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When 'Hairspray' Was New: Vintage John Waters

Filmmaker John Waters, a frequent Fresh Air guest, visited the show in 1988, the year the original, nonmusical Hairspray hit theaters. His trashy filmography includes Pink Flamingos, Desperate Living, Polyester, Cry Baby, and Pecker.

These days, Waters is host of the Court TV show 'Til Death Do Us Part, and he's recently made a CD titled A Date With John Waters, released in February 2007. He's got a cameo in the new Hairspray, as well.

This interview first aired Feb. 8, 1988.


Other segments from the episode on July 19, 2007

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, July 19, 2007: Interview with Adam Shankman; Interview with John Waters.


TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: Director, choreographer and executive producer of the
new movie "Hairspray," Adam Shankman, on making the film

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Our show today is all about "Hairspray," the original film and the new one.

(Soundbite of "Hairspray")

Singers: Do do do do do do do do

Unidentified Actor: (Speaking) Hey there, teenage Baltimore! Don't change
that channel because it's time for the Corny Collins show, brought to you by
Ultraflex Hairspray!

Singers: (Singing) Do do do do

Actor: (Singing) Oh, every afternoon when the clock strikes 4

Singers: (Singing) Bop bee bop, bop bop bop bop bop bee bop

Actor: (Singing) A crazy bunch of kids pass through that door, yeah

Singers (Singing) Bop bee bop, bop bop bop bop bop bee bop

Actor: (Singing) They throw of the coats and leave the squares behind
And then they'll shake it, shake it, shake it
Like they're losing their minds
You'll never see them frown
Because they're the nicest kids in town

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: "Hairspray" is set in Baltimore in the early '60s when teenagers rush
home after school to watch the "Corny Collins Dance Show," a local show that's
like "American Bandstand," without the big stars. Tracy Turnblad is a fat
girl whose dream is to dance on the show, but being fat isn't cool. Later,
we'll hear a 1988 interview with John Waters about writing and directing the
original "Hairspray." His film was adapted into the hit Broadway musical that
became the basis of the new film.

My guest, Adam Shankman, directed and choreographed the new "Hairspray."
Before making "Hairspray," Shankman choreographed music videos and films,
including "Boogie Nights" and "Stuck on You." In his new film "Hairspray"
Tracy is played by newcomer Nikki Blonsky. Her father is played by
Christopher Walken. Her mother is played by John Travolta in drag and in a
fat suit. In this scene, Tracy has just told her mother she wants to audition
to dance on "The Corny Collins Show." Her mother is ironing as she responds.

(Soundbite of "Hairspray")

Mr. JOHN TRAVOLTA: (as Edna Turnblad) No one is auditioning for anything in
this household.

Ms. NIKKI BLONSKY: (as Tracy Turnblad) But why not? Why not?

Mr. TRAVOLTA: (as Edna Turnblad) Because dancing is not your future. One
day you're going to own Edna's Occidental Laundry.

Ms. BLONSKY: (as Tracy Turnblad) I don't want to be a laundress. I want to
be famous.

Mr. TRAVOLTA: (as Edna Turnblad) Look, if you want to be famous, learn how
to take blood out car upholstery. That's a skill you can take right to the

Mr. CHRISTOPHER WALKEN: (as Wilbur Turnblad) Hey, hey, what's all this
ruckus in here?

Mr. TRAVOLTA: (As Edna Turnblad) Not a word.

Ms. BLONSKY: (as Tracy Turnblad) Daddy, tomorrow I'm auditioning to dance on
a TV show.

Mr. WALKEN: (as Wilbur Turnblad) You are?

Mr. TRAVOLTA: (as Edna Turnblad) No, she is not. First the hair, now this.

Mr. WALKEN: (as Wilbur Turnblad) But the--all this kids are batting up their
hair now, honey.

Mr. TRAVOLTA: (as Edna Turnblad) You're no help.

Ms. BLONSKY: (as Tracy Turnblad) It's ratting, Daddy, and our first lady,
Jackie Kennedy does it.

Mr. TRAVOLTA: (as Edna Turnblad) I don't believe that.

Ms. BLONSKY: (as Tracy Turnblad) What do you mean, you don't believe that?

Mr. TRAVOLTA: (as Edna Turnblad) Uh-unh. I don't.

Ms. BLONSKY: (as Tracy Turnblad) How else would it look that way?

Mr. TRAVOLTA: (as Edna Turnblad) I believe that it is naturally stiff.

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: Adam Shankman, welcome to FRESH AIR.

Now you're good friends with the songwriters who did the songs for
"Hairspray," and you've said that you've seen the Broadway show about 20

Mr. ADAM SHANKMAN: Yeah. I have.

GROSS: So, when you set out to make the movie and you already had the show so
much in your head...

Mr. SHANKMAN: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: ...what did you do to kind of get rid of the show and start fresh with
the movie? Or maybe not? Maybe you felt like you should do what the show

Mr. SHANKMAN: Well, no. It was really interesting. When I got the
job--this is going to sound so sad and lame, but I got John Waters' e-mail
address because that's where I needed to start. Because all roads of
"Hairspray" lead back to John Waters. So I got his e-mail address, and I
think I basically typed in `Dear Mr. Waters, My name is Adam Shankman. You
don't know me, but I've been hired to direct and choreograph the new
adaptation of "Hairspray." I hope you don't mind.' And he e-mailed me back,
like, `Let's have lunch tomorrow' because I was in Baltimore producing a movie
there when I got the job.

And we had lunch the next day and he said, de facto, `Don't do what I did.
Don't do what the play did. You got to do your own thing.' And I really took
that very seriously and I thought, OK, great, this is--now, being given
permission by God to go out and do my thing, you know, at least, the god of

GROSS: Since "Hairspray" is a period piece set in the '60s about a TV dance

Mr. SHANKMAN: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: ...the choreography had to be tied, at least the choreography that the
teenagers do in the context of the dance show, had to be very '60s, so what
are some of the things that you watched to get inspiration for the

Mr. SHANKMAN: Well, it's interesting. I mean, I've choreographed a lot of
material that sort of was from this period, and I happen to love it, and
there's a lot of different things that I drew inspiration from. You know, I'm
a huge fan--you're going to laugh--of like the whole Frankie Avalon and
Annette Funicello movies.

GROSS: The beach movies?

Mr. SHANKMAN: The beach movies. And I've watched a lot of Elvis, but you
know, even going back to "Bye Bye Birdie" and, you know, the theatricalized
versions of things from this era, you know. I've watched a lot of old
"American Bandstand," and then I watched "Crazy Like Hullabaloo," which was
all Michael Bennett choreography so it was all really odd and kind of fabulous
and brilliant.

But where I started out as a visual base was, there was a great documentary
called "Shake, Rattle, and Roll," which was a documentary about "The Buddy
Dean Show," which is the show that "The Corny Collins Show" in "Hairspray" is
based upon, and it was the show John Waters used to watch growing up and the
kids that he knew in high school that this whole thing is based on. The
whole--you know, "Hairspray" started with an essay--or an article, I'm
sorry--that John wrote, called "The Nicest Kids in Town," and then it was
published and then he kind of blew it up and it became "Hairspray." And it was
all about the kids on the show.

So I watched that show, and it's really--the dancing is really dull, but it's
the little dances of the era, and they're mostly like little repetitive steps
like the "Mashed Potato" or "The Pony," or, you know, twisting and stuff like
that. And so I basically sat there and keyed all of my choreography using
that as a base and then blowing it up to musical size.

GROSS: One of the things in the story "Hairspray" is that, you know, "The
Corny Collins Dance Show" is a very white show but once a week it's Negro

Mr. SHANKMAN: Once a month. Yeah.

GROSS: Once a month, I'm sorry. It's Negro Day and all like the black kids
who are dancers get to be on the show, and there's a black host instead of
Corny Collins. She's played by Queen Latifah in the movie. And so, what are
some of the differences between like the white choreography that you did and
the black choreography that you did?

Mr. SHANKMAN: Well, one of my associate choreographers, Jamal Sims, who is
African-American, and his family had danced on a show like "The Corny Collins
Show," and I think like his mother and father, his aunts and uncles, and he
went over to their house, and he filmed them doing the dances that they were
doing. One's called "The Hully Gully," "The Fly," "The Slop," and those had a
lot of more soul. They had a lot more hip action. They were looser. The
white kids dancing was very uptight. It was very tight in the core of your
body, it was very centered, whereas a lot of the African-American style stuff
was very loose. And I love that because it was all of the same era, but it in
and of itself was actually different. So he filmed them doing that and
there's a number in the movie called "Run and Tell That," which is literally
taking a bunch of those steps and linking them all together and then just kind
of pushing the size of the steps a little bit bigger, but it's all authentic
steps, really, from the era.

GROSS: Did you ever want to be on a teen dance show when you were growing up?

Mr. SHANKMAN: Oh my god. I wanted to do it all, and my parents wouldn't let
me, and it made me so upset. They kept saying, `You need, you know, you need
a solid education.' It was like, `Just let me be on a commercial, just for
Lucky Charms, anything, just please.' I would have killed, I would have
killed. My dad was producing TV a bit back then and there was a kid on "The
Brady Bunch" named Robbie Rist, who played Oliver, cousin Oliver, and they--I
knew Robbie and this girl Kim Richards who was on "Escape from Witch
Mountain." They were these child actors that I knew that were kind of in my
life, and all I wanted was to be them. And my parents wouldn't let me, so it
really bummed me out. But I didn't actually start dancing until I was 18. I
was pretty old.

GROSS: That's really old.

Mr. SHANKMAN: Yeah. How sad is that? That's really old, to be 18 to start
dancing. But it really is, in fact, if you're really training, but I was...

GROSS: Well, particularly, because you can do splits and all of that. I

Mr. SHANKMAN: I can still do that, but that's like a cheap parlor trick for
me. I was a competitive gymnast when I was a kid...

GROSS: Oh...

Mr. SHANKMAN: my body has certain kind of facilities that...

GROSS: Oh...

Mr. SHANKMAN: know, allow me to still have that kind of flexibility,
which is weird, when I think, even to me. But it's just the way my body's

GROSS: What were you dancing when you were in high school?

Mr. SHANKMAN: When I was 17 I graduated high school and I went--I moved to
Minneapolis to the--and I joined a repertory theater company called The
Children's Theater Company in School and they do in repertory a lot of
original shows, and most of them are musicals. And so I found myself in the
company dancing a lot and suddenly getting lead roles as a dancer in them, but
I still hadn't taken any classes. I just sort of had this natural ability.
And then I decided that dancing was kind of mostly what I should be doing, and
I auditioned for all of the big schools--NYU and Juilliard and North Carolina.
And I actually got into all of them in the dance programs, including
Juilliard, I got into having never taken a dance class in my life, which was
crazy. It was like "Flashdance."


Mr. SHANKMAN: It was ridiculous. Yeah.

GROSS: Let me get back to "Hairspray" for a second.


GROSS: Now, in "Hairspray," I know that John Travolta was cast before you
were actually hired to direct and choreograph the film. Now...

Mr. SHANKMAN: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: the original movie, the John Waters movie, the mother, you know,
the very heavy mother, Edna Turnblad, is played by Divine.

Mr. SHANKMAN: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: Now Divine was a nearly-300-pound man who was always the leading lady,
while he was alive, in John Waters' movies. And in the stage version, the
mother was played by Harvey Fierstein, who is not quite as overweight as
Divine by any means, but you know, he can put on the weight, and he's very gay
and very out. Whereas Travolta is a kind of, you know, fairly trim man who's
straight. How'd you feel about casting like a straight, you know, reasonably
trim man in the part?

Mr. SHANKMAN: Well...

GROSS: Because Travolta has to wear a lot of like prosthetics--his legs, his
body, his face. Yeah.

Mr. SHANKMAN: Yeah, well, there's a few reasons. There's a few reasons for
that. In the tradition of "Hairspray," which started with John, obviously,
casting Divine, it's one of my favorite things that Edna's played by a man
because it's anarchistic. It's basically a lot of the point of it, that don't
judge a book by its cover, you know, credo in the "Hairspray" kind of legacy.
And I love that part of it because it's just--it's such a nose-thumb to the

And when they told me that they were talking to John, I strangely immediately
understood, because knowing that they were wanting to make a big, commercial
hit movie out of this, and it's a musical, what man are you going to go to
that's the biggest musical star that we have? And because of "Grease" and
"Saturday Night Fever," it is John Travolta. "Grease" is the highest-grossing
musical of all time at this point. And so, I thought, `Oh God, that makes
sense.' And the thing that I loved about it was that I could know get Edna
dancing because we haven't seen John Travolta dance for, I mean, really dance,
since "Staying Alive" actually, the sequel to "Saturday Night Fever."

GROSS: You don't need to go there.

Mr. SHANKMAN: Yeah. But, you know--but he was dancing, and I thought this
is fantastic. And then I started thinking about "Fantasia," the cartoon of
"Fantasia," and those dancing hippos, and it was like, `this is awesome'
because what it could be is like Edna, you know, dances as if she's
weightless, and I just, I thought that was sort of thrilling...

GROSS: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

Mr. SHANKMAN: ...just the possibilities of it. So I never went to sort of a
dark place. I mean, the interesting thing is that, I think why people have a
bit of a problem with it, if there is a problem with it, is because both
Harvey and Divine, I think, were generally thought of, in their way, as like
character actors. Even though they played leads in what they did, they're
still not traditional leading men. John is a very traditional leading man and
has been so for a long time. Very on the testosterone-fueled part, but that
also makes it more fun. Once again, it plays with the anarchy of the piece.

GROSS: Well, there's a great soft shoe in the movie between Travolta and...

Mr. SHANKMAN: Christopher Walken...

GROSS: Christopher Walken, who plays Edna's husband, and I love watching both
Travolta dance and Christopher Walken dance. I love watching Christopher
Walken move.

Mr. SHANKMAN: Did you ever see "Pennies from Heaven"?

GROSS: "Pennies from Heaven"--I love the scene in that.

Mr. SHANKMAN: Oh, god, he's so amazing. That's what--why I really wanted
Chris so much because--besides the fact that he in himself is like a novelty
shop to a certain extent. He's just such an unusual and individual, brilliant
and interesting actor who makes what seem like crazy choices, and they all
fall together in the most brilliant way. To have that kind of randomness out
there dancing. You get the two of them--I mean, sometimes I'd have to step
away and go, `What the hell am I shooting?'

GROSS: Can you talk a little bit about what you put together for the two of

Mr. SHANKMAN: There's a number in "Hairspray" called "Timeless to Me," which
is a reaffirmation of Edna and Wilbur's love, and I love this so much because
it's actually one of the only old-fashioned moments in "Hairspray," and
the--you know, it's a love story, really, between the two characters, and I
got to really play with it, and there's all sorts of great lyrics about, you
know, that turn on each other like, `You're like a stinky old cheese, dear,
just getting riper with age.' You know? `You're like a fatal disease, babe,
and if there's no cure, just let this fever rage.' They're so connected in
their eyes and in the way that they behave with each other, and it's so
genuine and loving and so when then they erupt into the dance, it's just, it's

GROSS: Well, why don't we hear the song that Travolta and Christopher Walken
sing in the movie version of "Hairspray"?

(Soundbite of "Timeless to Me")

Mr. WALKEN: (as Wilbur Turnblad) (Singing) Styles keep a-changing
The world's re-arranging
But Edna, you're timeless to me
Hemlines are shorter
A beer costs a quarter
But time cannot take what comes free

You're like a stinky old cheese, babe,
Just getting riper with age
You're like a fatal disease, babe,
But there's no cure, so let this fever rage

Some folks can't stand it
Say time is a bandit
But I take the opposite view
'Cause when I need a lift,
Time brings a gift
Another day with you
A twist or a waltz
It's all the same schmaltz
With just a change in the scenery
You'll never be old hat,
That's that
You're timeless to me

Mr. TRAVOLTA: (as Edna Turnblad) (Speaking) Oh, Wilbur, I love you

(Singing) Fads kept a-fading
Castro's invading
But, Wilbur, you're timeless to me
Hairdos are higher
Mine feels like barbed wire
But you say I'm chic as can be
You're like a rare vintage Ripple
A vintage they'll never forget
So pour me a teeny-weeny triple
And we can toast to the fact
We ain't dead yet

I can't stop eating...

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: That's John Travolta and Christopher Walken from the soundtrack of the
new movie "Hairspray." We'll talk more with Adam Shankman, the director and
choreographer of the film, after a break. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: My guest is Adam Shankman. He directed and choreographed the new
movie musical "Hairspray." My guest is Adam Shankman, and he choreographed and
directed the new film adaptation of "Hairspray."

What were the pop dances when you were coming of age?

Mr. SHANKMAN: When I was coming of age? Oh god. I think when I was coming
of age, it was right when breakdancing was starting, you know, the electric
boogaloo and all of that, and there was a movie called "Breakin': Electric
Boogaloo," which I loved and there was a great movie called "Fast Forward"
about, you know, the very beginnings of like pop-locking and all of that.
That was all really popular when I was a kid.

GROSS: So did you breakdance?

Mr. SHANKMAN: Oh, god, no, are you kidding? I would have--I'm like a skinny
Jew. Like, that would have looked horrible. I'm so not...

GROSS: But you were a gymnast and stuff so you could have done some of that.

Mr. SHANKMAN: I'm so more like a little gymnast. I was so not tough, and
you know, those kids were so like tough and street, and I was so like fake
preppy Jew.

GROSS: Oh, so no electric boogaloo or anything?

Mr. SHANKMAN: No, there wasn't although I tried. You know, I sort of looked
better doing the stuff that the girls were doing, like fan kicks and all of

GROSS: But wait a minute. Weren't you in Paula Abdul and Janet Jackson

Mr. SHANKMAN: Yeah. I did dance for them. I had gotten out Juilliard. I
dropped out and I went and I was doing a lot of threader dancing, because
that's really want I wanted to do. I wanted to be a chorus boy, and so I was
doing a lot of that, had ended up having kind of a bad relationship
experience, frankly, my first one, I was 21 or whatever, and moved back to Los
Angeles. I'd been living in New York, and I thought I was going to stop
dancing and I wanted to produce music videos. That was my big goal. And I
had a friend who was producing a Janet Jackson video, and she convinced me to
audition, and I got in and then I did some work for her and I did the Oscars
for Paula Abdul and stuff like that. But that was something like, you know,
like I said, I was already dancing professionally at that point, so that was
just a job, you know.

GROSS: Describe for us what you had to do in the Janet Jackson video.

Mr. SHANKMAN: Oh, tumble. I was doing so much gymnastics. My whole body
was like wracked with pain. I was like--we were on the Universal back lot and
I--on Mexico Street, and I was tumbling down that stupid street for about
seven and a half straight hours into the morning, and when I tell you I woke
up and I could not move. Because it was cement and I was like barefoot...

GROSS: Oh, geez.

Mr. SHANKMAN: It was the most brutal thing on the planet and I was just a
little gymnast boy at that point.

GROSS: What was the song?

Mr. SHANKMAN: "Escapade." And then I went out and I danced and I also
tumbled and danced on the American Music Awards for her, same song.

GROSS: And for the Oscars?

Mr. SHANKMAN: For the Oscars, we were doing Paula Abdul. We were doing
"Under the Sea" from "The Little Mermaid," and I was like a Lycra-clad
flipping pirate and did the crab dance and all of that. So, it was really

GROSS: You ended up choreographing a lot of videos. Like, what are some of
the acts you choreographed for?

Mr. SHANKMAN: Well, I did a pretty popular Whitney Houston video called "I'm
Your Baby Tonight." I did Tony! Toni! Tone! "Feels Good." I did a song
called "The Jerk Out" for The Time. I even sort of--well, I choreographed
something--one of Herb Ritz's last videos. I worked with 'N Sync doing some
Charlie Chaplin stuff for the video "Gone." I did like giant rock videos,
where girls were like on the top of giant scaffolding throwing themselves
around. I mean, it was crazy, back in like the real heyday of like that kind
of stuff. I worked a lot with Julien Temple, who was the director of
"Absolute Beginners." And he did the very famous Janet Jackson "When I Think
of You" video where she goes through the town, and that was basically based on
his opening shot of "Absolute Beginners."

GROSS: Adam Shankman choreographed and directed the new movie "Hairspray."
He'll be back in the second half of the show. I'm Terry Gross, and this is


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with Adam Shankman, the
choreographer and director of the new movie "Hairspray." Before directing
movies he choreographed music videos and films, including "Boogie Nights" and
"Stuck on You." He got his start dancing with Janet Jackson and Paula Abdul.
"Hairspray" stars Nikki Blonsky and several other newcomers, along with James
Marsden, Michelle Pfeiffer, Queen Latifah, Christopher Walken and John

Now, John Travolta is one of the stars of "Hairspray." What impact did
"Saturday Night Fever" have on you? You were, what, around 12 when it came

Mr. SHANKMAN: Yeah. I was young when "Saturday Night Fever" came out, but
it was literally one of my father's favorite movies and still is. And we saw
it in the theaters a couple times, and I thought it was completely magical.
Because not only was I entranced by the music and the dancing and how the
music was used and how it was all pop music being used as a musical form that
included the dancing, but then to have the dramatic content of it was
mind-blowing to me, even at that age, you know. But of course, I was like the
10 year old that was sneaking into theaters to see "All That Jazz" when I was
10. So, you know, I was a bit of an anomaly, but I was very impacted by
"Saturday Night Fever."

GROSS: Now, one of the movies that you choreographed was "Boogie Nights,"
which is...

Mr. SHANKMAN: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: ...such a great film. And there's a couple of, you know, like disco
party scenes in that...


GROSS: ...and in one of the earlier scenes, the dancing is kind of clumsy.
Everybody's a little self-conscious, and they're not like particularly good
dancers. But in like a later scene, like after the main character, you know,
Dirk Diggler, the Mark Wahlberg character, after he's gotten more
self-confident, he's doing a real Travolta thing.

Mr. SHANKMAN: Yeah--no, it's definitely a tip of the hat to "Saturday Night
Fever." In fact, I was friends with Lester Wilson, rest his soul, who
choreographed "Saturday Night Fever."


Mr. SHANKMAN: He was a great man and he had told me a story once that--I
don't know if it's true, but he told me the story--that the original step in
"Saturday Night Fever" was not just the one hand going up. But it was two
hands going up and then pointing down and two and up. And that Travolta
somehow ended up being more comfortable with the single hand. So after Lester
died and I was doing "Boogie Nights," I said, `You know what? I'm going to
give Lester his original step back,' and I did the two fingers up and down

GROSS: Oh, God, that's so great.


GROSS: So, you know, what's it like when you're choreographing--there's that
scene, and then before that there's a scene where people are just kind of very
amateurishly dancing. Did you choreograph that, or did you just say to

Mr. SHANKMAN: Well, what you do is you give them a sort of a step
vocabulary. You show them a bunch of steps and then you don't polish them and
you kind of send them out on their own and you make sure that it's properly
staged and you work with the director to, you know, get the shape down with
the camera, and then, you know, you just hope that the actors understand who
their characters are and what they're supposed to be doing, how they are.

GROSS: What were some of the movie musicals or Broadway musicals that helped
create like your fantasy life or your...


GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. SHANKMAN: Well, this is going to sound really, really odd, but the first
musical that I saw live was "Promises, Promises," and Michael Bennett did that
and it was based on Neil...

GROSS: That's a Burt Bacharach musical.

Mr. SHANKMAN: It's a Bacharach musical that was based on the Neil Simon play
"The Apartment."

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. SHANKMAN: And Jerry Orbach and Jill O'Hara were in it, and it was just
fabulous to me. I could not believe how amazing it was, and I really grew up
on "Sound of Music" and "West Side Story," "My Fair Lady." The real--the

GROSS: Speaking of "West Side Story," I thought the opening shot of your
movie "Hairspray" was a shout-out to the opening shot of "West Side Story"
because it's this aerial view over the city.

Mr. SHANKMAN: Yeah, but it came through the clouds, so I comboed it with
"Sound of Music." it was "Sound of Music" into "West Side Story." I have a lot
of those in "Hairspray." When she's on the garbage truck, that's like the
tugboat from "Funny Girl." And when I had her hair also like in "Funny Girl"
at the end of "Welcome to the `60s," and you know, there's a lot of shout-outs
at the musicals. Somebody was talking about in "Without Love" when he's
singing into the picture, it's like "You Made Me Love You," where Judy Garland
is singing to Clark Gable and, you know. There's a lot of winks in this one.

GROSS: Now, I could see like, when you're growing up, if
you're--particularly, you know, in previous decades like when you're growing
up that adults or teachers might say to you, `Well, being gay is going to hold
you back from accomplishing this certain thing in life,' but when your goal is
to do like musicals, like no one can really say, `You're gay, you'll never get
your crack at doing musicals.' Do you know what I'm saying?

Mr. SHANKMAN: Truer words have never been spoken. But I had a very, very
reverse experience of coming out, which was that my parents actually outed me
to me. I was dating girls, and they--well, they were divorced at the time,
and right before I left to move to Minneapolis to join the theater company,
they both individually kind of pulled me aside and said, `You know, by the
way, you're gay and we love you.'

And I was like, `What are you talking about? This isn't happening to me, what
are you saying?' You know? I guess, it was kind of--because I wasn't doing
anything with anybody. So it was just something they felt about me. And I
think that, how sweet as they were, they wanted me to be happy and that was of
utmost importance to them and--I don't know. Listen, when I was three years
old I had like a sexual identity crisis, and my parents put me with a doctor
who I guess tried to kind of reprogram me, and they felt like that was a big
mistake. Because it kind of messed with my head and my self-esteem so that
was, I think, their loving way of saying, `It's all good.'

GROSS: Your mother's a therapist, right?

Mr. SHANKMAN: Yeah, and a good one, actually.

GROSS: What kind of sexual identity crisis did you have at the age of three?

Mr. SHANKMAN: You know, I was three years old and I was running around
doing, you know, singing "Sound of Music," wearing my dad's T-shirts and
belting them, and you know, so they had a waist, you know. And you know, when
I was--instead of playing Tony, I was playing Maria, or actually, I was
playing Anita in "West Side Story" because she had the sexier songs. But I
was three! You know? It was--as sad as it sounds, it's true. But it
genuinely was a phase, but now I think for my parents in 1967--and they were
really young when they had me--I think it was just nerve-racking so they put
me--they wanted--they put me with a therapist in a program at UCLA who was
just supposed to kind of observe me, but what they didn't know was that he was
actually trying to reprogram me, you know?

GROSS: In your career as a choreographer, you've not only choreographed
dances, but you've choreographed nondance movies...


GROSS: ...where the choreography, I guess, is more about physical comedy.

Mr. SHANKMAN: Yeah, yeah, like "George of the Jungle," you're talking about?

GROSS: Oh, I'm thinking specifically of "Stuck on You," which is not

Mr. SHANKMAN: Oh yeah in "Stuck on You"--no, "Stuck on You" there's a huge
dance number at the end with Meryl Streep and...

GROSS: Oh, that's true.

Mr. SHANKMAN: I was actually in it.

GROSS: Oh, oh.

Mr. SHANKMAN: I played the like waiter on her left. I was like, `I'm not
going to miss this opportunity. I'm dancing with Meryl Streep,' damn it!


Mr. SHANKMAN: I did that final number. But like in "George of the Jungle"
there are a couple little dance scenes, but I was on "George of the Jungle"
for like five months. I started dealing with wire work with Brendan Fraser
and then doing rock climbing and trampoline work, gymnastics stuff. And then
when the movie started, he decided that he wanted me there all the time,
literally just to watch the physicality of his performance, because I did a
lot of those movies that were cartoons-to-movies. Like, I did "Flintstones"
and "Casper" and "George of the Jungle." And you know, it's like all sort of
maintaining the integrity of the movement vocabulary of the cartoon while
giving it life. It's a very funky business, but I did a lot of it.

GROSS: You know, you were telling us earlier about the video that required
you tumbling for about seven hours on concrete...

Mr. SHANKMAN: Oh, yeah.

GROSS: Do you have any injuries that give you like recurring pain from all
the dancing...


GROSS: ...that you've done over the years?

Mr. SHANKMAN: Yeah. I have really bad pain in my left hip, like lower back
stuff. It's totally chronic. And then, unbelievably, the month before I
started to choreograph "Hairspray," I was actually hanging out with some
friends and dancing around and I slipped on a spilled cocktail and I tore
every part of my knee.


Mr. SHANKMAN: After all those years of dancing--LCL, MCL, ACL, and my MCL
and LCL healed but I still don't have an ACL. And I choreographed all of
"Hairspray" with one very injured knee.

GROSS: Wow. You know, dancers amaze me because like, on the one hand, when
you're a dancer, you seem to like defy gravity and do all these things that
normal bodies were never meant to do. And at the same time, I know, dancers,
like you were just saying, end up with injuries and are walking around in
pain. Do you ever get angry with your body for hurting? You know, for being

Mr. SHANKMAN: Yeah, yeah. I get really angry with my body for hurting
because, you know, no one warns you about these things. I also wonder, could
I have made it any different by stretching more or by not doing that stupid
stunt. I remember when I was doing the Academy Awards, they were making me
throw, stupidly, this giant back lay-up flip that landed in a front splits,
and I broke five of my toes...


Mr. SHANKMAN: Excuse me. I broke three of my toes doing it, and it was like
the first week of rehearsal. And so I went on with my toes taped and went on
to do four more weeks of rehearsal and dance the entire show. And of course,
never even performed the trick. By the way, I would have performed it anyway
because it's just what you do. Dancers are the most the-show-must-go-on
people out there. They are the least paid and the hardest workers, for sure.

GROSS: Well, Adam Shankman, it's been great to talk with you. Thank you so

Mr. SHANKMAN: Thank you. It was an extraordinary pleasure to be here.

GROSS: Adam Shankman choreographed and directed the new movie "Hairspray."

Coming up, a 1988 interview with John Waters about writing and directing the
original version of "Hairspray." This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: A 1988 interview with writer-director John Waters on
the movie "Hairspray"

The new movie "Hairspray," and the hit Broadway musical that it's adapted from
owe it all to John Waters, one of the eccentric icons of the independent film
world. He wrote and directed the original 1988 movie "Hairspray." It's set in
1962 at the height of the teen dance show craze. The story revolves around a
fat girl named Tracy Turnblad whose dream is to dance on the local TV dance
show. In the new movie musical version of "Hairspray," Tracy's mother Edna is
played by John Travolta in drag and a fat suit. In the original film, the
mother was played by Divine, a 300-pound man who was often the leading lady in
Waters' movies. In this scene from the original "Hairspray," Divine, as Edna,
is taking her daughter to Mr. Pinky's Hefty Hideaway House for Ample Women to
pick out some new clothes for the dance show.

(Soundbite of "Hairspray")

DIVINE: (as Edna Turnblad) Mr. Pinky, I'm Tracy's business manager, Edna

Mr. ALAN WENDL: (As Mr. Pinky): Well, it's a pleasure to meet the both of
you. Here we cater to the big-boned gals like yourself who are stylish and at
the same time frustrated by the lack of sizes in the department stores today.
I saw you on TV. I want you to be my model.

DIVINE: (as Edna Turnblad) Would she be paid for this?

Mr. WENDL: (As Mr. Pinky) One free outfit a month! You start tomorrow. I
hope there's no diets in the works because I want to design your Miss Auto
Show coronation gown myself.

DIVINE: (as Edna Turnblad) Could you throw in a pair of complimentary
pettipants in the deal?

Mr. WENDL: (As Mr. Pinky) You drive a hard bargain, Miss Edna, and
rightfully so. Pettipants, panty-girdle. You just let Tracy take her pick.

DIVINE: (as Edna Turnblad) It's a deal. Thank you, Mr. Pinky.

Mr. WENDL: (As Mr. Pinky) Ha ha ha! I'm going to make you a star!

(Soundbite of music)

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: I spoke with John Waters in 1988 when his film "Hairspray" was
released. I asked him if "The Corny Collins Show," the dance show in the
film, was based on the Baltimore dance show he grew up watching, "The Buddy
Dean Show."

Mr. JOHN WATERS: I watched all the teen dance shows, and so it's all of them
sort of put together and pushed one step a little further, but it's not that
exaggerated. Basically, the kids really did look like that then. The
hairdos, all that, was part of it. It wasn't a rebel look. Your mother had
that hairdo, too.

GROSS: I think a lot of us learned what it would be like to be a teenager by
watching the dance shows. Did you watch the dance shows a lot?

Mr. WATERS: Sure, you learned how to be a teenager from it. I mean, and
there were so many gimmick dancers that you had to--they only lasted about a
week in popularity, there were so many of them. So you had to watch these
shows. It was like homework for the weekend, because everybody would do those
dances, and if you didn't know how to do them that weekend, you didn't have
time because there was already a new one out.

GROSS: You have every record and more, that I can remember, the novelty
records of the Continental, the Fly...

Mr. WATERS: The Bug, the Roach...

GROSS: The Bug, the Roach...

Mr. WATERS: The Shake a Tail Feather. The Madison. They're all real

GROSS: Well, I figured--well, first of all, why did you include so many of
the novelty dances in the movie?

Mr. WATERS: Well, because I love them and I wanted to bring them back. I
wanted--the fact that that was sort of a forgotten period when every dance was
a gimmick dance. So I had all those records. They were my favorite records.
I used to get them out late at night, after a few drinks, and put them on

GROSS: And dance?

Mr. WATERS: ...sometimes even danced. So I picked those songs first and
sort of wrote the movie around them. I wanted to include them.

GROSS: Everybody in your movies, as you say, is usually really--they're
outcasts and they're frequently--somewheres between odd and bizarre-looking.

Mr. WATERS: Yeah.

GROSS: Now, what was your look when you were a teenager?

Mr. WATERS: I went through a different--at one period I was preppy because
that's how I grew up. But then I had bleached hair on the front and I used to
wear--then I wanted to be a beatnik. It was hard to be a beatnik in suburban
Baltimore, but I wanted to be one and I read all the books about them and
everything. I read Life magazine about beatniks and I just really wanted to
be one. That's why I have the whole beatnik scene in the movie.

GROSS: There's a great scene where Tracy...

Mr. WATERS: Yes.

GROSS: ...and her boyfriend...

Mr. WATERS: Yeah.

GROSS: ...go into--they're looking for a place to hide out, basically...

Mr. WATERS: Right.

GROSS: They knock on the door. Everybody's turning them away, but these two
beatniks at the door that they knock on open the door let them in and the
beatniks are Ric Ocasek and Pia Zadora...

Mr. WATERS: Right.

GROSS: And it's this great like beatnik scene in their pad. This scene is a
wonderful confrontation between the bouffant hairdo ethic and the beatnik
long, black, straight hair ethic.

Mr. WATERS: The ironed hair. yeah.

GROSS: The ironed hair.

Mr. WATERS: Which is not an exaggeration. Around '62 in Baltimore, all the
girls had those big hairdos, and then suddenly, a few of the really hip ones
started doing their hair straight, and people panicked. And it was called
"Going Joe," meaning Joe College. And people would say, `I don't know.
Should I be Joe? I can't decide. I don't know what to do.' It was major
thing. And what happened then is the kids that did do the ironed hair
eventually became hippies. And the ones with the teased hair got married and
became, probably, very middle class.

(Soundbite of 1988 "Hairspray")

Ms. PIA ZADORA: (As Beatnik Chick) You look like a hair hopper to me. I
mean, your hair is really uncool.

Ms. LESLIE ANN POWERS: (As Penny Pingleton) How do you get your hair so
straight and so flat?

Ms. ZADORA: (As Beatnik Chick) With an iron, man. I play my bongos, listen
to Odetta and then I iron my hair. Dig?

Unidentified Actor: (In character) I think we better get going now. The
coast looks clear.

Ms. ZADORA: (As Beatnik Chick) Let's do some reefer. We'll get high and
I'll iron the chick's hair.

Mr. RIC OCASEK: (As Beatnik Cat) Reefer? Oh!

Ms. RICKI LAKE: (as Tracy Turnblad) What?

Ms. ZADORA: (As Beatnik Chick) Loco weed. When I'm high, I am Odetta.

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: In the movie you call women will really large hairdos...

Mr. WATERS: Yeah.

GROSS: hoppers.

Mr. WATERS: Yeah.

GROSS: Is that a Baltimore expression?

Mr. WATERS: That's a Baltimore expression.

GROSS: Yeah, I never--it's a great expression.

Mr. WATERS: Yeah. Men can be hair hoppers, too.

GROSS: What kind of hair...

Mr. WATERS: A male hair hopper is, you know, greased back, and the
continental look, it was called. With sports coat with a belt in the back and
pointy-toed shoes and that look. A hair hopper basically is someone that grew
up without a lot of money, suddenly gets some, spends it wrongly, thinks they
have style, and don't.

GROSS: Did you use real hairspray in the movie?

Mr. WATERS: Yeah.

GROSS: In the opening scene, everybody's like spraying their hair, and the

Mr. WATERS: That's real hairspray. Yeah. We used roughly 60 cases of
hairspray in the movie and...


Mr. WATERS: ...because there was 1100 extras. And when you worked on this
movie, you had to go--it was like going into the fashion army. The boys had
to go in one trailer to get their hair cut, then go to the next thing and get
their hair slicked back. The girls had to go in, get it teased. We had like
Chris Mason, who did all the hairdo, but then we had like backups. People
that would tease it, then she would come in and style it. You had to go
through an assembly line. So a lot of the kids that were in it finally got so
sick of combing it out that they would just leave it in and they would go out
in Baltimore with those ridiculous hairdos and just figure, `too bad.' I can't
do--go through this hairdo torture another day. Let's just leave it in.

GROSS: Your movie's set in 1962...

Mr. WATERS: Yeah.

GROSS: And this is currently a period when there's actually a lot of
nostalgia for 1962.

Mr. WATERS: No, there's a lot of nostalgia for the '60s. But '62 was almost
the '50s. There were no hippies. There were no drugs. Kennedy haven't even
been shot. It was right before everything changed.

GROSS: That's why you chose that year?

Mr. WATERS: Yeah. And so when people talk about the '60s, they talk about
girls dancing in cages with fringe or hippies or the student rebellion and all
that. This was way before any of that.

GROSS: One of the big storylines in "Hairspray" is about the integration of

Mr. WATERS: Right.

GROSS: show.

Mr. WATERS: Right.

GROSS: Because it's a white-only show so they have Negro Day once a month?

Mr. WATERS: Which they did. That's not an exaggeration. Shows did do that.

GROSS: Was it really called that...

Mr. WATERS: Yeah.

GROSS: the show you watched in Baltimore?

Mr. WATERS: Yes. Yeah. And they had them on other shows too, and basically
I felt that to ignore that fact would be really inauthentic. Maybe that's not
the correct word, but if Hollywood would have made this movie, they would have
had blacks on the show and just ignored the fact that none of the
shows--"Bandstand" didn't have blacks on it either. None of them did then.
And basically the problem was, all the music was black. All the dancing came
from blacks. Black singers were on the show all the time as entertainers.
But they couldn't dance. And it wasn't because the kids didn't want it.
Their parents didn't want it.

GROSS: One of the things I really loved in the movie is that the worst insult
that one girl can say about another is, `She's a whore.'

Mr. WATERS: Well they used to--didn't they? When I went to high school,
they always used to say that to the--`That girl's a whore.'

GROSS: Except that girl's a "whoo-ah." Yeah.

Mr. WATERS: Right. And you know, the girls that they said that about never

GROSS: Oh, of course. I mean, how many girls in my high school were really

Mr. WATERS: I know. I mean, they were charging money. There weren't too
many of that. But they never even slept with anybody. But if you got the
reputation as a whore, it lasted, and they always used to say that with girls,
`Oh, that girl, she's a whore.' You know? It was always, at least, when I
went to junior high, that was a very big insult.

GROSS: Did you always want to know, like, what the real story was behind

Mr. WATERS: I always hung around with the ones they thought were whores,

GROSS: We're listening back to a 1988 interview with John Waters about
writing and directing the original movie "Hairspray." More after a break.
This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: Let's get back to our 1988 interview with John Waters about writing
and directing the original film "Hairspray." He told me he saw "Hairspray" as
a satire of two dreaded genres: the teen flick and the message movie. I
asked him about pitching the movie to producers.

Mr. WATERS: I had a couple of movies I wanted to do and I knew that this one
was one obsession I had that was possibly palatable to movie executives. So I
thought I'd better go with this one.

GROSS: How did you pitch it to movie executives?

Mr. WATERS: I got up and did the dances in front of them...

GROSS: Oh, you're kidding. That's great.

Mr. WATERS: ...for one thing, and they were so startled that they realized I
was serious about it. I played them the music. I got a development deal for
it. It was done very conventionally.

GROSS: Oh, that's not conventional, going and doing the dances...

Mr. WATERS: You ever been to a pitch session? I don't know. You got to
sell the movie. You've got about 10 minutes.

GROSS: Do you have a less-saleable version in your mind, like...


GROSS: ...a really more--mm-hmm.

Mr. WATERS: I didn't calculate this to be, `Oh, this is going to be more
commercial.' I mean, I thought the subject matter had a chance to be
certainly, but it wasn't certainly--I didn't make a movie I didn't want to
make. I didn't cut anything out to go wider or anything like that. It just
came out this way, and it was an obsession. I mean, I thought it would be
inappropriate to have sex and gore in this. Because that wasn't part of this
whole memory. I think it's still a John Waters movie but it's PG, which I
think it's great. I wish it was G, because that's the only way left that
people are surprised, and all my films have been based on surprise.

GROSS: There are some regulars, people who have worked with you in many of
your movies who are featured in your new movie. Divine...

Mr. WATERS: Right.

GROSS: in it. Mink Stole is in it. But there are some new people who
have never been in your movies before...

Mr. WATERS: Yeah.

GROSS: ...Like Tracy Lords.

Mr. WATERS: Well, well, we have Tracy, who is--Ricki Lake. Certainly Debbie
Harry, who I'd worked with a little bit. She wrote part of the music for
"Polyester." Jerry Stiller, who plays Divine's husband. Sonny Bono, who plays
sort of the villain in it.

GROSS: Why were you so anxious to cast Sonny Bono...

Mr. WATERS: Oh, I always just liked Sonny Bono. I mean, you never say, no
casting agent ever says, `Get me a Sonny Bono type.' There's only one Sonny
Bono, and that's what I like, is actors that they're unique. And everybody
knows who Sonny Bono is.

(Soundbite of "Hairspray")

Mr. SONNY BONO: (as Franklin von Tussle) I had some new campaign fliers made
up today, all for Daddy's little girl! I want you to hand those out at the
hop tonight, to everyone, each and every one of those.

Ms. COLLEEN FITZPATRICK: (As Amber von Tussle): Oh, Daddy!

Ms. DEBBIE HARRY: (As Velma von Tussle) No lip from you, Miss Ingrate. This
campaign is costing us an arm and a leg.

Mr. BONO: (as Franklin von Tussle) New gowns. Hairdresser three times a
week. Why, your hairspray bill alone is enough to eat up all the profits from
the Tilt-a-Whirl.

Ms. HARRY: (As Velma von Tussle) You'll do as Daddy says or we'll send you
to Catholic school where you belong, right, Franklin?

Mr. BONO: (as Franklin von Tussle) That's right!

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: I'll bet a lot of real odd characters send you resumes all the time,
figuring like, `Well, I'm kind of freaky. Waters would really love me for his
next movie.'

Mr. WATERS: Yeah, but they're real wrong because the people that are freaky
in real life generally make terrible actors. Good actors, actually, in real
life are shy and very quiet people a lot of the time.

GROSS: Gee, why do you think that's true?

Mr. WATERS: I don't know. They come alive with a camera, where people that
are always on in real life, as soon as the camera comes on, tend to be very
stilted sometimes.

GROSS: Hm. You cast Divine in a dual role.

Mr. WATERS: Yeah, well, Divine played a--he's played a man in my other
films, too. In "Female Trouble" he's a dual role but in this he plays like, I
think kind of a lovable mom, Edna Turnblad, and then he also plays an evil
station manager who won't let blacks on the show. And we wanted to make him
totally unrecognizable. We have new teeth made for him...

GROSS: No kidding?

Mr. WATERS: I mean, so that he even talks--his face is shaped different. He
talks differently because all the teeth are fake. So I liked him in it. I
thought he looked like sort of scary almost as a man. It's his male

GROSS: Divine makes such a sympathetic housewife.

Mr. WATERS: Yeah. And I don't think--I think it's really, so far, been very
encouraging, that both the Variety review and the Hollywood Reporter review
had talked a lot about Divine and never mentioned that he was a man. It
didn't matter any more that Divine's a man, which I think is good because he's
not a transvestite. He doesn't wear those clothes when he's not making a
movie. You can't even call him a drag queen. What self-respecting drag queen
would allow himself to look as hideous as he looks at the beginning of
"Hairspray"? So he's basically, he's a character actor.

GROSS: There are a lot of teenagers in the movie. Were they familiar with
your early work? Did you want them to see...

Mr. WATERS: No. I didn't want them to see them, and I discouraged them from
seeing them. And I actually just talked to two of them who rented them all
this week and saw it and they liked them, but that's because they got
comfortable with us and they knew everybody, and by the end--I think if they'd
seen those films in the very beginning before we shot it, it might have
frightened some of them.

GROSS: It might have changed their acting performance too...

Mr. WATERS: Yeah. yeah.

GROSS: They might have thought that you wanted something...

Mr. WATERS: More hateful or more over the top. Yeah.

GROSS: Yeah. Exactly, exactly. You wrote the movie, as well...

Mr. WATERS: Oh, yeah.

GROSS: well as directed it and co-produced it. So the actors are
saying your lines. How do you feel about actors improvising on your lines?

Mr. WATERS: I generally don't like it, because I shoot the exact script and
it screws up people's timing if somebody throws in a line and they don't know
the next one's coming. If we do any improvisation, we do it in rehearsal...

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. WATERS: ...when we realize that there's a dead point where somebody has
to walk across the room or there's just dead silence. We'll work that out in
improv. Or when we do it the run-through before we do the take. But mostly I
give producers the script that I turn in. I film exactly that.

GROSS: You shot the movie on location in Baltimore. There was a time in your
early film career when you'd have to shoot on the sly and run from the police.

Mr. WATERS: Yeah.

GROSS: We did that once, in one shot, because this time we dealt with a city
and we dealt with the state and we had permits. We had police closing the
streets and everything, which was amazing to me still that you could take over
a neighborhood and everybody just says `OK.' I mean, the police would wake up
people at 5 in the morning and say, `You have to move your car. They're
making a movie,' and people wouldn't give a peep of not wanting to do it,
which amazed me.

But one day we had to get a shot, and they told us we couldn't block the
street off because it was rush hour, and we just went and did it anyway, and
it was really fun, that hit and run. I hadn't done that in so long. It was
just one little shot we had to get. We jumped out of the car, we set up real
quick, and before anything could happen we got it and ran. But it was a great

Mr. WATERS: OK, John Waters, thanks a lot.

GROSS: Thank you.

Mr. WATERS: John Waters, recorded in 1988. He wrote and directed the
original movie "Hairspray," which was adapted into the hit Broadway show, and
has now been adapted into a movie musical directed by Adam Shankman, who we
heard from earlier.

You can download podcasts of our show by going to our Web site,


GROSS: I'm Terry Gross. We'll close with music from the soundtrack of the
new film.

(Soundbite of "Hairspray")

Unidentified Singers: (Singing) Because you can't stop the beat!
Ever since you first saw the light
Every woman loves to shake it on a Saturday night
And so we're going to shake...(unintelligible)...with all of my might
Cause you can't stop the...

(End of soundbite)
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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