Holly Woodlawn is describing how she missed her own film premiere in New York: "You know why I couldn't be there? I was in jail." One of a triumvirate of transvestite performers that included Candy Darling and Jackie Curtis, Holly was cast in Trash, the 1970 Paul Morrissey-directed, Andy Warhol-produced cult film about an impotent junkie (Joe Dallesandro) who lives with a garbage-collecting transvestite (Woodlawn). Why did she go to jail? "I went into the UN building, and I impersonated a French diplomat's wife," she says.
Born Harold Danhakl in Puerto Rico, Holly eventually relocated to Miami, from where she made her famous journey to New York, immortalized in Lou Reed's song "Walk on the Wild Side" ("Holly came from Miami, F.L.A. / Hitch-hiked her way across the U.S.A.").
Holly will be the honored guest at the Houston Gay & Lesbian Film Festival's opening party, which features a special screening of Chuck Workman's 1991 documentary Superstar: The Life and Times of Andy Warhol, in which she appears. This year's festival also features documentaries including TransGeneration, a look inside the daily lives of transgender college students and Is It Really So Strange?, a film about the unusual Latino fandom surrounding Morrissey and the Smiths; as well as feature films including the lesbian comedy Girl Play, in which two actresses cast as lovers develop offstage feelings. This is just the beginning -- check the festival's Web site for a full schedule.
Although Warhol refused to bail Holly out of jail for the Trash premiere (pop artist Larry Rivers eventually sprung her), Holly claims she isn't bitter. "I'd hate to be rude, since the dead can't talk back," she says. "Andy was a genius. He gathered these amazing, incredible people. He was like the sun, and we were the planets. But it wasn't him so much. He basically had no personality -- oh, lightning's going to hit me. Andy, be kind. But it was the people he drew. He created the word superstar. Nowadays, anybody is a superstar. Andy hired us because, you know, Candy thought she was Kim Novak; Jackie Curtis was a toss-up between James Dean and Lucille Ball; and I, of course, was the cheap floozy from Puerto Rico. Andy gave us credibility and made people realize transvestites, they have talent! In the '60s in New York, if you put on mascara you could get arrested for female impersonation. That's how backwards New York was in the '60s. So if it wasn't for Paul and Andy, I wouldn't be where I am. And if it wasn't for Stonewall and drag queens, there would be no gay movement. These boys wouldn't be running around holding hands in public. Or getting married!"
Holly's acclaimed autobiography, A Lowlife in High Heels, is being made into a movie (with a soundtrack by Lou Reed, appropriately). She also continues to perform her cabaret act, and despite a recent knee injury, she'll be appearing in New York in October. "Just give me a chair, a microphone and a light, and that's all I need, honey -- and someone to say, 'Shut up, Holly.' It's very hard for me to be quiet. I go off on tangents." No, please, keep going, Holly. Get back to that French-diplomat's-wife story. "Oh, honey, I was 24 years old, what do you want?"