Bright Lights Film Journal

“Fabulous Gowns but No Pussy!”: An Interview with Holly Woodlawn

A superstar talks Trash and papayas

Andy Warhol superstar, queen of Trash, “broken goddess,” tranny tutor for Dustin Hoffman’s “Tootsie” — Puerto Rico-born Holly Woodlawn (nee Harold Ajzenberg) answers to many descriptions, but she’s always, unabashedly, entrancingly Holly Woodlawn. I had the pleasure of speaking with her from her “fabulous” West Hollywood apartment about her career and her upcoming show at Trannyshack, noted drag performance space in San Francisco. Print can’t do justice to Holly (you have to call her Holly). Her talk is as much performance as conversation, with the same thrilling mix of wit, heart, and hauteur that made her welfare garbage-picker in Trash immortal. The actor (as she refers to herself) who could wring a thousand emotions out of the word “fuck” is doing well. When she’s not acting, she works with gay youth and partner abuse issues (after a violent episode with a now incarcerated ex-boyfriend).

Holly Woodlawn: Gary, I’m smoking a cigarette and having a glass of wine and watching Sabrina. So the rest of the world will know I don’t have emphysema. My lungs — god only knows what color they are. And my liver? Forget it. I don’t think I even have one anymore. I’m 57. I’m a kreplach. That’s Jewish for, you know, you’re an old douche bag! My face is still flawless. You know why? Because I hang upside down, from my bed.

I have a wonderful apartment in West Hollywood with a little balcony so I can scream “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina!” I have my dog — a little tarantula. A Chihuahua-terrier mix. She looks like a tarantula. She’s black. Colored. But I digress. When I first heard about The Color Purple, I thought they meant “The Colored People” — my biggest faux pas. I will never live that one down. Oprah, forgive me!

I picked the name Holly from Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. And then my friends were up on speed one night and I had met Andy Warhol at a party, and he said what’s your name, and I said Holly, and I didn’t have a last name. So we went home that night and we were watching Lucille Ball in I Love Lucy where she had this thing, this trophy, stuck on her head. And it said Woodlawn Cemetery. So my friends and I decided on Holly Woodlawn, and I would be the heiress to the Woodlawn Cemetery fortune!

I was at Max’s Kansas City, and Fred Hughes came up to me and said Paul Morrissey is doing a movie and he wants you to call him. I called him up and Paul said, I’m doing a movie with Joe Dallesandro, are you going to be available on Saturday? And I said sure! I’m going to be a movie star! Lana Turner. Elizabeth Taylor. Cleopatra! And I showed up and he said, You play this trash person, you pick up trash. And you’re supporting this junkie. I said gee, that’s a stretch. I don’t know if I can do it! So I showed up with my boyfriend, little Johnny, who I shot up in the movie. When I went to the set, which was Paul Morrissey’s basement, I was terrified. I had never been on screen. But I knew that I was the next Elizabeth Taylor.

When I saw Joe Dallesandro, so fucking gorgeous. I said, Johnny, get outta here. Go buy something! I was at the Cannes Film Festival with Joe. He’s still such a gentleman. He’s like Greta Garbo, he wants to be alone, but if you call him up, he’ll speak to you. He’s like me — shut her up! He’s a guy’s guy — he likes to hang out and watch ball games and drink beer and smoke cigarettes. He’s very bisexual. That’s why he’s such a gentleman. He’s got a very soft side, he loves giving, and hanging out.

That was not a Coke bottle, it was a beer bottle! I would have preferred Dr. Pepper.

George Cukor wanted to nominate me for an Academy Award. And all these people signed a petition — Paula Prentiss and her husband, Richard Benjamin, Robert De Niro. They didn’t know what category to put me in. They had no clue. Is this a man being a woman, or a woman being a man? I preferred Best Actor in a Supporting Role. Actor — because I didn’t have a pussy. So I’m an actor. I still don’t have a pussy. It [the operation] hurts too much!

As far as pioneer is concerned, I don’t know. I did what I had to do because I had to do it! If you can make sense of that. When I was a kid, I didn’t know what I wanted to be, but I knew what I had to be. When I was 16 years old, living in Brooklyn with this guy who wanted me to have a sex change, I thought that was what I wanted. We had the money, and I was at Johns Hopkins Hospital and they said I had to wait a year, so I said honey, I’ve been living as a woman for the past eight years — don’t tell me! So I took the money and I went shopping. My boyfriend was very disappointed. I blew $3,500 at Saks Fifth Avenue. Fabulous gowns but no pussy! Once you cut it off, it’s off. I like me having a hard-on. I love having sex. I like what I have.

I’m going to make a complete idiot of myself. Heklina said I could just stand up there and blow kisses. The hell with that. I plan to do an entire concert. I plan to do “Hello San Francisco.” Then I’m going to do songs that nobody ever fucking heard in their life. Like “Princess Poopooly Has Plenty Papayas.” Yes, I’m going to take you around the world. And I’m going to sing a little French song called “Once Upon a Summertime.” That’s the only ballad. It’s a pretty song. It’s going to be Marlena, Barbra, Bette, Beulah, Mona, Lola, and Falana! And Holly. All the girls.

My future? Gary, don’t laugh. I have a dream. My dream is to open up a bed and breakfast in of all places the Pacific Islands, Pago-Pago or somewhere, and have everybody just run around half naked, in grass skirts, run amok with no clothes. I’ll call it Holly’s Whorehouse. And I will feed them, and make sure they have a bed, or a straw mattress to sleep on and fuck on. I just wanna watch!