Lady Bunny on I Am Divine (interview)
Award-winning filmmaker Jeffrey Schwarz recently completed a documentary about ‘the most beautiful woman in the world . . . the filthiest person alive . . . the legendary, the outrageous, the one and only . . . DIVINE’ which received the ‘full blessing’ of Divine’s great mentor John Waters.
While the Pink Flamingoes/ Female Trouble director hailed Divine’s unique acting abilities to ‘convincingly turn from teenage delinquent to mugger, prostitute, unwed mother, child abuser, fashion model, nightclub entertainer, murderess, and jailbird? All in the same movie’, Jeffrey Schwarz considered his wider cultural impact.
“He transformed himself from a bullied schoolyard fat kid to a larger-than-life personality and underdog royalty as his alter-ego Divine,” he notes on the documentary’s official website,
“Divine stood up for millions of gay men and women, female impersonators, punk rockers, the ample figured, and countless other socially ostracized people.”
Skrufff chatted to New York ‘larger-than-life personality and underdog royalty’ Lady Bunny this week, to find out her views on the influence and inspiration Divine had on her, growing up in Atlanta’s drag scene of the early 80s.
Skrufff (Jonty Skrufff): How big an influence did Divine have on you (and your gang) in Atlanta? (how much was Divine an inspiration/ role model?)
Lady Bunny: “I’m not sure about the rest of my gang, but I actually was exposed to her by a previous gang before moving to Atlanta. I lived in Chattanooga, Tennessee and since my dad taught at the local university, I was often used to do children’s parts from age 11. The college students introduced me to John Waters flicks, and many often quoted lines from it. Mostly Divine’s and Edith Massey’s lines.
Even though I wouldn’t do drag for a decade, I secretly vowed never to repeat John Waters lines in the way they did. I thought the whole scene was too great to duplicate and didn’t want to be tempted to imitate her. But Divine and I both do vulgar material, favour outlandish eye make-up, and worship Liz Taylor. A few people have said that my speaking voice is similar to hers. So there may be some influence by osmosis, but it was never intentional. The more weight I gain, the more people associate us! OINK!”
Skrufff: Did you ever meet?
Lady Bunny: “Yes, I was go-go dancing at Area in the mid 80s. As a boy! And a jolly Divine, who was not in drag (just bald with eye make-up), seemed very interested in me. Maybe it was because I’d stuffed the crotch of my speedos with an obviously fake sponge.
She was eying it and the only the only thing I could think is “Girl! If you can’t recognize a sister, then you are a mess!” Mr. Capricorn, as I called myself, also featured an afro wig and a moustache and goatee made from duct tape. I was pitiful! I couldn’t believe she wanted me!”
Skrufff: What lessons can people learn from studying Divine/ watching Pink Flamingoes?
Lady Bunny: “Eating a turd will make you a star!”
Skrufff: What do you think Divine would have made of Lady Gaga?
I have no idea. Should I assume that you are so eager for me to diss Lady Gaga that you’d have me dig up Divine’s corpse to do it with? Although it does seem that Divine would tend to appreciate bizarre looks. Neither are conventional beauties but they had a knack for getting themselves noticed with wild outfits, make-up and hair.”
Skrufff: How do you think alternative culture today differs from Divine’s golden era of the 70s/ early 80s?
Lady Bunny: “I hope that alternative culture is still outrageous or we are really sunk. But I think mainstream culture used to let through more eccentrics like Divine. Or Grace Jones, Sylvester, Charo, Tallulah Bankhead, Bette Davis, Eartha Kitt and Carol Channing.
I think we’re too unsophisticated to appreciate eccentricity the way people used to. And the gatekeepers who program our culture dumb everything down and make it all safe to appeal to the widest audience possible. That’s the opposite of Divine’s brash, who-gives-a-fuck character and style.
One thing that made Divine counter-culture is that she wasn’t readily available. When her early films came out, we didn’t even have vcrs (video recorders). So unless one was playing at the cinema, they weren’t easy to see. And they would only enjoy runs in large cities, often as midnight movies.
So unless you had a reel to reel, the rareness of it as well as it’s content made it counter-culture. It wasn’t available whenever you wanted it on YouTube or Netflix. And it would never have come onto TV.”
Skrufff: Anything else to add?
Lady Bunny: “She was aware of the limitations of drag, Divine yearned for a more legitimate career as a male actor. Sadly, she died the night before she was to begin shooting a season of the popular sitcom Married With Children, in the role of the family uncle which was written just for her.”
Jonty Skrufff: https://twitter.com/djjontyskrufff