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50 years after Candy Darling's death, Warhol superstar's struggle as a trans actress still resonates

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50 years after Candy Darling's death, Warhol superstar's struggle as a trans actress still resonates

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Candy Darling: Dreamer, Icon, Superstar

By Cynthia Carr
FSG: 432 pages, $30

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Warhol superstar Candy Darling is synonymous with doomed glamour — a gorgeous woman playing a dying gorgeous woman. The image of her laid up in the hospital, looking ready for her close-up in full makeup with one black rose on the pillow beside her, looks like a staged photo for a fashion magazine. But that picture, taken by Peter Hujar, is as staged as it is real. Candy Darling died of lymphoma in that hospital room in 1974. She was 29.

Candy, who was trans, lived a life ripe for biography. Her friend Jeremiah Newton set out to write her story right after her death. “He never told me why he stopped working on it,” Cynthia Carr, the author of “Candy Darling: Dreamer, Icon, Superstar,” tells The Times via email. “He did me an enormous service by interviewing some 50 people back in the 1970s and giving me the tapes.” Newton died in 2023.

Even with those materials at her disposal, “Candy Darling” has taken Carr, also the biographer of artist David Wojnarowicz, 10 years to write.

Candy’s struggle as a trans woman is the reason Carr undertook this project. One minute Candy’s in New York, on the arm of Andy Warhol; then, as Carr relates, she’s on her way home to visit her mother in Massapequa Park, Long Island, and her mother would say, “Don’t come till after dark. Don’t let anyone see you. Don’t answer the door.”

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“I thought, ‘Wow, that has to be just a hint of what she went through as a trans woman back in the ’60s and early ’70s,’” Carr says. “I wanted to tell that story.”

(Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

For someone who lived such a tragically short life, Candy’s schedule was packed, and the worlds in which she traveled were diverse.

“I confess that I have never worked from an outline on any of my projects,” Carr admits. “But I start making a chronology immediately and keep filling it in as I do my research. I had the 48 tapes (and two transcripts) Jeremiah had done and the 98 people I interviewed myself — some of them multiple times. I went through old Village Voices, page by page, starting in 1967, when Candy appeared in her first play, until her death early in 1974. At that time, the Voice was the most essential and sometimes the only publication covering early Off Off Broadway, early gay liberation and the beginnings of second-wave feminism.” Carr’s research on Candy’s theater career is thrilling. It reveals a talented actress with whom directors were keen to work — more than “up-and-coming,” they describe Candy as brilliant.

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Would Candy have had a future in Hollywood, had she lived longer? “Candy definitely wanted to make it in Hollywood but had more than a glass ceiling to deal with,” Carr says. “She would have had to live for quite a while — till now, say — to be accepted.”

In fact, a Candy biopic has long been in the works, and it’s now finally in the filming stage, starring trans actress Hari Nef. Nef’s casting is an answer of sorts to the controversy of cis actors playing trans characters. “I assume they’re basing the film on the documentary ‘Beautiful Darling,’ which really focuses on [Candy’s relationship with Newton],” Carr says. “As for the casting, a trans woman should play Candy.”

Despite Candy’s celebrity in those worlds, the gulf between her experience as Candy Darling and in her family also is reflected in her archive. Some of her personal papers, including diaries and letters, ended up in the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, Carr says, but most are lost. Newton held on to many of the boxes of Candy’s things as long as he could, but when he was hospitalized, Carr says, “I’m sure some of them went into a dumpster.

“Writing a biography is a search for puzzle pieces,” Carr says, and sadly, other than Newton, Candy didn’t have a family member or a designated person to protect and ensure her legacy.

Candy was also poor — and unhoused. There was her mother’s house in Long Island to return to, which was not ideal, given the stigma and bigotry of the time. Candy mostly relied on friends and acquaintances, crashing in different places from night to night, week to week. Warhol lent her money and even paid for some of her hormone treatments. But Candy didn’t really have a home. As Carr writes: “Her life was not boring, but poverty and illness are boring.”

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A black-and-white headshot of Cynthia Carr, with short hair, glasses and a black shirt.

Author Cynthia Carr says her new book, “Candy Darling: Dreamer, Icon, Superstar,” is dedicated to the trans community.

(Timothy Greenfield-Sanders)

It was the hormones that most likely resulted in Candy’s cancer diagnosis and, ultimately, her death.

“I wish I could have seen a death certificate. According to Jeremiah, the doctor said it was lymphoma. Jeremiah also said that she’d been taking hormones that were later found to be carcinogenic and were taken off the market. I spent probably too much time trying to corroborate that,” Carr says. “What hormones were people taking in the early ’70s? Which one (or more) were taken off the market? I read a book on trans medicine, talked to a couple of doctors and combed through the internet, but we’re talking about a drug that would have been recalled almost 50 years ago. I never managed to figure it out. But, yes, it was the consensus at the time that hormones had caused her cancer.”

Though hormone therapy and gender-affirming healthcare have improved, the conditions in which trans people live in this country, and the violence they face, both from individuals and their own government, are still dire.

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“I started work on this book in 2013, and transgender people have become much more visible in mainstream culture since then,” Carr says. “They’ve also become big targets for far-right politicians, and I can’t overstate how alarming this is. There’s so much anti-trans legislation out there it’s hard to even keep track of it — literally hundreds of bills coming up around the country. Bans on gender-affirming care, on participation in school sports, on using a bathroom that aligns with your identity and so on. Much of that’s aimed at young people, but it won’t end there. There’s an overall goal to erase transgender rights.”

“Candy Darling” is dedicated to the trans community. “May this account of one life make a difference,” Carr writes in the book’s dedication. “May you be understood. May you be appreciated. May you be loved.”

The point of any story is to relate a message — one that could, in the end, help others feel less alone. Literature is also one of the few ways we have to understand another human being — to place ourselves in the mind and experience of someone different from us.

Candy wanted to live and to be loved, to become a woman, to have a family, to have a home. “The word ‘trans’ implies a journey,” Carr writes. Candy’s journey, and the journey of trans people, continues.

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Movie Reviews

Movie Review: “Abigail” Now Playing at Boone Regal

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Movie Review: “Abigail” Now Playing at Boone Regal
April 22, 2024 “After last week’s heavy, serious, ultraviolent “Civil War,” I needed a movie like the lighter, sillier, also ultraviolent “Abigail.” Is this film as intelligent and thought-provoking as last week’s offering – a film that still rules the box office, by the way? No. Is this film going to leave much of an impact on popular culture? Probably not – it doesn’t do much to stand out from similar movies, some from the same people that made this movie. But would I pick “Abigail” over “Civil War” to watch in my free time because it’s much more fun? Oh, yes.  Read more
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David Ellison's journey from trust fund kid to media mogul vying to buy Paramount

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David Ellison's journey from trust fund kid to media mogul vying to buy Paramount

When David Ellison, the mega-rich aerobatic pilot and Ferrari-driving son of multibillionaire Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison landed in Hollywood, he was viewed as yet another trust fund scion with Klieg lights in his eyes and an enviable bank account.

Unlike most Hollywood neophytes of his ilk, however, Ellison did not flame out in ignominy or retreat much poorer for his efforts. Rather, Ellison (after a few hiccups) launched Skydance Media, a successful Santa Monica-based production company that has bankrolled a slew of massive box office and television hits such as “Top Gun: Maverick,” “Star Trek” and “Grace and Frankie,” and more recently, expanded into animation, sports and gaming. Two years ago, the company secured $400 million in funding, giving Skydance a valuation at more than $4 billion, and it now has 1,300 employees.

Today, Ellison’s Skydance Media is a strong contender to acquire Paramount Global in a deal that would give the 41-year-old control of the storied movie studio behind “The Godfather” and “Chinatown,” as well as a sprawling portfolio of assets including CBS Entertainment, the BET, MTV and Nickelodeon cable channels and a national movie theater chain — recasting Ellison from mega-rich Hollywood financier to even richer media mogul.

The proposed deal — it would see Skydance acquire National Amusements (the company that owns nearly 80% of Paramount Global’s voting shares) for $2 billion in cash, followed by Paramount Global buying Skydance in an all-stock deal worth $5 billion — has been backed by Shari Redstone, Paramount’s powerful nonexecutive chairwoman, but it is far from assured.

Shareholders have pushed back, saying the transaction would primarily benefit Redstone at the expense of regular investors. Earlier this month, in the midst of negotiations, four of the company’s board directors resigned over the planned merger.

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“The last thing the company shareholders need is yet another silver-spooned movie enthusiast to run our entertainment company into the ground,” shareholder Blackwood Capital Management wrote in a blistering letter to Paramount’s board.

And Ellison’s bid faces some formidable competition: Sony Pictures Entertainment is in talks to join Apollo Global Management in its $26-billion offer for Paramount Global. Sony and Apollo must wait for an exclusive 30-day negotiation period that Paramount’s independent board of directors has extended to Ellison.

A spokesperson for Ellison and Skydance declined to comment.

Despite the shareholder opposition, Ellison remains confident that his deal will prevail, although it’s likely negotiations will continue beyond the 30-day period, said a source familiar with negotiations who was not authorized to comment.

If Skydance prevails in the Paramount takeover, it would represent a significant victory for Ellison and the latest consolidation in an industry still struggling from the upheaval caused by streaming and last summer’s labor unrest.

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At the same time, it would bring some fresh challenges for the rising Hollywood player. Chief among them: Can Ellison transform Paramount, which is weighted down in debt and facing many of the same headwinds as other legacy companies with aging linear TV and cable assets, into a new and successful future?

“David has an institutional knowledge and an appreciation for the studio’s history and a real love of movies,” said Adam Goodman, former president of Paramount Pictures. “I don’t know his plan, but I would bet on that kid any day of the week.”

More than a trust fund kid

David Ellison was born in 1983, the first and only son of Larry Ellison and Barbara Boothe, the third of the tech tycoon’s four wives. When he was 3 and his sister Megan was 3 months old, their mother filed for divorce.

Ellison and his sister grew up with their mother on a horse farm in Woodside, in the Bay Area. Their father owned multiple properties, including, an 8,100-square-foot home nearby, modeled after a 16th century Japanese emperor’s palace.

When David Ellison was 10, his father had an estimated net worth of $1.6 billion and was named to Forbes’ billionaire’s list for the first time. As of this month, Larry Ellison’s fortune has morphed into $131 billion, making him the world’s 10th-richest man, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

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During school breaks, David Ellison and his sister spent time with their father sailing around the world on his super yacht, Ronin.

By most accounts, it was Ellison’s mother who provided him with a grounding, steady influence. In exchange for doing chores, he received a $5 allowance, as he told the San Francisco Chronicle.

Ellison’s mother also nurtured his love of film. They went to movie openings every weekend. At home, she kept a collection of 2,000 VHS titles. Ellison and his sister would binge watch blockbuster franchises like “Star Wars,” “Jurassic Park” and the original “Terminator” movie.

When Ellison was 13, he and his father took flying lessons together. Thinking it would instill a sense of responsibility in his son, he bought him a German two-seat aerobatic monoplane, and on weekends the pair — alongside an instructor — staged mock dogfights over the Pacific, according to one of the elder Ellison’s biographers.

Although acutely aware of his extreme wealth, Larry Ellison took a rather pragmatic view on the effect it might have on his children.

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“The sooner my kids get experience dealing with the pluses and minuses of having a lot of money, the better,” he told Matthew Symonds, author of the Larry Ellison biography “Softwar.”

Early on, the tech entrepreneur set up trusts for his children with large tranches of stock in Oracle, the company he co-founded in 1977 that went public in 1986; and later NetSuite, an enterprise software company he helped finance, that went public in 2007. Over time, the trusts, in addition to their independent holdings, have made David and his sister phenomenally wealthy.

Oracle CEO Larry Ellison is said to be supporting his son’s bid to acquire Paramount.

(Eric Risberg / Associated Press)

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Ellison initially gave his children 90,000 shares of Oracle, according to Forbes. By 2013, the stock had split 10 times, increasing the trust to 29.2 million shares, then worth nearly $1 billion. Two years later, Forbes reported that Ellison’s heirs owned 2.8% of Oracle stock valued at more than $4.8 billion.

During high school, Ellison spent a pair of summers working at Oracle, but the tech universe held little interest for him.

After transferring from Pepperdine to USC’s film school, he dropped out in 2005 during his senior year to make his first film, “Flyboys.” (Megan was the boom operator on his senior thesis film. She later founded Annapurna Pictures, maker of critically acclaimed films including “Zero Dark Thirty.”)

Ellison co-starred with James Franco in the World War I aerial combat film, about a group of young Americans who volunteered for the French military. Ellison also put up 30% of the movie’s $60-million budget, in a deal brokered with then-ICM agent Jim Berg.

Tony Bill, the movie’s director, recalled Ellison as modest, well-mannered and someone who became popular with the other young cast members during filming. Bill, who won a best picture Oscar for producing “The Sting,” found Ellison’s demeanor “extraordinary.”

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“He never said or behaved or implied in any way who he was behind the scenes.” When the rest of the cast did find out, Bill said, they were in shock. “It was like are you … kidding me? I can’t imagine anyone I’ve ever known who was famous or rich who didn’t find a way to drop it in along the way.”

“Flyboys” bombed, earning just $18 million at the box office worldwide.

Undeterred, Ellison stayed in the game. In 2010, he founded his production company, Skydance Media. He continued to act, appearing in a number of small roles, such as the best friend of a college golfer in the comedy “Hole in One.”

After “Twilight” star Taylor Lautner dropped out of Ellison’s movie “Northern Lights,” a film that he co-wrote and planned to co-star in, he abandoned acting.

“When that movie didn’t come together, it was a turning point,” Ellison told The Times in 2011. “Everything I’ve done has helped me to realize producing is all that I want to do.”

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Around town, however, the episode bolstered the idea that Ellison was just a rich kid with what Hollywood likes to call dumb money.

While he had money, Ellison wasn’t dumb.

In addition to wealth, Larry Ellison provided his son with a cadre of his influential and powerful friends who made important introductions and advised him on the finer points of deal-making and negotiating.

Along with Jim Berg, who also sits on Oracle’s board, David Geffen became an early guide. Entertainment lawyer Skip Brittenham helped set up Skydance’s business plan.

But it was his father’s close friend, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, who also built Animation Studios, that had a profound influence on Ellison.

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Jobs offered to listen to hear Ellison’s pitch for Skydance, but he was skeptical.

“ ‘I want you to come back up here and talk about how you guys are going to aspire to make movies and tell stories better than anybody else, because that’s what we did at Pixar,’ ” Ellison told the “Sway” podcast, noting, “It very much changed the trajectory of the company.”

In 2010, Skydance raised $350 million to co-finance movies with Paramount Pictures. Ellison’s father put up a portion of the company’s $150-million equity and JPMorgan Chase & Co. provided a $200-million credit line. Last year, the company closed a five-year, $1-billion credit led by JPMorgan.

Skydance’s current stakeholders include the Ellison family, private equity firms RedBird Capital Partners and KKR and Chinese conglomerate Tencent Holdings.

The funds gave Ellison a venture in a slate of the studio’s big-budget, triple-A titles such as “Mission: Impossible,” “World War Z,” “Star Trek” and “G.I. Joe: Retaliation.”

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Hitting it big with ‘Mission: Impossible’

Ellison got a taste of success right out of the gate. The first film released as part of the arrangement was “True Grit,” the Coen brothers’ western. Made for $38 million, it went on to gross more than $252 million globally while garnering 10 Oscar nominations, including a nod for best picture.

Attempting a rescue, one man is holding the foot of a man who is hanging upside down out of a high-rise, in a movie scene

One of the first films released as part of a financing deal between Paramount and David Ellison’s Skydance was “Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol” in 2011, starring Tom Cruise and Jeremy Renner. The movie has grossed nearly $700 million.

(Moviestore / Shutterstock / Paramount Pictures)

In 2011 came the release of “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol,” which has grossed nearly $700 million, launching a slate of profitable popcorn fare. Ellison also married Sandra Lynn Modic, an actress he met on the set of “Hole in One.”

Despite his youth and relative inexperience, Ellison impressed those around him. “He was a very young person, but he was wise beyond his years, Goodman said.

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“He stands by what he loves, said another producer who was has worked with Ellison. “He fought for the original construction of projects when the easy thing to do was to let the studio make choices.”

Skydance expects to generate about $1 billion in revenue this year and more than double that amount in 2025, the Wall Street Journal reported Friday.

Yet, Skydance has had its share of setbacks. Both “Gemini Man” and the “Terminator: Dark Fate” reboot failed to connect with either audiences or critics, or both.

Its investment in animation has yet to match the kind of success as its film and television productions. In 2019, Ellison hired former Pixar creative chief John Lasseter to head the unit to an onslaught of criticism. It was just six months after Lasseter’s ouster from the Walt Disney Co.-owned Pixar following allegations that he‘d engaged in inappropriate workplace behavior. The famous director acknowledged unspecified “missteps” in his dealings with employees. Emma Thompson withdrew from the company’s first animated feature, “Luck.”

“He’s had some hits and misses. But he’s been bold and aggressive and built a solid production company in Skydance,” one industry executive said of Ellison.

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Goodman recalled how Ellison proved his mettle during the troubled production of “World War Z.” The movie’s delays, ballooning budget (it eventually cost $200 million) and clashes over whether it was a summer blockbuster or a geo-political allegory threatened to sink the film.

“We made a movie where some parts worked well and others were unwatchable,” Goodman said. “We had two choices: put a Band-Aid on it or go deep and make real creative and financial investments. David and his partners went all in. It was a real test of our partnership and testament to their ability to put their money where their mouth was.”

The film has grossed $540 million at the box office.

The Paramount Global acquisition would propel Ellison into a different stratosphere — with formidable challenges. Ellison and his partners would have to decide whether to continue to invest in Paramount+, its money-losing streaming service that has more than 67 million subscribers; as well the fate of the CBS broadcast network and the company’s many struggling cable channels, like MTV.

The Melrose Gate of Paramount Pictures Studio

The Melrose Gate of Paramount Pictures in Hollywood. Skydance is seeking to buy the studio.

(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

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More urgently, Ellison must contend with Paramount’s restless shareholders and board members who have objected to the Skydance deal on offer.

The viability of the Skydance deal depends on whether shareholders are willing to believe that the bid — and Ellison’s leadership — will pay future dividends that will exceed the current dilution of their shares, said Nelson Granados, executive director for the Institute for Entertainment‚ Media‚ and Sports at Pepperdine University.

But Ellison’s father’s tech connections — and deep pockets — could help bolster Paramount, particularly if there are new advancements in artificial intelligence, digital production or distribution, he said.

“Can they bring Paramount to the 21st century basically is the big question,” said Granados.

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Times staff writers Samantha Masunaga and Meg James contributed to this report.

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‘Abigail’ is a Delightfully Gory Addition to Vampire Movies – Review

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‘Abigail’ is a Delightfully Gory Addition to Vampire Movies – Review

Becky checked out Abigail to see how it stacks up to other vampire movies.

I need to start off with a bit of blunt honesty: I initially thought it was a mistake for the trailers to give away that Abigail is a vampire. It would’ve been an immensely satisfying twist had the audience gone in completely blind to the truth of what Abigail really is.

That being said, having seen the film, I can now admit that it wasn’t a mistake at all. In fact everything given away in the trailer only serves to whet the appetite, so to speak, for what’s to come in the rest of the film.

Abigail, an extremely loose re-interpretation of Dracula’s Daughter (1936), follows a group of kidnappers as they snatch a wealthy mogul’s daughter, the titular Abigail, to hold her for ransom. It seems like a simple job: hold the girl until her father coughs up the ransom, everyone gets paid, everyone is happy. There’s just one little detail the kidnappers don’t know: Abigail is actually a vampire, and she’s very hungry.

The story does take a bit of time to properly get going, with a major chunk of time passing before anything remotely supernatural happens. However, once the creepy vampire activities start happening, the story kicks into a whole new gear. The basic set up is frightening, as these criminals find themselves locked in a house with a vampire and no exits. The thing is, the story also comes across as funny at times, in a weird and twisted sort of way.

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For instance, there’s a scene revealed in one of the trailers where the group debates how they’re going to take the vampire down and they list off the different kinds of vampires known in fiction (citing Anne Rice, True Blood, and Twilight among other things). It makes sense that this is how most people would have any information about vampires, yet the way it’s presented you can’t help but laugh a little when it comes up.

The cast is one detail that makes Abigail a very good film. Alisha Weir almost completely steals the show with her performance as Abigail and proves she has a bright future in movies. Kathryn Newton also rocks as Sammy the hacker. This is the second horror film I’ve seen her in this year and she is rapidly becoming one of my favorite actresses. However, all praise needs to be given to Melissa Barrera’s performance as Joey. She absolutely killed it throughout the film and it’s mesmerizing to watch her interactions with Abigail shift throughout the story.

One thing that needs to be noted is that Abigail is a very gory film. It’s not constant, but when it does happen, it’s a lot. The filmmakers definitely played these moments up for maximum effect and it works.

Something that worked unexpectedly well is the theme of ballet that is woven throughout the film. That is one detail I wasn’t sure would work, but if anything it serves to make Abigail even more terrifying. To be followed throughout the mansion by a vampiric ballerina is quite unsettling and definitely makes Abigail one of the more memorable additions to the lore of vampiric cinema.

In conclusion, Abigail is equal parts scary, gory, and believe it or not, fun. It likely won’t win any awards, but I truly feel that most people who go in to see it will leave feeling satisfied. Abigail is the very definition of a good ‘popcorn movie’ and one I wouldn’t mind seeing again.

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