John Waters at the 2009 Folsom Street Fair in San Francisco. Photo by Wendy Goodfriend
One of the reasons why celebrities like cult-film maker John Waters love San Francisco is that the Bay Area tends to not fawn and make a big deal of their presence. The film director, writer, conceptual artist and Pope of Trash Waters may have fallen for our hometown enough to call it home (if only on a part-time basis). Two years ago, he decided to buy a place in Nob Hill, according to a San Francisco Chronicle report by Catherine Bigelow in January this year. Bigelow described Waters first visit to the Jeannette Etheredge owned North Beach watering hole, Tosca. Waters went to Tosca after he attended the 75th anniversary of SFMOMA with artworld-celeb friends who are also his neighbors here. Sightings of Waters have also been documented on the Mission Mission blog--among other places--last year. There are reports on Mission Mission of Waters hanging out at an art show opening party, as well as the Polk Street post office (from Cooking with Amy's Amy Sherman), Borderlands Bookstore, and doing his grocery shopping and riding buses and MUNI are sited.
We don't have any sort of real paparazzi here like the movie hub Southern California (SoCal) does, and instead resort to various ways of noting and communicating encounters and occasional contact with famous types. The bounty of natural beauty, cultural heritage, middling to decent public transportation (which Waters reportedly enjoys using), and of course food culture ranging from street food to California cuisine and white table cloth establishments make the deal of Bay Area living that much sweeter. Northern California is generally a more relaxed environment versus the hustle-bustle-do-you-know-who-I-am? aggression and cheesiness that smacks you in the face constantly in L.A. My first job out of UC Berkeley in the mid-1990s was working for Nancy Hayes Casting, which was then located in Russian Hill. Through that line of work, I was able to work on movie and commercial projects and meet a rash of actors, directors, and related celebrities and creative types in from other parts of the country and world. They often wanted to learn about our city's bookstores (Green Apple and City Lights remained among the go-to spots that they are today), nightclubs (DNA Lounge ring a bell?), restaurants (everything from Perry's to Swan Oyster Depot and Rose Pistola to even the now-thankfully-shuttered Planet Hollywood), hikes, and historical places just like any other visitor, famous or not.
Waters' presence and activities here has been noted frequently in traditional print media, as well as on blogs and other social media including Yelp. He is one famous visitor who decided to take up residence in San Francisco. Although Waters is mainly based out of Baltimore, he also has a home in New York City and a summer home in Provincetown. Waters has been making, writing, and directing films for forty years, and his long body of almost always controversial film work includes Pink Flamingos, Female Trouble, Pecker and two film versions of Hairspray that later became a Broadway sensation. If the names Dawn Davenport, Prudy Pingleton, and Tony The Tickler ring a bell, then you are familiar with Waters often times gross out material that famously includes the scene in Pink Flamingos where Waters’ muse and childhood friend Divine (a drag persona by Harris Glenn Milstead) eats dog feces on camera. The dog-doo poo-poo scene was for real sans cuts, edits or effects, and was ground breaking in the pre-YouTube and Internet era. Censors and prim and proper types may consider Waters, who has long been confirmed as a gay man, to be pushing the boundaries of good taste and decency. Others, who are fans, await his next film or art project with baited breath. His trademark pencil thin mustache is as much a part of his public identity as are his ties to Divine and the Dreamlanders group of Baltimore area actors, Mink Stole, Ricki Lake, Johnny Depp, one time porn queen Traci Lords and the now freed purported criminal and heiress Patricia Hearst. All have played roles in Waters' work, and show how he creates and uses characters that may already have inherent shock value with the public.
In 2008, Waters was in San Francisco to put on a one-man vaudeville show at the Castro Theater, to benefit the Frameline film festival, which is definitely LGBT friendly. The Castro was a favorite of Waters because Pink Flamingos has played there. Waters vaudeville act was one that he originated with his pal and muse Divine decades ago. He said that he thinks of himself as a "Filth Elder" more so than the "Pope of Trash" nickname he received from William Burroughs. Waters' elder reference is perhaps his way of acknowledging that he is in his sixties. I emailed The Filth Elder last week to find out the food-centric spots he likes to frequent when he lives in San Francisco. Aside from his picks below, you can also plan on catching Waters at his City Arts & Lectures appearance happening on May 25th for his Role Models book tour...San Francisco is the first stop on the tour.