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Candy Darling: A Superstar in Her Own Right

Candy Darling and Andy Warhol in 1969. Photo courtesy of WNYC.

Candy Darling (She/Her, November 24, 1944 — March 21, 1974) was a transgender icon and muse for well-known artists and musicians like Andy Warhol and The Velvet Underground. Darling was an influential Downtown character throughout the 1960s, often interacting with its creative scene through Seymour Levy’s “Salon” on Bleecker Street. She was one of Andy Warhol’s “superstars,” a proto-reality clique of personalities that both appeared in the artist’s work and accompanied him in his social life. Although in the 1960s and ’70s Candy would be identified as one of the Village’s most well-known drag performers, she was rarely seen presenting male and would always refer to herself with “she” and “her” pronouns, leading historians to believe that she would likely have preferred today to be identified as a Transgender woman.

Candy, assigned male at birth, spent her early years in Forest Hills, Queens, and Massapequa, Long Island. As a child, she became fascinated with Hollywood glamour and impersonating her favorite celebrities, giving her an outlet to explore the feminie side of her identity. She started cross-dressing publically in her late teens, frequently visiting a local gay-bar called the Hayloft. After Darling’s mother discovered her feminine presentation, she confronted Darling. However, she refused to make her stop, exclaiming that she “couldn’t stop [her because] Candy was just too beautiful and talented.” However, Darling was relentlessly bullied throughout her youth, leading her to escape Long Island for the more queer-friendly Greenwich Village at any chance she could get.

For a time, Candy lived in an apartment behind Caffe Cino at 31 Cornelia street, and, after meeting her life partner Jeremiah Newton in 1966, lived in various apartments in Brooklyn and Greenwich Village. It was in the Village that Candy would meet most of her lifetime friends and connections to the art world. Darling first met Andy Warhol in 1967 at Bastiano’s Cellar Studio on Waverly Place, where she was performing in a play called Glamour, Glory, and Gold that was written and directed by her friend Jackie Curtis. Warhol became enraptured with Darling’s beauty and cast her in a short comedic scene in his 1968 art film Flesh. Warhol thought Candy was a “big hit in Flesh.” Riding this wave of success, she was cast in Warhol film partner/protege Paul Morrissey’s 1972 film Women in Revolt, in which Candy portrays a Long Island Socialite drawn into a women’s liberation group called P.I.G.s (Politically Involved Girls). She also starred in the original production of Tennessee Williams‘ 1972 play Small Craft Warning and the revival of Tom Eyen’s 1964 bi-lingual production The White Whore and the Bit Player, both of which debuted in the East Village’s LaMaMa Experiemental Theatre Club.

Candy Darling, by Fred McDarrah
Candy Darling posing for Fred McDarrah, 1969. Used by permission of the Estate of Fred W. McDarrah.

Candy’s involvement in art films and theatrical productions in the Village launched her stardom into mainstream consciousness. Warhol commented that “as late as ‘67 drag queens still weren’t accepted in mainstream circles. They were still hanging around where they’d always hung around – on the fringes… sticking to their own circles.” Candy redirected this trend to encourage the inclusion of trans and trans-femme personalities in the entertainment industry, and, towards the end of her life, she starred in films with the likes of Jane Fonda and Sophia Loren. However, like most stars that shine too bright, her life was brought to an abrupt end in 1974 when she contracted lymphoma and unfortunately passed at Columbus Hospital at the age of 29.

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