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Frances Milstead, mother of Divine, dies at 88 in Fort Lauderdale

The Baltimore Sun reports that Divine's mother, Frances Milstead, died Tuesday in a Fort Lauderdale hospice of stroke complications. She was 88.

Here's a December 2001 profile I wrote of Milstead, after she published the biography, My Son Divine.

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PHOTO BY JOSHUA PREZANT / December 2001

Divine's mom looks back on his life, career

BY STEVE ROTHAUS, srothaus@miamiherald.com

An exterminator came to Frances Milstead's Margate condo last week and noticed the photos of a 300-pound drag queen on her bedroom wall.

"I just came out of another apartment and they have pictures of him on the wall. A big poster, " the exhilarated exterminator told Milstead. "I know that fellow. That's Divine! Are you his fan?"

"No, " said Milstead, 81. "I'm his mother."

Nearly 14 years after Divine's sudden death at age 42, Milstead has written My Son Divine "to set the record straight."

887211 And director John Waters, who cast Divine in the starring role in the notorious Pink Flamingos, Polyester and Hairspray, still refers to him as "my Elizabeth Taylor."

Waters grew up in Baltimore with Divine, born Harris Glenn Milstead on Oct. 19, 1945.

"We were all kids trying to get away from suburbia, " Waters said. "We all met downtown. It was gay people, it was straight people. Black and white. Left-wing political people and drag queens.

"That was very important in our development of 'cinema rebellion' - gay people who didn't like the gay world; preppies who were drug addicts - they had a basic hatred for authority.

"When Divine was young, he was preppyish. He was not at all flamboyant. Underneath all that was an anger. With Divine's partnership, I came up with this character that was very very different from Glenn Milstead."

What they came up with was Divine - a big-haired, arch-eyebrowed, 300-pound creature stuffed into miniskirts and high heels.

Not your typical movie star.

pink In 1973's Pink Flamingos, Divine's character aims to be the filthiest person alive. She succeeds by eating dog feces.

In Female Trouble, Divine murders her own daughter and dies (on camera) in the electric chair.

"It was a humorous way for Glenn Milstead to vent his anger, and John Waters to vent his, " the director said from his home in Baltimore. "A combination of Jayne Mansfield and Godzilla."

Divine quickly became a gay cult figure, appearing on greeting cards and posters, and singing in discos worldwide.

Glenn Milstead made sure his mother knew none of it.

"She might have been cool about it then, but he didn't think she would be, " Waters said. "What mother can be so liberal to understand her son's in a dress eating dog s--? No mother."

After Glenn's birth, Frances kept a journal of his life. "Just a mother's instinct, " she said.

From the beginning, it appeared Glenn was gay.

"When he was 2 years old, my mother said to me he's more feminine than he is masculine, " she recalled. "I ignored her."

"When Glenn was 10 or 11 years old, he caught a cold and I took him to a doctor. He told me the same thing my mother said."

Milstead said her son's attitude changed about the same time he met Waters.

"After he got involved with John Waters, he could care less what I thought, " she said. "He was doing his own thing."

Throughout the late 1960s and early '70s, Waters, Divine and their friends made low-budget films such as Eat Your Makeup! and Multiple Maniacs.
"I remember one time I was helping the maid turn the mattress over and I saw this script, " Milstead said. "The script said 'Divine' and other kids' names. I didn't know who Divine was."

In 1972, Glenn Milstead left his parents' house after an argument over Glenn's broken-down station wagon. Frances wouldn't pay to get it fixed.
Frances and her husband, Harris, who had muscular dystrophy, then sold their beauty shop and moved to Margate.

Frances got a job inspecting eyeglass lenses at a Fort Lauderdale optical company. Years later, she befriended a young co-worker named Richard.
"Richard brought in this magazine called The Blade. A gay magazine. It had a picture of this woman on the front with a flag wrapped around her.
"I looked at her eyes and said, 'It looks like Glennie.'

Richard told Milstead: "You've got to see this man. He's a female impersonator and his name is Divine."

"Uh, oh, " Milstead said.

At the time, Divine was in Fort Lauderdale playing the Copa, a gay nightclub.

Milstead gave Richard a note and asked him to give it to Divine. "I handed him this paper that said to call his mother, " she said.

Divine did just that.

"We had a crying good time, " Milstead recalled. "He said, 'Mom, can I come back home? We can be a family again.' I said, 'Yes, we'd be happy for you to come home again.' That was the sweetest thing he could have said."

From then on, the Milsteads stayed in touch. And Frances became an activist, sometimes chastising fellow Baptist church parishioners who spoke poorly of gay people.

On Feb. 7, 1988, Divine escorted his mother to the premiere of Hairspray at the Miami Film Festival. It was the first time she saw him perform.
Glenn had never wanted her to see his work.

"He said, 'Mom, when I do something I'm proud of I'll invite you.' Hairspray was the first thing he invited me to, " Milstead said.

She never saw him again. On March 7, Divine was found dead of heart failure in a Los Angeles hotel.

Divine died as he entered a new career phase - he had just been cast as a man in TV's Married With Children.

At the funeral in Baltimore, John Waters was a pallbearer.

Since then, Waters has stayed in touch with Milstead, whose husband died in 1993.

The director said he has changed the way he makes movies. Now, they have bigger budgets and conventional stars such as Johnny Depp in Cry-Baby, Kathleen Turner in Serial Mom and Melanie Griffith in Cecil B. Demented.

After Divine, Waters vowed he "would never ever use another man in a dress."

Those were Divine's "work clothes, " Waters said. "When he was home entertaining, he was never in high heels. They broke anyway - we had to get steel ones."

He is wistful about his days with Divine and their films.

"He could never live down eating s-- and I could never live up to it."

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You are so missed divine !! you mad an inspiration on us all much love and respect, always, SUPERSTAR DJ DEGA Myspace.com/djdega

Still miss you, Glenn, We were so young back then in 1985 @the Club. I miss you on a daily basis, still do, Glenn. Bye, 'till we meet again up above...

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