Edith Massey (actress)

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Edith Massey
Edith Massey.png
Massey in archive footage from Steve Yeager's 1998 documentary Divine Trash
Born(1918-05-28)May 28, 1918
New York City, U.S.
DiedOctober 24, 1984(1984-10-24) (aged 66)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Resting placeWestwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery
Occupation(s)Actress, singer
Years active1970–1984

Edith Massey (born Edith Dornfield; 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 was one of the Dreamlanders, Waters's stable of regular cast and crew members.

Early life[edit]

Born Edith Dornfield on May 28, 1918, in New York City,[2][3] she was the daughter of Samuel and Bessie (Lansnek) Dornfield. Samuel, who was born in Austria or Ukraine, died about five months after Massey's birth.[citation needed]

The 1920 United States Federal Census recorded Edith, age one, living on Lewis Street in Manhattan, New York, with her three-year-old sister, Etta, and their widowed mother, Bessie, who was 22 years old.[4] The following year, on March 9, 1921, Bessie married her second husband, Max Grodsky, in Denver, Colorado.

According to Massey's half-brother, Morris Grodsky, their parents "just threw up their hands one day, dropped off those who couldn't fend for themselves at a local orphanage or 'home,' and disappeared".[5] Massey's mother died March 1, 1925.[citation needed]

In the 1975 documentary Love Letter to Edie, Massey said she was raised in an orphanage and eventually was placed in a foster home. Her foster family members were cruel to her and, as a teenager, she ran away to Hollywood.[5] In the documentary Divine Waters (1981), Massey explained that she was "born in New York, but raised in Denver....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 in Reno, leaving him about five years later because she got "restless".[6] 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 in the Fell's Point neighborhood.[2] Filmmaker John Waters met Massey while she was working at Pete's Hotel in 1969 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, also in Fell's Point.[7]

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 1980, she was featured in John Mellencamp's music video for "This Time"[8] and also appears on the cover of Mellencamp's album Nothin' Matters and What If It Did.

In 1982, Massey 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.[9][10]

The year she died, Massey starred in her final film, Mutants in Paradise. She read for a role in Paul Bartel's Western parody Lust in the Dust (1985) opposite longtime co-star Divine, but actress Nedra Volz was cast instead.[11][12]

Massey died of complications of lymphoma and diabetes on October 24, 1984 in Los Angeles.[13][14] Her body was cremated, and her ashes were scattered in the Garden of Roses at Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles.[15][16]


Director Robert Maier made a "mockumentary" 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.


Year Title Role Notes
1970 Multiple Maniacs Edith / Virgin Mary
1972 Pink Flamingos Edie
1974 Female Trouble Aunt Ida
1975 Love Letter to Edie Herself
1976 Edith's Shopping Bag Herself
1977 Desperate Living Queen Carlotta
1981 Polyester Cuddles Kovinsky
1983 My Breakfast with Blassie Herself Uncredited
1984 Mutants in Paradise Dr. Durchfall (final film role)
1985 Divine Waters Herself Documentary
2000 In Bad Taste Herself Archival footage
2005 Midnight Movies: From the Margin to the Mainstream Herself Archival footage
2013 I Am Divine Herself Archival footage


  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. ^ a b Lordo, Ann Lo (June 3, 1978). "Edith Massey Tries Her Hand at Singing Punk Rock". Sarasota Herald-Tribune. p. 12A. Retrieved October 14, 2014.
  3. ^ Willis, John A. (1985). "1984 Obituaries". Screen World. Crown Publishers. 36: 240. ISSN 0080-8288.
  4. ^ "Census of Population and Housing, 1990 [United States]: Subject Summary Tape File (SSTF) 2, Ancestry of the Population of the United States". ICPSR Data Holdings. March 10, 1994. doi:10.3886/icpsr06213. Retrieved May 30, 2021.
  5. ^ a b Maier, Robert. "Low Budget Hell: Making Underground Movies with John Waters". Edith Massey's Long-lost Brother, the College Professor. Archived from the original on December 27, 2013. Retrieved August 31, 2013.
  6. ^ Waters, John (2005) [1981]. Shock Value: A Tasteful Book About Bad Taste. Foreword by Simon Doonan (3 ed.). Philadelphia, PA: Running Press. p. 188. ISBN 978-1-56025-698-4.
  7. ^ "Edith: Queen of Fells Point". Evening Magazine. 1978. Retrieved September 7, 2014.
  8. ^ "This Time screen test" – via YouTube.
  9. ^ "Edith Massey – "Big Girls Don't Cry" / "Punks, Get Off The Grass"". discogs. Retrieved September 2, 2014.
  10. ^ "John Waters – A Date with John Waters". AllMusic. Retrieved September 2, 2014.
  11. ^ Lust in the Dust DVD Special Features, including Edith Massey audition tape
  12. ^ "Edith Massey Lust in the Dust screen test" – via YouTube.
  13. ^ "Veteran actress dies at 66". Lodi News-Sentinel. October 25, 1984. p. 20. Retrieved October 14, 2014.
  14. ^ Film Review. Orpheus Pub. (675–677): 84. 2006. {{cite journal}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  15. ^ Ellenberger, Allan R. (2001). Celebrities in Los Angeles Cemeteries: A Directory. McFarland & Company Incorporated Pub. p. 218. ISBN 0-786-40983-5.
  16. ^ Maier, Robert (April 4, 2014). "Edith Massey, "Edie the Egg Lady" the Underground Movie Star: Her Life as an Orphan". robertmaier.us. Archived from the original on October 29, 2014. Retrieved October 14, 2014.

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