Holly Woodlawn as a 3 year old boy in Puerto Rico.
Holly Woodlawn in Superstar in a Housedress (Photo: Brian Hamilton)
Holly Woodlawn was born in Puerto Rico on October 26, 1946. Her birth name was Harold Santiago Rodriguez Franceschi Danhackl. (BC81) Her father was an American soldier who made a quick departure after making Holly's mother pregnant. Her mother moved to New York two years after Holly was born, leaving her to be raised by her grandmother in a household that included "8 aunts, 1 uncle, 5 cousins, 2 grandparents, 6 chickens and 3 pigs.”(HW28-9) In approximately 1951 Holly moved to the Bronx to be re-united with her mother and her mother's new husband, Joseph Ajzenberg. Four years later they moved to South Beach, Miami. (HW36) In 1962 her step-father officially adopted her, adding an additional name to her collection. In the same year that she was adopted Holly ran away from home, hitchhiking from South Beach, Miami to New York - a trip which would later be immortalized in Lou Reed's song Walk On the Wild Side. She was fifteen years old at the time.
After arriving in New York, Holly eventually ended up in Bryant Park, thinking it was Central Park, and met a fellow Puerto Rican who provided her with a temporary place to stay. She later moved in with some rent boys from Miami who shared a room in a cheap hotel and supported themselves by working the streets. Holly attempted to follow their example:
"Well, the thought of selling my body just sent me into a tither! I was a nervous wreck. I didn't know the first thing about it. First of all, how does one drum up business? I could just picture myself going door-to-door... but I tried. Sometimes I think I could've made more money selling rocks! I walked those streets until one or two in the morning and usually ended up at Bickford's Coffee shop, where a person could stay as long as he wanted, provided he had a full cup. And then, when I became restless, I'd go back out and hustle some more, hanging out in dark doorways or on street corners. I was so scared. I hated doing it, but I felt I had no other choice." (HW55)
Eventually, she ended up living on the streets.
Holly Woodlawn: "Eventually I left the boys in the hotel... I became a waif, straying from one rat hole to another, sometimes left to sleep on the street. A few times I slept in the subway, riding in the last car back and forth from Brooklyn to Manhattan until the early morning rush hour. Usually, in the morning, I'd hightail it over to Grand Central Station, where there were shower stalls in the bathroom, and for a quarter I could get cleaned up. And if I was completely penniless, I'd sleep in the station on a bench. On occasion, I found myself huddled up in an all-night movie theater where, for a buck fifty, I could sleep until the next day." (HW56)By the time that Holly met Candy Darling the following year, Holly was living with a gay beautician named Libra and his mother in their home in Brooklyn. Holly had met Libra in an after-hours bar near Times Square that was popular with hustlers. Holly and Libra first noticed Candy during one of their forays into Greenwich Village:
Holly Woodlawn: "... Libra and I would get all dressed up to hang out in Greenwich Village. There were still a few beatniks around playing the bongos and reading poetry, and where Sixth Avenue and Eighth Street met there was a big gay hangout. We'd go there around nine at night and hang out on the corner and talk until two in the morning. I remember one night we were standing on the corner, talking to some of the young hustlers on the block, when I happened to see a beautiful androgynous figure standing on the curb in the distance. He or she, whatever it was, was alone and appeared very aloof, not really paying close attention to what was happening in the immediate environment. It seemed more concerned with self-presence. Libra took notice as well, and when the young hustlers caught on to our curiosity, one shot up and said, 'Oh, don't pay any attention to her. She doesn't talk. She thinks she's too good.' That... was my first glimpse of Miss Candy Darling, a dark-haired eighteen-year-old boy who would later become an underground legend." (HW64)According to Holly, Candy had a reputation as a "snot-nosed bitch" among the male prostitutes (hustlers) that hung out on the street. Libra had taught Holly that you had to be nice to the hustlers because they "were the ones who looked after the 'girls' like me, buying us cigarettes, sodas, and candy. Also, they were usually of a rough breed, and if they became angered, they could pull a knife and kill you..." (HW65/66) This did not, however, prevent Candy from giving them attitude:
Holly Woodlawn: One night Libra and I were hanging out outside an ice cream parlor right on the corner of Eighth Street and Sixth Avenue. Candy was there... appearing every bit the affected diva as she carefully licked an ice cream cone while the pagans scurried about the street beneath her. 'Hey, you gotta cig?' I turned to see a street punk leaning into Miss Darling as she basked under the city lights. 'No. Sorry,' she said, doing her best Kim Novak imitation... 'Hey, I think I like you. What's our name?' he asked, moving closer. 'Who wants to know?' Candy continued to lick at the cone. 'Hey, you think you're something, don'tcha?' The kid snapped, cocking his head and stepping back. 'I don't think. I know. Now go on, you're blocking my light,' Candy sniffed, lifting her chin in the air and dismissing him immediately. Well, with one quick sweep, the kid's hand came forth and shoved the iced cream cone into Candy's face!" (HW66)Holly came to Candy's defence and Holly and Candy became friends. Holly would often spend the weekend at Candy's in Long Island, where she lived with her mother in a three bedroom house. Candy's mother shared her son's fascination with Hollywood stars.
Holly Woodlawn: "Young James [aka Candy] shared in his mother's obsession with Hollywood, and all he talked about were films from the Forties. He memorized certain scenes and would emulate the star's every move and gesture... His mind became warped with fantasy; he was lost in his own real-life melodrama starring his own creation, Hope Dahl, then Candy Dahl, and finally Candy Cane - that is, until she met up with Taffy Tits Terrifik, a fat hormone queen... Taffy Tits used to drag Candy all over the West Village and say, 'Come on, let's go, Candy, darling.' And Taffy called Candy 'darling' so often that it finally stuck." (HW68)Candy eventually moved out of her mother's house and into the Hotel Seventeen in Manhattan. It was while she was at the Hotel Seventeen that she met Jackie Curtis. Holly met Jackie when Candy took her to a friend's house in 1966 to watch Barbra Steisand's TV special Color Me Barbara on the friend's colour television set. Jackie, an aspiring underground playwright and actor, was also there. At the time he was working as an usher at the Winter Garden Theater where Streisand was starring in Funny Girl. Curtis wasn't in drag at this point, although Holly and Candy were. Jackie had already written some plays and was hoping to get them produced. The following year, Jackie's aspirations as a playwright paid off with the first production of his play Glamour, Glory and Gold in 1967 which was followed by a second production of the play in 1968 - the same year that Paul Morrissey filmed him (as a her) in Flesh. Holly hit the semi-big-time in 1968 as well. She was chosen to be Miss Donut 1968 in Amsterdam, New York. Holly had been working as a go-go dancer at a club called Willie's Go-Go Palace in Amsterdam (New York) where nobody knew that she was a he.
Holly Woodlawn: I was a wild go-goer, jiggling my ass in the hungry faces of those jeering, whistling, redneck bumpkins... I used to drag men home and carry on with them... and these men never found out the truth... Usually, after giving me a ride home, they'd park the pickup and want to make out, but I'd simply say, 'No, darling, I can't put out on the first date. I'm not that kind of girl... But how 'bout some head?' I would offer." (HW101)
One person she met at Willie's had a father who owned a donut factory. They were looking for a Miss Donut to ride in the local Homecoming parade. They chose Holly.
Holly Woodlawn: "So there I was, propped up on the backseat of a Chevy convertible with a tiara on my head and a sash across my chest that read MISS DONUT 1968. And as I waved to the adoring throng of thirty people, I realized that I had achieved a monumental crowning glory: a year's supply of free donuts. It was the thrill of a lifetime." (HW102)It was also in 1968 that Holly first shot up speed. During one of her nightly sojourns to the Stonewall bar in Greenwich Village, Holly met somebody named Peter who was the boyfriend of Silver George who was a dealer who frequented the Factory. It was at their apartment that Holly first tried the drug.
Holly Woodlawn: "I had no idea how to shoot up, nor was I too keen on being jabbed by a needle. But that ol' what-the-hell spirit came over me and I consented. Well, they shot me up with speed, honey , and it was the most fabulous thing I've ever felt in all my life! A warm rush flooded my body, causing my brain to burst into a blazing riot of fireworks. The entire room lit up as thought raced through my mind and I talked and talked and talked, spewing forth every idea that had ever entered my pretty little head. I felt so good, I moved in and became quick-witted myself..." (HW115)
One of the visitors to the apartment was Ondine.
Holly Woodlawn: "I didn't know much about Ondine, except the fact that he was a Warhol superstar who had starred in several of Warhol's earlier films, including Chelsea Girls. Finally, one night this Ondine character came over. He was rather strange in demeanour, he talked with a stutter, and it took him forever to complete a sentence - but it was well worth the wait when he told me that I was so beautiful that I too should be a Superstar. 'Y-Y-Y-you got t-t-t-to meet An-Andy,' he said, and I agreed." (HW116)After Ondine's suggestion that she meet Andy, Holly went with Silver George to a screening of Flesh at the Union Square Factory. Jackie and Candy were also at the screening - celebrating their new found stardom in the film.
Holly Woodlawn: "Jackie and Candy were there in all their hyped glory, and both acted hideously cold toward me. I didn't know what their beef was; perhaps they were threatened because I was on their turf. Or maybe they were afraid I was trying to push my way into the Warhol scene. Who knows? Our friendships were up and down so many times it was like riding a carousel. Sometimes we loathed one another and sometimes we loved one another. We shared laughs, tears, makeup, and drugs. But when it came to sharing the spotlight, it was every broad for herself!" (HW118)When Holly appeared in the next film that Paul Morrissey shot for Warhol, it was her turn to be in the spotlight. The film was appropriately titled...