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A revealing biography of the man who shaped modern art into what it is today probes the excesses, contradictions, and often shocking lifestyle of Andy Warhol
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Bob Colacello ran Interview magazine from 1971 to 1983. Since then he has been a contributing editor at Vanity Fair. The first volume of his Reagan biography, Ronnie and Nancy: Their Path To the White House, 1911-1980 was published in 2004 and a collection of his photographs of the Factory years, Bob Colacello’s Out was published in 2007. He lives on Long Island.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
When I first met Andy Warhol, the only thing I wanted to be was a Factory lifer.
It all started with a phone call, one cold day in April 1970. I still have a mental Polaroid of that moment—the fruit bowl on the kitchen table filled with a mix of real and plastic apples, oranges, bananas, and grapes. After graduating from Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, I was back living with my parents in Rockville Centre, Long Island, and commuting to the city, where I was getting a master’s degree in film criticism at Columbia under Andrew Sarris of the Village Voice.
We were just finishing dinner when the phone rang. A man with a strange voice introduced himself as Soren Agenoux, the editor of Andy Warhol’s new film magazine. He had seen a review I had written for an alternative paper—remember alternative papers?—called New Times. Would I be willing to write reviews, he asked, for inter/VIEW (which is how it was originally spelled).
Would I be willing? Would Lana Turner wear a sweater?
My father, who had been through World War II instead of college and had worked his way up from clerk to executive at a Wall Street commodities firm, was less enthusiastic. “I worked so hard all these years to get you kids out of Brooklyn and put you through Georgetown and now Columbia, so you could end up working for that creep Andy Warhol?” he shouted. My mother, who sold evening dresses at Saks Fifth Avenue’s Garden City branch, tried to calm him down. “Didn’t I read somewhere,” she said, “that Andy Warhol painted Governor Rockefeller’s portrait?”
“Are you kidding?” I exulted. “Andy Warhol is the most important artist and filmmaker in the world today!” Like much of my generation I idolized Mick Jagger, Timothy Leary, Marshall McLuhan, and Jean-Luc Godard. I was also wild about William (Naked Lunch) Burroughs, Jean (Our Lady of the Flowers) Genet, and Susan (“Notes on Camp”) Sontag. But above them all there was Andy Warhol, the soulless soul of cool, the heartless heart of hip.
The thing is, I grew up Pop. Plainview, Long Island, where I lived from eight to sixteen, was Pop Art come to life: a former potato field covered with split-levels and the occasional shopping strip, two new cars in every garage, two new mortgages on every house—all the seductive banalities of the postwar American dream. The highlight of Plainview social life was the fiercely fought Christmas and Chanukah lights competition, which my parents once won.
As a teenager, I had come across Warhol’s Marilyns and Elvises in Time and Life and decided, If this is Art, I like Art. Later, when The Chelsea Girls, Warhol’s three-hour, split-screen psychedelic movie extravaganza, came to Washington, D.C., I sat through it three times—the last high on acid—with some Georgetown buddies from a band called The Brave Maggots. One afternoon in Madrid, during my junior year abroad, I lit up a joint and penned a poem entitled “One Nite in Madrid Remembering the U.S. of Andy.” I’d even written in Andy Warhol for President in 1968, the first year I was old enough to vote.
In September 1969, I went to the New York Film Festival opening of Lion’s Love, a French film made in Hollywood, starring Viva, the best-known of Warhol’s Superstars. I was overwhelmed by Viva’s public appearance that night. The audience gave her a standing ovation and she thanked them, as I wrote in my report for Sarris’s class, “by throwing grandiose kisses from her box in Alice Tully Hall . . . and then doubling over in laughter at her own stardom.” How cool, I thought; she not only loves being a star, she’s also hip enough to know it’s all a joke. She was having her cake and eating it too.
That same fall, at the end of the decade when he had conquered the worlds of Pop Art and Underground film, Andy Warhol decided to start a magazine. His initial impulse was jealousy. The overnight success—Andy’s favorite kind—of Rolling Stone and Screw drove him crazy.
“Jann Wenner is so powerful. Al Goldstein is so rich,” he moaned to his three right-hand men: Paul Morrissey, who directed Andy’s movies; Fred Hughes, who sold Andy’s paintings; and Gerard Malanga, who needed something to do. “And both Rolling Stone and Screw use such cheap paper. Let’s just combine the two ideas—kids and sex—and we’ll make a fortune.” By “we’ll” he meant “I’ll.”
Andy later liked to say in interviews that he’d started a magazine “to give Brigid something to do”—her father, Richard E. Berlin, the retired chairman of the Hearst Corporation, had started out as a magazine ad salesman, and he hoped that she’d inherited his talent. Gerard says the immediate reason was to get press passes for the New York Film Festival.
When volume one, number one appeared in November 1969, inter/VIEW was a youth-oriented magazine on newsprint like Rolling Stone, full of nudity like Screw. Resemblances stopped there. inter/VIEW’s beat was film, not rock, and the sexy movie stills came from Fellini’s Satyricon, not Deep Throat. That avant-garde quality, as well as a kind of striving for elegance and seriousness, was implied in its tag line, “A Monthly Film Journal.” It was an obvious choice since the Factory’s principal business by the late sixties was making movies. It was also a clever and timely choice. Film directors were replacing rock stars as role models for American college students.
Reclining naked on the first cover was Viva, flanked by her Lion’s Love co-stars, James Rado and Jerome Ragni, of Hair fame, also naked. The cover tells a lot about the Factory’s—and Andy’s, always Andy’s—hopes and ambitions for the new magazine in the new decade. Lion’s Love, directed by Agnes Varda, was an intellectual film trying to be commercial, an indication of where the avant-garde was heading. It was supposed to carry Viva up from the Underground into the big time, just as the cover nudity was supposed to make inter/VIEW an instant newsstand hit. It didn’t, inter/VIEW wasn’t, and Warhol went on being jealous of Wenner and Goldstein. One of the cover’s promises did come true, however: the banner proclaiming “First Issue Collector’s Edition.” Today, a copy of volume one, number one sells for $800 at New York’s Gotham Book Mart.
Holding a copy now, the cheap newsprint yellowed and torn, one can almost feel the sixties turning into the seventies, and the Factory both resisting and anticipating the change. On one hand, there was an homage to “Peter Fonda as Scorpio Rising” and film reviews by waning Superstars such as Taylor Mead and Pope Ondine. But there were also hints of the coming disco decade, of the reactionary nostalgia for the glitz and glamour of thirties Hollywood that would swamp the revolutionary spirit of the sixties and make it all right to be stylish and irresponsible again. George Cukor, the ultimate Old Hollywood director, was worshipfully interviewed, and campy Busby Berkeley stills illustrated a think piece by future New York Review of Books writer Jonathan Lieberson.
True to its title, most of inter/VIEW Number One was tape-recorded question-and-answer sessions, transcribed with every “Ah” and “Well” intact. The tape recorder was Andy’s favorite toy and tool, since the movie camera had been taken over by Paul Morrissey to make Flesh. While Andy was at home recovering from the famous 1968 assassination attempt, he taped all his phone calls on a reel-to-reel recorder, and when the smaller models came on the market he carried one around wherever he went. “My wife,” he called it, sometimes introducing it as “my wife, Sony.”
The transcription technique appealed to Andy conceptually because it seemed modern and real, two qualities he consistently valued above all others. For Andy, modern meant mechanical—silkscreen, movie camera, tape recorder, video, any machine that came between the creator and his audience. Tape recording was the literary equivalent of cinema vérité, and nobody’s cinema was more vérité than Andy’s. For him, directing meant putting a camera on a tripod and letting the film run. Why couldn’t writing be reduced to transcribing? He had already taken the idea to its extreme with his tape-recorded novel, a, published by Grove Press in 1968. Nobody read it, but Andy had staked out the territory. inter/VIEW was the logical next step. Andy also liked tape recording because it was cheap—good writing costs good money. Any college kid could turn on a tape recorder, ask a few questions, then type up the tape.
The original inter/VIEW masthead listed four editors: Gerard Malanga, who now had something to do; Paul Morrissey; John Wilcock, the aging hippie publisher of the aging hippie paper Other Scenes (who was given the title in exchange for free typesetting); and, at the bottom, Andy Warhol. Malanga was the day-to-day manager, with Morrissey hovering over his shoulder, and Andy communicating his ideas through his secretary and chief transcriber, Pat Hackett, who was listed as assistant editor. There was no advertising department—Brigid Berlin had apparently refused to walk in her father’s footsteps.
A poet by calling, Gerard still favored the all-black look of the sixties Factory, heavy on leather, though his personality was more romantic than sadistic. He was Warhol’s first art assistant/social director and the star of many early Factory films, but by 1969 he was being eclipsed off screen by Fred Hughes, a well-connected Texas dandy, and on screen by Joe Dallesandro, a disconnected New Jersey street tough. It was Malanga who came up with the artsy configuration of the inter/VIEW logo, which Andy liked because it was “so spacey.” The official corporate moniker, Poetry on Film, Inc., was pure Gerard. He also contributed the premiere issue’s only poem, an elegy to the murdered movie star, “The Permanence of Sharon Tate.”
By volume one, number four, after months of fierce infighting among the right-hand men—with Andy in the background, watching, prodding, instigating, manipulating, and denying he was doing any such thing—Malanga went to Europe and Morrissey topped the list of editors. There was also a new managing editor: the improbably named Soren Agenoux (Soren as in Kierkegaard, Agenoux pronounced “ingénue”), a film buff whom Paul had met through Terry Ork, an inter/VIEW contributing editor who worked at Cinemabilia, a tiny Bleecker Street shop crammed with old movie stills and posters, some of which were used to illustrate inter/VIEW in exchange for the magazine’s sole ad.
When Soren called me at my parents’ in the spring of 1970, he wanted a review of Antonio das Mortes, a wildly radical Brazilian film, which had then been seen by only a handful of people in all New York. Fortunately, I was one of them. Soren said he needed the review the following afternoon. I said he would have it and ran upstairs to my bedroom, which was still decorated with souvenirs of family vacations in Miami Beach and Montauk Point. I was certain this review was my ticket into other rooms, rooms where everything was extreme and nothing was mediocre, rooms where Art ruled and Andy was God.
I typed past midnight and got up at seven to type some more:
I have not been to Brazil, but from 8mm movies my father has taken on business trips there, from memories of National Geographic, from ornate dreams provoked by the exotic word itself, Brazil has existed within my head as a savage, mysterious, brilliantined hallucination: a black nun in white habit, Amazonian lips painted fiercely fuchsia. Glauber Rocha’s Antonio das Mortes presents a vision of Brazil which overwhelms even an imagination as excessive as my own.
My mother drove me to the railroad station. I could barely sit through classes. The subway ride downtown went on forever. I got out at Union Square and walked past the junkies to 33 Union Square West, a twelve-story gray stone building with French windows and carved balustrades. The ground-floor store was boarded up in dirty sheet metal. The chipped marble lobby smelled of urine, the cracked glass directory (Andy Warhol Films on six, inter/VIEW on ten) also listed the names of Saul Steinberg, famous for his New Yorker covers, and the Communist Party of America. I ascended to avant-garde heaven.
At the gates, looking more like Lucifer than St. Peter, was Soren Agenoux, with his stringy hair rubber-banded into a putative ponytail, his rotting teeth, his filthy fingernails, his bony body clothed in fading black turtleneck and jeans, his spiked belt, and his pointy boots. I sat on a pile of inter/VIEW back issues in the grubby supply-closet-sized office while Soren read my review.
He loved it, especially the part about the Amazonian nun. Then he told me they paid $25 per article. He must have seen disappointment cloud my face, because he hastily added, “Would you like to meet Andy?” Would I like to meet Andy?
We took the elevator down to the sixth floor and got out into a bare white foyer with an unpainted steel door at one end. The door had a small glass window at eye level and was locked. Soren peered through the window and knocked. After a few seconds, we were buzzed in. A few feet ahead of us, at a small Art Deco desk “guarded” by a stuffed Great Dane said to have belonged to Cecil B. DeMille, sat Andy Warhol. He was wearing a brown printed-velvet jacket, Levi’s 501s, and expensive lizard boots. Only a black turtleneck echoed his sinister sixties look. He was eating lunch, vegetable purées, out of plastic containers with a plastic spoon.
He was also opening the mail, although several preppy-looking assistants were standing around doing nothing. He did it systematically. First he brought each piece right up to his pink welfare glasses and examined it intently, as if he were trying to see through the envelope or analyze the handwriting or determine the quality of the paper. Then he tore the canceled stamps off each and every piece, domestic and foreign, and stuffed them into a large manila envelope. (This, I later learned, was his “stamp collection.”) As he did this he sorted the mail into separate piles. Invitations. Bills. Checks. Everything else, from press releases to fan letters, he dropped into a cardboard box at his feet. (When a box was full, it would be sealed, dated, and stored away as a “time capsule.”) I was struck by the slow, methodical rhythm of his movements, the movements of a faltering child or a careful old man. At the time he was forty-two.
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