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Saturday May 18th 2024

Hairspray | 1988

Hairspray filming location: Stella's Bridals, Eastern Avenue, Baltimore
Hairspray location: Tracy Turnblad shops at ‘Hefty Hideaway’: Stella’s Bridals, Eastern Avenue, Baltimore

Divine’s last movie (and John Waters’ first PG-rated film) is a blow for Chubby Lib and racial integration, set in a poppy day-glo Sixties, and filmed, of course, in the ‘Hairdo Capital of the World’ – Baltimore.

The then-unknown Ricki Lake is Tracy Turnblad, a pleasantly plump teenager desperate to bop in the audience of the strictly segregated Corny Collins Show, living with her even plumper Mom, Edna (Divine), and joke-store owning Dad, Wilbur (Jerry Stiller).

The Turnblads live above the ‘Hardy Har’ store, just north of Patterson Park, at 100 North Luzerne Avenue, on the southeast corner of East Fairmount Avenue. The doorway to the Turnblad’s apartment (which was actually on Fairmount Avenue) has since been bricked up. And, no, the ‘Hardy Har’ paintings are no longer to be seen.

A few blocks to the southeast, 209 South Clinton Avenue, with its very-slightly-pretentious door, was rendered just that little bit lovelier by Waters’ regular Production Designer Vincent Peranio to become the home of the ghastly Von Tussles (Deborah Harry, Sonny Bono and Colleen Fitzpatrick).

Hairspray filming location: Merganthaler Vocational Technical School, Hillen Road, Baltimore
Hairspray location: Tracy Turnblad’s high school: Merganthaler Vocational Technical School, Hillen Road, Baltimore

Further north of the city, Tracy attends Merganthaler Vocational Technical School, 3500 Hillen Road, in the Ednor Gardens-Lakeside district, where she’s obliged to play dodgeball with the Special Ed team on the playing fields, though school interiors were filmed at Perry Hall High School, 4601 Ebenezer Road, in the suburb of Perry Hall, a few miles to the northeast.

Not far north from the Merganthaler’s playing fields, 1140 East Cold Spring Lane, on Portage Avenue behind the 7-11 Store, became the studio of ‘Station WZZT’, home of The Corny Collins Show. In 1988, it was the Flite 3 Studio.

Hairspray was the first film to be shot at the former recording studio. It was followed by productions such as Barry Levinson’s Avalon, Species 2 and John WatersCecil B Demented, but in 2003, the studio closed its doors for good. Coincidentally, this was the studio where The Madison (the Sixties line dance with the complicated instructions Tracy is so good at) was originally recorded.

"Are you big-boned, got a glandular problem but you still want the glamour?”: Mr Pinky’s ‘Hefty Hideaway’ shop, where Tracy shops for outsize fashions, is Stella’s Bridals, 3309 Eastern Avenue (which used to be Pacey’s bridal store) at South Clinton in the Highlandtown neighbourhood. The Eldorado Beauty Academy, where Edna Turnblad gets a makeover, stood alongside Stella’s at 3301 Eastern Avenue but sadly is no more.

If Baltimore is the ‘Hairdo Capital of the World’ then, according to director Waters, Eastern Avenue is the ‘Hairdo Aorta of Baltimore’.

One location outside of Baltimore – outside of Maryland, even – is ‘Tilted Acres’, the segregated amusement park, where the ‘race riot’ breaks out.

It’s Dorney Park and Wildwater Kingdom, 3830 Dorney Park Road, Allentown, in Pennsylvania, about 60 miles north of Philadelphia.

It’s back to Baltimore and the northern suburb of Towson, birthplace of Divine and the setting for most of Serial Mom, to find the governor’s mansion, where Motormouth Maybelle (Ruth Brown) handcuffs herself to the governor to get Tracy’s release from jail. It’s a private home (not visible from the road) at 514 East Seminary Avenue, just a little to the north of Towson itself.

The Corny Collins Show how is based on The Buddy Deane Show – and Buddy Deane himself has a cameo as a news man at the mansion.

Hairspray, the 2007 musical remake, with John Travolta stepping into Divine’s girdle as Edna Turnblad, forsook Baltimore to be filmed in Toronto.