Dawn Langley Simmons was a prolific author and pioneer of transgender and interracial marriage equality during the violent 1960’s civil rights era in the south. Born Gordon Langley Hall in England, he moved to the United States and in 1968 underwent one of the first sex change operations in the country at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Gordon emerged as Dawn Pepita Langley Hall. Her subsequent interracial marriage to John-Paul Simmons and the birth of their bi-racial daughter Natasha stirred deep fear and hate, scandalizing her adopted home of Charleston, SC.
Dawn’s brave and tumultuous life was one in which mystery and legend swirled, even to this day. She was an author of more than 20 books. She was the adopted daughter of famed actress, Dame Margaret Rutherford and designated heir to the fortune of painter Isabel Whitney. She lived in a grand mansion filled with antiques and a hidden garden. It was said she had a coming-out party for two of her two Chihuahua's who were displayed on velvet cushions, dressed in chenille, long gloves and pearls.
Orlando: A Biography, one of Virginia Woolfe’s greatest novels, describes the adventures of a wealthy poet who changes sex from man to woman and lives an adventurous and artistic transgender life. The book was inspired by Woolf's lover and close friend, Vita Sackville-West. It’s an ironic twist that Gordon Langley Hall was actually raised on the English estate of Sackville-West. Dawn’s life was lifted from the pages of Woolf’s 1928 novel and dropped right into the heart of the 1960’s civil rights movement in South Carolina.
The film follows Natasha Simmons, Dawn’s only child, as she unravels the story of her mother’s eccentric and mysterious life. Eighteen years after her death, Natasha explores, for the first time ever, the Dawn Langley Simmons Collection, a vast archive of personal papers, diaries, manuscripts, photos, as well as audio and video recording of Dawn that are being housed at the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Duke University.
The 78 boxes of personal material, as well as journeys back to Charleston, SC and Hudson, NY will help Natasha unlock the secrets of Dawn’s brave and dangerous journey to becoming a wife, mother and grandmother. The film will also include hundreds of news articles, interviews and personal family photos. Sections of Dawn’s autobiographies, All for Love, From Man to Woman and Dawn will also be incorporated into the film.
Dawn’s story is being negotiated to become a major motion picture.