Edie Sedgwick was a Factory superstar who appeared in Horse, Vinyl, Poor Little Rich Girl, Kitchen, Prison, and several other Warhol films between 1965 and 1966 before splitting with Warhol.
The Factory was eventually populated by Billy Name’s speed-freak friends, such as Ondine (born Robert Olivo) and Herko, and then the uptown’s upper classes came down to slum there. Into this swinging scene stepped Baby Jane Holzer—Andy Warhol’s first “girl of the year”—followed in 1965 by Edie Sedgwick, who was virtually inseparable from Warhol until early 1966. They looked like androgynous doppelgängers, especially after she dyed her hair silver. “I always wanted to do a movie of a whole day in Edie’s life,” Warhol later said, anticipating the reality television aesthetic. “What I liked was chunks of time all together, every real moment.” Sedgwick was the star of Chelsea Girls and appeared in other Warhol films—Poor Little Rich Girl, Restaurant, Face, Afternoon, Kitchen, Beauty No. 2, and Lupe—before meeting a tragic end. “Edie took a lot of drugs,” said Bibbe Hansen, who costarred with Sedgwick in the feature-length Warhol film Prison. “Andy didn’t give them to her. She would have done drugs wherever. I gave her drugs. I had drugs. My mother’s boyfriend robbed a pharmacy, and I had a giant jar of speed and I was dealing all over the place. She knew Andy Warhol for a little over a year, and it was one of the most magical times of her life, and it made her immortal, it captured her.”
From Chapter 3 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore
Before becoming a Factory regular, Taylor Mead was already a star of underground film after his appearance in The Flower Thief, a 1960 film by Ron Rice. The actor, activist, and scenester Jim Fouratt fondly remembered Mead as an early performance artist whose head-scratching routines could be seen in a variety of downtown venues. During one show, he sat on a swing while wearing red long johns attached to several Campbell’s soup cans. “He was doing this sort of burlesque,” Fouratt said, “throwing the cans to the ground, while swinging.” Taylor also read poems at the San Remo with lines like, “There’s a lesbian in the harbor that has been carrying a torch for someone for a hundred years” and “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses. And let me blow them.” Mead was typical of the people who surrounded Warhol, because he was given an inheritance to keep him away from his hometown. The money gave Taylor the kind of privilege that Edie Sedgwick also enjoyed—that is, as Fouratt noted, “until Edie ran out of money, because Andy always made her pick up the check. And she always graciously picked up the check.” Money was a constant source of tension at the Factory, causing Mead and many others to eventually fall out with Warhol.
Patti Smith was another New Jersey native who grew up on rock ’n’ roll. The flamboyantly queer rhythm and blues pioneer Little Richard first rocked her world, introducing the young tomboy to androgyny. Later, in Patti’s teen years, Factory superstar Edie Sedgwick made a similar impression with her boylike stick figure. Recalling the time she first saw Sedgwick in Vogue magazine during the mid-1960s, Smith described her as looking like a thin man in black leotards. “That’s it. It represented everything to me,” she recalled, “radiating intelligence, speed, being connected with the moment.” Smith saw Sedgwick in person during the fall of 1965, when she accompanied Andy Warhol to the opening of his first retrospective at the Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania. “Edie Sedgwick with the blonde hair and dark eyebrows,” Patti recalled, “she didn’t mess around. She was really something.”
From Chapter 4 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore
By 1965, Edie Sedgwick had become the Factory’s newest superstar, though she soon began clashing with Ronald Tavel. Her first two nonspeaking roles were in Horse and Vinyl, followed by Poor Little Rich Girl, Kitchen, and several others. After she refused to play a role in what she called “Tavel’s perversities,” Andy turned to Robert Heide and asked, “Would you like to be the Factory playwright to replace Ronnie?” Sure, why not? he thought, since he was already hanging around the scene. During his brief stint as a Factory playwright, Heide wrote The Death of Lupe Vélez. The film’s title was shortened to Lupe, and it starred Sedgwick as Mexican actress Lupe Vélez, who commits suicide and comes back from the dead. “This was the last film that Edie made with Andy, because she couldn’t memorize lines,” Heide recalled, “so it was basically an improvisational Andy Warhol take on the script. And after that, Andy just wanted everybody to talk in front of the camera with no script.” Heide was likely hired because Warhol had seen The Bed at Caffe Cino several times, and he created a film version of the play. (When the playwright approached Warhol to give a blurb for its Cino run, he said, “Well, just say whatever you want, that’ll be fine.”) That footage of The Bed was incorporated into his multiscreen film The Chelsea Girls, an underground hit in 1966 that featured a new addition to the Factory’s stable of superstars: Nico, who joined the Velvet Underground the same year.
From Chapter 10 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore
In 1966, the Velvet Underground performed at Paraphernalia, a hip boutique that sold clothes designed by a young Betsey Johnson, and featured a chrome and glass design with go-go dancers in the windows who grooved to the rock ’n’ roll that blared over the shop’s loudspeakers. “I was the street kid at Paraphernalia,” Johnson recalled. “I liked making affordable clothes.” She designed simple miniskirts and T‑shirts, often in primary colors, and used vinyl whenever possible. “You’d spray with Windex rather than dry-clean,” Johnson said. “We were into plastic flash synthetics. It was ‘Hey, your dress looks like my shower curtain!’ The newer it was, the weirder—the better.” After Johnson met Edie Sedgwick and Andy Warhol, who needed silver outfits for a film they were shooting, she began designing clothes for the Velvet Underground. Johnson instantly fell in love with John Cale when he asked her to make a costume he could wear while playing viola with his hands on fire. They became the first Factory couple to tie the knot, and for their City Hall wedding Johnson made a burgundy velveteen pantsuit for herself and designed Cale’s black sailcloth canvas suit. Unfortunately, New York City officials informed her that a woman could not be legally married in pants, so she returned in the tiniest of red miniskirts and completed the ceremony.
From Chapter 11 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore
Bob Dylan also maintained his cool when he sat for his Screen Test portrait in late 1965 or early 1966—stone-faced in his dark sunglasses, scratching his nose and looking unfazed. When he got up to leave, the acerbic musician decided to help himself to Warhol’s silkscreen print of Elvis dressed as a cowboy: “I think I’ll just take this for payment, man.” Robert Heide recalled, “Andy’s face turned tomato-soup red, because Andy would promise people things, and he wouldn’t necessarily deliver. He wasn’t expecting Dylan to do that.” The friction between the two camps was partially rooted in the cult of authenticity that surrounded Dylan, a sensibility that clashed with Warhol’s unapologetic embrace of artifice and commercial culture. The musician’s involvement with Sedgwick (the likely subject of his songs “Just Like a Woman” and “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat”) also exacerbated tensions. Dylan and his manager, Albert Grossman, hoped to turn Sedgwick into a film ingénue and encouraged her to break with Warhol, which she did. “If you get to the emotional truth of the thing, Andy and Edie loved each other,” Bibbe Hansen said. “Just like when two people are very, very fond of each other and something happens and people get in the way and they get riled up, the split is that much bigger.”
“And you,” Andy Warhol asked Bibbe Hansen when he first met her, “What do you do?” Before she could say a word, Al Hansen proudly blurted out, “I just sprung her from jail!” The curious artist asked, “Jail? Why? Please tell us all about that!” In her element, Bibbe jumped up and performed three or four of her best war stories from the big house. Clapping his hands in delight, Warhol said, “We have to make a movie out of that. Would you come to the Factory and make a movie with me about jail?” Bibbe of course said yes, and Warhol assistants Gerard Malanga and Chuck Wein made plans for her to come to the Factory at the start of the next workweek. “She can’t come Monday,” her dad countered. “She has to go to school! If she doesn’t go to school they’re gonna send her back to jail.” Everyone burst out laughing: “Oh, right, right, right. She has to go to school! Of course!” In a compromise, it was agreed that she could go to the Factory after school let out that Monday, and they eventually shot the feature-length Prison with Edie Sedgwick. The film consists of a static shot of Bibbe telling Sedgwick about her jail experiences as they sit on a box in a bare room; at one point, some female guards burst in and rob them of their possessions.
The Velvet Underground’s first show as a Factory band was at an annual meeting of the New York Society for Clinical Psychiatry on January 10, 1966, in the posh Delmonico Hotel. Andy Warhol was originally invited to give a lecture, but instead suggested a multimedia performance that would be staged during a dinner for the psychiatrists and their spouses. As films projected behind the group, the Velvets shared space on the stage with a go-go-dancing Edie Sedgwick. “The second the main course was served, the Velvets started to blast, and Nico started to wail,” Warhol recalled. “Gerard and Edie jumped up on the stage and started dancing, and the doors flew open and Jonas Mekas and Barbara Rubin with her crew of people with cameras and bright lights came storming into the room and rushing over to all the psychiatrists asking them things like: ‘What does her vagina feel like?’ ‘Is his penis big enough?’ ‘Do you eat her out? Why are you getting embarrassed? You’re a psychiatrist; you’re not supposed to get embarrassed!’ ” When asked if Warhol’s account might have been exaggerated, Mekas said, “It’s embellished, yes, but not too much. The main purpose was to try to embarrass them. I think we succeeded in doing that, but we were not pushy. We did it quite politely. And because of the politeness in which our questions were presented, they sounded even more outrageous than they actually were.” As Billy Name noted, “We didn’t shock anybody. Psychiatrists may be stiff but they all have a sense of humor, and they’re all intelligent.”
Around the time Edie Sedgwick was splitting from Andy Warhol and sinking deeper into drug addiction, the artist asked Robert Heide to bring him to the spot where Freddie Herko killed himself on Cornelia Street. Andy was affectless as he asked Heide to point out exactly where he landed, then looked up at the window and thought aloud, “I wonder when Edie will commit suicide. I hope she lets us know so we could film it.” Bibbe Hansen acknowledged that Warhol’s comment sounds dreadful, if taken out of its context. “But that was Andy’s way of processing it,” she said. “Because to show emotion, none of that was acceptable for men in that age. I mean, cool was the number one thing. The whole post–World War II guy thing—it was emotionally kind of stalwart. It was a thing that was very prominent in the Village, a kind of game that the bohemians would play.” Playwright Robert Heide felt the specter of death surrounding Warhol, and there was always a feeling that something terrible could happen. “At a certain point, I didn’t hang out so much with Andy at the Factory,” Heide said. “I did feel a kind of danger. I couldn’t keep up with everybody else because I knew I would go out the window, so I was more careful about it. And at a certain point, I had gone as far as I could go.”
From Chapter 12 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore
Andy Warhol did not appear in television’s first weekly reality series, An American Family, but he was a looming influence behind the scenes. Shot in 1971, the PBS show premiered on January 11, 1973, and became an immediate pop culture sensation. It was discussed by newspaper columnists, debated by television pundits, and taken seriously by respected scholars such as Margaret Mead. In a TV Guide article, the anthropologist declared that the show was “as new and significant as the invention of drama or the novel—a new way in which people can learn to look at life, by seeing the real life of others interpreted by the camera.” Though An American Family primarily took place in the Loud family home in Santa Barbara, California, several key moments were filmed in New York—exposing the likes of Jackie Curtis and Holly Woodlawn to millions. It also introduced audiences to the first openly gay man on television, Lance Loud, who had already forged links with the downtown underground in the mid-1960s. After he saw a Time magazine article about Warhol and Factory superstar Edie Sedgwick at the age of thirteen, Loud dyed his hair silver. He even struck up a long-distance friendship with Warhol—via mail and, eventually, telephone—but the letters and late-night phone calls abruptly ended after Warhol was shot in 1968. “I tried to write him, but the letters came back,” Loud said. “He suddenly became very, very private. He got very scared after that for a long time.”
From Chapter 23 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore