Christopher Müller

Divine

San Francisco, early 1970s.  Photograph by Martin Wong,  courtesy of the Fales Library, New York University  and the Estate of Martin Wong.
San Francisco, early 1970s.
Photograph by Martin Wong,
courtesy of the Fales Library, New York University
and the Estate of Martin Wong.
Martin Wong, Divine, 1979.
Acrylic on canvas, 91,5 x 91,5 cm.
Collection of John P. Axelrod.

Opening in 1970 as “Divine Trash,” the store sold items that Divine had purchased in thrift stores, flea markets and garage sales, although had to move from its original location after he had failed to obtain a license from the local authorities. Realizing that this venture was not financially viable, Divine sold off his stock at very low prices. In the hope of raising some extra money, he sold the furniture of his rented, furnished apartment, leading the landlady to put out a warrant for his arrest. He evaded the local police by traveling to San Francisco.

D: So anyway, I decided to quit my store in Province-town—money was tight at the time—and apparently the Cockettes had seen my movies and were screaming for me. So I flew out to San Francisco wearing a dress—and Van Smith said, “Trust me—we’ve got to shave your head and eyebrows otherwise they’re going to think you’re just another drag queen.”

Q: Who’s they?

D: Oh, yes. I forgot to mention—a press reception had been arranged for me at the airport, so there I was on the plane with my bra full of lentils—and the stewardess couldn’t get me off that plane fast enough.  So I got off the plane—and I couldn’t believe it. People were screaming out for me. The newsreels were out. The bulbs were flashing. It was just as if all my dreams were coming true … So, anyway, the airport area had to be cleared just for me to get through. It was the most wonderful experience of my life.

Along with John Waters and Van Smith, Divine traveled to San Francisco in 1970, to make what was probably his first official personal appearance, at a special screening at the Palace Theatre of Mondo Trasho. Divine ran on stage in skintight Capri pants and seven-inch heels, threw dead fish at the audience and stuck a series of exhibitionist poses. “It was glamour gone berserk,” Divine decided. John Waters wrote a speech with which Divine could shock the audience: “I smuggle rotten fruits into California and I eat pounds and pounds of white sugar! I had to come to California because I killed a couple of cops back East! Don’t you realize? I killed Sharon Tate, and they’ve arrested the wrong people!”

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