Mar 4, 2018
JEFF COPELAND is an author, screenwriter and non-fiction television producer whose close friendship with Andy Warhol superstar HOLLY WOODLAWN (immortalized in Lou Reed's biggest hit song "Walk On the Wild Side") dramatically impacted his professional and personal life in ways he never expected. (46:40) EXPLICIT
Andy Warhol made her famous. Lou Reed immortalized her in song. And JEFF COPELAND wrote the book that chronicles the extraordinary journey of a 15-year-old runaway who, as Reed croons, “shaved her legs and then he was a she.”
As Jeff tells me in his PIERSON TO PERSON episode WALK ON THE WILD SIDE, he distinctly remembers the first time he laid eyes on the drag queen who would so dramatically impact his professional and personal life.
JEFF: “I spotted this androgynous being, and I couldn’t figure out if this was a man or a woman. I turned to my friend and asked, ‘Who is that?’ And he said, ‘Oh, that’s Holly Woodlawn. She’s an Andy Warhol superstar. Don’t bother with her. She’s a mess!’ And I was intrigued. That night, as I tried to sleep, I couldn’t get Holly Woodlawn out of my mind. She just haunted me.”
Jeff was a 25-year-old aspiring screenwriter at the time, and his fascination with Holly Woodlawn quickly turned into action. He found Holly, then 42, listed in the phone book, called her up and said he was writing a movie that she’d be perfect for. He invited her to dinner and the two hit it off immediately. (Jeff would later move into the apartment next to Holly’s.)
JEFF: “We were extremely close. She told me her secrets. I told her mine. We shared the same insecurities. We were both misfits trying to fit in.”
Jeff finished his script and started shopping it around with Holly Woodlawn attached. Nobody was interested. However, an intern at a literary agency fished the script out of the trashcan it had been thrown into – along with some biographical information and photos of Holly that Jeff had also submitted – and thought her story would make for a good book. The intern’s intuition proved to be right.
A LOW LIFE IN HIGH HEELS: THE HOLLY WOODLAWN STORY was published in 1991 – a collaboration between Holly and Jeff, with Jeff doing the heavy lifting. Although Jeff didn’t really want to write a book, he agreed to do it with the understanding that if the movie rights were sold, he would write the screenplay.
CUT TO: A year later, Jeff reads in Liz Smith’s gossip column that Madonna is going to star in a film based on Holly Woodlawn’s book and that actor/playwright Harvey Fierstein is going to write the screenplay.
JEFF: “It was devastating. It was such a painful experience for me to have my best friend turn on me like that. She, essentially, stabbed me in the back. But I ended up thinking, ‘You know, Holly Woodlawn has only one story. Jeff Copeland has a million he can whip up. So, Holly, you take your story and go with Harvey Fierstein. Go with Columbia Pictures.’ I wasn’t going to stand in the way.”
Eventually, the Madonna/Fierstein/Columbia deal fell through. And, despite the script being optioned a few more times by other producers, no movie about the life of Holly Woodlawn was ever made. But Holly never gave up hope that one day it would be – even on her deathbed.
JEFF: “Holly was like Norma Desmond, clinging to that dream. And it was very tragic. Holly was an alcoholic and she just spiraled out of control. It really bothered me to see her decline physically because of her alcoholism. And when I saw her last, she was living in a convalescent home and I actually brought her some gingerbread from Starbucks, and tried to make peace. I never stopped caring about Holly or her wellbeing.”
Holly Woodlawn died on December 6, 2015 at the age of 69. Jeff Copeland is now writing a new book about his many wild experiences with her called: Love You Madly, Holly Woodlawn.
A LOW LIFE IN HIGH HEELS: THE HOLLY WOODLAWN STORY is available on Amazon:
Many thanks to Poddington Bear for the opening music featured in this episode royalty free through Creative Commons licensing:
"On a Wing" by Poddington Bear - soundofpicture.com