In my one professional directing job, which the producer rightly assured me, “will lead to nothing,” I did have the opportunity to cast the show, and so I chose Divine, the John Waters icon of Pink Flamingos and Hairspray fame. His character was a Tibetan Holy Man who comes to suburban New Jersey to anoint the next Dali Lama, but in an address mix-up they choose the wrong kid–a spoiled child who turns out to quickly become an over-indulged nightmare. The story was a trifle, I was clueless, and the best thing about it was getting to know Divine.
Divine was well over 300 lbs and sported a large yellow diamond in one ear. He was soft spoken and kind, and would take me out to ice-cream on the upper East Side after shooting in Queens (appropriately enough). He answered my questions honestly, such as whether he really put dog poop in his mouth in Pink Flamingos. He was unruffled and nonplussed as he recounted how John Waters was a very compelling force who, with the camera rolling, just instructed Divine to pick up the poop… put it in his mouth… and he just did it. Perhaps one has to eat a little shit if one hopes to be a star and, if so, Divine had what it takes to be a star in Hollywood. Poor sweet man.
On the first day of shooting we were ready for Divine’s first scene and I was quietly whispered to by the Assistant Director that Divine wouldn’t come out of his dressing room. It was clear that I was supposed to go and deal with this, and I found him, alone in his dark dressing room with his shoulders softly shaking as he cried. I comforted him and he told me that he was terribly afraid that he had no talent and also that he didn’t want to let me down. Well, I was the one who felt like an impostor and who feared letting the producers down (which I supposed I did because Tales From The Darkside was supposed to be a horror show and yet there was nothing scary about my ridiculous, quasi-comedic, episode).
I hugged Divine and honestly assured him that he was wonderful, all dressed up with make-up, jewels and crazy eye-brows to represent a low-budget TV show’s take on a Tibetan Holy Man. He was very child-like and looked at me with his rather beautiful and trusting eyes and let me lead him out to the set where we had a lot of fun making a really bad TV show (except when I ran over-time on a last close-up of the day and the producer literally pulled the plug in the sound-stage and everything went black to underscore that when they said that we were done for the day, we were done… I then got further yelled at by several of the producers for the few thousand dollars in overtime that my one shot cost them. I was really just trying to please the camera man who wanted the shot for his reel. Perhaps my “not getting it” was another reason it all “lead nowhere?”).
My point in writing about this in a parenting blog is that this was long before I was a parent, but as a fledgling and never to be director I found that I really did care about my actors and my crew (and Hollywood doesn’t really reinforce nurturers very much). I look back and sense that Divine was part of my path, and that although the path I thought I wanted to take was closed, it lead me, through twists and turns, to a path I like much better.
I was supposed to have lunch with Divine in LA the week he died, and while I wasn’t really “out there” enough to be part of his in-crowd, I felt a real sense of loss, and a sense of kindred spirit. He sincerely encouraged me, and in a sense he parented me by being open and honest and vulnerable. At that time I probably hadn’t shed a tear in more than a decade, and it would be more than a decade after that before I found the necessity of reasonably frequent crying jags, just to let off tension and give my own “dark side” its due.
So, when our children cry, try to see the Divine in their authentic human expression. And when you cry, especially if you are male, or long cut-off from your tears, be compassionate with yourself. Tears solve nothing, and that’s exactly the point. Sometimes, trying too hard to “solve” problems makes them worse, at least if they are problems of not being understood which benefit more from just being witnessed and accepted. Perhaps if we parents are able to shed a few extra tears for a broken world, we take a bit of the load off those who might be doing more than their share of crying. To the extent that I have learned the value of tears and the wisdom of feeling and not just thinking, not to mention the freedom in letting our freak flags fly, I am more than a little indebted to Divine.