In my tireless quest to become a John Waters completest, I’ve been perusing his interviews and writings for lesser-known films. So imagine my thrill at finding his 1970 16mm short, The Diane Linkletter Story on the humble platform of YouTube! (Okay, don’t hate me because I didn’t even have to trek my ass down to a repertory cinema. I’m in my 20s. Do those even still exist?) For the uninitiated, Diane Linkletter was the daughter of Art Linkletter, a family-friendly media father-figure, and host of such wholesome television fodder as, Kids Say the Darndest Things!. Art was also a staunch conservative, and by the late sixties he was touring the country, giving lectures on the growing “Permissiveness in this Society.” But what really solidified his “brand” as the nation’s moralizing Republican dad was his “duet,” with Diane, “We Love You, Call Collect.” (If you’ve never heard it, click the link, and try not to puke.)
The spoken word recording is among the most insipid drivel I’ve ever heard, and I’ve heard “The Christmas Shoes.” Over a maudlin score, Art and Diane read aloud a fictionalized correspondence between father and daughter. The daughter has run off to join the counterculture, and the father gives loving advice while begging her to come home, or at least call. This wild child is breaking her dear dad’s heart, and the listener is meant to sympathize with the family, but ultimately blame the daughter and the decaying morals of our time. It’s quite the pearl-clutcher.
Tragically, in October of 1969, just months after the release of “We Love You, Call Collect,” Diane Linkletter jumped from a sixth floor window to her death. Perhaps from grief, maybe he believed it or maybe even to do some damage control, Art Linkletter quickly told the press that Diane had only jumped under the influence of LSD. When Diane’s toxicology report came back clean, he still stuck to his story, with a second career as an anti-drug crusader. Art and his late daughter even won the 1970 Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Recording, and Art maintained that all proceeds from the record went “to combat problems arising from drug abuse,” whatever that means.
Starring Divine as Diane, and Waters regulars Mary Vivian Pearce and David Lochary as Ma and Pa Linkletter, The Diane Linkletter Story is a satirical interpretation of Diane’s final moments, similar to the style of drug moral panic films of the time. It even opens and ends with excerpts from “We Love You, Call Collect.” But that’s not the worst of it.
Waters actually made the movie the day Diane’s death made it in to the papers, and showed it before the funeral even happened.
I think the film is a gem, and it’s not like the surviving Linkletters were going to make their way up to Baltimore to see it. Waters has since praised the idea as an excellent exercise in creativity—instant movie-making from the headlines of today. And before you get too sensitive, he’s since found out what everyone with half a nose for Republican careerism had already suspected—that Linkletter always knew Diane’s death wasn’t drug-related, but in fact used his daughter’s suicide to push his anti-drug political agenda—so who’s in bad taste now?
Below, a cringe-worthy “showdown” takes place when douchey conservative TV host pits Art Linkletter (on phone) against Timothy Leary, the man he blamed for his daughter’s death: