Many fascinating characters have lived in or visited the greater Sharon Springs region over the centuries. We’ve written about some of them in earlier blogs. One celebrated performer of the 20th century now has a presence in Cherry Valley despite never having visited the village while alive – the actress and cultural icon Candy Darling.
Candy Darling was born as James Lawrence Slattery in 1944. His parents were Jim Slattery, described as an alcoholic and chronic racetrack gambler, and Theresa Phelan Slattery, for a time a bookkeeper at Manhattan’s Jockey Club. James grew up in Massapequa Park, Long Island. After his parents divorced, his father had little contact with him. His older half-brother by his mother’s first marriage – Warren – would come to shun him too.
Young James was fascinated with feminine themes and poured through movie magazines and watched old movies. On the Million Dollar Movie series, he could see the same film throughout the week and he studied the mannerisms of his favorite stars, among them Joan Bennett, Kim Novak, and Lana Turner. At school he was mocked by other kids for his girlish ways. When 17, he signed up for a course at a school of cosmetology. He also began frequenting a local gay bar, sometimes dressed as a girl. When his mother confronted him about cross-dressing, he left the room, soon reappearing in feminine attire. Although devastated at the time – a time when female impersonation was a criminal offense – his mother later said: “I knew then … that I couldn’t stop Jimmy. Candy was just too beautiful and talented.”
James began riding the Long Island Railroad into Manhattan and frequenting gay bars in Greenwich Village. He began taking hormone pills and eventually shots. Presenting himself to the world as a woman, he took the name of Hope Slattery, eventually settling on that of Candy Darling. Candy, a he who had remade himself as a she, also fabricated an upbringing involving a family plantation in the South. She had arrived.
In 1966, Candy met Jeremiah Newton from Flushing, Queens, and they became best friends and roommates. Her circle of friends came to include others in the art crowd: Seymour Levy, who ran an informal salon on Bleecker Street where downtown luminaries gathered: Andy Warhol, artist and filmmaker; Taylor Mead, poet and actor; Jackie Cutis, playwright and actor; and Holly Woodlawn, actor. Like Candy, Holly was a transgender performer. Jackie performed as both male and female. All three became part of Warhol’s regulars at his studio known as The Factory.
Candy’s first acting job – in 1967 – was in Jackie’s off-off-Broadway play Glamour, Glory and Gold. It featured a young Robert De Niro, who played multiple roles in his first stage performance. The next year, 1968, Warhol and director Paul Morrissey gave Candy a short scene in their movie Flesh, starring Joe Dallesandro and Geraldine Smith. Jackie Curtis also had a small part, sharing scenes with Candy. Candy’s acting talent shone through, and Warhol and Morrissey cast her in a leading role as a Long Island socialite in Women in Revolt, released in 1971. She appeared in a number of other independent movies. In 1971, Candy traveled to Vienna to act in two films by the director Werner Schroeter. Only the first, The Death of Maria Malibran, was released.
Candy was up for the leading role in the 1971 mainstream studio movie Myra Breckinridge – based on the satirical novel by Gore Vidal about a character who undergoes a sex-change operation – but, to her great disappointment, did not get the part, losing out to Raquel Welch. She did land bit parts in two mainstream movies released that same year, Klute starring her friend Jane Fonda, who got her the part, and Lady Liberty starring Sophia Loren. As Candy wistfully put it, “I’ve had small parts in big pictures and big parts in small pictures.” Among Candy’s stage performances during this same period were the character of Violet, a femme fatale in Tennessee Williams’ Small Craft Warnings – a part the playwright created specifically for her – and a character called “the White Whore,” based on Marilyn Monroe, in Tom Eyen’s The White Whore and the Bit Player. But Candy made little money for her work – Warhol paid his talent little – and she had to struggle to make ends meet.
How far Candy might have gone in her career and how much a transgender actor might have scandalized audiences with mainstream success are unknowns, because she was struck down by lymphoma in 1974 at the age of 29. Her funeral – at the famous Frank E. Campbell Funeral Chapel on the Upper East Side where Judy Garland had had her funeral – drew hundreds of people, an exotic crowd for the swanky neighborhood. She was eulogized as Candy Darling, her birth name not cited. Actress Julie Newmar (of Catwoman fame from the Batman TV series of the 1960s) delivered Candy’s eulogy.
Candy, born a male but competing with females for female roles, had remarkable success in her short career as an actress. Her charisma – her ardor along with her vulnerability – was inspirational to many. She was photographed by some of the leading photographers of her day, including Richard Avedon, David Bailey, Peter Beard, Cecil Beaton, Bob Gruen, Peter Hujar, Gerard Malanga, Robert Mapplethorpe, Anton Perich, Francesco Scavullo, and Bruce Weber. In addition to a verse about her in “Walk on the Wild Side” (along with verses about Jackie and Holly), Lou Reed wrote the earlier song “Candy Says” that he performed as part of the Velvet Underground. After a trip to New York City, the Rolling Stones wrote about Candy in their song “Citadel.” David Bowie attended her funeral.
Jeremiah Newton became the executor of Candy’s estate. As such he became the keeper of Candy’s writings and he co-edited the book My Face for the World to See: The Diaries, Letters, and Drawings of Candy Darling (Hardy Marks Publications, 1997). Jeremiah also became the keeper of Candy’s ashes. Along with his filmmaker friend James Rasin, he bought a house in Cherry Valley, a second home while he worked as the Film, Video and Television Industry Liaison of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. Over the years he had sought a permanent resting place for Candy’s ashes and decided on the Cherry Valley Cemetery, where a headstone reads “Candy Darling – JLS – 1944-1974 – Beloved Friend.”
James Rasin, based in both New York City and Cherry Valley, decided to tell Candy Darling’s story in film and wrote and directed the documentary Beautiful Darling. Jeremiah was one of the producers. The film includes footage of Candy and her friends, excerpts from Candy’s diaries (read by Chloe Sevigny), and interviews, past and recent. Jeremiah is interviewed extensively. Other people who settled in or near Cherry Valley, Anne Loretto and Jessica Marx, were co-producers of the film.
Beautiful Darling premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2010. It played over 30 major festivals around the world, including a U.S. premiere at the New Directors/New Films festival, presented jointly by the Museum of Modern Art and the Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York City. It won first prize for 2010 Best Documentary at the Chicago International Film Festival. It was released theatrically in 2011. The film was also invited for special screenings: at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.; the Hirshhorn Museum, part of the Smithsonian, also in Washington; The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh; the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis; and the British Film Institute in London.
Candy Darling’s story is a powerful one. As the promo for Beautiful Darling states, “Candy’s beauty, humor, and early death, the guts it took to live as a woman, the glamorous parties and the famous friends – most of all the strength of will she demonstrated in her remarkable act of self-creation – moved those who knew her in her lifetime and continue to gather fans today. It’s a story of wild, creative times and of audacious people, but one that has a theme inspiring for anyone, anywhere: whatever the obstacles, be true to yourself.”
In an earlier blog we write about the non-profit Committee on Poetry and its East Hill Farm, and through them Cherry Valley’s connection to Beat and post-Beat writers and artists. It was the Committee on Poetry “family tree” that led Jeremiah Newton and James Rasin to Cherry Valley. It would seem that Candy Darling would be happy with her final resting place in the multicultural and tolerant village.
Beautiful Darling is now available on Netflix streaming. Click here
It can also be purchased on DVD from Amazon or directly from the distributor, Corinth Releasing. Click here
The History Boys are
Chris Campbell has made his permanent home in Cherry Valley, NY. The Campbell family dates back to 1739 in this town, situated about eight miles from Sharon Springs. Some family members were captured by Tories and Iroquois allies in the Cherry Valley Massacre of 1778 during the American Revolution and taken to Canada, released two years later in Albany as part of a prisoner exchange. Chris is a rare book and map collector and has had a lifelong interest in history, especially relating to upstate New York and colonial land patents. He was the founder and first chairman of the Cherry Valley Planning Board and has worked as a surveyor and realtor as well as a researcher for the Otsego County map department. His hobbies include Ham radio.
Carl Waldman, also living in Cherry Valley, is a former archivist for the New York State Historical Association in Cooperstown. He is he author of a number of reference books published by Facts On File, including Atlas of the North American Indian and Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes, both originally published in the 1980s and both in their third editions. He is the co-author of Encyclopedia of Exploration (2005) and Encyclopedia of European Peoples (2006). Carl has also done screenwriting about Native Americans, including an episode of Miami Vice entitled “Indian Wars” and the Legend of Two-Path, a drama about the Native American side of Raleigh’s Lost Colony, shown at Festival Park on Roanoke Island in North Carolina. His hobbies include music and he works with young people in the Performance and Production Workshops at the Cherry Valley Old School.
If you wish to learn more about the greater Sharon Springs area, you can order our eBook The Sharon Springs Timeline: A Microcosm of American History with Dates Relating to a Remarkable Village and Neighboring Regions, from the 16th Century to Modern Times. It can be purchased for $4.99 from Alva Press at the following link: http://www.alvapressinc.com/alva_thesharonsrpingstimeline.html
… or it can be ordered from Amazon.com or Kobo.com.