Darling Candy, Where Were You the Night Jean Harlow Died?
May 18, 1972
We were seen around New York, Candy Darling and me, for a week or two we had a little whirl, a movie star and reporter in Alan Ladd trenchcoats sipping Singapore Slings at Daly’s Dandelion, watching home movies at Taylor Mead’s apartment — Candy all milkskin white curled up in a bed, bored until her face appeared on the sheetscreen, last summer at Fire Island, the arrival of the legend in black dress and pieplate sunglasses, “stop the camera, Taylor, can you run it in slow motion” — at Holly’s opening, Max’s Kansas City, the Pink Teacup, Francesco Scavullo’s Ash Wednesday party, the Cine Malibu with Candy’s cinema voice honeypouring from the screen, “I’m only a woman. What have I to offer? A glittering facade?” A glittering facade.
When the milkskin darling was a little darling, he had other names, a male first name and a surname that was Irish. He was very close to his mother and he loved going to the movies.
At the age of nine, his life took on a direction. He saw “The Prodigal.” Lana Turner, the high priestess, blonde and pure, clad in scarlet, stockinged in gold, gilded, glittering, beautiful beyond belief. Men kissed Lana’s hand and died for her, and Lana, in true Metro tradition, leapt to her death from a 1000-foot pedestal into a ring of fire. Then handmaidens gasped and the pagan drums boomed. This is how life should be. The young boy from Forest Hills had to have it for himself. He became Candy Darling.
Alone in the house, Candy would conjure up a Lana scene. She’d run a lukewarm bath and drop blue food coloring into the water. She’d move the potted palm from the family living room to a spot next to the hamper, perfume the room and drag her mother’s ocelot coat out of the closet, a royal bath carpet for ruby toenails to tread on. She’d play Yma Sumac music and recite Lana lines. “When they see me, they will stop this madness.” Then she’d drape herself in a towel, held together by mama’s rhinestone broach, and slink through the house, a regal empress, her French poodle a movie tiger by her side.
Candy Darling, CANDY DARLING, she wrote in her diary. The name is magic.
Sixteen, and already ensconced in a cloak of sexual ambiguity, she left home to live with her uncle in Greenwich Village, spending little time at the apartment, freewheeling it on Christopher Street where sex is neither one thing or another but a collage. Candy’s collage was an unorthodox mixture accepted by lesbians, scorned by the middle-ground “unsure of status” male homosexual, lusted after by straight men and macho gay, envied and feared by the plain-jane male transvestites with illusions of personal grandeur. Candy didn’t give a damn about her rivals. She stood aloof, a glacier in a sea of open-mouthed whales, stunning, a genuine un-genuine woman.
One sunny summer day, her uncle, in a jealous rage, told her never to darken his doorstep again. Candy then began what was to be a series of affairs with men who abused her, humiliated her, raped her, made love to her, but seldom loved her. Love became internalized. With the help of Photoplay and Silver Screen and the mirror on the wall, Candy began a romance with herself, a love affair with an image that was a reality — and also a commodity. Candy Darling, the supreme package, blonde, glittering, gilded, beautiful beyond belief, high priestess, eternal virgin on the brink of rape, queen of films, queen of the universe, the last laugh at them all.
The commodity was picked up by Andy Warhol about five years ago. Candy was playing an actress in Tom Eyen’s “Give My Regards to Off-Off Broadway.” Andy saw the show and put Candy in “Flesh.” The impression was POW. She became a Warhol darling, floating around Andy’s New York, the galleries, the right parties, the wrong parties, ruby lips and platinum hair at society bashes. Candy, shy and demure, with Marisa Berenson and the Brenda Fraziers and Cobina Wright, Jrs., of the ’70s, at movie premieres exchanging lipstick and boyfriend information in powder rooms with best friend Sylvia Miles, then hitting Christopher Street and the dives with sycophants, often dragging herself home to mama Teresa “Darling’s” modest home in Massapequa Park for an hour or two of sleep — and the dreams.
The dreams. Candy remembers them and writes them down in her notebook. One night, around New York, we talked dreams, Candy and me. Here’s one she dreamt after attending a George Plimpton party with Gerard Malanga, whom she was in love with at the time.
“I was going to the opening of a night club,” said Candy from a divan in an empty room, a flashback look seeping from widow’s peak to jaw, as though a camera were panning in for a close-up. “It was the biggest club in the whole world. It had an Olympic-sized swimming pool, surrounded by trees and tables covered in white. I was with Andy Warhol and Gerard. Andy hated the gown I wore, a gray-blue see-through with rhinestone sequins and feathers at the bottom. I wore my trenchcoat over it. Andy thought I looked cheap. Yet he introduced me to everybody at the night club. I was to be paid $500 for being there. After a while, several wealthy men talked to me. I told them, ‘I’m so happy you asked me here,’ but was anxious to get away from them. I looked over my shoulder and saw Andy walk out, like he always does, leaving me frantic and alone. Finally, I got rid of the two men I was talking to and saw someone with a black leather coat who I thought was Gerard. I walked over to him quickly and it wasn’t Gerard at all. ‘Did you see Gerard?’ I asked. The man in the coat turned his back on me. All of the other men were standing in little groups, closed in among themselves. I went running from one group to another” (Candy got up from the divan and acted out the dream vignette: she ran to different corners of the room, breathlessly, hysterically). ” ‘Is Gerard here? Is Gerard here?’ The men all turned their backs, they wouldn’t look at me. Finally someone said, ‘Oh, Gerard left 10 minutes ago.’ And I was left there completely alone. But I still had the $500 in my trenchcoat pocket and I felt it and held it and took it out and when I looked at the money it was velvet on one side and it wasn’t real money. That’s when I woke up. I was terrified.”
A couple of nights before St. Patrick’s Day, Candy and I were caught in the rain. We ducked into a spot for a drink. Never straight bourbon or scotch, always something fancy with a swizzle stick. The music from the machine was playing sentimental, an oldie, “a telephone that rings but who’s to answer.” In the corner of the cafe, caught in the mood, Candy played true confessions, a touch of Kim in “Lylah Clare,” a dab of Ava in “Pandora.” I remember how she looked at me, those hazel eyes shifting from my hazel eyes to linger on my lower lip, and I remember exactly how she looked and what she said. She looked like every blonde product who has ever made it from the earring counter at Woolworth’s to be molded into a director’s Dada, total myth outside, myth fighting to win control over reality inside. And she said to me, “I’ve been here before. My spirit was once that of a movie star’s. I believe it was once Jean Harlow’s. I was captivated by her death as far back as I can remember. I read all of her obituaries on special microfilm. She died during the shooting of ‘Saratoga’ and they photographed much of the film with a double showing back shots. Long before the Harlow revival, I had my hair dyed platinum and my eyebows plucked and penciled. When I was young, I drew a lot, mostly animals and women. The women all had white hair. Jean Harlow or Kim, before I knew them, or looked like them.”
Death, the glamor of early death, often runs through Candy’s mind. Kim Novak dying young in “The Eddy Duchin Story,” Kim Stanley dying young in “The Goddess,” Carole Lombard, Jean Harlow, Marilyn Monroe dying young on Page One. Make it big when you’re blonde and beautiful, pound out that imprint for eternity, leave the worshiping masses a glorious platinum memory.
The second night of our town-tripping, Candy had given instructions to a friend, what to do on the death of Candy Darling. Nothing morbid, just movie star security. I couldn’t worm it from her. Cremation? Forest Lawn? A red rose on a white casket? Call AP, UP, mama, and Rona Barrett? “All I can tell you is that I’d will my money to a Candy Darling Memorial Theatre Fund to help struggling actors. Let’s talk about the future.”
The future, Candy would like to do a Broadway show. A revival of “Little Me” would be nice. She’d adore the Eve Harrington role in “Applause” with Sylvia Miles as Margo Channing. There’s a possibility of playing a Marlene Dietrich “Destry” slut in Paul Morrissey’s soon-to-start Italian western. A couple of films shot in Germany are on their way — Candy’s big in Germany. “Women in Revolt,” after a short run at the Cine Malibu, is soon to play the boondocks, and “Some of My Best Friends … ” shows up intermittently on 42nd Street. Videotape, too, is on Candy’s mind. She does a bad take-off of a drug-crazed junkie — Needle Park would laugh rather than panic — but Candy wants the world to know she’s an actress as well as a star and will shortly dance the heroin blues for a hand-held camera. She’s also talking of needling Tennessee Williams into pulling out a masterpiece or two from his trunk: Candy as Blanche in “Streetcar” or Alma in “Summer and Smoke” or Ariadne in “Sweet Bird of Youth.”
She’s happiest when she’s working. “I’m like Jeanne Eagels. I don’t care if it’s a big Hollywood part or a small role, as long as I have something to say about it. So often I have to do exactly what directors say and so often I know more than the directors. ‘Some of My Best Friends … ‘ is one movie where the director should have listened to me. He treated me like a child, as if I were a very touchy delicate thing. It was hard for me. I consider myself an artist. Of course I want admiration and I want them to like me, but I can take criticism.”
She can also give criticism. She told Holly Woodlawn “you’ll never be a star because you can’t boil an egg” which led Holly to crack “it’s just like Candy, so impractical, when I become a star I’ll have my cook boil my eggs.”
Candy admits her impracticality, her ambivalence toward men, toward stardom, toward life. She admits “I’m filled with guilt and instability. I tremble when I go places and hear people calling Candy Darling, CANDY DARLING, yet I love it.” She describes herself as soft and vulnerable and strong as an ox, a barometer — “I am what I am now, in a few minutes I’ll change and be something else.” She says in one breath that she wants to be an actress, and in the next she’ll tell you she’s a star. She’ll tell Jackie Curtis, “Your thoughts are so strong, I’ve got to be alone with my own thoughts,” then question her own thoughts out loud — “Should I be cooperative, tell them everything they want to know, how much I eat, what I weigh, what color underwear I wear, how many times a day I go to the bathroom, or should I be mysterious so that they’ll always come back for more.” She’ll say that men are kings and that women were meant to be slaves, then confide that she’s all for women’s liberation. She’ll coyly demur that “most men are really afraid of me, they think I’m a delicacy or something, too rich for their blood,” then, under Taylor Mead’s nose, vamp away his boy friend of the evening and whisper to me, “I’d hate to have this be the highpoint of my life.”