Except, Candy wasn’t born on the Island. She was born in Queens in 1944 to parents Theresa, a bookkeeper, and James, oft described as a violent drunk. Island life came later. After her parents’ divorce, she moved with her mother to Massapequa Park, Long Island. There, Candy spent hour upon hour with the television, impersonating her idols Joan Bennett and Kim Novak.
Early life wasn’t easy. Though not living publicly as a transgender, Candy was relentlessly bullied, culminating in an incident where a group of local boys reportedly attempted to lynch her. She dropped out of school soon after.
When her mother confronted her about rumours circulating of her dressing in women’s clothes and attending local gay bar The Hayloft, Darling responded by leaving the room, returning wearing the clothes and confirming the rumours. Her mother later said there was no stopping her: ‘Candy was just too beautiful and talented.’
After coming out publicly, Darling began spending time in Greenwich Village, referring to Massapequa only as her ‘country home,’ developing her identity as Candy. Initially taking the name Hope – after off-off-Broadway actress and one time flatmate Hope Stansbury – she later adopted Candy because of her love of confectionery while fellow Warhol superstar, Holly Woodlawn, said the name Darling stuck due to the regularity with which people used it to refer to her.
Darling met Andy Warhol through their mutual friend Jackie Curtis who invited Warhol to her play, Glamour, Glory and Gold, starring Darling and a young Robert De Niro, who played six roles. Shortly afterwards, Warhol cast Darling alongside Curtis in a scene in his 1968 movie Flesh.
Darling was thrust into hip circles amid Warhol’s Factory scene and was immortalised in Candy Says from Velvet Underground’s 1969 self-titled album, Lou Reed’s Walk on the Wild Side and in a verse of The Rolling Stones’ Citadel. She would posthumously feature in album art for The Smiths’ Sheila Take a Bow while Peter Hujar’s shot of her on her deathbed was later used by Antony and the Johnsons’ I am a Bird Now. Darling’s existence became an act of revolution, occupying spaces previously out of reach to transgender people.
In 1971, Warhol cast Darling in a starring role in Women in Revolt, playing a socialite drawn into political activism. Darling went on to appear in further films, including as a victim of homophobia in Some of My Best Friends Are…; in Klute with Jane Fonda; and alongside Sophia Loren in Lady Liberty. Darling also performed in two further plays by Jackie Curtis as well as Tennessee Williams’ Small Craft Warnings. Her life was documented in 2010’s Beautiful Darling.
Darling died of Lymphoma on 21st March 1974. Though she struggled to break into mainstream consciousness, her name and image were cemented into counter-cultural history by the art of those that knew her. Warhol superstar, transgender icon, star of stage and screen: of the thousand different people Candy was, each one was real.
By Jack Meredith