David Lochary was the leading man in most of John Waters’ earliest films, beginning with the 8mm Roman Candles and ending with Female Trouble. In many ways, from his bright blue dyed hair to his fanatic, original obsessions and perceptive wit, he helped shape the look and content of Dreamland. Due to his death at age 32 David has received only a fraction of the attention of other Dreamlanders. His story has more than a touch of pathos and mystery though.
I met David during the two months of shooting, when I worked on Female Trouble. He was a key inspiration for John’s work. Besides the movies, they criss-crossed the country together on wild underground 1960s adventures. While John graduated from a private school and then attended New York University film school, David and Divine both attended what would normally have been a dead-end blue-collar Baltimore beauty school. At the school, David introduced Divine to the concept of “drag.” David had really lived the wacked-out, flamboyant “hi hon where’d ya get your hair done?” Baltimore life. And it was this life that inspired and pulled the teenaged John Waters away from his suburban birthday party puppet shows into Baltimore’s demi-monde. David’s hilarious, absurdist view of art and culture helped mold “Divine” as a character, and many of the ground-breaking images and excesses of Pink Flamingos and Female Trouble had David’s touch.
I didn’t know what a really innovative artist was until I met David. His film roles were always the elegant, twisted fop, but off camera, he was warm, friendly, earnest, and open. David impressed the Female Trouble crew members as probably the best actor in the troop. On the set he and Divine appeared to be the most seasoned pros. They were believable characters, and on my first day of shooting, I knew they would both go places. David and I would talk during breaks, and he would grill me about how to get jobs in other movies, or if I knew any other movie directors he might audition for. He wasn’t having much luck in New York. Knowing his role in Pink Flamingos, I wasn’t too surprised, but he said his passion was to be a serious actor, and Female Trouble would probably be his last Waters film, to avoid being typecast. He was also upset that the success of Pink Flamingos seemed to focus on John and Divine and no one else in the the Dreamland troupe.
David was ambitious and so confident. He was the only Dreamlander besides Divine to leave Baltimore for the greater opportunities of New York City, when Pink Flamingos became a success. He struggled in New York though, because the downtown art scene didn’t begin to flourish until after he died. David’s frizzy platinum blond hair that wreathed his balding head and his ear-to-ear gull wing mustache was far from the classic 1960s Beatles pretty-boy look, and even New York City didn’t quite know what to make of him.
After Female Trouble, David scooted back to downtown Manhattan to await fame and fortune. Unfortunately, neither came fast enough for him. Experiencing the lines around the block and major press for Pink Flamingos and Female Trouble naturally fed his ego. He thought his phone should be ringing off the hook with job offers and his mailbox should overflow with royalty checks. But most mainstream critics saw the films as cultist sideshows, and William Morris was not interested in pioneers like David Lochary or Divine. As usual in the movie biz, the box office income was split many ways, and nothing trickled down to the actors. (However, soon after Female Trouble, John did set up a profit sharing plan with the key early Dreamlanders, including David).
David became more obsessed with the idea that John and Divine, his two creative buddies, were becoming “rich and famous” while he struggled to pay rent. Obsession turned to anger, and David turned more and more to drugs to soothe his hurt feelings and boost his ego. He became so difficult that John decided to leave him out of Desperate Living. Sadly, being so far gone on drugs, disappointment, and paranoia, David probably wouldn’t have done well in the film.
However, the fact that neither he nor Divine were in Desperate Living, and non-Dreamlander, semi-celebrity Liz Renay was hired as the marquee name signaled that John might also be testing the mainstream to see if he could make successful movies on his own, without two of the great pillars of his earlier films. It’s curious that in his book, Shock Value, John says that David’s death prevented him from appearing in Desperate Living, but David died on July 29, 1977, nearly nine months after Desperate Living went into production.
The circumstances of David’s death are mysteriously vague and contradictory. The most circulated story is he died of a PCP overdose, but others say he bled to death during a PCP trip after falling on a broken glass. It wasn’t discussed much in the Dreamland circle because David was on the outs with John, and when you’re on the outs with John you become invisible. David’s death could have been anything—murder, suicide, or heart attack. There are many ways to die from PCP. Falling on a piece of glass and bleeding to death is a little sketchy. Dying at 32 was such a shock, no one wanted to face it, and I don’t think anyone has covered it very well. It’s an interesting overlooked detail, and David’s life including his miserable last years and deep influence on John Waters in his early years deserves more attention.
Read more about Robert Maier’s fifteen years working with John Waters in the new book “Low Budget Hell: Making Underground Movies with John Waters.” Available on Amazon.com and other booksellers around the world.