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Holly came from Miami F.L.A.
Hitchhiked her way across the U.S.A.
Plucked her eyebrows on the way
Shaved her legs and then he was a she . . .
This is the first verse of Lou Reed’s iconic “Walk on the Wild Side,” and the Holly of note is the actor and author Holly Woodlawn, who passed away Sunday in Los Angeles at the age of 69.
Holly, born Haroldo Santiago Franceschi Rodriguez Danhakl in Puerto Rico in 1946, took her nom de guerre from Breakfast at Tiffany’s Holly Golightly. (Not that this was the Capote character’s real name, either—that was Lulamae Barnes.) Woodlawn’s second name, she sometimes claimed, was inspired by a subway sign she saw on I Love Lucy. She liked to tell people she was related to the family that owned Woodlawn Cemetery.
Woodlawn was a transgender heroine at a time when such people were reviled, scorned, abused, and much worse. There was no vocabulary of acceptance, or even tolerance, in the early 1960s, when she drifted to New York City as a young teenager—no Caitlyn Jenner, no Oscar winners starring in films like The Danish Girl, no Transparent garnering Emmys. It is impossible to describe the courage, the audacity, it took to live openly and freely in those days, when most people assumed you were sick, sad, and maybe dangerous.
Woodlawn was not shy in admitting that while others her age were doing their math homework, she was haunting the streets, turning tricks to stay alive. “The boys at the baths loved me,” she recalled of that crazy time. “Of course, they were all drunk and high and would’ve loved a French poodle barking out ‘Jingle Bells’!”
When she did find a spiritual home in Manhattan, it was as a member of Warhol’s Factory family. She landed a small role as the partner of the heroin-addled Joe Dallesandro in Trash, a performance so impressive that it was rumored there was a petition, supported by George Cukor, to have her nominated for an Academy Award.
She acted in Warhol’s Women in Revolt, in other underground films, and on the off-off-Broadway stage; she worked as a coach to Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie. But she was also intermittently arrested for various petty crimes. In New York City, she was first incarcerated at the Women’s House of Detention, then transferred to a men’s prison.
Woodlawn bounced between Miami and the East and West Coasts. By the 1990s back, performing in films and later in cabarets. In 1991, she authored A Low Life in High Heels: The Holly Woodlawn Story.