Hairspray was a milestone for both John Waters and Divine. For Waters it was his directorial debut in mainstream films; for Divine it was the first film in which he didn’t have the leading role.
Soon-to-be famous (and also considerably slimmer) Ricki Lake played the main character, rebellious 60s teenager Tracey Turnblad. Divine played two roles – Tracey’s long-suffering mother Edna and Arvin Hodgepile, the bigoted owner of the local TV station and the amusment park ‘Tilted Acres’. Neither character came anywhere close to any of Divine’s more usual outrageous and dysfunctional characters.
Instead the characters and the film charted a course of camp but tasteful fun, bringing Waters his first real commercial success (the film made US$8m in the USA). Of course it was nothing like the US$118m that the dismal 2007 re-make raked in.
Which only goes to show the unfortunate influence of star power over talent. Whereas Divine imbued the role of Edna Turnblad with a real sense of comic credibility, John Travolta in a fat suit remained nothing more than John Travolta in a fat suit throughout the entire movie.