It’s shaping up to be a banner year for actress/singer/midnight muse Mink Stole. In addition to an appearance on Hulu’s cult-hit comedy Difficult People and the theatrical rerelease of John Waters’ 1970 classic Multiple Maniacs in a sensational 4K restoration, 2016 also marks the 50th anniversary of Stole’s friendship with Waters—and her first appearance in one of his films, the 1966 short Roman Candles (she’s since appeared in every feature film he’s directed). The iconic duo celebrated this landmark together over the summer in Provincetown, where they first met when Stole (née Nancy Stoll; Waters created her stage name) was only 19.
Another favorite collaborator Stole is reuniting with this year is San Francisco’s own Peaches Christ. By popular demand, Peaches Christ Productions is bringing the smash stage show Return to Grey Gardens—starring Stole, Christ, Jinkx Monsoon, and Lady Bear—back to the Castro Theatre for one night and one show only, on October 8 at 8 p.m. Tickets and more information are available at PeachesChrist.com. Below, we sit down with the legendary Ms. Stole for a wide-ranging conversation about San Francisco, her vivid memories of shooting Multiple Maniacs, and the most disturbing topic of all: the 2016 general election.
San Francisco is excited to have you back! Your history with this city dates back to the ‘70s, when you performed with the Cockettes. Yes, and I actually lived there for a year in the early ‘70s.
That must’ve been quite a time to be in San Francisco. Oh, it was! You could actually afford to live there then. It’s really bad now, but the whole world is getting that way. Even Baltimore.
How have you seen San Francisco change over the years? It’s grown a lot. I used to know people who lived in enormous apartments, and now people are happy just to have a room. The sense of freedom that people had back in the ‘70s has been restricted, in the sense of how much actual room people have to move around. The casualness has changed. It’s still one of the most amazing, wonderful cities in the entire world, but when things are less expensive there’s just less tension.
Very true. Well, as long as we have Peaches Christ, we’ll have a core piece of the city’s cultural identity. San Francisco has such an incredible drag history, I can’t imagine it without a major drag element. I think Peaches/Joshua is absolutely brilliant. He’s clever, funny, good at what he does, a wonderful entrepreneur and impresario and performer and writer… He’s really a city treasure. He gets better and better, and remains one of the nicest people I’ve ever met.
How did you two first meet? When Joshua had been doing Midnight Mass at the Bridge for a few years, he got in touch with my publicist at the time—whom I had for god knows what reason—and invited me up. I was the very first live guest he had at the Bridge. I walked into the theater for the show, which was a tribute to Desperate Living, and he had an animatronic Peggy Gravel sitting on the stage mixing a vat of rabies potion. [Laughs.] I was just in love. It was so much more than what I’d expected, and we just hit it off immediately.
You were fantastic in his movie, All About Evil. “Goodnight, books.” [Laughs.] That was really fun! He’s really good at [directing]. I felt like I was safe.
That’s the best way an actor can feel on a set. It really is. I’ve made lots and lots of little inexpensive films, and I don’t always feel safe or like they’re going to make sure I’m okay. But with him, I felt completely safe. I adore the man.
And now you’re reprising your role in Return to Grey Gardens, one of his most popular shows. Why do you think it’s so appealing? It’s hilarious! And Jinkx Monsoon… I did not know who Jinkx was when we first did it because I hadn’t watched that season of Drag Race, but one day during rehearsal he started to sing and I thought, “Oh my god, this guy has talent!” The show is so funny and clever and good-spirited. There’s real warmth to it. I think most of Joshua’s work has that spirit. He’s never bitter or mean-spirited, and this one in particular is so warm-hearted. It’s impossible not to be drawn into it.
The original Grey Gardens came out in 1975, the year after you starred in another dysfunctional mother-daughter story, Female Trouble. What are your recollections of the movie first opening? I saw it when it first came out and I had never heard of them, so I was just as surprised as anyone. I was like, “Jackie Kennedy has cousins that live like this?!” It was scandalous that she let these people she was related to live in such dire circumstances! But then I started to understand that they liked where they lived and were perfectly happy. They were completely nuts, but they were not unhappy nuts. They couldn’t exist without each other, so there was this intense bond of insanity that was appealing in a very strange way. There was a genuine love and affection between them, an unspoken acknowledgement of their need for each other. I found them quite endearing.
We’re all still so fascinated by their story that we continue retelling it decades later. Exactly. And in this production, it’s all turned upside town. I love the conceit that it’s taking place in an abandoned theater where these women have been performing to an audience of raccoons and cats for decades.
It kind of bridges the gap between the original film and the lost John Waters movie it almost feels like, in the sense that it’s about insane socialites living in filth. Yeah! I never really thought about it like that, but yes, you’re right. It’s like Queen Carlotta in Mortville.
Exactly! So, I was looking at your filmography and was struck that the majority of your screen credits have come in your fifties and sixties, which isn’t the experience of many actresses. What’s your secret? I work cheap. [Laughs.] That’s probably it. I have, however, stopped working for super-cheap. I can’t do that anymore. But I like to work! Most of the films that I’ve done over the last many years have all been gay-themed. I am totally and completely typecast as the mother/aunt/grandmother of The Gay. Which is one of the reasons why working in Joshua’s film was so nice, because I didn’t play that. I wasn’t the understanding older relative, which was a nice break for me. I’m an understanding older relative of quite a few gay people [in my actual life], and that’s also where my [career] went. Which is fine, it’s just typecasting.
One of your most recent acting appearances this year was on Difficult People, which is a great show. You know, I haven’t seen it! I’m not a Hulu subscriber, but I had a good time working on it. I had a scene with Andrea Martin, who is fabulous, so that was fun. Have you seen it?
I have! It’s a great scene. [Creator/star] Julie Klausner posted a picture of you and Andrea on Instagram saying the show answered the very specific prayer of a dozen gay men: “Please lord, let me live to see Mink Stole and Andrea Martin act in a scene together.” [Laughs.] Julie is a sweetheart, I really like her. She’s very funny. And of course Andrea is an icon, so that was a treat. I haven’t done much television, although I was a recurring character on a Nickelodeon show called The Secret World of Alex Mack.
I remember it well. In addition to Difficult People, this year also saw the 4K restoration of Multiple Maniacs. Have you had a chance to see it? I finally got to see it the other night and it looks amazing! I was shocked. It had been at least 40 years since I’d seen it, so there was much that I’d forgotten. First of all, just watching it made me laugh because the same 12 people are in every scene in different costumes. Like, “Oh look, there she is again…and again.” Even Divine is in the crowd scene at the crucifixion with a sheet over his head.
There’s a scene in the opening with me, Pat Moran, and Mary Vivian Pearce walking up to the Cavalcade of Perversion tent as “straight people.” I was still living at my mom’s then, because we were all kids. I remember that before I left to shoot that scene, I was standing there with this curly blonde wig on and a little puff-sleeved dress, and my mother was looking at me going, “Oh, why can’t you always look like that? You look so pretty!” And I said, “Because I don’t want to throw up every time I look in the mirror, mom!” [Laughs.] “You look so pretty!” Pretty damn stupid.
It was fun to see it again, because so many of my friends were in it. Many of them aren’t with us anymore, so it’s always bittersweet for me to watch. But many of us are still alive: Pat Moran, Susan Lowe, Vincent Peranio, George Figgs. Mary Vivian Pearce is still alive, she just lives in Nicaragua. So Divine is gone and Edie [Massey] is gone and David Lochary is gone. But some of us are still hanging on!
Thank god for that. What are your recollections of filming the “rosary job” scene [in which Stole anally manipulates Divine with a rosary in the pews of an actual church], which remains incredibly shocking? [Laughs.] I am blind as a bat without corrective lenses, and I didn’t have contacts. One of the reasons I wore those glasses in Pink Flamingos was just so I could see. In [the rosary job scene], I’m not wearing glasses or lenses, so I couldn’t see a thing. I’m coming out of the pew and walking toward Divine, and I’m counting the pews as I touch then down the church aisle: One, two, three four. Okay, now I move to the right. I had never heard of a rosary job…
Who had? I don’t remember whether I knew before I went into the church that I was going to do that. It must have been in the script, but I don’t remember; we’re talking 48 years ago. It was something that I’d never heard of, so it was shocking to me.
I assumed John made it up, I don’t think it’s a real thing! It is a real thing! I have looked it up since, and it is a real thing. Anything anybody can think of is a real thing that somebody does. Apparently it massages the prostate.
Oh, sure, like regular anal beads. I guess a rosary could also do the job. Right, it’s the same thing. Doing it with a rosary is what John made up, but the insertion of beads is actually a thing. I personally have never done it, and I don’t think I ever want to, so that was my one and only experience.
As the first actress to ever perform a scene involving anal beads of any sort in a notable film, it’s good that you’re an authority on the subject. [Laughs.] I loved doing it in church, because by that time in my life I was a very disaffected angry ex-Catholic. It was a nice middle finger to the church, which I enjoyed. My church was very different from the current church; I grew up with medieval Catholicism. I was already gone by the time Vatican II came along. Things that would’ve sent me to hell for eternity are now completely fine, they’re not even sins anymore. That’s one of the things that really pisses me off, that arbitrariness.
After instilling all that guilt… All that guilt and fear and terror! I knew that the day I skipped Mass, I was going to get hit by a bus. And then it didn’t happen. I skipped Mass and didn’t get hit by a bus, and the whole house of cards came tumbling down.
Your own version of the scales falling from your eyes. Exactly! Except instead of Saul on the road to Damascus, it was Mink on the road home from her friend’s grandfather’s house.
You never know what road will lead you to a spiritual epiphany. You never do. Life is best lived in field trips.
Would you be interested in writing a memoir at some point? Probably not. Writing is really hard and I don’t know that I have the discipline for it. What would be fun would be spending two months somewhere with an amanuensis and a lot of marijuana. I could just stay in, have food brought to me, smoke dope, and talk out loud to somebody who was willing to listen. Also, a lot of coffee. Those are the three things I’d need to write a memoir: coffee, marijuana, and an amanuensis.
I think that’s how most celebrity memoirs are written. That’s how it would have to be. I used to write an advice column and I would work for hours and hours and hours on a single paragraph. If I had to do that for an entire book, I would lose my mind. [A memoir] could still happen; maybe in another ten years.
Before we wrap up, I wanted to offer my condolences on the passing of Kim McGuire [whose Cry-Baby character, Hatchet-Face, was Stole’s onscreen daughter]. Thank you. It’s sad. She was a nice kid, and I learned things about her after she died that I hadn’t known, like that she was a Katrina victim. I had completely lost touch with her, but I liked her. She was sweet, and I’m sorry that she’s gone.
At least she left behind this incredible role. I’ve only seen that movie once, so there’s a lot that I’ve forgotten. I was in a lot of scenes that were cut. The joke of me being in the iron lung was the punchline to a setup that got totally cut, where me and Troy Donahue were selling cigarettes out of a truck to high school students. So, it didn’t have the impact it would’ve had had the setup scenes been kept in.
And yet it’s still so funny, just as an absurd sight gag. Like, “Why is Mink Stole in an iron lung?” And it wasn’t easy to spend time in an iron lung, let me tell you.
So you’ve seen Cry-Baby once. Which of your roles have you seen the most times? Probably Female Trouble. I’m not Norma Desmond sitting at home in the dark watching these movies by myself; I see them when I’m asked to host a screening, and even then I usually leave after the introduction. But I’ve probably seen Female Trouble six or eight times. It’s still fun to watch.
In closing, Return to Grey Gardens will be performed less than a month before the presidential election. How are you feeling about it? It’s really, really important and I’m so scared. Just terrified. I truly do not understand how anybody with a reasoning brain could vote for [Trump] and buy into his crap. I really don’t get it at all. I will have great faith in the Millennials if they get out to vote and don’t vote stupid. That’s the button I want to wear: Don’t Vote Stupid.
Peaches Christ Productions Proudly Presents
RETURN TO (Return to) GREY GARDENS!
The Coming-Home Edition of the Original Theatrical Parody of a Cult Classic
Starring JINKX MONSOON & PEACHES CHRIST
With Special Guests MINK STOLE & LADY BEAR
The Castro Theatre, 429 Castro Street, San Francisco, CA
Saturday, October 8th at 8pm, One Show Only!
Followed by a Screening of the 1975 Classic Documentary “Grey Gardens” by The Maysles’ Brothers!
All ages! Audience members are encouraged to dress for the occasion!
Peaches Christ invites you to RETURN TO (Return to) GREY GARDENS with Jinkx Monsoon
Peaches Christ Productions wants you to put on your best outfit for TO-DAY and grab your ticket NOW to the Return of Peaches Christ Productions’ most-beloved stage-show, “RETURN TO GREY GARDENS” an original, drag driven musical stage-show starring season 5 winner of “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” Jinkx Monsoon as Lil’ Jinkxy and Peaches Christ as Big Peachy with special guest stars Mink Stole (Pink Flamingoes, Female Trouble, All About Evil) and Lady Bear as themselves. Plan to submit to the madness at San Francisco’s historic and gorgeous Castro Theatre on October 8th, 2016 with only ONE show at 8:00 p.m.
This is a fully realized stage-show that runs approximately 90 minutes without intermission. Followed by a screening of the 1975 classic documentary by The Maysels’ Brothers “GREY GARDENS”.
This original stage-show, written and directed by Peaches Christ, is set forty years into the future and documents the lives of an aging drag mother and her bitter drag daughter who continue to perform for an empty house at the now dilapidated and run-down CASTRO THEATRE. How did this happen? What will become of them? Will their famous and successful royal drag cousin Lady Bear step up and help out? Does Mink Stole know the turgid truth behind the Jinxy and Peachy’s estrangement? Who knows if these questions will ever be answered…
Your S-T-A-U-N-C-H commitment to attend this wholly-unique event is needed as tickets will sell-out quickly and if you’re feeling like Jackie ‘O,’ an extremely limited number of VIP admissions are available which include sitting front and center, an autographed program by Peaches & Jinkx, and other goodies.