Friday 24 November 2017

Obituary: Holly Woodlawn

Transgender actress who starred in Andy Warhol's 'Trash'

Glamorous: Holly Woodlawn
Glamorous: Holly Woodlawn

Holly Woodlawn, who died on Sunday aged 69, was a transgender actress and the star of Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey's underground movie Trash (1970); she was probably better known, however, as the Holly who "shaved her legs and then he was a she" in Lou Reed's hit song Walk on the Wild Side (1972).

A cult favourite among Warhol fans, Trash was - like all Warhol and Morrissey's screen collaborations - eccentric, visionary and made on a shoestring. As with Lonesome Cowboys and Flesh (both 1968), the film featured Warhol's regular menagerie of "superstars", the collection of artists, socialites and hedonists who hung out at the Factory, Warhol's studio headquarters, and among whom Holly Woodlawn had inveigled herself in the late 1960s.

Trash is a day in the life of Joe (played by Joe Dallesandro), a heroin addict who, on his quest to score more drugs, is hampered and helped by his sexually frustrated on-off girlfriend (Holly Woodlawn), an auburn-haired mother-figure with an endearing over-bite. Holly Woodlawn was initially given only a line of dialogue, but after seeing the early rushes of Trash, Morrisey re-wrote her part, giving her leading lady status.

The film, a somewhat grubby and depressing odyssey, much of which centred on Dallesandro's drug-induced impotence, was considerably enhanced by Holly Woodlawn's sparky improvisation and sulky vulnerability. "I was strong, I can act and I did carry the picture," she later recalled.

She was paid $25 a day during filming and spent her last day's pay cheque on heroin. After Trash was released, the Oscar-winning film director George Cukor was so impressed with her performance that he embarked on a campaign to get her an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. His efforts, however, came to nothing.

Holly Woodlawn was born Haroldo Santiago Franceschi Rodriguez Danhakl in Juana Diaz, Puerto Rico, on October 26, 1946 to a German-American father and a Puerto Rican mother.

At the age of 15, Haroldo became Holly (named after Audrey Hepburn's character in Breakfast at Tiffany's) later adding the surname Woodlawn, and moved to Georgia. There, she took a series of jobs, that lasted, in some cases, less than an hour.

She then decided to hitchhike across America to New York, the journey that later inspired the first verse of Lou Reed's Walk on the Wild Side.

"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," she recalled in her memoir A Low Life in High Heels (1992).

She first met Warhol in 1968 at a party celebrating the launch of Flesh, and after Trash she had a starring role in Morrissey and Warhol's Women in Revolt (1971) with Candy Darling.

Her other screen credits include Twin Falls Idaho (about conjoined twins who live in a run-down motel in small-town America, 1999) and Milwaukee, Minnesota (2003). She also made regular appearances on the cabaret circuit.

Recently she played Vivian in two episodes of the television drama series Transparent about a family with a transgender father, played by Jeffrey Tambor.

Glamorous almost to the end, Holly Woodlawn did not like to appear in public without a dazzling Jean Harlow-style wig and a canyon of frosted lipstick.

On the day she died she was visited in hospital by Dallesandro, her co-star in Trash and, like Holly Woodlawn, one of the last surviving "superstars".

"I was very happy when I gradually became a Warhol superstar," she recalled in 2007. "I felt like Elizabeth Taylor. Little did I realise that not only would there be no money, but that your star would flicker for two seconds and that was it. But it was worth it - the drugs, the parties, it was fabulous."

© Telegraph

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