By the end of 1964 I had met some of New York’s most prized artists, Larry Rivers, Claes Oldenburg, Robert Rauschenberg, Salvador Dali and Jasper Johns. But the artist I really wanted to meet was Andy Warhol. To me Warhol, though naturally shy on a personal level, epitomized everything that was brash, cocky and arrogant in the art world of New York in the early Sixties. In a few years the master of self-promotion had made an unparalleled transformation from minor commercial artist to living icon and, despite his lack of social skills, he appeared to thrive on his new found celebrity status. Warhol was possibly the first artist to successfully integrate a blossoming underground movement with an Establishment whose traditional response to any such movement would normally be openly hostile, particularly among the culturally snobbish New Yorkers.
Warhol and his coterie of female acolytes, Baby Jane Holzer, Viva, Ingrid Superstar, Ultra Violet and Edie Sedgwick, were lionized by New York society. They could be seen, almost every night, at art openings, premieres and first nights. And, despite their outrageous fashions and their willingness to shock they were written about, photographed, filmed and adored by journalist and society matron alike. And, like everyone else, I too became fascinated by them.
I was particularly captivated by two of Warhol’s stars, Baby Jane Holzer and Edie Sedgwick, both of whom I got to know quite well. The two were very different in appearance. The one, an impeccably dressed, upper crust, leonine blonde and the other a leotard-clad, crop-haired super waif.
But, unlike the other girls who formed part of Warhol’s entourage, Baby Jane and Edie did have something in common. They both came from privileged backgrounds, the former from the east coast, the latter from the west. To Warhol, a self-made man, this added immensely to their fascination. For, even at the end of his life, despite the monumental success he achieved and the financial security that accompanied it, Warhol remained impressed by “old” money and flattered by the adulation from what he perceived as Manhattan’s “elite”.
The glaring difference between Baby Jane and Edie was that whereas the former “dabbled” in Warhol’s underground whilst maintaining an upper middle class lifestyle complete with respectable husband, black tie dinners and fashionable lunch parties, Edie totally rejected her family background, distanced herself from the life it offered and devoted herself entirely to the Warhol Factory.
Ironically, as Andy Warhol’s popularity grew so Edie’s assumed bohemian existence became increasingly upper middle class again as they were invited into the homes of the rich, powerful and famous. But while Baby Jane preserved her detached, sophisticated and impeccable image, Edie adopted an increasingly androgynous look and, whether by design or accident, ended up as a mirror image of Warhol.
I remember Joe whispering to me one night as Edie passed us, clinging to Andy’s arm, ”Don’t you think Edie’s getting to look more like Andy than Andy does himself?”
I had to admit it was true. They had begun to look remarkably similar.
As the excitement of being part of the Factory gradually wore thin, Baby Jane began to detach herself from the booze, the drugs, the crazed parties and the bizarreness that its lifestyle demanded. Edie, on the other hand, embraced it all – the sex, the amphetamines, the bouts of depression, the persistent bulimia and, finally, in a desperate bid to be noticed by Hollywood, even breast implants.
Sadly for Edie, this bid for mainstream recognition was destined to fail. By that time she had burned herself out. The drugs, the sex and the eating disorders had taken their toll. Her frail body gave up the unequal struggle.
In the end Baby Jane, with her innate instinct for self-preservation, became a rare thing – a Warhol survivor. But Edie had so identified with him that, like several other of his superstars who died a premature death from drugs, alcohol or suicide, she ultimately became his most celebrated victim. And while Joe and I became quite close to Baby Jane over the three years I was with him in New York, Edie always remained something of an enigma.
One evening Joe and I sat briefly with Edie in a darkened corner of the newly-opened nightclub, “The Scene”. On the surface she appeared as she always did, serene, vulnerable and beautiful. But the few times I had met her she reminded me of a caged bird, flapping its wings in a desperate but hopeless struggle to release itself.
We started talking about books and our favourite authors. We found out we had something in common. We both admired Truman Capote. In fact we remembered the two of us had first met briefly the previous December at the Y.M.H.A. where Truman had given his first public reading of his eagerly-anticipated, unpublished non-fiction novel, “In Cold Blood”, describing the tragic, ruthless murder of the entire Clutter family at their farm in rural Kansas.
Fever had been mounting in New York for a few weeks before the event since the rumour had gone out that, although Truman was supposed to be reading from “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”, he would in fact be reading passages from his long awaited “In Cold Blood”.
It turned out to be a thrilling, yet deeply disturbing, night as both author and audience were only too aware that the young murderers, Dick Hickock and Perry Smith, were due to be executed pending the outcome of their third appeal to the Supreme Court. (Indeed, the following month, January 1965, the Supreme Court rejected their latest appeal and they were executed on the 14th April the same year).
“Wasn’t that an amazing night?” Edie shouted to make herself heard above the pounding music. “It’s a great book. One of his best. Do you dig his short stories? We do. Andy loves The Innocents, because it’s gothic. But my favourites are Children on Their Birthdays and Miriam.”
Joe and I discussed her choices later that night. Somehow they were very revealing. We couldn’t help imagining that Edie identified with the menacing ghostlike quality of Miriam and the aloof, somewhat ethereal beauty of the doomed Lily Jane Bobbit. Joe told Edie that he and I both intended to be authors one day and maybe, when she was a big star in Hollywood, we’d write about her.
The next day Joe referred to our conversation with Edie in his column, in the World Telegram & Sun:
”At a low decibel point amid the deafening sound of the Executives trio last night at the Scene, we shouted into the ear of Edie Sedgwick, silver-topped queen of the underground movies;
“Where is the real Edie Sedgwick – at home with a book?”
The bob-haired, 20 year old heiress from California, looked to see if we were serious, then shouted back:
“The real Edie is where the action is. Fast cars, fast horses, and people doing things!”
With that she watusied away, her trademark leotards lost in a swirl of hip-huggers, tight blue jeans, Pucci slacks and mod dresses. The Scene was definitely where the “action” was last night.”
For a brief second, I sensed, the little bird seemed to break free but, without realizing it, Edie was caught up in a deadly web. She desperately wanted the fame, the stardom and the notoriety that being Andy’s consort offered but, at the same time, she failed to see it was dragging her deeper into a self-destructive abyss from which she was unlikely ever to recover.
A couple of weeks later Joe and I met up with her again. This time the venue was more sedate – an opening at the Lincoln Centre. As always, Edie’s entrance that night turned heads. Like all great actresses – and Edie aspired to be one of them – she was constantly aware of her effect on her audience. She wanted to dazzle, shock and inspire. This occasion was no different. She swept through the auditorium, trailing a long train of black feather plumage, glancing left and right every so often to acknowledge the stares of appreciation or nods of approval.
And the next morning again Joe wrote in his column:
“Clip-coiffed Edie Sedgwick upstaged the Vampires on screen at the Lincoln Centre film festival last night as she swept in on the arm of pop artist Andy Warhol. Edie’s outfit included her usual black leotard plus a trailing black ostrich-plumed cape like a camp version of Madame Dracula.”
Joe leaned over and whispered to me: “Who does she remind you of tonight?” I shrugged my shoulders.
“Gloria Swanson – you remember? In Sunset Boulevard? The last scene – sweeping down the grand staircase?”
He was right, of course. Edie certainly knew how to stage her entrances.
I visited the Warhol Factory on two occasions, perhaps secretly hoping that Andy might invite me to take part in one of his famous screen tests. After all, the photographer, Richard Avedon, had photographed me so I reckoned that Andy might just follow suit. I still have my written account of my first visit:
“If I had expected to find the Factory a hive of activity, I was disappointed. A couple of early-risers had just spilled out of bed and were stumbling around bleary-eyed, cigarettes dangling on their lips, cups of cold black coffee in their hands. Most were still curled up dead to the world, in singles, couples or in groups, on every conceivable surface available – sofas, chairs, beds, tables and floors. This was 2pm and the Factory was still sound asleep.
Evidence of the previous night’s party remained in the congealed leftovers of take-out meals, bulging trash bags, empty spirit bottles, discarded clothing, the tell-tale signs of cigarette papers and overflowing ashtrays dotted about the rooms. In the corner of one room a continuous film played silently on screen. I recognized the dark, brooding looks of the Factory’s most famous actor, Joe Dallesandro in “Trash”. The afternoon sun pierced the flimsy blinds reflecting shadowy patterns on the aluminum foil wallpaper. I looked around for the famous shock of white hair but Andy Warhol was nowhere to be seen.
I chided myself for not accepting Baby Jane Holzer’s earlier invitation to visit the Factory with her. Nor had I gone inside with Edie Sedgwick, when I dropped her and her friend off late one night in a taxi on my way home. Edie had told me everyone would still be up but, foolishly, I had decided 3am was too late for a chat, a joint and a cup of coffee. Looking around me now, I realized that, like nocturnal animals, the Factory’s principal residents were up all night and asleep all day.
I felt foolish. I had arranged to interview Andy Warhol for an all-night radio program, the Sandy Lesberg Show, on 1010 WINS and he wasn’t even there. Someone, who introduced himself as Greg, volunteered to peer under a few sheets and blankets to see if any of the dormant bodies belonged to Andy. I thanked him but told him not to bother, that I’d come back another time. I said I was curious, however, to see the art rooms. These rooms were where the silkscreens were created from Andy’s designs. These rooms were the nerve center of the Warhol Factory. This was where the Factory’s non-residents came to work on a normal 9-5 basis. This was where the money was made to keep the whole operation – the books, the artwork, the films, the newsletters, the movement and the publicity machine – going.
To enter these rooms was like entering a different world. Suddenly I became immersed in lights, colour, noise, music and shelf upon shelf containing the celebrated lithographs, screenprints and designs. Here were the artists who executed Andy’s ideas. And they were all hard at work, oblivious perhaps of the sleeping bodies in the next door room. This, indeed, was a factory undeniably designed by a commercial artist for commercial success.
I came away never having interviewed Andy Warhol but, somehow, knowing him little better than I did when I arrived.”