Cynthia Carr's 'Candy Darling: Dreamer, Icon, Superstar'

  • by Mark William Norby
  • Tuesday April 16, 2024
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Biographer Cynthia Carr
Biographer Cynthia Carr

Not since the 1959 release of Richard Ellman's legendary biography of James Joyce has the literary world met its match in Cynthia Carr's "Candy Darling: Dreamer, Icon, Superstar" (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $30). Astonishing at every turn, Carr deeply excavated the Darling archive in order to bring a pioneering trans woman into the spotlight of 1970s New York.

Carr's Darling biography is fascinating and at times overwhelming in its detail and precision. But it never fails to fascinate and always celebrates the trans community with love and compassion that, if the biography reaches Ellman's deserved longevity, will stand as an uncategorical masterpiece in scholarship.

Best known as a Warhol Superstar for her roles in "Flesh" (1968) and "Women in Revolt" (1971), Carr claims Darling was not a Warhol Superstar but rather a superstar in her own right. A muse to Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground, to Tennessee Williams — she starred in several of William's plays including "Small Craft Warnings," a play that got her from Off-Off Broadway to Off-Broadway — Darling was also an idol to the Warhol trans superstars Jackie Curtis and Holly Woodlawn.

Two photos, taken in the Slattery family's Massapequa Park living room, show James and in male and female attire at age 20. (photos: Theresa Slattery; courtesy of Jeremiah Newton)  

Hollywood dreams
Born James (Jimmy) Lawrence Slattery on November 24, 1944, Candy Darling died in Manhattan at 29 years of leukemia and lymphoma on March 21, 1974. She spent her early years in Massapequa Park, Long Island where she and her mother Theresa Slattery, a bookkeeper, moved after her mother's divorce from Candy's father, James Slattery, a violent alcoholic.

Darling grew up watching Hollywood films, obsessed with Hollywood stars, often skipping school to watch old movies. First interested in adopting the name Kim, after Kim Novak, whom she greatly admired, she settled on Hope Slattery which, according to Holly Woodlawn, quickly became Hope Dahl; other names included Candy Dahl, Candy Cane, before finally arriving at Candy Darling.

Darling began cross-dressing in 1961 when she signed up for a course at the DeVern School of Cosmetology in Baldwin, Long Island. Her mother insisted Candy come home after dark to avoid being seen by neighbors in Massapequa village. Candy soon began frequenting a local gay bar called The Hayloft. She began taking the train from Long Island to Greenwich Village sitting across from Joey Heatherton.

(left) Eugene Siefker working on Candy Darling's hair in 1968. (right) Candy's passport photo.  

Film fame
Darling met writer and producer Jeremiah Newton on a train from his home in Flushing, Queens in the summer of 1966. Newton and Darling shared an apartment in Manhattan and Brooklyn and were friends up until Darling's death. Newton produced the 2010 documentary "Beautiful Darling: The Life and Times of Candy Darling, Andy Warhol Superstar," a feature-length documentary that premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival in February 2010.

The film includes archival footage, photographs, personal papers, archival audio interviews with Tennessee Williams, Valerie Solanas, Jackie Curtis, and Darling's mother, and interviews with Holly Woodlawn, Fran Lebowitz, John Waters, and Julie Newmar, among others. Newton, widely known for writing and producing the 1996 film "I Shot Andy Warhol," interred Darling's ashes in Cherry Valley Cemetery in Cherry Valley, New York.

Darling first spotted Andy Warhol at the gay bar The Tenth of Always, an after-hours club in the Village where Warhol and Lou Reed hung out from 1968-1972. She was with Jackie Curtis who invited Warhol to a play she wrote and directed, "Glamour, Glory and Gold," starring Darling as Nona Noonan and a young Robert De Niro. Warhol immediately included Darling in the Superstar scene and at the parties and overabundance of socialites at The Factory, Warhol's art production facility and often the settings for his films.

Candy Darling with Hortencia Colorado in Tom Eyen's 'The White Whore and the Bit Player' early in 1973. (photo: Jack Mitchell)  

The well-known publicist, gossip columnist, and bon vivant R. Couri Hay befriended Candy around the time "Women in Revolt" was in production. Couri was among the original editors of Warhol's and John Wilcock's Interview magazine.

Carr states that Couri said "Candy would walk in and 'the room would always stop ... because Candy looked different than the Park Avenue Ladies. She was glamorous but it wasn't a polished Chanel/Dior kind of glamor. She was always a little disheveled. Candy's makeup sometimes appeared smudged. So when she came in, heads would swivel and people would start to whisper.'"

For the book, Couri told Carr that the two would meet at Ciandre's to get their hair done.

"Eugene [stylist], of course, did not charge them. 'We would sit side by side, and they'd be shampooing our hair. It was a fun thing we shared. Eugene was a genius with hair and with makeup. He was able to take Candy from looking a little bedraggled into looking like a Jayne Mansfield, super glamourous Jean Harlow, Marilyn Monroe woman.'"

It's these details that fill the book and which Carr brilliantly pulls together in a fashion that can only be described as transcendent and intensely obsessional.

Candy Darling, Jackie Curtis, and Holly Woodlawn in the June 1972 issue of Vogue (photo: Richard Avedon, © The Richard Avedon Foundation)  

For certain, Darling was not of this world. She always felt that she wasn't beautiful enough, that any effort she made didn't take her to the level of beauty that she insisted she was capable of achieving. But quite to the contrary, Darling, easily among the most stunning women not only in New York but anywhere.

Carr exalts her subject with a truth that, for the young Jimmy Slattery, already had been reaching for the "spectral," the "astral," as writer Julie Baugold said. "She was very beautiful and so white that she was almost translucent ... she was playing the part of a beautiful girl dying."

Darling's decline
Even before her diagnosis with leukemia and lymphoma, Darling often wrote in her diary about death. When she entered the hospital, in and out for stints of treatment and recovery, "Warhol sent her a portable black-and-white television ... But she wasn't pleased. That day when Jeremiah arrived, she told him, 'You bring this down to Andy and tell him I want a color one.'" She deserved a far more elegant gesture from Warhol, who paid her very little in his films and was purely incapable of giving her an earned reverence.

After many hospitalizations at Cabrini Medical Center in New York City, Darling succumbed to lymphoma. She wrote on her deathbed to friends at The Factory, "Unfortunately before my death, I had no desire left for life ... I am just so bored by everything. You might say bored to death."

Darling's funeral was attended by huge crowds at the Frank E. Campbell Funeral Chapel. R. Couri Hay and Julie Newmar delivered Darling's eulogy. Warhol did not attend the funeral.

'Candy Darling: Dreamer, Icon, Superstar' by Cynthia Carr, Farrar, Straus and Giroux/Macmillan , $30.

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