the wild, pioneering trans superstar who was honored at the oscars last night
Holly Woodlawn was justly celebrated during the “in memoriam” roundup.
Woodlawn in a promotional still for "Scarecrow in a Garden of Cucumbers," Sliding Pond Co. Productions
As Dave Grohl performed a haunting acoustic version of the Beatles' "Blackbird" during last night's Oscars, Holly Woodlawn was acknowledged during the "in memoriam" roundup that honored the notable entertainment-world people who have died in the past year.
The seminal counterculture Lou Reed song "Walk on the Wild Side" begins with these transgressive lyrics: "Holly came from Miami F.L.A./ Hitch-hiked her way across the U.S.A./ Plucked her eyebrows on the way/ Shaved her legs and then he was a she."
As Reed's song accurately depicts, Holly was born Haroldo Santiago Franceschi Rodriguez Danhakl in Miami Beach, to a Puerto Rican mother and an American father of German heritage, in 1946. She took her chosen name from Audrey Hepburn's character in Breakfast at Tiffany's and later added Woodlawn when she heard of Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, the final resting place of stars like Miles Davis. She came out when she was very young, and made her way to New York City when she was 15.
In her early 20s, Holly was discovered by Andy Warhol, and became one of his "superstars," going on to appear in many of his films.
Holly Woodlawn got her first taste of fame when she appeared in Warhol's junkie-freak film Trash, in 1970, a clip of which is below.
In 1972, she appeared, alongside two other trans women, Candy Darling and Jackie Curtis, in Warhol's Women in Revolt. The satire of the then-white-hot women's liberation movement, each of the film's characters had her own unique, contentious relationship with men, and they formed the fictional group P.I.G. (Politically Involved Girls) to kick against the patriarchy. Watch the 1971 trailer here.
In her memoir, A Low Life in High Heels, Woodlawn wrote, "At the age of 16, when most kids were cramming for trigonometry exams, I was turning tricks, living off the streets and wondering when my next meal was coming." Later in her life, she thought about having gender-reassignment surgery, but decided not to have the operation.
Below is an interview showing the hilarious, campy, singular, and groundbreaking Holly Woodlawn. She passed away on December 26, 2015, in Los Angeles.
Text Laura Vogel
Image courtesy Sliding Pond Co. Productions