publishing rights to the song. "Other people were saying, 'You're nuts. It's Elvis Presley. I'd give him all of it!'" Parton admitted, "But I said, 'I can't do that. Something in my heart says don't do that.' And I didn't do it and they didn't do it." It may have been for the best. Whitney Houston's cover for The Bodyguard soundtrack in 1992 was a massive hit that has paid off again and again for Parton.

11. SHE JUST EARNED TWO GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS.

Parton is no stranger to breaking records. And on January 17, 2018 it was announced that she holds not one but two spot in the Guinness World Records 2018 edition: One for Most Decades With a Top 20 Hit on the US Hot Country Songs Chart (she beat out George Jones, Reba McEntire, and Elvis Presley for the honor) and the other for Most Hits on US Hot Country Songs Chart By a Female Artist (with a total of 107). Parton said she was "humbled and blessed."

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