Harris Glenn Milstead -
Many people have seen Disney’s ‘The Little Mermaid’ and hated the evil sea witch Ursula after she tricked
the little mermaid out of her voice and then tried to sabotage her chances of finding true love. What not many
people know is that the character of Ursula the Sea Witch was designed on the lines of the famous Drag Queen,
Divine was a versatile performer, not only as an actor and singer, but also due to the fact that he could
perform both male and female roles with equal ease. He specialised in roles in movies that were sexually explicit
and relied a lot on shock value. The controversial nature of the movies could not, however, obscure the fact that
Divine was an extremely talented actor with ‘a natural sense of comic timing’ and ‘an uncanny knack of
Divine was born Harris Glenn Milstead in Baltimore, Maryland in October, 1945. His parents, Harris Bernard
Milstead and Frances Milstead, had
lost two children previously to miscarriage. Since he was their only child, born after many unsuccessful attempts,
he was obviously doted upon. They acceded to all his demands which might have led to him becoming, in his own
words, ‘Your American Spoilt Brat’.
One of their indulgences also included food which resulted in him becoming an overweight child. His eating
disorder and weight problem stayed with him throughout his life and was the reason why he was teased and bullied in
Towson High School in Lutherville, where he moved with his family when he was twelve years old. Glenn eventually
managed to lose some weight which led to an increased level of confidence in the young man.
At the age of seventeen, his parents made him visit a psychiatrist and in the ensuing sessions, Glenn realized
that he was attracted to men. This was not something that was socially acceptable in the American society at that
time. For a long time, he pretended to be bisexual rather than admitting to being a homosexual. He finally admitted
to being gay much later, but was still not very vocal about it.
In the mid-60’s, he became friend with a young man named John Waters,
who lived about six houses away from him in his neighbourhood and was around the same age as him. John Waters was
responsible for casting him in his first drag role, which incidentally was also his first acting role ever. It was
he who also created the name ‘Divine’ for Glenn which he adopted and used till the end. Thus, the legendary
Drag Queen Divine was born.
Divine worked with John Waters in a number of cult classic movies, along with an assortment of loyal Waters
crew, affectionately called the Dreamlanders. Together, they made a series of trashy cult films, one of which,
Hairspray was later adapted as theatre play and remade as a movie. Along with the movies that Divine made with John
Waters, he also performed on stage, capitalizing on his drag persona, his trashy reputation and musical talent.
Realising that his disco performances were well appreciated, Divine even released a series of disco records which were produced by Bobby Orlando.
Divine was discovered dead in his Hotel Regency room on March 7th, 1988, in Los Angeles. The cause of his
death was found to be an enlarged heart which resulted in asphyxiation while he was