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Hairspray is a 1988 American romantic musical comedy film written & directed by John Waters, starring Ricki Lake, Divine, Debbie Harry, Sonny Bono, Jerry Stiller, Leslie Ann Powers, Colleen Fitzpatrick (also known as singer Vitamin C) and Michael St. Gerard.

The film was released in February of 1988 and was given a PG rating, making it the mildest rating a Waters film has received; most of Waters' previous films were rated "X" by the MPAA.

In 2002, "Hairspray" was adapted into a Broadway musical (which won eight Tony Awards, including the Tony "Best Musical" in 2003. A second film version of Hairspray (which was an adaptation of the stage musical) was also released by New Line Cinema in 2007.


Spoiler warning: The following contains plot details about
the entire movie.

Taking place in 1962, eenager 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. Penny is too nervous & 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 which infuriates the show's reigning queen, Amber Von Tussle (Colleen Fitzpatrick), a mean, privileged, beautiful high school classmate whose pushy stage parents, Velma (Debbie Harry) & Franklin Von Tussle (Sonny Bono) own the Tilted Acres amusement park.

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 Tracy's hairstyle as a "hair-don't" and sends her to the principal's office from which she 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" where teach Tracy, Penny, and Link dance moves.

Penny begins an interracial romance with Motormouth Maybelle's son, Seaweed (Clayton Prince) which horrifies Penny's mother, Prudence (Joann Havrilla), who imprisons Penny daughter in her bedroom and tries to brainwash her into dating white boys and oppose integration with the help of a quack psychiatrist, Dr. Fredrickson (director John Waters).

Seaweed later helps Penny break out of the house and run away & it is implied that she will never return, as she has finally broken free from her mother. 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) & Tracy's agoraphobic, slightly overbearing & 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, but the plan literally blows up in Velma's face when the bomb detonates prematurely which results in the Von Tussles' being arrested 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 & she 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, the villanesse of the movie.
  • Sonny Bono as Franklin Von Tussle
  • Jerry Stiller as Wilbur Turnblad, Tracy's loving, funny and encouraging father.
  • Leslie Ann Powers as Penny Pingleton, Tracy's perky, shy and devoted best friend.
  • Colleen Fitzpatrick as Amber Von Tussle, snobby, antagonistic dance star on the Corny Collins show.
  • Michael St. Gerard as Link Larkin, a teenage hearthrob
  • Clayton Prince as Seaweed J. Stubbs, a hip and kind-hearted dancer.
  • 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
  • Joann Havrilla as Prudence Pingleton
  • Alan J. Wendl as Mr. Pinky
  • Toussaint McCall as Himself
  • John Waters as Dr. Fredrickson

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

  • Ric Ocasek as Beatnik cat
  • Pia Zadora as Beatnik chick


John Waters wrote the movie's screenplay under the title of "White Lipstic" with the story loosely based on real events.

"The Corny Collins Show" is based on the real-life "Buddy Deane Show" (which was a local dance party program which pre-empted Dick Clark's show "American Bandstand" in the Baltimore area during the 1950s and early 1960s.)

Waters had previously written about "The Buddy Deane Show" in his 1983 book "Crackpot: The Obsessions of John Waters."

The movie's principal photography took place in and around the Baltimore area during the summer of 1987. Filming began on June 1, 1987 and ended on July 23, 1987 (for over a month).

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. In the scene set in the principal's office, the Harry Dorsey Gough coat-of-arms that once hung in the main lobby can be seen through the doorway.

The scenes set at Tilted Acres amusement park were filmed at Dorney Park in Allentown, Pennsylvania.

Originally, the role of Edna Turnblad was written for famed transsexual Christine Jorgensen, but when the role of Tracy had to be rewritten, John Waters also rewrote the role of Edna in order to keep his friend and muse Divine in the production.

"Hairspray" was Divine's final film & 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, but the executives from New Line Cinema discouraged this concept & it was eventually dropped.

Due to taking intense dance lessons for the movie, Ricki Lake began rapidly losing weight and reportedly had to "eat like crazy" in order to maintain her plump figure.

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.

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."

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 that 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."

Box Office

"Hairspray" opened at #17 at the box office, grossing $577,287 during its opening weekend with an average of $7,307. It first opened in 79 theaters in North America, but by March 11, 1988, it was expanded to 227 theaters where it later grossed $966,672.

The film grossed $6,671,108 domestically & worldwide.

Critical Reception

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

The movie received three stars from critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert. According to Ebert in his review: "The movie probably has the most to say to people who were teenagers in the early ‘60s, but they are, I suppose, the people least likely to see this movie. It also will appeal to today’s teenagers, who will find that every generation has its own version of Corny Collins, and its own version of the Council, designed to make you feel like a worthless reject on the trash heap of teenage history. If there is a message in the movie, it is that Waters, who could never in a million years have made the Council, did, after all, survive to make the movie."

Common Sense Media called it "a kitschy teen fantasy you can dance to."

Desson Howe from the Washington Post wrote: "[John] Waters writes warmth into his caricatures, lifting "Hairspray" above cartoon cult."



Hairspray 1988 Trailer