The customer is always right, and this jerk is a customer

Legendary radio and television comedian Jack Benny has been on my ‘to do’ list of Idler topics for a little while, and what better time of year to highlight what is still the funniest Christmas TV show I have ever seen: the 1960 “Christmas Shopping” episode of The Jack Benny Program. As a child I … Continue reading

The strong weak man

There’s just something in that face that takes you into an area that’s very dark, personally dark, and heartbroken. —Sidney Lumet (director, Dog Day Afternoon) I’ve had a crush on John Cazale since I first saw him in Dog Day Afternoon (1975) when I was 15. He’s the kind of man you want to protect … Continue reading

Of emperors and prophetic chickens

Ashamed as I am to admit this, I feel compelled to tell you: I saw the 1976 I, Claudius BBC television serial before I ever read Robert Graves staggering, breathtaking books, I, Claudius and Claudius the God. I know; it would’ve been so easy for me to just lie. But I first watched the miniseries … Continue reading

Hagen, Galas, Gaga: The evolution of the post-punk chanteuse

Like many witness to the Lady Gaga phenomenon, I saw the burgeoning celebrity popping up here and there in her eye-catching, show-stopping ensembles, and I had no idea what her music sounded like. I pictured a possibly screeching and borderline unlistenable (in the best possible way, of course) new incantation of opera-slayer Diamanda Galas: a … Continue reading

Kate Beaton is smarter than all of us

Reading Kate Beaton’s comics makes me feel both smarter and dumber at the same time. If you haven’t heard of the Canadian cartoonist, I’m surprised. Because everyone I tried to show her work to when I first discovered it replied, “Heck yeah, I know her stuff! She’s aaaaawwwweeeesome.” But for those of you who don’t … Continue reading

The passions of John Waters

I got sucked into Waters’ work and manifesto at the age of seventeen, and in his books Shock Value and Crackpot I first learned all the infamous anecdotes devoured by other Waters fans long before me, including the one Waters himself now is cheerfully weary of telling years later (you know the one), but which new generations of fans love him for as soon as they discover his world. He still tells it though, because he is just that gracious, along with all the other great stories about how Divine escaped arrest in a gold lamé toreador outfit, about Edith Massey’s thrift store, Elizabeth Coffey’s mid-gender-reassignment nude scene and the burning of the Pink Flamingos trailer. Oh, and how Divine ate dog feces on film under Waters’ direction (that’s the one!); something Waters says he could never live up to and Divine could never live down.

But you already know all those stories. The behind the scenes DIY-ness and mania of the 1970s and 80s Waters-filmmaking-family has been meticulously chronicled, re-chronicled, poured-over and revered. Nothing about those crazy, intoxicating, renegade years was left out. Except one thing—one noticeable, unshared topic-hole in the works written by and about the filmmaker.

John Waters never spoke much about his personal life.

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