Who's who in Indecent Exposure

Melissa Starker, Creative Content & PR Manager

Feb 26, 2019

Detail from the photo collage Dorothy Malone's collar by John Waters

The subjects covered in John Waters's first visual art retrospective include now-obscure stars and personalities. Read on to familiarize yourself with a handful of them.

Clarabell by John Waters

This clown was a fixture on the children's TV classic The Howdy Doody Show, which ran from 1947 to 1960. His look later inspired the extreme makeup worn by Waters's friend and muse, Divine. 

Don Knotts
The slightly bug-eyed costar of The Andy Griffith Show and frontman for ridiculous movie comedies like The Ghost and Mr Chicken. Waters jokes about a physical resemblance between him and the late star in the 1994 work Self-portrait, and he has a bobblehead of the actor that's featured in the series In My House, as well as in a sampling of items from Waters's home. As Waters once told Rolling Stone, "I feel like Don Knotts every day of my life. Sometimes I pretend I’m him. If it’s a slow day, I go in and out of being Don Knotts. When he was young, he was really my type."

Dorothy Malone's Collar, a photo collage by writer, filmmaker and artist John Waters

Dorothy Malone
The actress (seen above) won an Oscar for her delicious turn as a bad girl in the Douglas Sirk melodrama Written on the Wind and later starred in the TV series adaptation of another Waters obsession, Grace Metallious's Peyton Place. The artist commemorates her work—and a frequent onscreen fashion choice of the actress— in Dorothy Malone's Collar. As Waters told Believer last fall, he got to meet the actress before she passed away early last year. "I walked in and I explained to her that I was obsessed by her collar always being worn up in a movie, and she didn’t have it up that day and she was like, 'Oh, OK,' and she just put her collar up."

Ed Sullivan
For 23 years, this TV personality dominated the airwaves with the variety extravaganza The Ed Sullivan Show. Most famous for giving The Beatles their first television appearance in the US and for censoring the gyrating hips of Elvis Presley. He pops up in the large banner work Ed Sullivan Raped Me. According to Waters, it was an actual tabloid headline. "I isolated the headline for the artwork, but really, who would ever put that over their couch?," he told Vice last fall. "But now, with #MeToo, it probably was true. It probably wasn’t a crazy, tabloid, made-up story. That’s how things can change so much over the years."

Mr. Ray
Spotlighted in the 2002 print Mr. Ray, the proprietor of Baltimore's own Mr. Ray's Hair Weave Center became an fascination of Waters's for his cheap commercials and thick Charm City accent. When Mr. Ray turned down a request to narrate Pink Flamingos, Waters did it himself, assuming the name "Mr. J" and mimicking the business owner's voice. Mr. Ray is also mentioned in Waters's follow-up to Pink Flamingos, Female Trouble. We'll be screening that film in a double feature with Pecker on Sunday, April 28.


Pia Zadora
A favorite celebrity of Waters for her childhood role in the camp classic Santa Claus Conquers the Martians and her performance in the remarkably trashy 1982 film Butterfly, a part that won her both the Golden Globe for Best Newcomer and a Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Female Performance. Waters met the star at the 1981 Berlin Film Festival and later cast her as the beatnik chick in Hairspray. She's the subject of Waters's 2000 work Abstract Pia.