In the 1st volume of this fascinating oral history based on her documentary Andy Warhol’s Factory People, Catherine O’Sullivan Shorr illuminates the early years of Andy Warhol’s Factory scene through interviews with the artist’s collaborators, close friends, and many associates who became superstars. Frustrated with advertising work, Warhol set up his legendary studio in 1962 in an abandoned hat factory on Manhattan’s 47th Street. Rechristened and redecorated as the “Silver Factory,” it quickly became the hub of Warhol’s creative endeavors—the place where he constantly worked while an ever-changing cast of characters and muses passed through with their own contributions.
Photos by the Factory’s in-house photographer, Billy Name; candid interviews with Factory veterans like Ultra Violet, Mary Woronov, Taylor Mead, and Gerard Malanga; and discussions with chroniclers of the scene such as Victor Bockris and Henry Geldzahler provide revealing glimpses into life with Warhol. Working with silk-screen images of Marilyn Monroe, Campbell’s soup cans, and Brillo boxes, Warhol pioneered Pop Art during the early 1960s, and O’Sullivan’s assemblage of firsthand accounts expose the eccentric, elusive, and obsessive man behind the iconic art.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Welcome to the Silver Factory
Andy Warhol's Factory People
By Catherine O'Sullivan Shorr
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2015 Catherine O'Sullivan Shorr
All rights reserved.
BEYOND THE BEAT GENERATION
I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness ...
— From 'Howl,' by Allen Ginsberg
Historians would agree that Warhol's Factory and its groundbreaking openness would never have come into existence without those rebels of the late fifties, commonly referred to back then as 'Beatniks'— a title they hated, with some justification. According to Warhol biographers, most of whom get their facts and dates straight but have some conflicting views, "Andy Warhol was influenced by the Beats," and he was also "not even remotely interested" in those scruffy poets, writers and irredeemable reprobates that populated downtown New York. Well, as Warhol once proclaimed: "Everybody is right, and everybody is wrong." He was obviously influenced by the manic consumerism of early sixties' Madison Avenue and its 'Mad Men'— he was emphatically one of them. But he also seemed fascinated by the Beat philosophy. As is commonly known, the Beats were rather vociferous in questioning values held dear to America in the fifties. If one discounts those pesky McCarthy years when members of the creative community ('Commies' for short) were burned at the stake, life was still a Norman Rockwell painting. Then, Jack Kerouac's 'On the Road' was published, though with some sexually explicit passages removed, and the Beats became a byword for rebellion. By the time William Burroughs got 'The Naked Lunch' published in Paris, the little run-down Latin Quarter hotel where he wrote it (fondly nicknamed 'The Beat Hotel' by Gregory Corso), had become a magnet for Beat writers, artists, and existential wanderers searching for the same freedom.
The French, naturally, living in Paris, the city of the enlightened, would lay claim to The Beat Generation (le jazz hot!), and they still do. So, our producers had suggested we do a series to prove it, and quickly, because "Merde, there aren't that many left." Well, I heartily agreed, and wanted to focus a bit on the extraordinary women of the Beat era, like the accomplished Diane di Prima ('Memoirs of a Beatnik,' 'Loba') Carolyn Cassady, loyal wife of Neal, muse and lover of Kerouac. But sadly, the boys disagreed, and (sorry) Beat a hasty retreat ...
* * *
Those Beats who did choose to tough it out in America, like Allen Ginsberg, would escape to Paris, Mexico or Marrakesh. 'Howl' was a literary hit, but Ginsberg was still arrested for referring, in worshipful gay abandon, to the smoldering sexuality of Marlon Brando's motorcyclist in 'The Wild One' (1953). Ginsberg's version of the "best minds" of his generation, "who let themselves be fucked in the ass by saintly motorcyclists and screamed with joy," were less than welcome in fifties America. I was a kid, and intrigued by Ginsberg's poetry, but certainly felt the alienation, reading 'condemned' literature with a flashlight ... Many creative originals just up and left the country altogether. Others, like Jonas Mekas, arrived from obscure parts of Europe like Lithuania, and fit right in. Warhol, also with roots in Eastern Europe, had much in common with Mekas, but in 1959, while Warhol was trying to break into the rarified art world, Mekas was already an established underground filmmaker ...
* * *
Jonas Mekas: When we came to New York back then, the whole cinema horizon was open; you could see everything! The classics, the past, the present, the experimental. It was so rich that we immersed ourselves completely and immediately into it. There was no way back — we were in it! That was the beginning. But later, when I was arrested for showing (Jean) Genet's 'Un Chant d'Amour,' and Jack Smith's 'Flaming Creatures,' those court cases would affect licensing of all films. Then Lenny Bruce, his trial had to do more with freedom of speech. He contributed to eliminating censorship in cinema in America. So I was not just doing the obscenity trial for the underground. No! I did it in the first place for myself. If I want to show some films, why not? They are innocent films. I just did the right thing, no courage needed — to share with people what you like. That is what I did then, and I do the same now. If I see something that I like, I have to share with others.
* * *
While we worked on 'Factory People,' Jonas Mekas shared with us his extraordinary VHS tapes, a compilation of home movies that he and brother Adolfas began shooting almost from the moment they landed in New York (He'd borrowed money to buy his first Bolex 16mm two weeks after his arrival in 1949). We studied hours of remarkable footage from the Beat era to the decades beyond, including 'Walden,' 'Lost, Lost, Lost,' and 'Notes on Andy's Factory.' Jonas and his trusty camera were a major, ubiquitous Village presence, as was grizzly bearded Zen Buddha Billy Name, who still strongly resembles a benign Beat/Biker, wearing his trademark sunglasses, leather, and lots of silver. Billy knew why he and his friends gravitated to Greenwich Village: "It was a miserable period not just for gays, but let's say living people."
Billy Name: During the Beat era, the Bohemian Greenwich Village was The Village. It was the Café Figaro, which was the coffee shop to hang out in. Washington Square Park was filled with bongo drum players. All of the clubs had jazz musicians who did heroin and smoked marijuana, and you could hang out with these people and just groove. So, Ginsberg and Corso and Burroughs and the whole clique were the equivalent to the art culture what Marlon Brando and James Dean, the rebels, were to the film culture. And in the authentic cultural world, the kings were the poets.
* * *
When Billy talked about the fabled Village, he transported me right back to my own feckless, well-spent youth, slumped in smoky jazz clubs drinking cheap wine and wearing black tights, turtleneck and hoop earrings. Uptight upstate New York, ugly poodle skirts and bubble hair had become but a dim miserable memory. History (and history-in-the-making) was an open door on every corner, inviting the lonely misfit to feel at home. I found a rambling railroad flat on Gay (!) Street complete with bathtub in the kitchen and cockroaches with college degrees. My quiet little street connected to Christopher, the Promised Land for pioneer gays from all over the disunited states of America. Here was one of the safest, most exciting places for a girl to live. It was, as Billy would say with a big smile, "The Village." You knew your neighbors, be they artists, musicians or poets, aspiring or famous, who had come there to "Create, create, create!" ... Billy's longtime friend, charming playwright Bob Heide, who lived on Christopher Street and is still there, wrote his own treatise on the foibles of unconventional love, ('The Bed'). At The Kettle of Fish, which seemed to have always been around (since 1950), Heide would hang out with Ginsberg and Warhol, but social convention still decreed that gays be 'invisible in plain sight,' and this interdiction persisted into the sixties ...
* * *
Robert Heide: Marlon Brando lived in an apartment in the Village with Wally Cox, the TV actor, comic, intellectual. Anyway, they were painting this apartment a kind of putrid purple, and they got tired and left the cans of paint and the place was a mess. They were reading and speaking existentialism, and this was my idea of living in the Village. This particular night, I wandered into the Gaslight. Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac were reading — they weren't actually reading, they were talking their poetry. Taylor Mead was there, with whom I later became good friends. Allen Ginsberg got up and recited "Jack Kerouac, stop fucking me up the ass, Jack Kerouac." And Taylor read his poem, 'The Statue of Liberty,' about a dyke that's been carrying a torch in New York harbor for decades: "Give me your tired, your poor, and let me blow them."
Taylor Mead: I got into the poetry scene in the fifties. We were all protesting. It was a revolutionary time. And a great many people from the Midwest and the West, disinherited people like me, came to the New York coffee houses. It was Bob Dylan, and Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso ... We were outré, avant-garde, super-duper! Dylan would come in, I would stop reading and bring him up on stage and he'd be playing to the wall. I didn't understand then what being high on marijuana was, but I'd be the only one who could hear his lyrics. He was quite wonderful. He demanded one of my poetry books, and a year later he wanted my next book. I said, "Bob, you're famous now, you can afford to pay for it." He said, "Taylor, I only get paid every quarter; I don't have any money." So he conned me out of it. New York is such a con city anyway, Andy Warhol included. Don't try to get paid by any of these filmmakers.
Jonas Mekas: In 1962 we created the Film-Makers' Cooperative, and two streets down, we established a little showcase, where we began screening films every weekend. The Cooperative was in my loft, so my home became an office and meeting ground for underground filmmakers. Every evening, they used to bring their films to show to each other. Warhol came, and I did not know who he was. He had to be introduced. But he was there, sitting on the floor. That was one of his film universities, besides 42nd Street.
* * *
From the invaluable trove of Jonas Mekas, we unearthed the rare nuggets you will find scattered throughout our documentary series. Please buy his films and support the Anthology Film Archive, at the corner of Second Avenue and East 2nd Street. Ironically, the building used to be a working jail and courthouse where underground filmmakers were once tried and incarcerated on obscenity charges. Now, all their films are shown there ... Another downtown Wharholite, photographer 'Leee' Black Childers, remembers being a baby Beat ...
* * *
'Leee' Black Childers: We're on East 6th Street, which they're trying hard to improve by jacking up the rents. But there's nothing they can do about the history. If you look out this window, there's the loud and cantankerous McSorley's Ale House, which didn't even allow women in until fifteen years ago. Look it up in the Village Voice; they get everything wrong anyhow. It's got sawdust on the floor, and all the old Beatniks, jazz musicians, ne'er-do-wells like myself, and the very underground actors like Taylor Mead. We used to hang out there, because it was the place where you could do as you please, and go to sleep at the bar.
Taylor Mead: I'm an aristocrat, I'm a ruiné. I'm drifting away ... Catherine, vous parlez Français; que'est que c'est in Paris? Je suis un ruiné, un aristocrat, a disinherited ruiné, but my rent is paid, I hope.
* * *
We hope, dear Taylor, that our small contribution helped. In April of 2013, Taylor was evicted from his home of 30 years on Ludlow Street. A month later, at the age of 88, he was dead, a victim of landlord greed and gentrification. Born into wealth, the exuberantly outrageous lad had been cast out by his industrialist dad for — in the fifties — obvious reasons. Taylor Mead, like many of Warhol's aged stars, had to scrabble to keep financially above water. They were difficult to keep track of due to frequent rent-skipping changes of address. In Europe, the puckish Taylor would have been treated like the national treasure he was, and been made a regular on corny talk shows. I had hoped to make a documentary of Taylor's life before he left it, narrated by Johnny Depp. (According to Taylor: "I told Johnny that I'm the most famous actor in the world. Of course Johnny thinks he is, although he's a very sweet guy.") Now it was getting late and I was already drunk trying to keep up with a man in his eighties. After hours of Taylor's wry mutterings, and with chortles still echoing from the elfin 'Leee' Black Childers (that spelling is correct), we decided it was time to take leave of Middle Earth and make a break for reality ...
News Break, New York, 1963–1965
In 1963, The Beatles appear on the Ed Sullivan Show, John F. Kennedy begins what becomes the National Endowment for the Arts, Martin Luther King "Has a Dream", Burroughs' 'Naked Lunch' is banned in Boston, and he's put on trial. Playboy Magazine is published, but when Hefner features Jane Mansfield on the cover, he gets 'busted' for obscenity. This tasty archival footage, much of it squirreled away in long forgotten family trees, at last saw the light of day in our premier episode. In other news, Bob Dylan records 'The Times They Are A-Changin',' and New York's New Bowery Theatre is raided, while Jonas Mekas is arrested for screening Jack Smith's 'Flaming Creatures' and 'Normal Love.' Timothy Leary gets fired from Harvard for testing LSD on students, President Kennedy is assassinated, and Martin Luther King receives the Nobel Peace Prize. President Lyndon Johnson pursues with new vigor the war in Vietnam, and the New York World's Fair opens. New York City is "like living inside a light bulb," according to novelist Truman Capote, and Pop art is featured in all the national magazines. Andy Warhol has his first show of paintings at the Stable Gallery, and critics argue whether "Warhol is realistic" or "turned off to reality ..."CHAPTER 2
IN THE BEGINNING, ANDY CREATED ...
Everything you do is real, is right.
— Andy Warhol
Victor Bockris: The Factory was born out of the roots of what became the Gay Liberation Movement, which was born out of the Second World War when so many returning soldiers came home with different attitudes toward gay people, because of, ah, some things that had happened in the battlefields. So there was this unusual openness and change, and the gay culture in New York was so creative in the 1950s, so dominated really by gay attitudes or intelligences, that the male groups that came out of the fifties became the trendsetters of the sixties, essentially the amphetamine faggots, the people who Andy drew closest to in the beginning, like Billy Name and Ondine. You knew those people were coming out of a reaction to the fifties ... One of the least known periods of the Silver Factory is that early period. Andy is starting to make films but he's still seen as an artist. It's also not known that he did paint, quite a lot in the fifties. He destroyed all the paintings. But he was trying, and he did some works that signaled what was to come.
* * *
Victor Bockris wrote the first definitive biography of Warhol in 1989. The two had become close over the years, with Bockris dedicating to Warhol his meticulous study of mutual friend William Burroughs. While Warhol moaned that, "Nobody will buy a book about me," his biographer persevered, talking to family, friends and enemies, anyone who had known his taciturn subject from the beginning. Bockris, all proper British disdain and diction, reminded one of a rather dissolute crow. At the time of our interview, he was cohabiting with his demented cat in genteel disarray, well, squalor, at the Chelsea Hotel. We tried to ignore the crimson scribblings covering the walls, as if written in blood. Perhaps he was working on a new book. Bockris had much to say about the Warhol Family, and in the end suffered the same sad fate of many of them — banishment ... Gerard Malanga, who also lives with a couple of sickly cats, would likewise lose favor with Warhol. But in the beginning, he was the golden wavy-haired boy with the pouting lips, handsome as a Greek god and with a useful talent other than poetry, though neither paid well.
* * *
Gerard Malanga: I met Andy in 1962 at a party at the home of Marie Menken and Willard Maas, who were husband and wife filmmakers. Andy was brought to the party by the poet Charles Henri Ford, who later recommended me to Andy because he needed someone to help him silk-screen his paintings. The Pop art movement was still on the runway waiting to take off; they were just starting out, all of them, including Andy. So I had no sense of who Andy was, except when I went back to his house the first day we worked together. Julia, his mom, made lunch for me, and I saw some of his Campbell Soup Can artworks in the living room.
Excerpted from Welcome to the Silver Factory by Catherine O'Sullivan Shorr. Copyright © 2015 Catherine O'Sullivan Shorr. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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Table of Contents
FACTORY FAMILY INTRODUCTIONS,
BEYOND THE BEAT GENERATION,
IN THE BEGINNING, ANDY CREATED,
ALL TOMORROW'S PARTIES,
BACK TO WORK,
ANDY MAKES MOVIES ... THE SILENT ERA,
ABOUT THE AUTHOR,