John Waters on Pia Zadora: "People Secretly Root For Her"

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"In the beginning, it was so weird because her husband was a lot older and she looked like she was 12," recalls the 'Hairspray' director

Pia Zadora, profiled in this week's issue of The Hollywood Reporter, has endured her share of knocks over the years. But, through it all, she had a loyal supporter in John Waters.

The cult film director — who cast Zadora as a "beatnik chick" in 1988's Hairspray — tells THR that he's been a huge fan since he first met Zadora and her then-husband Meshulam Riklis at the 1981 Berlin Film Festival. The odd couple were there to promote Butterfly, for which Zadora would later be controversially awarded a Golden Globe. 

The Hollywood Reporter: How did you first come to know Pia Zadora?

John Waters: I met her at the Berlin Film Festival when Riklis brought her there and presented Butterfly in the most kind of over-the-top way that of course cinema buffs would be against. I wrote a whole thing in the program about how great she was and how much I was for Butterfly, and what other movie had Ed McMahon and Orson Welles together at last?

It's a lot more entertaining a movie than it's given credit for.

Oh, she's great! And so I was a fan of Pia's, always. I put her in Hairspray in a cameo, which she got very good reviews for. She really can sing. I love that she was headed for a comeback and then she had this horrible accident. Then I remember she got in trouble for punching her husband or something, and I said to her today, well, maybe she's tired of being a good sport. You know? She's fucking had it. That's what I think and I don't blame her. [laughs]

She does manage to keep a sunny disposition in the face of extraordinary adversity.

Anybody who says anything bad about her, go burn their house down. That's my advice to her! She's been nice long enough. She was always kind of great, even in Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. Come on! She’s Pia Zadora! And the Golden Globes thing, I mean, who knows? It's such an amazing story. I even wrote a whole piece about her in one of my books, in Crackpot.

She had a party for me once when Hairspray came out that made Joan Crawford's birthday parties for Christina look like I-don't-know-what! It was so amazing. Amusement park rides and full bars. It was hilarious. And I remember Telly Savalas walking by and saying, "Who is John Waters?" (Laughs.)

So I've always just really liked her and think she's funny and smart, and she's always just kind of run with it. Always, whatever it was, she had a good sense of humor. I think people secretly root for Pia Zadora.

So what was the whole Golden Globes controversy about, in your mind?

In the beginning, it was so weird because her husband was a lot older and she looked like she was 12. And just Butterfly. I remember going opening day and paying to see it in New York. I was always her number one person who said great things about her. I'm glad she's back. I know she was singing again, and then she had this terrible accident. It sounds just hideous. But now she has more patter!

Were you watching the Globes that night?

I don't remember, because didn't she win before the movie came out? So how could anyone have seen it? Didn't she beat Kathleen Turner? Who I've also worked with [in 1994's Serial Mom]! I never brought them up to each other. Who knows. You know that's not the only time the Golden Globes have been criticized. Let's just say it was one of the most "high-profile" times. She handled it great. She said, "I was proud! I won." Of course she won! Let’s just say Butterfly is a movie I remember. I have the soundtrack; I have the poster. [laughs]

Was it as shocking then as it is now?

It's probably more shocking now because it's now sexually incorrect about a girl looking that young and being a sex object. And then she was in Oui magazine and stuff, so it started on the wrong foot a little. Only because Riklis was so much older and kind of looked like a dirty old man. But they were kind of a great couple because they just didn't care and just laughed about it. Even when they were divorced they hung around together. She lived with him with her other husband, so obviously it was a good relationship. Old chickens make good soup!

He's still kicking. He's 91 and has a wife on The Real Housewives of Israel.

He does?! Oh my god. Good, good! See, that's what I mean. Whatever they have, it's working. She has a lovemap; that's what shrinks call it. She has a lovemap and she followed it, and good for her! She still was in a good mood on the phone today, even with her head injury. That's why I said to her, "Stop being nice! You've been a good sport long enough."

Read more Golden Globes: Pia Zadora Defends Controversial Win, Insists Ex-Husband "Did Not Buy" Award