Sunday, June 14, 2015

Not Simply Divine

Divine's former personal manager takes readers through a labyrinth of American subcultures, countercultures, and glimmering nightlife to tell this no-holds-barred story of a man who did anything to become a star. 32 pages of photos.

Divine was underappreciated and misunderstood, asserts Jay in his well-executed, fully fleshed-out biography of the voluptuous star of such films as Polyester , Lust in the Dust and Hairspray . Certainly Jay, Divine's manager for 10 years until Divine's death in 1988, pulls no punches: "I can say there were many times when I loved Divine. But I'm not sure I can truly say that I really liked him." He goes on to chronicle Divine's addictions to food, marijuana and shopping, and his frequent bouts of selfishness, insensitivity and general loutishness. Yet Jay renders with insight and empathy Divine's love/hate relationship with his parents, his crippling self-doubts, and his frustration at his inability to win respect as an actor. As to be expected given the subject, it's a lot of fun, too. We see Divine giving the Duchess of Hamilton eye makeup tips and attending a party at which he and Jackie Kennedy Onassis were wearing the same dress. "We didn't talk, just glared at each other across the room." Much of the material will be familiar to those who read John Waters's Shock Value , but popular culture mavens, cult film buffs, and fans of this quintessential diva will not be disappointed. Photos.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Divine, the fat drag-queen superstar of outre filmmaker John Waters' early films (Pink Flamingos remains the most famous), elicits from some the same visceral abreaction to the very fact that he existed. Such persons see Divine as an affront to moral well-beingindeed, as Frank Zappa used to say, to America herself. To Waters buffs and those captivated by female impersonators, however, Divine is an icon, theatrical outrageousness done to perfection. When he died, Divine was described by some newscasters as the famous character actor, but for most of his career, the descriptor attached to his name was transvestite. The media's and society's inability to see past that designation long irritated Divine and others who admired his work. But, just as Andy Warhol lived long enough to be taken seriously as an artist rather than a pop culture phenomenon, Divine and Waters were beginning to receive accolades for their early work as art rather than outrageous contrivance. Unfortunately, Divine died before his artistic rehabilitation was complete. This sympathetic biography tells his story with grace and humor worthy of Divi himself. May he rest in peace. Mike Tribby

The life of the most outrageous drag queen of them all, told with plenty of tenderness and campy humor by his former manager. Divine was born Harris Glenn Milstead, the son of Baltimore Baptists, and grew up something of a monster, perhaps because of his parents' wild indulgence of their angel-faced, big-boned boy. Long after he had ballooned to 300-plus pounds and left his beauty parlor business to become a gay icon and movie star, Divine was borrowing his parents' credit cards, purchasing furs and other extravagances without informing them, imperiling both their financial and mental health. Jay, a London theater manager, discovered the strange and surprisingly winning Divine in the bizarre off-Broadway hit Women Behind Bars. He describes his charge's beginnings in director John Waters's films, including Pink Flamingos, the role in which the ``Divine'' character came to full flower. Jay then describes how he and Divine decided to work together and goes on to recount his trials with the often selfish star, ``the epitome of excess and vulgarity'' with his wild eating binges, nonstop pot-smoking, dyspepsia, narcolepsy, and near-toxic flatulence. Jay's sad story of the struggle to save Divine's character from one-dimensionality includes Divine's days as a mega- selling disco diva in Europe and the aging performer's increasingly desperate attempts to become a player of character roles, which met with some success (including male and female parts in Waters's hit Hairspray) before Divine's sudden death at age 42 from sleep apnea, or occluded breathing, in 1988. Jay succeeds with grace and writerly flair in his self- appointed task of giving us Divine ``the man,'' illuminating his subject's troubled character without divesting him of his surprisingly affecting humanity. -- Copyright ©1994, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

Most helpful customer reviews

14 of 17 people found the following review helpful.
2Unnecessarily rude
By JimC
I didn't know this book existed until I read Frances Milstead's book on her son. This book does give insight on his disco career that John Waters' "Shock Value" and "My Son Divine" miss out on. Bernard Jay was there with Divine the entire time, and there are a lot of interesting stories. In "My Son Divine", Ms. Milstead brings up Mr. Jay's memoirs and denounces some of them, and it makes you doubt the stories in "Not Simply Divine" and makes you wonder how much is made up for dramatic effect. The worst part of the book is that Mr. Jay goes out of his way to insult Divine, by refering to how fat he is, his 'flabby' skin, and even brings up Divine farting in cars and airplanes. OK, maybe he didn't like Divine that much as a person, but how is he helping himself by being unnecessarily rude?

19 of 24 people found the following review helpful.
2Caustic and Degrading
By Devon
I have to say that I can understand Mr. Jay's bitterness. I would probably be a little resentful too, if I had been forced to put up with Divi's excessive spending, laziness, overindulgence, and occassional bratty behavior on a day-to-day basis for eleven years. I have no doubt that Divine was a kind and sweet person much of the time, but after all, nobody is perfect, and I'm sure that at least some of the things Mr. Jay writes about really happened.
What surprises me is the author's mercilessness toward his subject. Since Divine was supposedly such a close friend, and since the book was published only four years after his death, I would have expected at least some degree of sympathy and respect for his life and work. Instead, his story is told in an overwrought, sensationalized style that seems very unlike the personal memoir it purports itself to be. The author goes out of his way to emphasize his subject's errors and weaknesses, making Divine seem every inch the talentless hack that Roger Ebert and his ilk would have you believe.
One more thing that nobody else has mentioned thus far - if you are considering buying this because you are a fan of John Waters, don't bother. The author obviously dislikes Waters and his films intensely, and often uses selective quotes from film reviews to make it sound as though Divine's presence as an actor is the only saving grace of said films. He also suggests that Waters viewed Divine only as a marketing tool, and that their personal relationship was entirely fabricated for the benefit of the media.

14 of 18 people found the following review helpful.
2An Attempt To Cash In On Divine's Name
By ArtSpiker
Bernard Jay states in the introduction of this book that he is not bitter. I have never read a more bitter account in my life! In my opinion he didn't make enough money from Divine while Divine was alive, so this is an attempt to squeeze more money from Divine's name.
The author constantly makes catty remarks in reference to Divine's size. I realize Divine was large and that can't go unmentioned. However, is it necessary to say, "soon after discovering his huge bulk" (upon finding Divine dead in his bed). I find the descriptions unnecessary.
The constant insults make the book less interesting. As if the author is out for revenge or something.
It is an entertaining read, simply because Divine led such a twisted life as an internationally known drag queen. However this book won't win over any new fans, and may disgust the old fans.

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