Candy Darling, Warhol superstar, actress of both stage and screen, celebrity of the youthquaking 60s and glittering 70s, immortalized in the songs of Lou Reed and the Rolling Stones: her glamor, beauty, and humor inspire artists, musicians and writers to this day. It is hard to believe that Candy has been dead for over thirty years.

She was born a he: James Lawrence Slattery, on November 24, 1944, to Theresa Phelan, who worked as a bookkeeper at Manhattan’s glamorous Jockey Club, and Jim Slattery, an often violent alcoholic who squandered family finances at the racetrack. His very name inspired fear and hatred throughout Candy’s short life.

From the very beginning of his life, little Jimmy was mistaken for a female. His skin, so milky white and smooth, his large, liquid brown eyes framed with thick eyelashes -- there was just a way about Jimmy that could not be denied. He was judged "Most Beautiful Baby Girl" in a contest at Gertz Department Store. There was a slightly older half-brother, Warren, by his mother’s first marriage, a grandfather once billed in vaudeville as “the strongest man in Boston,” and Uncle Donald, who sent “campy” cards encouraging his nephew’s sense of comic timing.

With this cast of characters, one might imagine that Jimmy and his family had sprung from the mind of Candy’s later patron and admirer, Tennessee Williams; but instead, in the best American tradition, Candy Darling created herself, with the help of television’s Million Dollar Movie.

How TELEVISION changed a life

During the 1950s, Million Dollar Movie, with its theme music borrowed from Gone With the Wind (the perfect dirge for a dying Hollywood), entertained young Jimmy, who often played hooky from school in order to watch the same movie aired three times a day, seven days a week. Hollywood and its mystique fascinated him and transfigured the reality of a lonely boy living in a small, Cape-Cod bungalow in Massapequa Park, Long Island. The frequent airing of a Million Dollar Movie film enabled Jimmy to study carefully his favorite performers: makeup and costumes, the nuances of the actors, the contrived plots and dialogue. It wasn’t long before he became a champion mimic -- only Jimmy wasn’t doing the male leads. His forte was the women, and he could and would perform for anyone who would listen.

But while many adults were amused by little Jimmy performing Joan or Constance Bennett impersonations, his contemporaries were not, and soon the neighborhood looked on Jimmy as a bizarre local pariah.

Lana Turner's boldest fan

Local parents did not want their children playing with him and, thus ostracized, this unusual child was left to his own means of amusement, content to live in a Technicolor dream world, writing letters to his cousin Kathy Michaud in which they discussed key issues such as Kim Novak’s fan club and Lana Turner’s secret romance. Photoplay and Modern Screen were their favorite magazines, along with the publication Vice Squad.

As time went by, with his now-divorced mother working at the local telephone company during the days and his brother away in the service, Jimmy had ample time to begin experimenting with his mother’s makeup and clothing. He loved to draw luxurious colored bubble baths while playing tango and mambo music on the stereo and acting out scenes from Lana Turner's Biblical epic The Prodigal.

Teen delinquent

As a teenager, Jimmy, who wrote daily in his diary, learned about the mysteries of sex from a salesman in a local children’s shoe store. When Jimmy was 17, his mother, alerted by a local snoop, confronted Jimmy with the shattering news that he had been seen dressed “like a girl” entering a local gay bar called The Hayloft. Taking his mother gently by the hand, Jimmy asked her not to say a word, but to sit at the kitchen table and wait. Minutes passed. Many years later, Terry recalled that morning when she waited, upset and full of questions, listening to the kitchen clock ticking so loudly. Finally, the door opened, and her son came out transformed into a beautiful young woman. Candy Darling was born.

“I knew then,” Theresa told me, “that I couldn’t stop Jimmy. Candy was just too beautiful and talented.”

A new name was needed, and her first would be Hope Slattery, but it was quickly cast aside for Candy, because of her love of sweets.

Most likely inspired by the background of Tallulah Bankhead, she told strangers that the name Darling came from her father, the “senator”, who lived on a plantation down South surrounded by loving “darkies” who crooned to her at night. She told Andy Warhol that “... the Darling fortune is made from a chain of dry cleaning stores and we’re just cleaning up!” The facts of her humble beginnings she kept secret from everyone save her closest friends.

Young lovely SMUGGLED

Because Candy lived nearly an hour away from Manhattan in her “country house,” she made use of the Long Island Rail Road, leaving Massapequa Park late at night so nosy neighbors couldn’t spy and make her mother’s life more miserable than it already was. Because of harsh laws at the time, Candy still dressed like a male, wearing simple, dark clothing (a habit she kept for the rest of her life), but she eventually dyed her brown hair platinum blond. While the stations zipped by, she transformed herself using makeup. Occasionally she would notice another blonde Long Island resident on the train, an up-and-coming actress by the name of Joey Heatherton, but they never spoke, both immersed in their own worlds.


As time passed, Candy made friends through the “salon” of Seymour Levy on Bleecker Street in New York’s Greenwich Village. At night, she danced at a nearby after-hours club, The Tenth of Always, where she first saw Andy Warhol with Lou Reed. Candy's direct route to stardom would be mapped out by Jackie Curtis, “the world’s youngest playwright,” who wrote the part of Nola Noonan in the comedy Glamour, Glory and Gold for her, although the first diva to actually play the role was Melba LaRose, Jr. (1968). The play, an underground phenomenon, was written in one hour while 15-year-old Curtis, too, rode the L.I.R.R.

More assistance would come through Candy’s friend the poet/actor/Superstar Taylor Mead, who brought the man who Candy considered a mentor until the end, Andy Warhol, to see her perform in Jackie’s play. Other friends of the mid-’60s included playwright and pop-culture author Bob Heide, whose plays were performed at the now-legendary Caffe Cino, where then-unknown Harvey Keitel chewed the scenery. Clyde Meltzer, aka Taffy Terrific, aka Taffy Titz, was a performer who introduced her to the Brooklyn crowd. Soon things began moving fast, and she was swept up in the glamor of the Factory run by Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey where, on any given day, one could find personalities such as Truman Capote, Judy Garland, Jim Morrison, and a host of handsome and beautiful unknowns recruited from the ranks of delivery boys, socialites, waitresses, and college students.


Candy managed to create an interesting life, and she was loved by all, though she always had great concerns wondering where the next dollar was coming from and how to repair her teeth, which were in poor shape after years of eating sweets. Although Warhol doled out small sums of money to his performers, financially life was difficult and often depressing. But she had the security of the back room of Max’s Kansas City and a wondrous assortment of loyal friends such as Sam Green, Lorraine Newman, Lauren Hutton, Julie Newmar, Sylvia Miles, Tinkerbelle, Francesca Passalacqua, Lennie Barin, Pandora, Julie Baumgold, George Abagnalo, Cyrinda Foxe, Tom Eyen, Geraldine Smith, Francesco Scavullo, Tony Mansfield, Tula Inez Hanley, and yours truly. Lou Reed composed Candy Says for her, along with a memorable section of Walk on the Wild Side. Tennessee Williams wrote a part in his acclaimed 1972 play Small Craft Warnings for her. Still, true happiness remained distant; but she held onto her dreams of stardom, new teeth, a permanent place to live, and perhaps, one day, a man to love her.

 her bright career

From the mid-’60s to the early ‘70s, Candy kept active doing Off-Off Broadway theater and two films for Warhol/Morrissey: Flesh (1968) and Women in Revolt (1971), along with several independent films: Brand X and Silent Night/Bloody Night; a co-starring role as a gay-bashing victim in Some of my Best Friends Are...; a memorable scene in Klute with Jane Fonda, and Lady Liberty (AKA La Mortadella) with Sophia Loren. A quote Candy used many times was “I’ve had small parts in big pictures and big parts in small pictures.” In 1971 she went to Vienna, where she did two films for director Werner Schroeter, the first entitled The Death of Maria Malibran. Unfortunately, the second film was never released.

her secret thoughts

Candy kept a diary from the age of 14. She often confided in me that her writings were an integral part of her creative process, so during the course of the day, she committed her thoughts to inexpensive soft-covered notebooks, the type used by school children, writing about such things as recipes (she was an awful, but nevertheless hopeful, cook), drafts of letters or letters she had completed but decided for one reason or another not to send, makeup tips, addresses and telephone numbers of the famous and the unknown, lists of her favorite performers such as Joan Bennett, Kim Novak, Yvonne DeCarlo, and, of course, Lana Turner.

There are pages of speculation, words meant to be used as a rebuke or compliment, dialogue to be stored away for future use, perhaps for a play she was writing. She collected lists of one-liners and clever quips that she could trade with her friends Jackie Curtis or Holly Woodlawn. Candy’s journal reflected her thoughts of the moment on that given day. She liked to think of herself as an artist and would draw page after page of designs of dresses, eye make-up, funny faces, and cartoons.

Tragic beauty's funeral:  Hollywood salutes

Candy died of cancer at the age of 29, on March 21, 1974. Ms. Darling would never have imagined how many people would miss her. At the scene of her funeral, with hundreds of mourners present, a stretch limousine pulled up to Frank E. Campbell’s just as her flower-bedecked casket was being carried out, and a tinted window rolled down. Its passenger, Gloria Swanson, saluted the coffin with a gloved hand.

Over three decades has passed since the death of my friend, and in those years, the world has indeed changed. Candy would have been rendered distraught by the deaths of Andy Warhol, Tinkerbelle, Jackie Curtis, Tom Eyen, Charles Ludlam, Sharron Lyn Reed, Eugene Siefke, and so many others who made up the rich and varied weave of her world.

She would have been proud of the Harvey Milk School, an institution in Manhattan that educates and takes care of gay, lesbian and transgendered youth, something inconceivable in her lifetime. The onslaught of AIDS would have devastated her life as it has devastated ours.

Throughout the years I have attempted to keep my unforgettable friend alive. She died so young, and many of her dreams eluded her, but she lives on through her words, drawings, photographs, and records of her remarkable performances, of which her life was the most intriguing and exceptional of all.

-- Jeremiah Newton

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