John Holder, Jr. was born in New York City on February 19,1947. He died of a drug overdose May 15,1985 at the age of 38. In his short life, under the name he chose for himself – Jackie Curtis – he became an actor, a singer, a Warhol Superstar, a published poet, playwright and director.
As John Holder Junior grew up, his grandmother Slugger Ann took the predominant matriarchal role in his life. He was a loner as an adolescent and spent as much time as possible at the movies. Carol Burnett was starring in ”Once Upon a Mattress ” in an off-Broadway theater across the street from where he lived and her performance was a revelation to John, who decided to change his name to Jackie Curtis and become an actor.
Jackie first appeared on stage at the age of 17 at La Mama Experimental Theater Club in Tom Eyen ’s “Miss Neferititi Regrets ”. He played Tolomy, but was upset because co-star Bette Midler (who played Miss Neferititi) had the better role. He began dressing in drag and met Andy Warhol and filmmaker Paul Morrissey, who cast him (as a female) in the films ”Flesh ”, and ”Women in Revolt”.
Jackie began writing plays, including “Glamour, Glory, and Gold” (1967) which starred Candy Darling and Robert De Niro in his first stage role. Jackie’s plays, “Heaven Grand in Amber Orbit” produced by John Vaccaro’s Play- House of the Ridiculous in 1970, and “Vain Victory: the Vicissitudes of the Damned” (1971) were both huge hits.
The New York Times, Newsweek magazine, and the Village Voice described these avant-garde plays as “ridiculous”, “outrageous”, “bizarre”, and “disorienting”, but they sold out for months. Jackie’s plays frequently lampoon sexuality and make fun of social conventions. “Heaven Grand in Amber Orbit” is a collection of lines and scenes from old B-movies, comic books, TV commercials, Shakespearean sonnets, pulp fiction, and other sources. It had a powerful manic energy and utilized simultaneous action and dialogue in a completely innovative way. In one infamous scene, Heaven Grand (the lead female character played by Jackie) reclines, dying at center stage, while one character stands on a toilet seat, lecturing on a variety of topics, and a set of Siamese triplets (joined at the butt) spin wildly around the stage singing. Needless to say, experimental works like these confounded critics. One prominent New York critic wrote: “The players loud declamations and frenetic staging give the disorienting impression that there must be plot and dialogue that you could follow - if you only knew how.”
Approach these delightful works knowing that they are filled with consciousness of the absurdity of the American culture and the wry sense of humor and sensibilities of their unique author, Jackie Curtis. – from the introduction by Craig B. Highberger (author of “Superstar in a Housedress” and director of the documentary of the same name on the life and work of Jackie Curtis).