Hairspray is a 1988 American romantic comedy film written and directed by John Waters, and starring Ricki Lake, Divine, Debbie Harry, Sonny Bono, Jerry Stiller, Leslie Ann Powers, Colleen Fitzpatrick, and Michael St. Gerard. Hairspray was a dramatic departure from Waters' earlier works, with a much broader intended audience. Hairspray's PG is the mildest rating a Waters film has received; most of his previous films were rated X by the MPAA. Set in 1962 Baltimore, Maryland, the film revolves around self-proclaimed "pleasantly plump" teenager Tracy Turnblad as she pursues stardom as a dancer on a local TV show and rallies against racial segregation.

Hairspray was only a moderate success upon its initial theatrical release, earning a modest gross of $8 million. However, it managed to attract a larger audience on home video in the early 1990s and became a cult classic.[2][3] Most critics praised the film, although some were displeased[citation needed]

with the overall campiness. The film ranks #444 on Empire magazine's 2008 list of the 500 greatest movies of all time.[4]

In 2002, the film was adapted into a Broadway musical of the same name, which won eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical in 2003. A second film version of Hairspray, an adaptation of the stage musical, was also released by New Line Cinema in 2007, which included many changes of scripted items from the original.


Set in Baltimore, Maryland in the year 1962, Tracy Turnblad (Ricki Lake) and her best friend, Penny Pingleton (Leslie Ann Powers), audition for The Corny Collins Show, a popular Baltimore teenage dance show (based on the real-life Buddy Deane Show). Penny is too nervous and stumbles over her answers, and another girl, Nadine, is cut for being black (there is a 'Negro Day' on the show on the last Thursday of every month, she is told). However, despite being overweight, Tracy is a strong enough dancer to become a regular on the show, infuriating the show's reigning queen, Amber Von Tussle (Colleen Fitzpatrick), a mean, privileged, beautiful high school classmate whose racist parents, Velma (Debbie Harry) and Franklin Von Tussle (Sonny Bono), own Tilted Acres Amusement Park and have banned African Americans from going there. Tracy steals Amber's boyfriend, Link Larkin (Michael St. Gerard), and competes against her for the title of Miss Auto Show 1963, fueling Amber's hatred of her.

Tracy's growing confidence leads to her being hired as a plus-size model for the Hefty Hideaway clothing store owned by Mr. Pinky (Alan J. Wendl). She is also inspired to bleach, tease, and rat her big hair into styles popular in the 1960s. At school, a teacher brands her hairstyle as a "hair-don't" and sends her to the principal's office, from which Tracy is sent to special education classes, where she meets several black classmates who have been put there to hold them back academically. The students introduce Tracy to Motormouth Maybelle (Ruth Brown), an R&B record shop owner and host of the monthly "Negro Day" on The Corny Collins Show. They teach Tracy, Penny, and Link dance moves and Penny begins an interracial romance with Motormouth Maybelle's son, Seaweed (Clayton Prince). This horrifies Penny's parents, Prudence (Joann Havrilla) and Paddy (Doug Roberts), who imprison their daughter in her bedroom and try to brainwash her into dating white boys and oppose integration with the help of a quack psychiatrist, Dr. Fredrickson (director John Waters) out of fear that Seaweed will hurt Penny. Seaweed later helps her break out of the house and run away. It is implied that she will never return, as she has finally broken free from her parents.

Undeterred, Tracy uses her newfound fame to champion the cause of racial integration with the help of Motormouth Maybelle, Corny Collins (Shawn Thompson), his assistant Tammy (Mink Stole), and Tracy's agoraphobic, slightly overbearing, and overweight mother, Edna (Divine). After a race riot at Tilted Acres results in Tracy's arrest, the Von Tussles grow more defiant in their opposition to racial integration. They plot to sabotage the Miss Auto Show 1963 pageant by planting a bomb in Velma's bouffant hairdo. The plan literally blows up in Velma's face when the bomb detonates prematurely, resulting in the Von Tussles' arrest by the Baltimore police after it lands on Amber's head. Tracy, who had won the crown but was disqualified for being in reform school, dethrones Amber after the governor of Maryland pardons her; Tracy then shows up at the competition, integrates the show, and encourages everyone to dance.


  • Ricki Lake as Tracy Turnblad, an optimistic, aspiring teenager who hopes to dance on a TV show as well as promote desegregation.
  • Divine as Edna Turnblad, Tracy's kind, plus-sized mother who is ashamed of her obesity.
  • Debbie Harry as Velma Von Tussle, Franklin's wife and Amber's mother.
  • Sonny Bono as Franklin Von Tussle, Velma's husband and Amber's father.
  • Jerry Stiller as Wilbur Turnblad, Tracy's loving, funny and encouraging father.
  • Leslie Ann Powers as Penelope "Penny" Pingleton, Tracy's shy Catholic best friend.
  • Colleen Fitzpatrick as Amber Von Tussle, snobby, racist dancer on The Corny Collins Show.
  • Michael St. Gerard as Lincoln "Link" Larkin, a teenage hearthrob and Amber's ex-boyfriend.
  • Clayton Prince as Seaweed J. Stubbs, Motormouth Maybelle's hip and kind hearted son who loves to dance. Seaweed is Penny's main love interest.
  • Ruth Brown as Motormouth Maybelle Stubbs, a friendly and strong-willed African American and mother of Seaweed J. Stubbs
  • Shawn Thompson as Corny Collins, the eccentric host of The Corny Collins Show.
  • Mink Stole as Tammy, an employee and personal assistant to Corny Collins.
  • Joann Havrilla as Prudence Pingleton, Paddy's wife and Penny's overprotective controlling mother who doesn't approve of Penny dating Seaweed. Prudence is afraid that Seaweed will hurt her daughter and places her under house arrest in her room and attempts to brain wash her into dating white boys.
  • Doug Roberts as Patrick "Paddy" Pingleton, Prudence's husband and Penny's no nonsense father who wants to protect Penny from Seaweed. Paddy works hard to provide for his family and wants to keep his daughter safe.
  • Alan J. Wendl as Mr. Pinky, the owner of Heafty Hideaway Clothing Store who supports Tracy.
  • Toussaint McCall as himself
  • John Waters as Dr. Fredrickson, a quack psychiatrist who helps Prudence and Paddy try to brain wash Penny into only dating white boys.
  • Note: Divine also appears in a dual role as Arvin Hodgepile, the racist TV station owner who is against racial integration for his studio.
Council members
  • Josh Charles as Iggy
  • Jason Downs as Bobby
  • Holter Graham as I.Q. Jones
  • Dan Griffith as Brad
  • Regina Hammond as Pam
  • Bridget Kimsey as Consuella
  • Frankie Maldon as Dash
  • Brooke Stacy Mills as Lou Ann Levorowski
  • John Orofino as Fender
  • Kim Webb as Carmelita
  • Debra Wirth as Shelly
Special appearances


John Waters wrote the screenplay under the title of White Lipstick, with the story loosely based on real events. The Corny Collins Show is based on the real-life Buddy Deane Show, a local dance party program which pre-empted Dick Clark's American Bandstand in the Baltimore area during the 1950s and early 1960s.[5] Waters had previously written about The Buddy Deane Show in his 1983 book Crackpot: The Obsessions of John Waters.

Principal photography took place in and around the Baltimore area during the summer of 1987.[6] The school scenes were filmed at Perry Hall High School with set locations including the library, a first-floor English class, and the principal's office.[7] In the scene set in the principal's office, the Harry Dorsey Gough (see Perry Hall Mansion) coat-of-arms that once hung in the main lobby can be seen through the doorway.[8] The scenes set at Tilted Acres amusement park were filmed at Dorney Park in Allentown, Pennsylvania.

The film was Divine's final film and his only film with Waters in which he didn't play the lead. Originally, Divine was considered to play both Tracy Turnblad and her mother Edna. Executives from New Line Cinema, the film's distributor, discouraged this concept, and it was eventually dropped.[9]

Deleted scenes

A handful of scenes were cut while in post-production, some of which explained certain elements seen in the film.

The first scene occurs before Tracy and Penny go the Parkville VFW record hop. Tracy is required to start her first shift working in the Hardy-Har Joke Shop. But after managing to scare away all her customers she is excused to go to the hop. The joke shop customers are still listed in the end credits of the final cut.

Another involves Tracy skipping school, stealing shoes from the Etta Gown Shop, and breaking into the Von Tussles' home, using Amber's hair bleach to bleach her hair in Amber's sink, thus explaining Tracy's change of hair color later in the film.[5]

Another deleted scene involved live roaches crawling out of Tracy's hair at Tilted Acres. The actual filmed scene of the cockroach crawling out of Tracy's hair is cut, but still included is Amber's horrified reaction. However, she is presumed to be joking and/or lying. When discussing his decision to ultimately cut the scene, Waters explained "Bob Shaye, the head of New Line, probably correctly, said, 'This doesn't work. What is this, a Buñuel movie?' [...] And he was probably right."[5]

A further excised scene sees Penny and Seaweed trying to take refuge at Nadine's home after Penny's escape.

The final deleted scene was a musical number which involved the teens performing an obscure 1960s dance called "The Stupidity" at the auto show just prior to Tracy being released from reform school, but again, Waters ultimately decided it wasn't appropriate, stating, "[B]asically, I thought, you know, you don't want your leading man to look stupid right in the big finale."[5]


Critical reception

Hairspray received three stars from critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert.[10]

The film currently holds a 98% "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes; it is Waters' second-highest-rated film (behind Multiple Maniacs); the site's consensus states "Hairspray is perhaps John Waters' most accessible film, and as such, it's a gently subversive slice of retro hilarity."[11]

Box office

Hairspray opened on February 26, 1988 in 79 North American theaters, where it grossed Template:USD577,287 in its opening weekend. On March 11, it expanded to 227 theaters, where it grossed $966,672 from March 11–13. It ended its theatrical run with $8,271,108.[12]


The film was nominated for six Independent Spirit Awards, and the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival.[13]

Other works

Broadway musical

In mid-2002, Margo Lion teamed with writers Marc Shaiman and Thomas Meehan to turn Hairspray into a Broadway musical production. The show opened on August 15, 2002 starring Marissa Jaret Winokur as Tracy and Harvey Fierstein as Edna. The show went on to win eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical, in 2003. The show closed on January 4, 2009.

2007 adaptation

Main article: Hairspray (2007 film)

In 2006, New Line Cinema joined forces with Adam Shankman to adapt the Broadway show into a movie musical. The film was released July 20, 2007, starring John Travolta as Edna, Michelle Pfeiffer as Velma, Christopher Walken as Wilbur, Amanda Bynes as Penny Pingleton, Brittany Snow as Amber Von Tussle, Queen Latifah as Motormouth Maybelle, James Marsden as Corny, Zac Efron as Link, and newcomer Nikki Blonsky as Tracy. The film had a $75 million budget and earned over $200 million worldwide.[14]


Main article: Hairspray (1988 soundtrack)

The soundtrack was released in 1988 by MCA Records. The album featured one original song by Rachel Sweet and eleven other songs mostly from the early 1960s by Gene Pitney, Toussaint McCall and The Ikettes, among others. Two songs, "You Don't Own Me" and "Mama Didn't Lie", came out in 1964 and 1963 respectively.

Additional songs

Other songs appear in the film, but are not on the soundtrack, due to licensing restrictions, because many of the songs listed were on Cameo Parkway Records, a recording label owned by Allen Klein.

Home media

Hairspray was issued for the first time on VHS and LaserDisc in 1989 by RCA/Columbia Pictures Home Video. New Line reissued the film on VHS in 1996.

The film was released on DVD by New Line in 2002. The disc included an audio commentary by John Waters and Ricki Lake and a theatrical trailer. It was released on Blu-ray on March 4, 2014.[15]

See also


  1. "HAIRSPRAY (PG)". (1988-05-31). Retrieved on 2012-11-05.
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Hairspray (1988)".. Box Office Mojo. Retrieved on 2007-06-12.
  3. Hairspray at Rotten Tomatoes; last accessed May 5, 2007.
  4. "Empire Features The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time".. Retrieved on August 14, 2011.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 John Waters; Ricki Lake (November 5, 2002). "'Hairspray' DVD Commentary by: John Waters and Ricki Lake"..
  6. Robert Maier (2011). Low Budget Hell: Making Underground Movies with John Waters. Davidson, North Carolina, U.S.A.: Full Page Publishing, page 273–297. ISBN 978-0-9837708-0-0. 
  7. David Marks. Perry Hall's Schools: The Heart of the Community.
  8. "Fun Facts About Perry Hall"..
  9. John Waters: Interviews, Paperback, University Press of Mississippi, page xxiii. ISBN 9781617031823. 
  10. "Hairspray", Chicago Sun-Times. 
  11. Hairspray at Rotten Tomatoes
  12. "Hairspray (1988)".. Box Office Mojo. Retrieved on August 14, 2011.
  13. "Awards for Hairspray"..
  14. "Hairspray (2007)".. Retrieved on August 14, 2011.

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