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An arrangement of white flowers sits on the table between Tammy Faye Bakker Messnerand John Waters. It is no simple array or floral embellishment; it is an aromatic monolith, one that, in sheer girth and height, dwarfs both the "First Lady of Televangelism" and the "Sultan of Sleaze." It's no easy task, but a necessary one. Because even though, for many of the hundreds of people waiting outside the Castro Theater, this one-time pairing of the spiritual-advisor-cum-homosexual-icon and the Pink Flamingosdirector makes for a delightfully surreal combination, it's a bit like blending Marshmallow Fluff and kielbasa: You don't want to swallow them together.
On one side of the blooming brattice, John Waters indifferently autographs the bare ass of a "Gold Circle" ticket holder and coolly tosses another present onto the growing stack of gifts to the right of his high-backed chair. On the other side, Tammy Faye stands, listening with misty eyes as a young man praises her beauty and bravery and "bigheartedness"; she hugs him, saying, "Bless your heart," with uncanny sincerity before writing a lengthy message on the photo he offers, only one of many such lengthy notes. While the fans of both stars switch sides throughout the meet-and-greet, Waters and Tammy Faye are completely without eye contact, mascara or no.
"I think The Eyes of Tammy Faye really humanized her," says 30-year-old Nina, standing in line to meet Tammy Faye. "Before the documentary, I hadn't really been aware of her, beyond the scandal. Now, I want to meet her."
The scandal: After Tammy Faye and her husband, Jim Bakker, created the first Christian talk show, The 700 Club, for the fledgling Christian Broadcasting Network; founded the Trinity Broadcast Network with Paul Crouch; started the Praise the Lordempire, which included Heritage USA, the first Christian theme park; and became two of the world's most widely recognized televangelists, Jim Bakker was exposed for having sexual liaisons with future Playboycenterfold Jessica Hahn and for selling $1,000 memberships for lifetime access to imaginary hotel rooms at Heritage USA. Before long, Praise the Lord was bankrupt, Jim Bakker was in prison, and Tammy Faye was suffering from depression and addiction to prescription meds. Then her second husband, Heritage USA contractor Roe Messner, also went to jail for his role in PTL, and Tammy Faye was diagnosed with cancer (she's now in remission, "praise God"). Through these years, Tammy Faye's only claims to fame were bad T-shirts, such as a florid smudge accompanied by the phrase "I ran into Tammy Faye at the mall," and sitcom jokes. But, in her plunky, spunky way, she persevered, starting a line of bath products. Then along came openly gay filmmakers Randy Barbatoand Fenton Bailey, who captured all of Tammy Faye's bizarreness and kindness on film and exposed a new audience to her long-standing support of homosexuals. And makeup.
According to Tammy Faye's inspirational video Day by Day,all women over the age of 16 should wear a little eyeliner, blush, lipstick, and a makeup base. She also offers accessorizing tips and fudge recipes, as well as some very candid advice on facing fear, accepting people for who they are ("even if they don't wear makeup"), counting your blessings, and learning to laugh with the people who laugh at you.
"I watched their show as comedy," admits 45-year-old Michael Zanoni, clutching a highly treasured Tammy Faye record that his brother gave him in 1973. "But I watched it every day. In Lodi, Texas, it was the best thing going. She was very glamorous in a white-trash sort of way. "High white trash,' I would call it. But I would never say that to her face. She's wonderful."
Long after John Waters has retired to his dressing room, Tammy Faye is still signing autographs.
"It's like having warm honey poured all over me," she says of the response she's received at the Castro. "I haven't felt this sort of love from Christians."
Finally, Joe Spotts, Tammy Faye's manager and "God's way of getting me to do things I'm afraid of," hustles the 4-foot-8-inch firecracker off to her dressing room.
Downstairs in the sold-out auditorium, John Waters receives a standing ovation as he begins his self-guided retrospective.
"I feel like Anton LaVey," he says with a blithe chuckle. "A friend said, "John, how can you do that show, you're such a pagan?' and I said, "I'm not a pagan, I'm an ex-Catholic.' Which means the sex will always be better because it's dirty.
"I have great respect for Tammy Faye," continues Waters. "She's a militant Christian fag hag drama queen. ... She's got the eyelashes; I've got the mustache. We're eyeliner headliners.
"When you're young it's important to have someone bad to look up to. I hope I can be that for someone here tonight."
Unlike Tammy Faye, who grew up the oldest of eight children in an impoverished home in International Falls, Minn., Waters came from an upper-middle-class family in Baltimore. When he was 17, an uncle gave him an 8mm camera, with which Waters made Hag in a Black Leather Jacket and Eat Your Makeup, about deranged supermodels who are kidnapped and forced to eat their makeup and model themselves to death.