Holly came from Miami F.L.A.
Hitch-hiked her way across the U.S.A.
Plucked her eyebrows on the way
Shaved her legs and then he was a she
She said, hey babe, take a walk on the wild side,
Said, hey honey, take a walk on the wild side.
So go the lyrics to Lou Reed’s famous song, “Walk on the Wild Side”. The Holly here was Holly Woodlawn, who died Sunday, December 6th, in Los Angeles at 69. Born Haroldo Santiago Franceshi Rodriguez Danhakl (laterJuana Diaz), Puerto Rico in 1946 to a German father and Puerto Rican mother, she moved to Florida with her parents, where she grew up. She took the name Holly Woodlawn from a composite of the heroine–Audrey Hepburn– of Breakfast at Tiffany‘s and a character in I Love Lucy. She later told people she was the heiress to the Woodlawn Cemetery.
<!-- missing image http://blogs.kcrw.com/music/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/193223077d51353649f4b550fd0328da-211x300.jpg -->She was open about her sexuality, and came out of the closet early, though she never got sex reassignment surgery. In 1962, at the age of 16, she ran away from home and hitchhiked to New York City, headed for Andy Warhol’s Factory, immersing herself in the Warhol crowd and Studio 54 scene. She was the transgender star of Andy Warhol’s films such as Trash. She partied hard at Studio 54, surviving five years of boozing, cocaine, amphetamines and other excesses with the ‘in’ crowd there: Mick Jagger, Warhol, Diane von Furstenburg, Lou Reed, and others. Drag queens were welcome in this accepting milieu long before the term LGBT was coined.
Later she straightened out her life, wrote an autobiography, portrayed Joan Crawford in a film, worked as a fashion designer and spoke out in favor of lifestyle moderation. But she never regretted her five crazy stoned-out years at Studio 54. Things were tougher for transgender people back then, but she fitted neatly into the crazy, bohemian Warhol and Studio 54 scene.
Holly’s death made me remember a listener to my early shows on KCRW. One thing that makes KCRW different from other radio stations is that somebody always picks up the phone. When I was first on the air in 1977 and 1978, doing the graveyard shift, 1-6 a.m., I got calls from lonely people who would call KCRW just to have somebody to talk to. There was the blind woman who called asking what time it was. There was once somebody threatening suicide who needed an ear.
Then there was Terry. Terry was trying to become Theresa, and it wasn’t easy for her. She felt misunderstood, lonely, and awkward. She was a woman in a man’s body. She called fairly regularly, and I tried to be supportive. Public attitudes toward LGBT issues have thankfully changed since then, and I sometimes wonder what happened to Theresa. I hope she has found the acceptance that Holly Woodlawn got. And hopefully she is happy and well at a time where Caitlin Jenner is a superstar and The Danish Girl is up for Academy Awards, and when society has become more accepting of once-controversial subjects like gender reassignment and the LGBT community.
Finally, after writing this draft, I found a feature article on the front page of yesterday’s New York Times (“A Whole New Being”) about gender reassignment surgery, which is now covered by one-third of Fortune 500 companies, as well as Medicare and Medicaid. Social attitudes have come a long way from Theresa and Holly and what they faced back in the 1970’s.