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Puerto Rican born Holly Woodlawn livened up Andy Warhol films like Trash and Women in Revolt with sultry charm and firecracker wit. I was privileged to know the saucy spitfire up close, so I was happy to speak at Holly's memorial at LaMama on Saturday, commemorating the legacy she left in the wake of her death last December.
Old-timers from the experimental theater days mixed with newer recruits possessed by the East Village spirit to commemorate the star immortalized in Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side" ("Holly came from Miami, FLA...") The ambience was poignant but upbeat, though longtime actress Ruby Lynn Reyner told me she'd said "Hi" to crotchety actor/director John Vaccaro and he irritably pushed her away. ("I think he's mad because I haven't called him in a few months," cooed Ruby.)
Wonderful films of Holly were shown, and the speakers kept taking over the stage to fill in the biographical blanks. Organizer Penny Arcade noted, "Holly was like a sister to me. Her wit, her smarts, everything she was made us want to be close to her."
Singer Elda Stiletto talked about catching a glimpse of Holly's privates back in the day and realizing, "Oh my God, my best girlfriend has a cock!" "But it didn't matter to me at all," she added. "We protected each other in the dangerous time of the '60s."
Actor Paul Ambrose similarly said, "I saw her cock. I told her, 'You're a man.' She said, 'You're fucking right!'" And Holly had balls too. Ambrose revealed that in 1970, she was arrested for impersonating the French Ambassador's wife and going to the United Nations Bank and cashing checks. "It did not work the second time," he pointed out. The incident happened around the time Trash came out, but Ambrose said the Warhol Factory didn't see fit to bail Holly out of jail for the premiere. "I don't think they realized what they had," he said.
Lauren Foster, known from The Real Housewives of Miami, gave a short yet lovely speech saying "Holly paved the way for so many trans people. She lived at a gender impasse that was indefinable. She was just Holly. She was glamour, glory, and gold." That's a lot more eloquent than "She had a cock," lol.
John Vaccaro was now at the podium, remembering working with Holly, but Ruby Lynn Reyner broke the mood by calling out from the audience, "You fired her! You pushed her down the stairs and you fired her!" That's a whole lot of pushing, according to her. Vaccaro couldn't hear, so he continued by saying, "It was a great time," completely unfazed. (I must admit I once caught Vaccaro badmouthing a play I wrote that he was appearing in, and maybe he was right, but still. He was sometimes the victim, though. Later, Reyner gave me another tidbit: "Vaccaro once caught Holly stealing his pot.")
Reyner then got up to talk into an actual microphone, declaring, "Holly not only had a cock, it was HUGE." But someone else reminisced about the time Holly went gleefully screaming at strangers, "Free pussy!" A person of contrasts, for sure. The Lavender Light Gospel Choir gloriously sang "Walk on the Wild Side"--and then we were at the halfway mark.
Oh, my speech?
"In the late 1970s, I ventured into a lesbian bar on the Upper East Side, and onstage was Holly Woodlawn, doing a campy, sexy act that was sort of like Maria Montez crossed with Dom DeLuise. I was impressed that Holly had managed to bridge the LGBT divide--lesbians were adoring Holly, who was loving them right back. It was one big femme-tastic lovefest, and that doesn't happen very often in this community.
"In 1982, I got to perform with Holly at a wonderful East Village dive called Club 57. Future stars Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman produced their version of The Sound of Music, called The Sound of Muzak, which was way more edgy than the TV production with Carrie Underwood years later. I played one of the Von Trapp kids, plus one of the nuns, Sister Sledge. Holly was hilarious as Maria von Trapp, singing 'My heels are alive with the sound of muzak' and also 'Cocaine that stays on my nose and false lashes/These are a few of my favorites, Miss Thing.' Even the poster was priceless--it showed Holly shouting 'Shut your von Trapps!'
"In 1985, at the club Limelight, I was the guest performer at Holly's 39th birthday party and sang a lilting version of 'Sixteen Candles' as she swanned around and struck those Lana Turner poses. She stole my thunder without singing or saying a word, the fucking bitch--but you could never resent Holly, just stand back in awe. And it's on YouTube, by the way, to haunt me for life.
"In the early '90s, Holly sent around a message that she was writing her memoirs, but she couldn't remember a single thing from her life, so could we all please help? I jogged my memory and dug up my clippings and Holly ended up jogging her own memory, and she came up with a fabulous book, A Low Life In High Heels. Madonna later optioned it for a film, but Holly told me she was thrilled it never happened because Madonna wanted to play Candy Darling and make the movie all about her.
"And last year, I presided over one of Holly's last appearances. I interviewed her onstage at Baruch College for a worshipful crowd, just like the one today. She was weak and cranky, but still rallied and sparkled for the occasion, ever the star. I asked Holly if she needed the drag to tap into her inner comedian and she bristled 'I don't need this.' She ripped her wig off and tossed it to the ground. I cracked, 'I'd love to see Barbara Walters do that.'
"There are so many other memories, but the important thing is I loved Holly for her spirit, her wit, and her insouciance. She once stole $100 from me, truth be told--let's not sugarcoat things; she had a criminal record--but I forgave her because she paid me back many times over with her glittery genius."
STEVIE FANS GO DELIRIOUS OVER DELARIA
Lea Delaria (L) & fiancee Cheslea Fairless (R); Photo by Gabriela Herman
I had another privileged moment this weekend, introducing Lea DeLaria's performance at the Night of 1000 Stevies, Johnny Dynell and Chi Chi Valenti's annual homage to the fringed, twirling dove lady. Recently, Stevie performed with the cast of School of Rock (in which the female principal character is obsessed with her), but though she's sent a video, she's never actually gone to the Stevies event, maybe afraid she'll be crushed to the ground by the hordes of worshipers. (Never happen; they admire with dignity.) There's so much Stevie in the air, though, that her presence is deeply felt via the lookalikes, aspirants, and witchy interpreters. At the height of the night, I brought out DeLaria, who told the crowd what she'd told me: "My fiancee is such a Stevie lover that this event is like a high holiday for her. To surprise her, I told her I was going to do a benefit tonight, so I couldn't go with her. She's been a total cunt to me ever since." She laughed, then pointed to her surprised fiancee in the audience--lovingly--and ripped into "Kind of Woman" from Bella Donna. Prince's doves are crying, but on this night, Stevie's flew high and proud.
AN AFTERNOON WITH AUDRA PLUS ONE
With six Tony awards and a baby on the way, Audra McDonald keeps on collecting great things. The Broadway icon (currently in Shuffle Along) racked up yet another honor when she was feted by the New Dramatists at a star-studded luncheon at the Marriott Marquis last week. Shuffle Along director George C. Wolfe described Audra's productive rehearsal process by saying, "I've worked with many crazy people who are really gifted--and really crazy--so it was such an honor to work with someone who's really gifted and really not crazy." Audra's Porgy and Bess costar Norm Lewis sang an astounding imitation of her, crooning "Summertime" in a piercing soprano, then switching to his male register for a socko finish. And Audra took the podium to say, "All I ever wanted to do was be on Broadway. I'm so fortunate to be able to join this community and feel like I have a whole new family." She also admitted that the event had "touched all my buttons today," then smilingly added, "I can't decide if it's the pregnancy hormones or not." If it's not one family, it's another.