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Who is John Waters?

Malcolm Tatum
Updated May 17, 2024
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As a familiar presence in the world of American filmmaking, John Waters is known for his ability to produce esoteric work that catches the imagination of a wide range of fans all over the country. Easily recognized due to his slight frame and trademark pencil-thin mustache, Waters has been the force behind bringing a number of eclectic performers to the attention of mainstream theater audiences, as well as producing a number of works that are considered to be high art films with enduring appeal.

Born John Samuel Waters, Jr. on 22 April 1946, Waters began his interest in the theater and performing at an early age. His first work was to stage puppet shows that were loosely based on the popular Punch and Judy, but incorporated a much more aggressive approach. Waters also exhibited an interest in movies that tended to be cutting edge in both filming techniques and content. Gifted with his first 8mm camera on his sixteenth birthday, there was little doubt that John Waters would become a filmmaker.

Entering New York University during the turbulent decade of the 1960’s, John Waters quickly became part of a crowd devoted to the progression of the visual arts, including films, plays, and art exhibitions. In January 1966, Waters and a group of friends were expelled from the University after being caught smoking marijuana. Undeterred, Waters set up shop in Baltimore Maryland and began work to assemble a roster of eclectic performers who would appear in his movie productions. One of the key performers in the roster was Glenn Milstead, who would later become known as Divine. Other important performers who began their careers with Waters include such noted underground celebrities as Mink Stole, Mary Vivian Pearce, and Edith Massey.

For the remainder of the decade and well into the Seventies, John Waters produced a number of independent films that were distributed by New Line Cinema. During this period, Waters began to gain national attention as the king of transgressive cult films. Among some of his most celebrated works are the films Hairspray and Polyester, both of which served as vehicles for Divine and included mainstream performers such as Sonny Bono, Deborah Harry, and Tab Hunter in the casts.

Over the years, John Waters has also worked as an actor, writer, visual artist, and a personality. Cameo appearances in several movies, as well as appearances in documentaries and on television programs have helped to make Waters a high visible celebrity. Also known as an art collector with a wide range of interests in styles and schools, Waters continues to produce work that is cutting edge and controversial, while still maintaining a presence in the mainstream entertainment industry.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Malcolm Tatum
By Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing to become a full-time freelance writer. He has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including WiseGeek, and his work has also been featured in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and newspapers. When not writing, Malcolm enjoys collecting vinyl records, following minor league baseball, and cycling.
Discussion Comments
By sprockets — On Dec 05, 2008

John Waters narrates the fascinating 2006 documentary "Plagues & Pleasures on the Salton Sea", directed and shot by Chris Metzler and Jeff Springer. Highly recommended!

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing...
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