Beautiful Darling is a new documentary about the late James Lawrence Slattery, better known to the world as the Andy Warhol superstar Candy Darling.
The most interesting aspect of Beautiful Darling is the life story of Jeremiah Newton. As a young gay man, Newton was in awe of Candy and was alternately her disciple, savior, best friend, and roommate. A much older man in the film, as well as one of its producers, Newton is still living in Candy’s shadow. We spoke to him on the phone last week about Candy and mortality.
Candy only lived to the age of 29, but the Factory regular packed a lot into those years, starring in Flesh (1968) and Women in Revolt (1971), working with Tennessee Williams, and inspiring a line in Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side.” She even got photographer Peter Hujar to shoot her on her deathbed in 1974.
A large part of the film is about your burying Candy’s ashes. How and why did you come to that decision recently?
I’ve had them for probably 20 years. My mom passed away in 1989, and I had her ashes, too. I noticed when I purchased a house in upstate New York there was a lovely little cemetery in the town where people were buried from the Revolutionary and Civil wars, a very pretty site. And I asked how much it would cost and it was very reasonable. So I decided this was the time to do it.
I’m also getting older, and the same thing is going to happen to me. I didn’t know if people would respect my wishes. So I took care of it for myself already.
Did you decide this before shooting began, or during shooting?
It was something that had to be done. I probably made the decision during the film. I wasn’t in a rush, but then we decided to do it as part of the film.
The director, James Rasin, said last week that you were reluctant to be in the film.
Yes, I was reluctant. I didn’t think people would be that interested in what I had to say about my own life. But I mean, he changed my mind somewhat.
I don’t want to give it away, it’s a great scene — but there is something that happens regarding the burial near the end that you’re not happy about. Is it resolved? I couldn’t tell watching it.
They didn’t resolve it. The town clerk came to my house and said I was being unreasonable and wouldn’t allow my request. It was so stupid. When people are bureaucrats, they want to do things their way and don’t want to do anything that varies from their norm. I was angry. But it was done.
You interview a lot of people with audiotape around the Factory the years after she’s gone, but never Warhol himself. Why?
I did interview Andy, on audiotape. But the problem is, he was always moving around, so the sound quality was poor, and his speaking voice would go out of focus.
He was difficult. He liked talking more about what he was doing, and his purchases. He had boxes and boxes of stuff that he bought. He was more interested in showing me what he had purchased than talking about the situation with Candy. I think in retrospect he was uncomfortable talking about her. He felt that she’d gotten sick and died, and maybe he wished he’d done more for her. He felt guilty, I think. And he threw himself into purchasing stuff. He was a real champion of buying stuff.
What did he think of her after her death?
We rarely talked about Candy. I would see him, and he’d avoid it. The last time I saw him was a month before he died. I was on my lunch break, working for the Wall Street Journal in Midtown, and I’d gone into a silver store. There were silver buttons, which I wanted for my blazer, and I’d gone in there asking how much the buttons were, and they were reasonable — $25, I think.
So I was going to buy them, and another salesman came over and took them out of my hand and said, “Mr. Warhol is interested in these buttons.” And I said, “I don’t care who is interested in them, I’m buying them,” and [Warhol] was standing right next to me! And he said, “Oh, Jeremiah, I need them. You’re so cruel to me. Let me have the buttons.”
The salesman said, “Mr. Warhol is a good customer,” and I said I didn’t care, I had them first and bought them, and then Andy followed me into the street and said, “You’re so cruel! Why don’t you let me have those buttons? They’re so great!” and I told him, “They’re not even old! And you could buy the whole world!” He only wanted them because I had them first. I finally said, “Look, I’ll give you these buttons some day.” I felt he was very angry, because he spent a lot of money at that store and thought he should have them.
Someday when I go back to Pittsburgh, I am going to leave them on his grave. I will keep my word that way.
The notion of fame comes up a lot during the film. Fran Lebowitz talks a lot in the film about how dangerous and illegal it was to be in drag or to be a transgender person when Candy was alive. How do you think she would have fared today — especially with outlets like Facebook and Twitter?
It’s hard to surmise what she would have thought. She died in a different era. She knew it was hard to live. In the life she lived, she was envious that I [a gay man] was able to be more free with myself. She was unable to have relationships, because she was afraid. She felt if she had met a man, he would find out who she was and he would hurt her. And she didn’t want a gay man, because gay men really wanted other men.
Things have changed a lot for transgendered people. I went to a party during Pride last year on Fifth Avenue, and there were transgender women there with boyfriends. And some were handsome straight guys, who were policemen and firemen! Some were even married and had children and families. This is the kind of man Candy wanted to have: these guys who were regular guys, who worked hard and liked what they liked, and that was that. If Candy had lived, she would have been 70 or pushing 70 now. And it would have been a totally different world for her. She might have seen it was a place where someone like her could deal with her own reality. It was hard for her to deal with her own reality. She had a lot of problems. But she was a remarkable person, anyway.
Beautiful Darling is currently playing at the IFC Theater.