Even among John Waters' legendary cluster of freaks, misfits, pervs, and assorted miscreants, Edith Massey managed to stand out as a true original. Whether sucking eggs in a playpen in Pink Flamingos (1972), brandishing a whip as the vile Queen Carlotta in Desperate Living (1977), or teaming up with Divine as gal pals in Polyester (1981), Massey squished her own snaggle-toothed, benignly (and un-self-consciously) outrageous persona into each role she played, giving hope and inspiration to obsessive-compulsive grandmotherly fetishists everywhere.
Born in 1918, Massey had already spent over five decades plying her wares as a B-girl, tap dancer, thrift store owner, and barmaid by the time she made the acquaintance of John Waters. According to legend, Waters met Massey when she was working as both a Baltimore barmaid and the owner of the thrift shop Edith's Shopping Bag, and was taken in by her particular brand of charm. He subsequently cast her in his 1970 Multiple Maniacs as (naturally) a barmaid and (perhaps not as naturally) Jesus Christ's mother. True cult celebrity followed for the portly actress in Waters' Pink Flamingos two years later. Revered and reviled as the most disgusting movie ever made, Flamingos featured Massey in fine and unforgettable form as Mama Edie the Egg Lady, Divine's playpen-bound, egg-sucking mother, a characterization made even more endearing by Massey's reported inability to remember her lines.
Further notoriety greeted Massey with her work in Waters' Female Trouble (1975) and Desperate Living (1977). The former saw her play Ida, a neighbor of Divine's who longs for her nephew to be gay and then disfigures Divine with acid when she marries the nephew, while the latter featured her as Queen Carlotta, the cretinous ruler of Mortville. Between the release of the two films, Massey was the star of her very own documentary, the aptly titled Love Letter to Edie (1975). A 15-minute short featuring reenactments of the actress' life and appearances by the likes of Waters and Mink Stole, it provided an appropriate prologue to Massey's subsequent stint as a singer. Following Desperate Living, she embarked on a nationwide tour, mainly performing covers of the likes of "Big Girls Don't Cry" and "Punks! Get Off the Grass!", with occasional back-up support by fellow Dreamland star Cookie Mueller. Although Massey's singing career didn't exactly blossom, it did land one of her covers on volume one of Rhino Records' The World's Worst Records. Following Desperate Living, Massey made her final Waters appearance in Polyester (1981), playing Cuddles Kovinsky, the sweet-natured and utterly oblivious best friend of hapless Baltimore housewife Francine Fishpaw (Divine). Before her death in 1984, the actress lent her talents to the virtually unseen Mutants in Paradise, a film whose title perfectly summed up Massey's distinctive career.