Frances Milstead, the mother of Harris Glenn Milstead (better known to the world as Divine, the infamous drag star of John Waters' films Pink Flamingos, Female Trouble, Polyester, and Hairspray) has decided to sort fact from fiction and tell the amazing and moving story of how one chubby effeminate choirboy from Smalltown USA became an outrageous international star
Her book My Son Divine provides a never before seen look at the man behind the makeup, from his birth, to his untimely death from heart failure just as his acting career was achieving mainstream success with his performance in Hairspray and he was having Top 10 hits across the world with hi-energy anthems like "You Think You're A Man".

As Frances told OutUK's Mike Gray even though she knew her son was gay, he'd kept his underground movie career with director John Waters a secret from her, till it became impossible to keep quiet.

"I didn't even know who Divine was until I moved to Florida in 1972. He was already mixed up with John Waters. He kept that all a secret until I read it in Life magazine. One of my co-workers had it, and I was reading it over his shoulder when I saw this picture of a fella called Divine. I thought, boy, those eyes look like my sons". In the interview John Waters mentioned his discovery Divine who was keeping his underground movie career a secret from his family. "He moved away from home", Waters told Life magazine,"... and never told his mother where he moved too".
"Glenn was born before civil rights, gay rights, or women's rights...God doesn't want people created out of a Xerox machine...The tragedy is that Glenn was cut off right at the point of becoming who he really was, and the world will never see how that flower could have unfolded"
Reverend Leland Higginbotham in his Eulogy at Divine's funeral
Baltimore, Maryland, March 1988
The reconciliation came when Divine came to perform in Florida. Frances sent her phone number to Divine at the club and asked him to ring it.

"When he called this number he didn't know he was going to talk to me. We had a crying good time and he said 'Mom, can I come home so we can be a family again?' and I said 'Yes, Glenn'."

Frances believes her son's desire to perform came from her, "I'd been a social director and was always putting on shows". Incredibly, she says her son was shocked when he discovered she'd once done bellydancing in front of an audience.


You Think You're A Man But You're Only A Boy...
While onstage or on camera Divine did anything to shock, offstage the real life Glenn was a completely different person. "I get angry when I hear people talk against gay people," Frances told OutUK, "I speak my piece. The Lord gave me a son that was gay and I love him. He was a human being. He was lovable, he was caring, giving and he helped gay people to come out the closet and helped heavy set people to love themselves."
While Frances has been able to tell much about the real Glenn Millstead her co-authors Steve Yeager and Kevin Heffernan, the award-winning filmmakers whose documentary film on director John Waters won the Filmmakers Trophy at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival, have also included never before read interviews with Waters, Ricki Lake, Zandra Rhodes, and other celebrities, artists, friends, and fans who all became Divine's extended family over the course of his career.

There's little doubt that without John Waters' early movies Divine would never have achieved such a degree of notorierty, and it's probably for the best that his mother hadn't seen all the films her son made. "I saw Female Trouble and Hairspray... he asked me not to go see several of them and I never did." Mother's don't always have to know everything.


Frances & Glenn at the Hairspray premiere
My Son Divine published by Alyson Books can be ordered direct from Amazon at 12.17 saving nearly 3 off the cover price. Click here for more details.

 

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