Before Pride Month calls it quits for another year, there are some ladies I'd like you to meet:
And now a regular fella:
Commercial artist-turned-pop artist Andy Warhol publicly may not have had much to say about LGBTQ rights or the LGBTQ movement, but he did have a fair number of LGBTQ people on his payroll, including the three transgender women pictured above. Keep in mind that "transgender" is an umbrella term, and the three represent different degrees of transgender. For instant, Jackie Curtis never completely abandoned his male identity and seemed to be more like the queens you see on RuPaul's Drag Race, someone to whom drag was a performing art rather than a lifestyle. Candy Darling, on the other hand, really did want to be a girl, took hormone shots to that end, and wound up with a nice pair of modest-sized breasts. Holly Woodlawn fell in-between Jackie and Candy, identifying and living her life as a woman from her 20s on, but never medically transitioning (which, after all, can be pricey and makes one a perpetual patient.)
So, under what capacity did these woman work for Warhol? In addition to being a painter, Andy was also a filmmaker, a very experimental filmmaker, whose censor-free, 16mm movies played in unlicensed basement theaters in bohemian enclaves all across America (though these days many of his movies are readily available on YouTube, which saves you from having to knock on a door three times and say "Lou Reed sent me.") He needed actresses for such movies, and more often than not relied on assigned-from-birth females such as Edie Sedgewick and Sally Kirkland. However, Jackie Curtis, who in addition to acting in drag also wrote, directed, and produced the off-off-off-Broadway plays that he/she acted in drag in, came to Warhol's attention. She in turn introduced him to Candy, and both appeared in the taboo-breaking Flesh (which, though produced by Warhol, was actually directed by Paul Morrisey), about a street hustler played by Joe Dallesandro. As for Holly, who up to that point had turned tricks to make a living, she was in the audience of the movie's world premiere, which took place in Warhol's own studio, dubbed "The Factory". The two met, I guess hit it off, and Warhol cast her in Morrisey's follow-up Trash. Candy, Holly, and Jackie soon were members of a larger group known as "Warhol's superstars", who were really just people that Andy took a liking to. Obviously, they were on the outer edges of the entertainment industry, but they did get their 15 minutes of fame. After all, Andy Warhol had been a household name almost as soon as the paint dried on his first Campbell's soup can, and remained a household name for the rest of his life, and is still a household name 34 years after his death. So if you were in his circle, you got noticed. Candy, Holly, and Jackie all had a flirting relationship with the mainstream media. Candy got the farthest, and might have made it there had she not died at age 30 in 1974 of lymphoma. At least she seemed adept at making friends in Hollywood. Jane Fonda got her a cameo in Klute, and both Julie Newmar and Gloria Swanson attended her funeral. As marginal as Candy's, Holly's, and Jackie's celebrity may have been, they had a higher degree of visibility than any other transgender person alive back then, save Christine Jorgensen, who made headlines some 20 years earlier.
Not everybody who worked for Warhol was a superstar. There were freelancers. In 1974, a Turin-based art dealer by the name of Luciano Anselmino commissioned from Warhol a series of silk-screen photographs of transgender women. But Anselmino didn't wanted the glamorous queens who hung around the Factory, instead favoring people who were from somewhere grittier: the streets. Actually, Candy, Holly, and Jackie had more or less walked the gritty streets before meeting Warhol, but by the early '70s, they had become too chic to satisfy Anselmino's demands. So Warhol sent his assistants to the epicenter of queer Manhattan, Christopher Street in Greenwich Village, where they convinced some of the more proletarian drag queens found there to come to the Factory for a sitting, including...
...this now-legendary character. When the series, titled Ladies and Gentlemen, made its debut, Warhol didn't bother attaching names to any of these pictures--perhaps he had forgotten them--but we know now that the lady pictured above is none other than LGBTQ icon Marsha P. Johnson, who was present at the Stonewall Uprising, helped found one of the first transgender advocacy groups, STAR (Street Transvestites Action Revolutionaries), and, despite founding member Larry Kramer's misgivings about drag queens, took part in ACT-UP protests in the late 1980s-early 1990s. Since her mysterious death in 1992, Marsha has had a state park in the New York City borough of Brooklyn named after her, and has been the subject of paintings and sculptures and theatrical productions (this blog even featured her in a fictional piece.) Yet for all of that she spent much of her life in destitution, and probably sorely needed the $50 Warhol paid to her to model for him.
As I said earlier, once Andy Warhol became famous, he stayed famous. Yet past his 1960s Pop Art heyday, he was probably less famous for his paintings and sculptures and photographs and more famous for his active social life, making him the quite-willing subject of other people's photographs. This obsession with celebrity, both his own and others, reinforced by a gossip-laden "diary" that was published posthumously (it was in fact a daily series of interviews with a friend), has led some in recent years to conclude that Warhol was every bit as superficial as the commercial trademarks that he so meticulously committed to canvas. Then there are those who would counter that Warhol was the very antithesis of superficiality, that his was an outsiders view of mainstream America, and that allowed him to codify the brand names and pop culture figures that were beginning to define the modern era. The same time he did this, he did his best to turn outsiders like himself into not just insiders but something better than insiders, superstars, beating the mainstream at its own game. That's what I think Warhol was all about. Except, to be honest, I don't know all that much about art other than what I like, as the saying goes, and so can't really back up that thought. What I do know is that for all his People magazine-bar hopping, Andy Warhol remained a working artist for the rest of his days. And as with many a working artist, there was the inevitable...