The 70s Superstar Who Never Was

by:   |   May 9 2014


So I finally got around to checking out the Candy Darling documentary Beautiful Darling, and I’m so glad I did, because it was informative, strange, and haunting. I’ve been fascinated with Candy Darling for years, since she was one of the many “superstars” that hung out at Warhol’s Factory back in the ’70s. I knew a bit about her before I saw the film, but I never imagined how much I’d learn about her seemingly glamorous (but in reality, not all that glamorous) life.


Candy putting on her face

A few things in the film really jumped out at me. For one, in the mid-to-late 1960s, it was still illegal to cross-dress in public. And not just in theory—if the cops caught a man wearing makeup or a dress, he’d be thrown in jail. That reality of the time really enforced for me how hard and downright dangerous it was to be a drag queen or trans person in New York back then. Young trans women could only really get away with a bit of mascara and slim-leg pants, in order to feel feminine but not give themselves away. So obviously, Candy’s public, unapologetic life as a woman was groundbreaking.


Another takeaway from this doc is the topic of passing. The game-changing documentary Paris Is Burning addressed the issue of passing quite a bit: how it’s not a matter of “tricking “someone into believing something about your gender or race, but rather about being believable in whatever it is you want or believe yourself to be. We all experience and experiment with passing on some level, in playing a role in public. An executive career gal? Act like it and present yourself properly, and most likely, everyone will believe you are. Although it’s a far cry from issues of gender identity, I often get up and ask myself who I want to be today, and dress accordingly. I wear the mask of my appearance, like we all do. Convincing the world you are who you present yourself to be—whether or not you’ve got the “credentials” to back up that lifestyle—is just a way of tweaking reality.

But Candy Darling was the ultimate success in passing—not just as a cisgender woman but as a movie star and celebrity. Most of her close friends and peers probably didn’t know how much she struggled financially and professionally. The reality of her life, which included poverty & prostitution, was very different from the image she projected to the world.

Although Candy Darling’s life was cut short tragically at the age of 29, by a tumor believed to be related to all of her hormone treatments, she left a significant impression; Lou Reed famously immortalized her in “Take a Walk on the Wild Side” (Candy was the subject of the song). Her bravery in a time of fear, homophobia, and ignorance made her a true trailblazer.


Candy on her deathbed 1974

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