Postcards From Divine, by Noah Brodie, Dan Marshall, and Michael O’Quinn

Published on February 7th, 2012 in: Book Reviews, Books, LGBTQ, Reviews, Underground/Cult |

By Eric Weber

In John Waters’ book, Shock Value (1981) he writes:

“The oddest question I ever get from college students is ‘Do you have parents?’ The first time I heard this, I was shocked. Did they think somebody found me under a rock and dragged me home? What person in his right mind would clone me, I wonder. ‘Everyone has parents, ‘ I tell them. ‘Even Lee Harvey Oswald had a great mother.’ I guess by this question they are tactfully trying to ask, ‘What on earth could your parents think of you?’ and this I can see, because whenever I read about some lunatic I admire, this question is the first thing that pops into my mind.”

postcards from diving

One could easily imagine this question being asked of Divine—the late, great character actor who rose to fame as the female star of several of John Waters’ films. From Mondo Trasho (1969) to Hairspray (1988), Divine played a gamut of roles that ranged from deranged model (Female Trouble, 1974) to loving mother (Polyester, 1981). Divine became so associated with his over-the-top female characters, that many felt that he was in fact authentically female and lived up to his moniker, “The Filthiest Person Alive”—a title his character earned in the notorious Pink Flamingos (1972).

Divine also performed steadily onstage in both plays and concerts where he quickly developed a reputation as a foul-mouthed, gross-out artist who would consistently harass and shock the audience with a barrage of insults and sex jokes. Again, one could easily imagine a shocked viewer thinking to themselves, “My God . . . does she have parents?” It’s easy to imagine that this monstrous female character just landed on the planet or erupted out of the ocean like Godzilla.

Divine did indeed have parents—a loving couple named Harris and Frances Milstead. Born Harris Glenn Milstead in 1945, Divine proved to be an interesting and unique personality even as a child. Following many struggles in their relationship, Divine left home and was estranged from his parents for a period of several years. However, during this time, Divine would send them postcards keeping them up to date on his exploits and adventures.

In the new book, Postcards From Divine, Noah Brodie, Dan Marshall, and Michael O’Quinn have compiled these postcards into a loving and impressive tribute. Spanning a period of ten years, these cards provide a brief peek into Divine’s career and come from locations all over the world, from Paris to London, from Germany to Australia. Also highlighted in the book are quotes and commentary from an array of personalities—all friends and co-stars of Divine. Each one shares their appreciation of the remarkable performer and provides interesting anecdotes, from Lainie Kazan (Divine’s co-star in Lust in the Dust) and Jerry Stiller (Hairspray) to Debbie Harry and Ricki Lake. Also of note is a great collection of rare photographs of Divine behind-the-scenes—in hotel rooms, enjoying life as a tourist—and a few fun moments onstage.

There are many touching moments in the book, from Divine’s constant comments about his love for travel, his excitement at his international success as a recording star, to noting a particular good postcard image that he thought his father might enjoy painting. A poignant moment (and perhaps the most telling) is a postcard where he had signed his name Divine, then crossed it out, writing Glenn instead.

The book is obviously a must-have for any true Divine fan, a perfect companion to Frances Milstead’s biography, My Son Divine (2001).

Postcards From Divine is available from Amazon. An iBook version will be available in 2012. Watch the teaser. For further information, visit the official Divine website or Facebook page.

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