Jackie is just speeding away
Thought she was James Dean for a day
Then I guess she had to crash
Valium would have helped that bash
Said, Hey babe,
Take a walk on the wild side
I said, Hey honey, Take a walk on the wild side
Lou Reed - "Walk on the Wild Side" - 1972
Reed's song paid tribute to Jackie Curtis -- actor, playwright, poet, and singer. Jackie was one Andy Warhol's "superstars". She was also a transvestite, born in 1946 or 1947 as John Holder, Jr. in Manhattan's Lower East Side. John had grown up in a loft on Second Avenue and 10th Street, living and working with his grandmother, who owned the bar beneath their loft called "Slugger Ann".
By 1966 John was an aspiring playwright and actor and a part-time drag queen. He was an usher working at the Winter Garden Theater, where Barbra Streisand was starring in the musical Funny Girl. By this time he had adopted the sexually ambiguous moniker Jackie Curtis. Through a mutual friend John met Holly Woodlawn and Candy Darling - both of whom were in drag and both future Warhol superstars. Jackie hired Candy to work as a barmaid to work at her grandma's bar. Jackie stays very busy writing and perfoming in plays usually as the female lead. She writes her most famous play Glamour, Glory and Gold which is staged for many years in various theatres. In August of 1967 Jackie meets Andy Warhol while walking with Candy and she invites Warhol to her play.
By 1968 Jackie is dressing nearly full-time as woman. She shares an apartment briefly with Candy Darling. She gets her big break in film starring in the Warhol and Paul Morissey film Flesh starring Joe Dallesandro and Candy Darling. Jackie also starts taking female hormones to look more feminine. For a brief time around 1971 Jackie dressed and acted like James Dean - which was mentioned in the Lou Reed song. She continues her prolific work in the theatre until 1972 when she appears in another Warhol film Women in Revolt. By the time the film premiered, Jackie had become a "persona non grata" at The Factory after having many vocal battles with the others.
One of her passions was singing and Jackie performed in a caberet act. In 1975 (or possibly 1973) she appeared for 4 days in a row at the New York Cultural Center in "Cabaret in the Sky - an Evening with Holly Woodlawn and Jackie Curtis".
Jackie graduated from Hunter College in 1975. Her work after this was very sporadic, reportedly due to her heavy abuse of drugs and alcohol. One of her many poems "B-Girls" is published in 1979. In 1984 and 1985 a short resurgence in her career occurs when two of her plays are performed.
On May 15, 1985 Jackie Curtis died of an accidental heroin overdose at the age of 38. Jackie was buried dressed as a man. At the funeral a plaque over her casket read "John Holder, a.k.a. Jackie Curtis". None of the Factory members attended the funeral although Andy is reported to have sent flowers.
A documentary about Jackie's life called Superstar in a Housedress - The Life and Legend of Jackie Curtis was released in 2004.
"You are not truly a Warhol superstar unless you are dead." - Jackie Curtis