As a member of Waters’ Dreamlanders, Mink has created some of the most memorable characters in some of the most notorious movies in film history – including the villainous Connie Marble in Pink Flamingos, the ultimate “bad seed” – Taffy Davenport in Female Trouble, and the eternally-persecuted Dottie Hinkle in Serial Mom.
She’s also appeared on screen with Socialite Life favorite RuPaul in the comedy But I’m a Cheerleader and has become a regular fixture on Logo, thanks to her role as Aunt Helen in the successful Eating Out series.
From fighting Divine on screen for the title of the “Filthiest Person Alive” to performing Shakespeare on stage, this multi-talented actress has truly done it all.
We chatted with the delightful Mink, currently living in her hometown of Baltimore about her life, her career and her latest passion – music. (She’s currently recording a CD – and you can support her on Kickstarter!)
Socialite Life: Thank you so much for talking with me. I’ve been such a big fan of your work.
Mink Stole: Oh, thank you! That’s so sweet!
SL: When we were in college, we watched your films all of the time!
Mink: We had a big effect on college kids, didn’t we?
SL: I do believe you did! So, how did you get started in acting?
Mink: Well, actually with John (Waters). I met him when I was 18 and he was as yet an unknown, aspiring filmmaker. You know, he had one black and white 8mm film to his credit. We met in Provincetown on Cape Cod. We were both there for the summer – my sister knew him. I have an older sister who actually knew him in Baltimore, but I didn’t. She introduced us and we became friends. And then at the end of the summer when it was time to come home – actually John and I had an apartment for one month in New York together but neither of us were happy there. So, we went back to Baltimore and moved back in with our respective parents and then one day he called me up and said. “Do you want to be in this movie?” and I’m no idiot! (Laughs) I said, “Sure!” I just loved doing it. I have a strong streak of hambone.
SL: And you had no acting training at all?
Mink: At that point, no. And not for years and years and years. I had a very misguided idea that acting training would hamper my natural talent and I think that’s a crock. I think you need a good acting teacher – because I had one later in life and I learned a great deal. I was always able to commit totally to a role – absolutely 100%, totally, I bought in. In these insane worlds that John created, I was able to completely commit to them and I just thought an acting teacher would stifle me! (Laughs) That’s a crock. There are many bad teachers out there – and you do have to be careful – but I think I could have benefited from some training.
SL: I’m not sure…in the book Shock Value, John Waters said you were the best actress he had worked with.
Mink: Well, I have a natural talent – not to be immodest – but I do. I have a flair for it, I have a natural talent and, like I said, I committed totally. In any of my roles, you never see me step out of character – even for a moment. I’m always completely in character. I enjoyed creating the characters and I was always lucky with John because he created such different characters for me to play – especially in the early years – they were very strong. I played very strong characters that I could actually sink my teeth into. They had stuff! And he wrote brilliant lines for me. He wrote me some of his best lines. I had a lot of help from the material. I have learned over the course of my life that it’s easier to play mean than it is to play nice.
SL: I was going to ask you what you drew from to be such a convincing villain because you seem like such a nice person!
Mink: (Laughs) I actually am, in my life, pretty nice. If someone pushes me, my inner Dottie Hinkle/Connie Marble/Peggy Gravel (her character from Waters’ Desperate Living), slash, slash, slash will come out – and it’s not pretty. All of that exists in me, but it’s not how I choose to live. What’s funny on screen is not funny in real life. Nobody really enjoys bitchy friends. They get on your nerves…but they’re wonderful to play. When I was playing Taffy, in particular, especially during the car accident scenes and while I’m being so hateful to my mother, I was in a wonderful mood! (Laughs) When you get that “aargh!” out, it just frees you up. I loved it – and the other thing I loved about working with John in the early days was that he and I were both disaffected Catholics. Angry, disaffected Catholics. It was a wonderful way for me to be able to channel that really serious anger I had towards Catholicism into something that didn’t hurt anybody. It pissed my mother off, but that was just a side perk!
SL: When you were making the movies with the Dreamlanders – and I could be completely off-base here, it always struck me as an Andy Hardy, “Let’s put on a show” kind of thing. Was that how it was?
Mink: Kind of. We were kind of “Let’s put on a show” – I mean, things were stuck together with paper clips and spit but…yes. In those movies, the Mickey Rooney character, Andy Hardy was in charge. John was very much in charge. He wrote it, he directed it, he filmed it. Often he had a cameraman, but in the early days, he didn’t have a cameraman. None of this would have happened without John. John was a showman from an early age – I mean, these are stories you’d have to get him to tell you – but he used to be a puppeteer, he had been producing theatricals since childhood and he did everything. He wrote it, he directed it, he produced it, he got the money, he organized it, he helped with the rehearsals. And then, to top everything else off, he had to be the Teamsters. He had to go around and pick us all up at our parents’ houses! He’d drive us to the set and then take us home at the end of the day. And it’s interesting because now that I have a band and I produce my shows – on a much smaller scale – I have an even greater respect for everything that he did than I had before. All I had to do was show up. Learn my lines and show up.
SL: Well, you did have to make some sacrifices for your craft, like the story in Shock Value about you dying your hair flaming red for Pink Flamingos and having to wear a wig to your day job…
Mink: Oh, that’s a little bit of a distortion. I had the wig. John bought me the wig because originally in the movie, I was going to set my hair on fire and I told him I would do it…why I ever said that, I don’t know. I did say I would do it and he bought me the wig so that I would be able to have hair after I became bald. As the time approached to actually do that scene – the way he explained it to me was I would sit in a chair, there would be someone behind me with a match and another person with a bucket of water. This was it! This was our stunt crew – it wasn’t going to be a professional stunt person or special effects person, it was just going to be someone who wasn’t busy that day. And so, I panicked. I said that the actor in me thinks it would be a wonderful scene – and I was not supposed to react, I was supposed to let my hair get set on fire and not react to it. I knew there was not a prayer in hell that I could do this. I said, “I just really can’t do this” – and that was what the wig was for. I wore it every now and then, and there’s a picture of me called “Mink in her ‘straight’ look” but it’s not quite accurate.
SL: So what was the greatest sacrifice you had to make as an actress in John Waters’ films?
Mink: Well, actually in Pink Flamingos, those were all my own clothes. And everything I wore in that movie was destroyed. Just about. And that was hard for me because some of them were priceless thrift shop finds! They didn’t cost much but they were beautiful. And they were just totally trashed, so that was tough. But, other than that, there haven’t really been sacrifices. Aside from them agreeing to set my hair on fire, John never asked me to do anything dangerous. Divine had to do a lot of stuff that was really dangerous – and did it. I was never asked to do anything…I had to be cold. For me it certainly wasn’t dangerous, it was just uncomfortable.
SL: What was it like working with Divine?
Mink: Oh, I loved working with Divine! Divine was totally professional, (he was) certainly as committed as I was, if not more, to every role that he played. I loved doing scenes with him because he was so focused – and he was focused on the scene and not on his own camera angles or anything like that – so when we did scenes together, we really connected and it shows in the scenes we had – it shows how connected we were. He was lovely to work with.
I also got to work with Divine on stage too. We both worked with the Cockettes in the early 70s – I was never an official member of the troupe, but I did work on the show. Divine worked on a couple of shows with them and I did a show with the Cockettes and Divine called Vice Palace that was an amazing production. We did it Halloween weekend of ’72. It was a huge extravaganza and it was very well received and it was a thrill to work on. We did another play together in San Francisco right around the same time where we played old women. It was a reworking of a play called “Ladies in Retirement”, but I can’t remember what we called it. Divine played an old woman who had, I think, either a stone or a seashell collection. It was just wonderful watching him work. He was really talented – he was a really good actor, so I always enjoyed working with him.
SL: You’ve performed on stage, in movies and now you’re singing. What has been the most rewarding for you (what have you enjoyed most)?
Mink: Right now, I have to say it’s the music because it’s something that I’ve kind of created on my own and it’s a “later in life” passion. Nothing makes me happier than being in this grungy little rehearsal studio with my band. It’s when I’m actually really happy – and we’re working on something and if it’s not sounding right, we tinker with it and then we make it sound better….I find it just amazingly fun and incredibly gratifying. I’m going to be doing a play as part of the Tennessee Williams festival in Provincetown in September. I love all forms of entertaining, but being myself on a stage, doing my one-woman show and my Christmas show with the band, it’s just it’s more liberating than I can even tell you. It’s really fun.
SL: Tell me a little bit more about the CD you’re working on.
Mink: Do-Re-MiNK is the working title for it and it’s basically a collection of songs that I’ve been working on for several years. Many of them I’ve performed before, actually I’ve performed just about all of them, but some of them I’ve been performing for years, others are newer. I’m calling it “a memoir of my life in songs written by other people”. I don’t write songs, I’m not really good at it, and I know too many people who do it well. It’s an eclectic CD. My voice is soft, I’m not a rocker. I wouldn’t put myself in the jazz singer category, because I don’t think I’ve earned that. I aspire to it, but don’t think I’m quite there yet. My drummer likes to call it “cabaret jazz”. If you go on my band page on Facebook, you can hear a cut – it’s called “Sometimes I Wish I Had a Gun”. It’s actually been released – John Waters put it on his “A Date with John Waters” compilation disc a few years ago, but I am going to include it on the album because I just love it and it’s never had its own release. You can get an idea of the kind of music it is from that.
SL: I have to ask, since I’m in the midst of interviewing the cast of Drag U – I know you worked with RuPaul on But I’m a Cheerleader – do you have any Ru stories you can share?
Mink: I love RuPaul! You know, I met Ru on that movie and I’ve always just found him to be an absolutely delightful, charming person. I’ve never worked with him as “RuPaul” (his drag persona). He has the best looking legs of any human in the world! Absolutely spectacular legs and he’s always been perfectly delightful and charming to me but I rarely see him. I really don’t see him much and I don’t watch his show because I don’t get cable. I’ve cut my TV viewing down to almost nothing. But (Ru’s) a lovely person and he loves his family. When we were both living in Los Angeles, he would invite me to his home for parties and he was always surrounded by his family – and I love the fact that his family was so supportive and that they were so affectionate. He’s always been perfectly lovely to me. I’ve never worked with the 8-foot-tall RuPaul – I’d love to though, I think he’s fabulous!
SL: You should be a judge on RuPaul’s Drag Race!
Mink: Wouldn’t that be fun! I’d be happy to do it.
SL: Well, you’re a regular on Logo, thanks to your role in the Eating Out movies…
Mink: They are so much fun! I really enjoy being a part of those, they are adorable little romps. I’m not their target audience – not being a gay male – but they’re adorable and they’re so funny. If they weren’t funny they’d almost be porn. But because they’re so clever and they’re so funny, they’re really enjoyable on a completely different level. They are full of very good looking young men – they gave me one in the last (movie)! I got my own very good looking young man to play with – Aunt Helen got lucky! (Laughs)
SL: I know you called your CD a musical memoir, but would you ever take pen to paper and actually write your autobiography?
Mink: I think about it periodically and it’s mentioned to me periodically…I can write and I do write on occasion – I used to write an advice column. It’s really hard work – writing is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. It’s harder than the music, it’s harder than acting, it’s harder than anything I’ve ever done and it’s not that I wouldn’t do it, it’s that I haven’t been able to go,” Okay, now it’s time.” I still think there’s stuff I have to do first. I think part of it is that I have to convince myself that I’m interesting, which sounds really lame, but I was talking to a friend about it not too long ago and he said, “you already know all of your stories”. You know to me, they’re just old hat. But yes, one day, I will probably do it.
SL: What else is on the horizon for you besides the CD?
Mink: That’s pretty much it. Like I said, I will be doing this play in Provincetown in September for the Tennessee Williams festival. I believe it’s called Now The Cats with Jewelled Claws. It’s an obscure, late in life-written play and I don’t think it’s performed very often. The nice thing about it is that I’m going to be working with Everett Quinton and I worked with him back in the early 80s when we were both working with Charles Ludlam at the Ridiculous Theatrical Company in New York. I think he’s Everett Equality Quinton now, he’s part of that Facebook group that is using “Equality” as a middle name. It will be really nice to get back together with Everett and it will also be wonderful to be in Provincetown for a little while. And we may also do the play at La Mama in New York, but that’s as yet up in the air. It would be wonderful, I would love it. I haven’t done theater in New York in quite a long time and it would be really great to go back and do that. (If you want to see Mink in Provincetown, get your tickets here.)
SL: I have to ask, what is the appeal of living in Baltimore?
Mink: Well, I live on the street that I grew up on. I live across the street from my childhood home – the home I was brought home from the hospital to. Three years ago, we sold it after my mother died. My roots are very, very deep in this neighborhood and it’s actually a beautiful little neighborhood – it’s in a time warp. Visually it’s changed almost not at all since I was a child – the trees are taller, this one painted the porch, this one added a deck but, other than that, it’s just exactly the same and it’s just a delightful little area. I wanted to get out of LA – I love LA but I wanted to leave and when I was thinking about places to go, it just suddenly dawned on me that after 30 years of not living in Baltimore, that maybe it was a good idea to come back – and I did. I found this wonderful apartment and I’ve just been very happy here. The man who lives behind me, I’ve known since I was a child. The boy who lived next door to me now lives around the corner. There are people who have known me since I was a small child and then there are other people who have known me since I was a teenager and started working with John, so I have two whole sets of connections – plus I have a sister here and a brother here. Baltimore’s a great place to be based. If I never left town, it would probably get kind small. It would be entirely too claustrophobic if I never got to leave – but I do leave. I go to LA, I go to New York and I was just in Florida not too long ago so I get to move around a lot. It has a good airport that I can get to easily, so it’s easy to get in and out. It has trains. It’s a great place. I come home and it’s quiet – it’s so quiet here. On a summer night, all you hear is crickets. It’s lovely. So after years in NY and LA, it’s very calm here. I have a group of women I get together with once a month, I crochet, they knit and hook rugs I have a very small, quiet life here that I get to come and go from. It’s really terrific. It works very well for me.
SL: Will you be touring after the CD comes out?
Mink: Oh God, I hope so! I certainly hope so. That’s a plan, but until we get the CD done, I can’t make any specific plans but yes, I certainly want to. It’s going to be a little difficult to figure out how we’re going to do (a tour) because we’re talking about an upright bass. My bass player is absolutely incredible so it’s not something I’d be wanting to dispense with. We’ll just have to see…but I certainly hope so because I love being on stage with my band. It’s fun, you know, I started being in a band when I was in my fifties. And when people would ask, “Don’t you feel like you’re a little too old to be doing this?” the answer to that is “Well, how old will I be next year if I don’t?” It makes me feel very young and vital.
SL: Are you surprised that all of the movies you made with John still have such an enormous fan following?
Mink: You know, I got an email not too long ago from a man who had just had Connie Marble’s picture tattooed on his arm and he wrote to me saying he was going to do it and then he did it – and on that same arm was a picture of Divine. And I’m thinking this is 40 years ago that we made that movie and it still has such an impact that somebody is willing to permanently put it on his body staggers me! It humbles me and inflates me at the same time, I kind of really don’t know how to deal with it. It thrills me, but it’s like, “Are you nuts?” In a way, I’m kind of used to it – but by that, I don’t mean to imply that I’m indifferent to it because I’m not. I think it’s really extraordinary and I feel every now and then so amazed that I was lucky enough to be part of something so absolutely amazing. Of course, at the time, there was no way to know that this would be the case – and it’s a good thing because I would have been entirely too nervous.
SL: They couldn’t make movies like those today.
Mink: Well, they wouldn’t have the same impact. You know, there are so many horror movies out now, there’s so much blood, there’s so much gore. It’s very hard to shock people now. We’re so jaded – we see people blown up on TV every day so it’s impossible to shock people anymore.
As far as the enduring popularity of John’s movies, I am thrilled by it and I’m humbled by it at the same time. I don’t live like a movie star – I live a very simple life. Here in Baltimore occasionally someone will come up to me and tell me they like my work – which is very nice – it’s lovely to have that happen. But I was watching the footage of Justin Bieber yesterday and I thought, “How could somebody actually live like that?” To be unable to perform your everyday chores – I guess if you’re Justin Bieber, other people do them for you – but what an amazingly restricted way to live. I would not like it. I’ve never had the opportunity to say, “Well, I don’t know.” I’ve never been offered that lifestyle so I don’t know that I wouldn’t like it if I had it but I think I wouldn’t.
We thank Mink so very much for chatting with us! You can follow Mink on Twitter (@theminkstole), Facebook and on her own website. And, if you want to pledge your support for Do-Re-MiNK, visit her page on Kickstarter!
Socialite Life debuted back in 2003. As a tribute to the thousands of articles that we’ve published over the years, we have reached back into our vault to bring you this SL Flashback, that showcases some of our favorite posts. This article was originally published on July 5, 2011.