Holly Woodlawn (October 26, 1946 – December 6, 2015) was a transgender Puerto Rican actress and Warhol superstar who appeared in his movies Trash (1970) and Women in Revolt (1972). She was probably best known as the Holly in Lou Reed's hit pop song "Walk on the Wild Side."
Woodlawn was born as Haroldo Santiago Franceschi Rodriguez Danhakl in Juana Díaz, Puerto Rico, to an American soldier of German descent, and Aminta Rodriguez, a native Puerto Rican, and grew up in Miami Beach, where she came out at a young age.
She adopted the name Holly from the heroine of Breakfast at Tiffany's, and in 1969 added the surname from a sign she saw on an episode of I Love Lucy. After changing her name she began to falsely tell people she was the heiress to Woodlawn Cemetery.
In 1962, at the age of fifteen, Woodlawn left Florida heading north. She recollects that "I hocked some jewelry and ... made it all the way to Georgia, where the money ran out and ... had to hitchhike the rest of the way" to New York City.
She recalled in her memoir, A Low Life in High Heels:
"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."
By 1969, she had considered sex reassignment surgery, but decided against it.
Woodlawn met Andy Warhol at the Factory, at a screening of Flesh (1968). Through him she met Jackie Curtis, who cast Woodlawn in her play Heaven Grand in Amber Orbit in the autumn of 1969.
In October, she originally was given a bit role in Trash, but so impressed director and screenwriter Paul Morrissey that he re-wrote it to give her a much larger role. In Trash, Joe Dallesandro plays a heroin addict on a quest to score who, ambivalent about his sexuality, has a transgender girlfriend played by Woodlawn. The pair contrasted the other with violent episodes of over-dose matched by improvisation and sulky rejection. Woodlawn ad libbed many of the lines herself, preferring creativity to strict adherence to the script. Woodlawn was paid $25 per day during filming, spending the last day's on heroin. In October 1970, she received word from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences that George Cukor, supported by others, was petitioning the Academy to nominate her for Best Actress for her work in Trash, however, nothing came of this.
In May 1971, Woodlawn replaced Candy Darling at the La MaMa theatre in a production of Vain Victory written and directed by Jackie Curtis. She was arrested and briefly incarcerated in Puerto Rico after being caught shoplifting. Woodlawn created a stir when she was arrested in New York City after impersonating the wife of the French Ambassador to the United Nations. When arrested, she was taken to the Women's House of Detention then transferred to a men's facility when her assigned sex at birth was discovered.
In 1972, director Robert Kaplan and cinematographer Paul Glickman concocted the idea of a movie whose premise would be using a transgender woman as the lead in a film without revealing the sex of the actress. Woodlawn played a young, starstruck girl hoping for success as an actress in New York City. The film, Scarecrow in a Garden of Cucumbers, was a low budget, 16mm, unsuccessful musical feature. The song "In The Very Last Row," written by Marshall Barer, was performed by Bette Midler.
In 1977, Woodlawn moved to San Francisco. She returned to New York later in the year, appearing on Geraldo Rivera's talk show, before being jailed again in 1978 for violating terms of probation. She was released on the appeal of politician Ethan Geto, who helped organize a benefit for her. By 1979, she had surrendered to a faltering career, cut her hair and moved back to her parents' home in Miami, while working as a busser at Benihana.
Back in New York in the mid-1980s, she became a featured singer in Gabriel Rotello's Downtown Dukes and Divas revues at clubs such as The Limelight and The Palladium, and a star of various musicals and revues mounted by the songwriting and producing team of Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman. In 1991 she published her autobiography, the Holly Woodlawn Story, "A Low Life in High Heels" with writer Jeff Copeland.
During the 1990s, Woodlawn achieved a modest film and theatrical comeback, making cameo appearances in productions such as Night Owl (1993) and Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss (1998). After Warhol's death, she was interviewed frequently on his life and influence. At the time of her death she resided in West Hollywood where in the late 90s she participated in riot grrrl shows with Revolution Rising, and recorded spoken words for songs with experimental recordings by the band Lucid Nation.
In 1999 she was in a controversial film about conjoined twins who live in a run down motel in a small town. Twin Falls Idaho was followed four years later by Milwaukee, Minnesota. More recently she acted in Transparent, a U.S. television series about a transgender father played by Jeffrey Tambor.
When Holly Woodlawn appeared in public she would dress as a dazzling alternative image of Jean Harlow, complete with wig and frosted lipstick. She fancied herself as a glamorous actress, saying:
"I was very happy when I gradually became a Warhol superstar. I felt like Elizabeth Taylor. Little did I realize that not only would there be no money, but that your star would flicker for two seconds and that was it - the drugs, the parties, it was fabulous."
In the opinion of Vincent Canby, "Holly Woodlawn, especially, is something to behold, a comic book Mother Courage who fancies herself as Marlene Dietrich but sounds more often like Phil Silvers."
Woodlawn began performing in cabaret shows in sold-out New York and Los Angeles performances in the early 2000s. She continued to travel with her cabaret show, most recently appearing in Manhattan's Laurie Beechman Theater in 2013.
Woodlawn fell seriously ill in June 2015, and was hospitalized at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California. Tests later revealed that she had lesions on her liver and brain. The lesions were later determined to be cancer. Woodlawn's health improved enough for her to be sent home, where she continued treatment and received in-home healthcare. She was later forced to vacate her West Hollywood, California, apartment due to flooding, and entered an assisted living facility in October.
Woodlawn died of brain and liver cancer in Los Angeles on December 6, 2015.
Holly Woodlawn is interred at Hollywood Forever Cemetery.
Woodlawn was included during the In-Memoriam segment at the 88th Academy Awards.
Woodlawn's estate founded the Holly Woodlawn Memorial Fund for Transgender Youth at the Los Angeles LGBT Center.
Lou Reed refers to Woodlawn in his song "Walk on the Wild Side", the opening verse of which describes her hitchhiking journey and gender transition:
Holly came from Miami, F-L-A
Hitchhiked her way across the USA
Plucked her eyebrows on the way
Shaved her legs and then he was a she
She says, "Hey, babe, take a walk on the wild side."
Year Film Role Notes
1970 Trash Holly a.k.a. "Andy Warhol's Trash"
1971 Women In Revolt Holly
Is There Sex After Death? Herself
1972 Scarecrow in a Garden of Cucumbers Eve Harrington / Rhett Butler
1973 Broken Goddess
1979 Tally Brown, New York Herself
1993 Night Owl Barfly
Madonna: Deeper and Deeper Music Video Herself
1995 The Matinee Idol Party Guest
Scathed Miss Antonia Curtis
1996 Phantom Pain
1998 Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss
Beverly Hills Hustlers
1999 Twin Falls Idaho Flamboyant at Party
2002 The Cockettes Herself Documentary
2003 Milwaukee, Minnesota Transvestite
2004 Superstar in a Housedress Herself Documentary
2006 Jack Smith and the Destruction of Atlantis Herself Documentary
Andy Warhol: A Documentary Film Herself Documentary
2007 Alibi Gracie
2009 Heaven Wants Out
2010 Beautiful Darling Herself Documentary
The Lie Cherry Post-production
2011 The Ghosts of Los Angeles Holly Short
2012 She Gone Rogue Aunt Holly Short
2013 Continental Herself Documentary
East of the Tar Pits Mattie a.k.a. "Gary LeGault's East of the Tar Pits"
Year Title Role Notes
1971 An American Family Herself 1 episode
2015 Transparent Herself 2 episodes
1. Piepenburg, Erik (July 28, 2011). "When They Play Women, It's Not Just an Act." The New York Times.
2. Young, Ezra (September 22, 2014). "They're Trans, They're Hispanic, and They've Changed This World." The Advocate.
3. Vider, Stephen (October 23, 2014). "Why Is an Obscure 1968 Documentary in the Opening Credits of Transparent?" Slate.
4. Patterson, John (2007-09-26). "Oh, the things I did!" The Guardian. London, UK.
5. Murphy, JJ (4 March 2012). The Black Hole of the Camera: The Films of Andy Warhol. University of California Press. p. 239. ISBN 9780520271876.
6. "Holly Woodlawn, Transgender Star of 1970s Underground Films, Dies at 69." The New York Times. 8 December 2015.
7. Krasinski, Jennifer (May 16, 2013). "Holly Woodlawn." Art Forum.
8. Abramovitch, Seth (July 6, 2015). "Transgender Icon Holly Woodlawn Fights for Life at Cedars-Sinai." The Hollywood Reporter.
9. Gregoire, Paul (November 12, 2015). "Warhol Superstar and Trans Pioneer Holly Woodlawn Remains Unstoppable, Despite Cancer." Vice.
10. Grimes, William (December 7, 2015). "Holly Woodlawn, Transgender Star of 1970s Underground Films, Dies at 69". The New York Times. ; "Holly Woodlawn, inspiration behind Lou Reed's Walk on the Wild Side, dies at 69." The Guardian. December 7, 2015.
11. Oscar In-Memoriam Holly Woodlawn accessed 9/2/2016
12. "Warhol Muse Holly Woodlawn Endows Fund for Trans Youth."
13. "Holly Woodlawn, Lou Reed's Wild Side inspiration, dies at 69." BBC News.
Colacello, Bob (August 1990). Holy Terror: Andy Warhol Close Up. HarperCollins. ISBN 978-0060164195.
County, Jayne; Smith, Rupert (1995). Man Enough to be a Woman. Serpent's Tail. ISBN 9781852423384.
Woodlawn, Holly; Copeland, Jeff (1991). The Holly Woodlawn Story: A Low Life in High Heels. St. Martin's Press. ISBN 978-0-312-06429-7.