BALTIMORE -- What a tease! Sloane Brown glanced uneasily upward at her towering, two-tone, two-hours-in-the-making beehive with a ponytail bouncing perkily from the twirled tip. "The big trouble will be getting my headphones on tomorrow," said Brown, a local radio personality who promised her coworkers she would wear her hive the next day.
Brown and more than 900 other stylish citizens of the Hairdo Capital of the World had spent Tuesday afternoon spritzing, spraying and shellacking their hair into place for this city's version of a Hollywood premiere, an all-night fete for outre' auteur John Waters' "almost big budget" new movie "Hairspray," a celebration of 1962 Charm City, its dances, clothing and Big Hair.
Talk about glamor -- hairdos and hair-don'ts milled about in a mob of triple-processed double-bubbles and artichokes. Feathered, ratted and flipped they came. Some had braided in tiny Christmas lights or created artistic constructions crowned with curlers and cans of Final Net. Their guys wore "drape" haircuts and berets. "Tell me when to duck," said one beehived beauty to her beau as they approached the door.
By decree of the mayor, it was "Hairspray" Day in Baltimore. And get this: John Waters Day in the state of Maryland, by decree of the governor.
All this for a guy who could only get arrested (for indecent exposure during the filming of 1969's "Mondo Trasho") after he started making movies nearly 25 years ago. All this for John Waters, "the Pope of Trash," "a negative role model for a new generation of bored youths," creator of an oeuvre that encompasses 1972's "Pink Flamingos" (in which the transvestite hero Divine samples doggie-doo as a "happy ending") and 1981's "Polyester" (which introduced a scratch-and-sniff innovation called Odorama to the cinema).
Klieg lights searched the night skies, while in the divine deco-dence of the Senator Theater's circular lobby Waters chatted with Mayor Kurt Schmoke about hairdos and the economic benefits of film production in Baltimore. "A lot of the people who come here because they saw it in my films may not be the kind of people you want," he joked to Schmoke.
Divine, like a true diva, kept everyone waiting. And wondering: Would the star of the film appear as a man or a woman? Finally he stepped out of a white limo as his "real self," rotund and resplendent in a tux with a peacock blue and purple bow tie. After a speech by Mayor Schmoke, Baltimore's favorite son/daughter knelt down on a duck-quilted pillow and gouged his name in big block letters in the ceremonial cement in front of the box office, right next to the permanent autograph of another native, "Diner" director Barry Levinson.
The SRO evening was a benefit for AIDS Action Baltimore, and Waters handed over a $16,000 check to the organization. In return, he was presented with an Avant-Gardian Award, a bronzed hair spray can mounted on a plaque. Baltimore patted itself on the back for ranking ninth in the nation in film production, bringing in $42 million in revenues last year, and Waters, who has always lived and worked there, delivered "a special thank you to the people of Baltimore for making this such a wonderful -- and odd -- city to work in."
Then the movie started, and the crowd applauded the title song (by Rachel Sweet) and cameos by Pia Zadora, Debbie Harry and Sonny Bono, and especially the vintage R&B and indigenous dirty dances like the Madison ("You're looking good. A big strong line!"), the New Continental and the Roach ("You stomp, step skip, 2-3-4-5-6-7/ Squish, squash, kill that roach"). Afterward everyone piled into stretch limos and sped to the "Hairhopper Ball" at the Baltimore Museum of Art, which seems to have a great sense of humor.
"I remember when we showed our films for 99 cents in a church hall," said Pat Moran, Waters' best friend for 24 years and production manager and Baltimore casting director for "Hairspray." "Even up to 'Polyester,' John and I were standing around handing out flyers."
A diminutive woman with Titian red hair who accepted compliments in her stocking feet, Moran said she knew the times were beginning to change when, in 1985, the museum presented a retrospective of Waters' movies, including a black tie reception. "That's when all the people that used to snub his mother began to talk to her again," she laughed. The guests included Moran and Divine's moms and Waters' mother and dad.
"I always felt like a movie star," said Divine, who was being tugged this way and that for photos, autographs and interviews. A meek, soft-voiced man, balding with a white-blond fringe, he looked nothing like the "inflated Jayne Mansfield" he's been described as -- in fact, he seemed a blank when out of character. "This role is kind of different," he said. "This time I get to play a wholesome, concerned mother, instead of a vicious, crazed bitch."
Circulating almost anonymously was Winston J. (Buddy) Deane, the Arkansas-born Baltimore disc jockey whose TV dance show -- on the air before Dick Clark's debut -- inspired the movie. "The Buddy Deane Show" ruled Baltimore from 1957 to 1964, when pressure to integrate prompted WJZ to cancel it -- ironic, really, since the show introduced black music and dances to white Baltimoreans. Deane, who later moved back to Arkansas and bought a few radio stations, said he's "completely retired" now, and enjoys traveling through Africa and China with his wife Helen.
"I was probably the first to play rock 'n' roll in Baltimore," he said, allowing, "I don't like today's rock 'n' roll much, though. I'm too old, I guess." Deane, who can be briefly glimpsed in the film playing a newsman at the governor's mansion, said Waters "captured the era -- the dancers were real authentic. I'd rather not talk about the segregation thing, though. That's just the way things were."
In the museum's ballroom, watching 14-year-old actor Jason Downs expertly doing the Madison, was Mary Lou Raines, an original Buddy Deaner, the undisputed queen of the show.
"I just found out I was Amber," she shrieked, referring to the movie's stuck-up princess. "I wasn't that mean!" Raines wore her hair elegantly pulled back at the party, but she remembered. "Hon, I wore the bubble -- with a big bow -- the artichoke, the airlift, wing and the beehive, naturally." She said she would get more than 100 fan letters a week and was a pinup girl at the penitentiary and the Naval Academy. Then she introduced her husband, who's "not from Baltimore, so he has no idea what we're talking about."
Posing for pictures in front of a statue of Venus were the film's two teen stars, Ricki Lake and Michael St. Gerard -- who looks born to be a teen idol, a facial hybrid of Elvis, Fabian and Ricky Nelson. "John wouldn't let me see the other movies," said Lake. "He thought they would scare us away," said St. Gerard.
The Director Himself was an island of detached calm, observing the madness with his trademark sardonic smirk. Aside from the obvious oddity of watching the swells congratulate drag queens and eccentrics, Waters said part of the evening's fun was seeing old faves like Deane. "And you know who else was here tonight? My psychiatrist. He came up and said, 'So that's what you think of psychiatrists.' " Waters makes an appearance in the film as one, who tries to shock a "Hairspray" heroine out of her interracial romance by using pinwheels, kaleidoscopes and electric prods.
"And these are the real Lafayettes," he said, introducing Ben Proctor, Dick Svehla and Jamie Hess, members of the seven-man Baltimore band whose 1962 hit record "Life's Too Short" is lip-synced in the movie by three young replicas. "We were Top Ten in the Union of South Africa and in France," said Hess, the pianist. All the ex-Lafayettes live in or near Baltimore, and still remember the time they took second place (to the Jetstones) in Buddy Deane's Battle of the Bands. They're planning a Lafayettes reunion in June.
"I had a speaking part in the movie -- I played a nosy neighbor," said Washington actress Beverly Brigham. But she found out in a screening last week that her scene had been cut. "Here I am," she said, digging in her purse and producing a snapshot of herself shaking a fist on the stoop of a row house. "I just kissed John and told him I loved him even though he dumped me on the floor."