Divine times: Mink Stole, the über-fabulous Dreamlander, recalls the heyday of trash

As an original member of John Waters’ gang, Mink Stole was there at the beginning. Alongside was Harris Glenn Milstead, a quiet young man who would soon become Time Magazine’s Drag Queen of the Century . . . and an icon for oddballs everywhere

Fri, Jul 18, 2014, 00:00

More than 40 years after its 1972 debut, John Waters’s Pink Flamingos remains one of cinema’s most transgressive comedies. A carnival of perverse and bizarre acts – Surfin’ Bird performed by anal sphincter, anyone? – the film’s central battle for the title “filthiest person alive” culminates in the now-infamous final scene that finds Divine, the director’s drag queen muse, eating a freshly made dog poo off the street. There’s no chicanery involved. It all happens in one gloriously gross take.

It was an act that would propel Waters and his regular troupe of Baltimore misfits – the Dreamlanders – onto many ‘Movies You Must See Before You Die’ compendiums: Flamingos landed at number 29 on a 2006 Channel 4 list, just ahead of Scarface and Fight Club.

I can’t imagine what conversations the über-fabulous Mink Stole, an original Dreamlander who played Divine’s filthy and finally defeated nemesis, had on set that day.

“We didn’t really have any particular conversation about it,” recalls Stole. “John told us what to do and we did it. There was no dissent. I wanted to play Connie with a little bit more nobility. I wanted some kind of final line or final look that would define her as being more than just the low-life piece of trash that she really was. But John was adamant.”

Stole is one of only three Dreamlanders – the others being Mary Vivian Pearce and Pat Moran – to have featured in all of John Waters’s feature-length films. She was, by the director’s recollection, “punk 10 years before any one was punk”.

Did that happen after Stole fell in with the other Dreamlanders, I wonder? Or was she always destined to be an oddball?

“Oh, I was always an outsider. I was one of 10 children. We were Catholics in the 1940s and 1950s when there wasn’t any birth control. I’m number five. Kind of a middle child. And even among that large crowd of people. I always felt a bit isolated.”

That sense of isolation manifested as strops and foot-stomping before Stole would find her place in showbusiness as an actor, a writer and a singer: her most recent album, Do Re MiNK, is highly recommended and available from all good online emporia.

“I was a very unhappy child so I threw lots and lots of temper tantrums, the last refuge of the unhappy child. I screamed a lot. That didn’t make me any more popular with my neighbourhood or family. I had very little by way of coping skills. I was kind of a clueless kid.”

Happily, during the mid-1960s, the teenage Mink Stole – or Nancy Paine Stoll, as it says on her birth certificate – would happen on a group of like-minded reprobates, including fellow fallen Catholic Waters and Harris Glenn Milstead, a beatnik who would, under Waters’s tutelage, go on to become Divine, Time Magazine’s Drag Queen of the Century.