In Memory of Holly Woodlawn

Jarry Lang

12/07/15

Transgender actress and self-proclaimed "Warhol superstar" Holly Woodlawn (neé Haroldo Santiago Franceschi Rodriguez Danhakl ) died yesterday in Los Angeles at the age of 69, due to complications with her battle against cancer. Woodlawn was not affiliated with Warhol when she told a magazine that she was one of his "superstars" in 1969, but the proclamation caught the attention of Paul Morrissey, one of Warhol's creative partners. Morrissey, who worked with Warhol on experimental films like Chelsea Girls and Flesh, cast Woodlawn in his production of Trash and she subsequently joined the ranks of the Factory alongside Jackie Curtis and Candy Darling. All three trasngender actresses starred in Morrissey's next Warhol-produced film, Women in Revolt.

But more than her Warhol affiliations, Lou Reed immortalised Woodlawn, by opening his 1972 hit "Walk on the Wildside" with the lyrics "Holly came from Miami, FLA." Though we are not sure how she settled upon the name Holly Woodlawn (her memoir contradicts itself, suggesting the inspiration was Breakfast at Tiffany's Holly Golightly and Woodlawn Cemetery, but then later on, a scene from I Love Lucy), we do know Warhol was fond enough of the actress to feature her in his own magazine. Here, we reprint an interview with Woodlawn from Interview's August 1975 issue.


GEORGE ABAGNALO: Holly, you're half Puerto Rican and half Jewish, right?

HOLLY WOODLAWN: German.

ABAGNALO: Oh.

WOODLAWN: GER-MAHN!

ABAGNALO: Tell me about Puerto Rico when you were young.

WOODLAWN: It's so far back I can hardly remember. It was nice. Lots of bananas and mangoes.

ABAGNALO: Why did you leave?

WOODLAWN: Why did I leave? Well, my parents took me away... My grandmother abducted me.

ABAGNALO: How old were you?

WOODLAWN: Six.

ABAGNALO: And then what was it like when you came here?

WOODLAWN: Well it was no better.

ABAGNALO: It wasn't?

WOODLAWN: Nooo, we lived in the Bronx!

ABAGNALO: Whose side were you on when you saw "West Side Story?" The Sharks or the Jets?

WOODLAWN: Who were the Sharks and who were the Jets? The Sharks were the Puerto Ricans?

ABAGNALO: Yes.

WOODLAWN: Oh, I was with Marie D'Antoni.

ABAGNALO: Holly...

WOODLAWN: Anita was hot... Chita Rivera.

ABAGNALO: Oh, you saw the play?

WOODLAWN: And the movie.

ABAGNALO: Is Chita Rivera Puerto Rican?

WOODLAWN: Yeah, sure... she's another mad woman.

ABAGNALO: Do you think Puerto Rico should get its independence?

WOODLAWN: I think Puerto Rico should get a new flag... hot pink.

ABAGNALO: Are you fond of Puerto Ricans now?

WOODLAWN: Oh, I love Puerto Rico! I adore it!

ABAGNALO: I remember once back in the '60s, we were at a friend's house, Artchie Strips, and he had been walking down the street and some kids had thrown water off a roof, onto him, and he was soaked and his tape recorder had been destroyed by the water, and I remember he said, "What kind of kids would do this?" and you said...

WOODLAWN: "Puerto Ricans!" Of course. I know my people. I have this whole Puerto Rican mad woman in my act called Chi Chi.

ABAGNALO: Oh, I saw you do her! She was in a department store.

WOODLAWN: No, that wasn't Chi Chi. She's new! She lives in a phone booth.

ABAGNALO: Well what's the one I saw in the department store? Wasn't that Chi Chi?

WOODLAWN: No, that was something else... No! That was Chi Chi, but she wasn't wearing her red gown with her tulle at the bottom and the sequins singing her mad songs. This is a whole new character! I'm going to have her now working in Cartier's selling diamonds. She's a low woman.

ABAGNALO: Well I liked the Chi Chi I saw.

WOODLAWN: Oh, you should see it now! I have this strapless red '50s gown with sequins and at the bottom there are all these cha-cha ruffles, and I sing a medley, "Chico, Chico, Chico" and my version of "Chatanooga Choo-Choo."

ABAGNALO: What did you do on Puerto Rican day?

WOODLAWN: When was it?

ABAGNALO: A few weeks ago. All these Puerto Rican kids were running around with Puerto Rican flags screaming "Puerto Rican! Puerto Rican!"

WOODLAWN: Well I saw this parade on TV with all the Latin countries marching up Fifth Avenue.

ABAGNALO: Do you like any other Puerto Rican stars, like Rita Moreno and Geraldo Rivera?

WOODLAWN: I love her! I adore her! Yes... You know, somebody romantically connected me with that Puerto Rican boxer, Choo-Choo something. Chi-Cho-Choo-Cha-Chi-Cho-something like that.

ABAGNALO: What? They said you were the couple of the year?

WOODLAWN: Is that what they said?

ABAGNALO: I don't know, it's your story!

WOODLAWN: Well I heard that somebody's been tangling me up with him... She goes on and on!

ABAGNALO: Do you have a set of Puerto Rican match luggage?

WOODLAWN: What's that?

ABAGNALO: Was your mother a typical Puerto Rican mother?

WOODLAWN: She was a typical... Puerto Rican mother. She talks a lot. She suffers a lot. All Puerto Rican mothers suffer a lot. She's always wringing her hanky.

ABAGNALO: What do your parents think of your success now?

WOODLAWN: They say it's lovely. When am I gonna support them?

ABAGNALO: Do you miss the '60s, Holly? Running around...

WOODLAWN: Not really... It was fun though.

ABAGNALO: You've come a long way...

WOODLAWN: Yeah. I'm at the Cartier's now.

ABAGNALO: Is there something missing now though?

WOODLAWN: Quite the contrary. I'm getting more out of the '70s than I got out of the '60s. All I got in the '60s was high! In the '70s I'm getting money and apartments and jobs! Works!

ABAGNALO: Do you like Puerto Rican men?

WOODLAWN: Um... Puerto Rican men?... Oh, they're too violent. They really are. Latins are always... They get so jealous... and they beat you up! I used to have the hair torn out of my head by them! Plus, they threaten you with knives and guns... I mean please! We shouldn't talk about them!

ABAGNALO: How's the nightclub act coming along? I hear you've been going out of town quite a lot.

WOODLAWN: Fabulous! St. Louis, Chicago, Philadelphia, Rochester, Boston, Harvard... Around the corner from Harvard. Fabulous! Colleges are so much fun! Especially the dorms!

ABAGNALO: Not California though.

WOODLAWN: No.

ABAGNALO: A friend of mine told me there are cults of people out there who love you. They have posters of you hanging in their bedrooms. Maybe you should get out there.

WOODLAWN: I want to go to Vegas! You'll see me coming down on a trapeze in a red sequined gown singing, "Chico, Chico, Chico!"

ABAGNALO: Weren't you just playing on Fire Island?

WOODLAWN: No, I went there to appear in the Pink Party!

ABAGNALO: Do you ever have fights with your piano player?

WOODLAWN No. Hardly ever... I know other people do...with orchestras even!

ABAGNALO: Do you like this better than the movies?

WOODLAWN: It's more exciting cause you have an audience there.

ABAGNALO: Have you ever had one of those audiences where you can tell that they don't want to like you... and you get nervous and you have to work extra hard to get them to like you...

WOODLAWN: Oh, I think like that all the time before I go on! I always imagine that they're out there with ice picks and hammers and forks... Tomato land!

ABAGNALO: How do you handle the hecklers?

WOODLAWN: You tell them to shut-up!

ABAGNALO: That's all? How about the drunks who come up and grab you?

WOODLAWN: Well, usually you're far enough away. Unless you're playing among the tables. I don't do that. I usually stay up on the stage where it's safe.

ABAGNALO: You're always all booked up, aren't you?

WOODLAWN: Yeah. I have a booking for next April.

ABAGNALO: Wow! It's that far in advance? Do you get held over a lot?

WOODLAWN: Jackie [Curtis] and I got held over at the New York Cultural Center. Usually I come back a lot. I've been at Reno Sweeny's five times. True Heller's twice. The Grand Finale twice.

ABAGNALO: That's right! You really make money for those places, I guess.

WOODLAWN: There's a new Puerto Rican around now: Yvonne Cole, she's got no eyebrows, and believe me, it's hard for a Puerto Rican not to have eyebrows.

ABAGNALO: Why is that?

WOODLAWN: They come two inches an eyebrow! My dear, I have to pull out my eyebrows for hours... She was a Miss Puerto Rico once... I'd love to play in Puerto Rico!

ABAGNALO: You get interviewed a lot, don't you Holly?

WOODLAWN: Oh, yeah. Some woman interviewed me the other day for some dirty magazine. Asking me about my love life, my sex life, what I wear in bed!

ABAGNALO: What kind of celebrities are you friends with now?

WOODLAWN: I'll tell you one thing—Halston gave me two gowns.

ABAGNALO: He gave you two gowns?

WOODLAWN: Yes. With 3-D sequins that blast off every color in the universe... Oh! I'm gonna be in Who's Who!

ABAGNALO: Who's Who in America?

WOODLAWN: Yeah. They sent me an application... Ultra woman! P.R. woman!

ABAGNALO: This act must be dominating your whole life now.

WOODLAWN: It does, sort of. Rehearsing every day is 90 percent of it. But the other day I went to the Beacon and saw The Wizard of Oz.

ABAGNALO: May I interview you again when we do a German issue?

WOODLAWN: Fabulous!


THIS INTERVIEW ORIGINALLY RAN IN THE AUGUST 1975 ISSUE OF INTERVIEW. 

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