In a new documentary, Candy Darling gets the starring role she always dreamed ofCANDY DARLING WAS sui generis. Many aspiring performers and artists move to New York City to forge careers, but few actually become their fantasy. Darling spent every moment in her life as a glamorous Hollywood movie star; her inspiration was platinum blond Kim Novak, whose films she studied relentlessly, along with other glam divas like Marilyn Monroe, Veronica Lake and Jean Harlow.
In Beautiful Darling: The Life and Times of Candy Darling, a film directed by James Rasin and produced by Jeremiah Newton premiering April 2, the inimitable writer Fran Lebowitz boils it down: “Candy Darling was a man who wanted to be a female movie star.” Author and Warhol biographer Bob Colacello observed that despite being a member of the avant-garde art scene, Darling was a throwback to the old Hollywood studio system. She saw Warhol as Louie B. Mayer and she was Novak, queen of the studio. However, we’re not talking MGM here: Darling only made $25 a scene.
Born James Slattery in Forest Hills, Queens, to a bookkeeper mother and a gambling, alcoholic father, as a young child, “Jimmy” moved with his mother to a small bungalow on Long Island. A mere 29 years later, Darling died of leukemia.
Beautiful Darling was created as a love letter of sorts by Newton, a close friend and roommate of Darling’s, drawing upon the materials he amassed over the years as executor of Darling’s estate—film and video footage, photographs, personal papers and letters and private diaries. He took a bus trip upstate where Darling’s mother had moved and she gave him whatever he could carry. “Take this back to New York. Candy always wanted to be with you,” she told him. Newton never again saw the mother, who had burnt the rest of Candy’s papers and costumes.
Unlike other Warhol superstars like Holly Woodlawn or Jackie Curtis, Darling never styled herself as a drag queen but rather a pre-op transsexual. She had no interest in parodying women, only in being one.When Warhol asked her how often she got her period, she replied, “Every day, Andy.That’s how much of a woman I am.”
Being a drag queen and transsexual in New York City in those days was dangerous. Dressing as a woman was illegal. Holly Woodlawn recounts how they’d just be wearing tight pants, mohair sweaters and mascara, but the cops would put a flashlight to their face and throw them in jail.
Again at odds with her obsession with beauty and elegance, Darling was often forced to sleep on somebody’s couch. She convinced her mother and friends she needed to focus on being a movie star rather than work. Quoted in the film, Darling admits she never paid rent or bought her own clothes. “I didn’t pay for anything, I never have, I don’t have to.” One of the talking heads admired her gift for getting by, saying, “She was one of the greatest hustlers I’d ever known.”
Darling met Warhol in 1967 and unlike some other Warholites, adored him.They had a good rapport because she didn’t take drugs and wouldn’t freak out. A few years before her death,Warhol abandoned his transgender stars and grittier actors, moving toward more mainstream performers to cash in on more lucrative projects. Although Darling achieved some success, including a role created for her on Broadway by Tennessee Williams in Small Craft Warnings, and landing roles in mainstream films including Klute with Jane Fonda and Lady Liberty with Sophia Loren, it was a struggle to find parts. Radiantly beautiful, Darling proudly proclaimed in a film clip, “I’m Candy Darling. I’m an actress here in New York. I’ve been in eight pictures. Small parts in big pictures and big parts in small pictures.” But gorgeous as she was, it wasn’t easy transitioning from Andy Warhol superstar to Hollywood movie star, especially if you were transgender. One of her diary entries read: “I will not cease to be myself for foolish people. For foolish people make harsh judgments on me. I will always be myself no matter what the price. It is the highest form of morality.”