November 24, 1944– Candy Darling:
‘I am a star because I have always felt so alienated and I project this feeling to others.’
She was a film star, a socialite, a model, a celebrity, Manhattan Bohemian royalty and inspiration to generations of transgender castaways.
I wish she would have been around for our era, a time when we can at least speak about transgender rights, with trans-people on the cover of magazines, with their own television shows, thanking people for their Emmy Awards, and being handed medals for bravery. I feel that 74-year-old Darling be held as the pioneering Trans Icon she truly is. Would she have wanted mainstream acceptance? Would she still be ravishingly gorgeous? I like to think that Candy Darling might have had it all.
Like Andy Warhol and the rest his crowd, Darling probably wasn’t all that political. But she did possess audacity, daring and spunk, taking a path of her own choosing, instead of the one imposed on her by the social conventions and the morality of her time.
Considering Darling on her birthday, I think it is time for her to be feted, with homage of every kind. I suggest a USPS stamp in 2020, perfect for our modern times.
Darling’s persona began as a socialite in the rarefied 1960s underground Greenwich Village scene of outsiders who accepted her and loved her for who she was. Her Darling daring was quite profound. She lived at a time in New York City when a person would be arrested for dressing as the opposite gender in public and being transgendered was not a plea anyone could use in defense. She could only have dared to use the women’s public bathroom.
Darling served as a muse for Warhol and she starred in many of his underground movies. She even had a role in a Tennessee Williams’ Off-Broadway play. Yet, for everything she accomplished in her short life, Candy Darling was her own greatest creation.
Darling idolized the great Golden Age Of Hollywood female stars. She was especially infatuated with Kim Novak. The soft spoken dame wearing diamonds and gowns was who she wanted to be. Many of her friends said she was always in character to the point where it was silly. But in a way I feel that it was probably a defense mechanism, a way to create a world around herself and a person to play on the stage we call life so that in the end it blocks out the fact that many during her time did not and would not accept her. I am sure many people Candy knew did not accept her as a woman or even as a person for that matter, but wanted to be around her because she was a living, breathing work of art.
Darling was born James Lawrence Slattery, Jr. in Massapequa, Long Island. He was raised by a single mother who worked as a bookkeeper at Manhattan’s Jockey Club.
He won a “Most Beautiful Baby” contest, mistakenly entered as a girl by his mother. As a kid, he ran a Kim Novak Fan Club. When he was 17, he was confronted by his mother with the rumors that he had been spotted in drag in a local gay bar. He exited the room and then remade his entrance as a girl.
When he was 20 years old, Slattery left Long Island and moved to Greenwich Village, arriving as Candy Darling. Drag Artist/Actor Jackie Curtis (born John Curtis Holder, Jr.), just 17 years old, introduced Darling to Warhol after he had seen her in a play written by Curtis. Warhol cast them as two girls gabbing about glamour while Joe Dallesandro is getting a blow job from an old girlfriend in his film Flesh (1968).
Darling also appeared with Curtis and the late, great Holly Woodlawn (born Haroldo Santiago Franceschi Rodriguez Danhakl) in Paul Morrissey and Warhol’s movie, Women In Revolt (1972).
She played minor parts in major films, including Klute (1971) with Jane Fonda, and La Mortadella (1972) with Sophia Loren. Her best screen role is in Some Of My Best Friends Are (1971) about a sad group of people stuck in a mafia owned gay bar on Christmas Eve. Other film credits include Brand X (1970), Der Tod Der Maria Malibran (1972), and the low budget holiday horror flick Silent Night, Bloody Night (1974). She worked hard to be cast in the lead role in the film version of Gore Vidal‘s novel Myra Breckinridge (1970), but the part went to Raquel Welch.
Darling is immortalized in pop culture, referenced in The Rolling Stones tune Citadel from their album Their Satanic Majesties Request (1967):
“Candy and Taffy
Hope we both are well
Please come see me in the Citadel.”
She is mentioned in a pair of Lou Reed songs, Candy Says:
“Candy says I’ve come to hate my body
And all that it requires in this world…”
And, of course, Walk On The Wild Side:
“Candy came from out on the Island
In the backroom she was everybody’s darlin”
In I Shot Andy Warhol (1996) Darling is portrayed, rather remarkably, by hunky Stephen Dorff. In the HBO film Cinema Verite (2011) she is played by Willam Belli.
The cover of the terrific album I Am A Bird Now (2005) by Antony & The Johnsons, is an iconic shot of Darling on her deathbed by 1970s era photographer Peter Hujar.
Darling left this world in spring of 1974, taken by Lymphoma (the same cancer that I survived), possibly complicated by the hormones she had been taking. In a letter addressed to Warhol, Darling wrote:
“Unfortunately before my death I had no desire left for life. I am just so bored by everything. You might say bored to death. Did you know I couldn’t last? I always knew it. I wish I could meet you all again.”
The eulogy at her funeral was read by her friend, Julie Newmar:
“Well, Candy just worshiped and adored me and was so kind and marvelous that it was just a natural thing to have done. Candy was a genius. Hers was an extraordinarily high achievement. Her skin was so flawless, her behavior not limpid but liquid, the movement of her hands exquisite.”
Darling’s family destroyed most of her papers after she passed. But, a pair of memoirs were published posthumously: The Candy Darling Diaries (1992) and My Face For The World To See (1997). Her BFF, Jeremiah Newton, produced an excellent documentary, Beautiful Darling (2010), directed by James Rasin, with narration by Chloë Sevigny.