Edith Massey

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Edith Massey
Edith Massey.png
Archival footage of Edith Massey in Steve Yeager's 1998 documentary Divine Trash
Born (1918-05-28)May 28, 1918
San Francisco, California
Died October 24, 1984(1984-10-24) (aged 66)
Los Angeles, California
Occupation Actress, singer
Years active 1970–1984

Edith Massey (May 28, 1918 – October 24, 1984) was an American actress and singer. Massey was best known for her appearances in a series of movies by director John Waters.[1] She is considered one of the Dreamlanders, Waters's stable of regular cast and crew members.

Early life[edit]

One of ten children, Edith (Dornfield) Massey's mother and father "just threw up their hands one day, dropped off those who couldn't fend for themselves at a local orphanage or 'home,' and disappeared"[2]

Massey was raised in an orphanage until she was sent out to be a maid at the age of fifteen. She was placed in a reformatory for running away. In the documentary Divine Waters (1981), Massey explained that she was "born in New York, but raised in Denver, Colorado....I was movie crazy, so I went to California to try and get in the movies, but instead I became a barmaid."

In 1946, Massey married a soldier, Silvio Gigante, in Reno, leaving him about five years later because she got "restless".[3] However, in Divine Waters, Massey said that the marriage lasted "about seven years. It was my fault; I left him for another man, so I blame myself for it."

She worked in several odd jobs through the years, and she eventually relocated to Baltimore, Maryland where she worked as a barmaid at Pete's Hotel. John Waters met Massey while she was working at Pete's Hotel and offered her a role as herself in the film Multiple Maniacs. In the early 1970s, she quit her job at Pete's and opened a thrift store called Edith's Shopping Bag,[4] which was originally located on Preston Street in the Mount Vernon neighborhood, but soon relocated to 726 South Broadway in the Fell's Point area of Baltimore.[citation needed]

Collaboration with John Waters[edit]

Massey gained a cult following from her appearances in five films directed by John Waters: Multiple Maniacs (1970), in which she appeared as herself and, in a dream sequence, as the Virgin Mary; Pink Flamingos (1972), playing Divine's egg-loving mother, Edie; Female Trouble (1974), as Aunt Ida; Desperate Living (1977), as the evil Queen Carlotta of Mortville; and in her final role in a Waters film, Polyester (1981), as Cuddles Kovinsky.

Later career and death[edit]

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Massey capitalized on the infamy of Waters's films by touring as the lead singer of a punk band, Edie and the Eggs. She also posed for a series of greeting cards. Later, when the Baltimore winters became too much for her to endure, she moved to Venice, California, where she opened another thrift store with the money she earned from acting in Waters's films. In 1981, she was featured in John Mellencamp's music video for "This Time".[5] The year she died, Edith starred in the film Mutants in Paradise. She read for a role in Paul Bartel's Western parody Lust in the Dust opposite longtime co-star Divine, but actress Nedra Volz was cast instead.[6][7]

In 1982, Edith recorded a cover of The Four Seasons' "Big Girls Don't Cry" that was included on the compilation albums The Rhino Brothers Present the World's Worst Records and A Date With John Waters.[8][9]

Massey died in 1984 due to cancer and complications from diabetes. Her body was cremated, and her ashes were interred in the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles, where other culturally prominent individuals such as Marilyn Monroe and Dean Martin have also been buried.

Other media about Edith Massey[edit]

  • Director Robert Maier made a documentary short about her in 1975 titled Love Letter to Edie. There is a director's authorized version re-mastered from his original 16mm color film footage.
  • Dialogue from Female Trouble between Edith Massey's "Aunt Ida" character and Micheal Potter's "Gator", in which Aunt Ida tries to convince Gator to become a homosexual, was used as the intro to the 1989 song "I Don't Wanna Be a Homosexual" by the band Sloppy Seconds.



  1. ^ Holden, Stephen (March 31, 2000). "Divine Trash (1998) FILM REVIEW; How a Fan of the Wicked Witch Became a Succes de Scandale". The New York Times. 
  2. ^ Maier, Robert. "Low Budget Hell: Making Underground Movies with John Waters". Edith Massey’s Long-lost Brother, the College Professor. Retrieved 31 August 2013. 
  3. ^ Waters, John (2005) [1981]. Shock Value: A Tasteful Book About Bad Taste. Forward by Simon Doonan (3rd ed.). Philadelphia, PA: Running Press. p. 188. ISBN 978-1-56025-698-4. 
  4. ^ "Edith: Queen of Fells Point". Evening Magazine. 1978. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iauNcfvntsA. Retrieved September 7, 2014.
  5. ^ "This Time screen test". YouTube. 
  6. ^ Lust in the Dust DVD Special Features, including Edith Massey audition tape
  7. ^ "Edith Massey Lust in the Dust screen test". YouTube. 
  8. ^ "Edith Massey – "Big Girls Don't Cry" / "Punks, Get Off The Grass"". discogs.com. Retrieved 2 September 2014. 
  9. ^ "John Waters – A Date with John Waters". AllMusic. Retrieved 2 September 2014. 

External links[edit]