Jane Wagner

Jane Wagner

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Well before she became Lily Tomlin’s longtime collaborator and partner, Village resident Jane Wagner met Andy Warhol in 1965 and developed several Factory connections, including Jackie Curtis, who befriended Wagner.

 

Candy Darling Goes Downtown

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The Warhol film Flesh introduced Candy Darling and Jackie Curtis to the underground film world, after which the two became regulars at Max’s (in “Walk on the Wild Side,” Lou Reed observed, “Candy came from out on the Island, in the back room she was everybody’s darling”). Born James Slattery, Darling grew up in Massapequa Park, Long Island—where she was friends with future Off-Off-Broadway director Tony Ingrassia. By the mid-1960s she and Ingrassia made their way to New York City, where Darling became part of the street scene. Hanging out on the stoops or in the parks, she would often be invited back to people’s apartments in the hope that she could inject a little glamour into their evenings. “Candy looked beautiful,” Jane Wagner recalled, “like she just stepped out of a movie.” Curtis quickly took Darling under her wing and, one evening, brought the new arrival to Jim Fouratt’s apartment. “I would like you to meet this boy that just arrived in town,” Curtis told him. “His name is James, but we’re going to call him Candy—Candy Darling. And Candy Darling is never going home again.” Curtis and Darling first met Andy Warhol on the Greenwich Village streets, asking for an autograph and inviting him to Glamour, Glory, and Gold, playing at Bastiano’s Cellar Studio. “Walking just ahead of us was a boy about nineteen or twenty with wispy Beatle bangs,” Warhol recalled, “and next to him was a tall, sensational blonde drag queen in very high heels and a sundress that she had made sure had one strap falling onto her upper arm.” Warhol loved Curtis’s show and provided a publicity blurb—“For the first time, I wasn’t bored”—which led to parts for Curtis and Darling in Warhol’s Flesh.

From Chapter 17 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore


Jackie Curtis Pioneers Pansexuality

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Jackie Curtis loved the limelight and couldn’t have been happier than when Lou Reed immortalized her in “Walk on the Wild Side,” his best-known song: “Jackie is just speeding away,” Reed sang, “thought she was James Dean for a day.” (Friends and acquaintances tended to use both “she” and “he” pronouns when describing Curtis, which was fitting for someone who insisted, “I’m not a boy, not a girl, not a faggot, not a drag queen, not a transsexual—I’m just me, Jackie.”) “Sometimes he’d kind of have a James Dean style, but ragged,” playwright Robert Heide said of Curtis, “and other times Jackie would dress as Barbara Stanwyck. She would look really good in a red wig or that kind of thing.” Jackie wasn’t the kind of drag queen who tried to pass herself off as a woman and instead developed a sui generis style—as Jane Wagner and Lily Tomlin learned when she would drop by Wagner’s apartment dressed either as a man or woman. “What Jackie did was more like performance art,” Melba LaRose said. “I never thought of him as a woman. He went back and forth so many times. When I met Jackie, he was a little boy with a shopping bag. He had bangs. He was very cute.” “That was the beginning of pansexuality, and David Bowie picked up on that,” said Tony Zanetta, who worked with the glam rock singer. “I find a lot of similarities between Jackie Curtis and David Bowie.” Noting that Jackie had the same DIY aesthetic as John Vaccaro’s Play-House of the Ridiculous, Zanetta added, “Jackie Curtis’s tattered clothes look was do-it-yourself, number one. Like at Warhol’s Factory, it was about how, if you wanted to be an artist, you just basically said you were. Like with punk, if you wanted to be a musician or you wanted to be in a band, well, you didn’t really have to learn how to play an instrument. So Jackie Curtis, the Ridiculous, and punk are all connected.”

From Chapter 17 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore


Jane Wagner Introduces Lily Tomlin to Jackie Curtis

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Before Jane Wagner became Lily Tomlin’s longtime collaborator and partner, she met Andy Warhol in 1965 and developed several Factory connections. The writer, artist, and Village resident was especially drawn to Jackie Curtis, who befriended Wagner and sometimes stopped by her apartment (and, on one occasion, called from jail for help after being arrested). “When Lily and I first met in New York, we fell in love,” she said, “and the only thing I could think of that I wanted to do with her was to see Jackie Curtis’s Vain Victory [at La MaMa] Lily just flipped over it. That’s how much I loved Jackie—there was so much to do in New York at that time, but that was the main thing I wanted to take her to.”

From Chapter 17 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore


Jackie Curtis and Candy Darling Try to Crack the Glitter Ceiling

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Both Jackie Curtis and Candy Darling held on to a sincere hope that they would become actual stars, but they were too far ahead of their time to crack the glitter ceiling. When Lily Tomlin was performing in the early 1970s at the popular midtown venue Upstairs at the Downstairs, she got Darling an audition for the nightclub’s musical review. “I thought Candy was really good in the audition,” Tomlin said, but the show’s producer had a more uptight midtown audience to contend with, so he passed. “My frustration is that they couldn’t break through to the mainstream culture,” Jane Wagner added, “but that was what made them unique, so that’s ironic. You wanted them to be accepted in a bigger way because they wanted it so much, but then if they had been, they wouldn’t have been who they were.” In 1974, at the age of twenty-nine, Darling died of lymphoma, perhaps caused by the questionable hormone treatments she received. “By the time you read this I will be gone,” she said in a deathbed letter written to Andy Warhol, which captured the exhaustion that saturated that era. “I am just so bored by everything. You might say bored to death.” By the mid-1970s, the Off-Off-Broadway and Factory scenes were also on life support.

From Chapter 21 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore


Jackie Curtis’s Pop Culture Pastiches

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Vain Victory’s rehearsals at La MaMa’s practice space in the East Village were scheduled around I Love Lucy reruns, which Curtis watched twice each afternoon. (“I Love Lucy was a staple of Jackie’s life,” said Jayne County, who recalled that she would often act out scenes from the show in the apartment they shared.) These rehearsals started mid-afternoon and would sprawl into the evening—which made it accessible for people like Lily Tomlin and Jane Wagner to drop by, along with others. “It was a gathering, and a continuation of an almost party-like atmosphere,” cast member Agosto Machado said. “From there, people could just stroll up to Max’s Kansas City, a little north of Union Square. As they say, ‘Location, location, location.’ Jackie would meet someone at Max’s Kansas City, and invite them, ‘Would you like to be in my play?’ ” Vain Victory morphed considerably as Jackie added and subtracted cast members over the course of the extended six-month rehearsal period. “During that time we departed from the original script,” Machado said, “because Jackie would see something on TV or heard something and said, ‘Oh, we’re going to do this.’ ” Tomlin recalled, “It was terribly imaginative, connected with all kinds of pop culture references that took on another angle the way Jackie used them.” Sometimes, lines from I Love Lucy would make their way into the play, or dialogue from an old film that Curtis saw on late-night television. “Jackie would put speed in her coffee,” County recalled, “and she’d sit there and write and write—sometimes outrageous things that made no sense at all, and sometimes it would be things from the telephone book, or things from TV Guide. She took a lot from TV Guide, because she loved old movies.” Curtis’s plays were among the first to heavily appropriate from popular culture, a pastiche-heavy style that would become associated with postmodernism (not that she thought of her plays in such highfalutin terms).

From Chapter 21 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore