The Billy Name Interview
From the "Factory People" Notebook
Our three hour film, “Andy Warhol’s FACTORY PEOPLE”, tells the story of the 60’s Silver Factory that Andy founded in 1964 in an abandoned hat factory on East 47th Street in New York City. The Silver Factory lasted until 1968 when Andy gave up the lease and moved to the White Factory on Union Square. Shortly after moving in the Spring of ’68 Andy was shot by Valerie Solanis and this event bookends the period of time covered in “Factory People”.
The idea of the film is to tell the real story of the culture, who was there with Andy, who participated in the work with Andy, and what really happened during this period…all without passing judgement on Andy, his work, his friends, and the people who were there at the time.
The Billy Name Interview
The Silver Factory Phenomenon, where did it come from?
"The thing that I do like that you are allowing me to do (in this interview) in terms of the Silver Factory and Warhol and his associates is to show that it all didn’t came from nowhere. Andy was really integrated into the New York culture, the artistic avant garde, the traditional artists of total authenticity. Andy was part of that. He was a commercial artist previous to becoming famous. That doesn’t mean that he wasn’t simultaneously interacting with the New York avant garde art and culture. He was, simultaneously with being a commercial artist, he was interacting not only with John Cage, not only with me at the Judson Dance company; but also in the underground cinema and going to see Kenneth Anger’s films, or who ever was the current filmmaker and he somehow had this desire to become one. Once he became famous as a fine artist, a painter, he desired to equal that as a filmmaker.
Artists are genius people, whether they develop or not, or are humble or not, they are creators, and once creators meet facility they start to flow. Andy had this facility in an arena, the Silver Factory, the prospect of making movies as underground films which were really having a strong integrity and impact in, even as much as painting had at that time and music and poetry in the New York culture.
Painting of course succeeded poetry in that post period as the king of New York culture.Modern dance, experimental music and underground filmmaking had equivalent levels of strength and ok, so Andy was not only doing painting and this is before he started doing famous peoples portraits so what you could participate in was the filmmaking, and
underground filmmaking in New York was such a live, creative area that it was more important in the sense of participation than painting, because not just the single painter was painting things and showing them and you know, making an impact. We were all participating in the impact."
Where Andy got the idea for making his factory space into the Silver Factory…
"I had an apartment on the lower east side, what is now called alphabet city, and I was a lighting designer for the Judson dance company and the avant garde opera and all the artists that I interacted with were “La Boheme” sort of,so to speak, and nobody had any money. We didn’t think about money, we did not try to figure out ways to make money. You know, we were so into our artistic expression that we found ways to live, and there were times when people needed a trim for their hair and I had the knack to give, not give a haircut, but a nice trim and make your hair look nice again, like have a nice body.
At my apartment on east fifth, street which I had completely covered the interior with aluminium foil; and if it wasn’t coverable with foil, I spray painted it with Krylon silver aluminium paint, including the silver wear, the telephone and the toilet, everything. So my apartment was totally silver, and when people who wanted a trim, or would say, “can you give me a trim?”, and I would say come over let’s say at 8 o’clock, and then 50 other people would come up, all their friends would come and I would give each person a trim.
Ray Johnson brought Andy to my apartment one night, when I was doing this haircutting salon in my silver apartment. Andy said, “Billy I have just got this great loft up town and would you do to my loft what you have done to your apartment?” He wanted the loft to be all silver also because it was so stunning to walk in to a lower east side apartment and have it be totally silver, and he knew I did theatrical lights and so it was like walking into this fantastic silver tube, and it was, well, it was an installation, and it was an event and a happening."
So, how did it all start for you…can you tell us from the beginning?
Yeah, I was born in 1940 and I think Andy was in 1928. His generation had experienced the great depression, I didn’t. I experienced World War II, so maybe the whole story of Andy’s plurality came from growing up in the depression, you know and pinching pennies and all that. I did not go through that, my parents did. I am not a baby boomer I am a pre-war baby who became a war baby and went through that period, so it is different cultural generation.
The excitement begin for Mr. Billy Name, or Maestro Billy Name because “Billy Name” is a pen name when I was in High school. My junior and senior years I had a girlfriend who was also artistically oriented, and every weekend we would take the train down, from my home town Poughkepsi, New York, to Greenwich Village. In that era, which was 1957-1958 and I was seventeen eighteen, the village was the bohemian Greenwich village, it was the village, Washington square park was filled with Bongo drum players, all the clubs had Jazz musicians who did heroin and did marijuana, and you could hang out with these people and just groove. The first time I smoked grass I remember I went to the Greenwich Hotel with this two guys. One was a painter and the other one was a composer, and they were going to let us stay with them overnight because we didn’t have money, and they were smoking this green grass stuff you know and, I had had alcohol before, and they were playing Beethoven on a phonograph, on an LP, and that is when I got high and the place just turned into colours and movements in the air and it was my first sense of being high, and the initial impact on the body of humanity was like wahoo,! bam, bam! It was like going from riding a single speed bicycle to riding a 10 speed bike and you shift gears to all this different planes of experience and they were each a different tone, a different colour.
Were the Beat Poets around then?
Yes, the Beat Poets were the kings of culture at this time. They were to authentic art culture what Marlon Brando and James Dean were to cinema culture because Brando and Dean came out from the New York realist school of acting and there was no longer what you might call, theatrical performance in film. It was the realism thing. Especially on the order “Rebel Without a Cause”. The authentic cultural world began with the poets, and that happened in the 50’s in New York where our own American poets, our natives became the culture kings
but it did not last beyond that period into the 60’s because the visual arts took over. But poetry was the culture that started the American wave movement. I think that is so refreshingly authentic that it should be the poets that initiate the American Revolution, so to speak, in culture.
What was happening then in the art world?
There was still the overshadowing of Paris as the center of the art world, and New York was still in the tail of the third world. America was always considered provincial, and if you wanted to be a real artist you would go to Paris to study. Movies like an “American in Paris” would have an abstract painting on the wall of the artist’s studio and Gene Kelly would be wearing a beret, you know and study art in Paris.
So at this point the axis of the art world shifted from Paris to New York because it seems that these American abstract painters like Jackson Pollack had something going that was so vital, there was a vitality and a real authenticity. The reason also why Europe was the central of the art world was its history; its centuries of cultural history. America, the United States was only two centuries old in the first place, and all the art work here was like portraits and that kind of stuff, but now all these people that were inspired by modern art found this all new expression that was even less representative, it was dripped paint, kind of black latex paint from the hardware store because Pollack could not afford to by oil paint. You know and this was so stunningly well, stunningly unpretentious but not naïve.
So before I got in with Andy you might say that my “apprenticeship” went with this fellow Nick Vervonovitch was his name, and he was graphics artist and lighting designer from Black Mountain College, and when the college closed in the late 50’s, half of the people came to New York and the other half went to San Francisco. They were basically the Zen communist roots of the radical cultural explosion, the big poet was Charles Bukowski,, the great master of American Poetry, so I hooked up with these people and didn’t get really into what you call specifically art in the sense of the painting world like Warhol, I got into the avant garde world which included modern dance and experimental music. I was actually Nick’s helper. He trained me how to do everything and he was THE lightning designer at the time. Paul Taylor and every other avant garde modern dance company demanded him. He was the man that did all of their lighting and I learned from him so I became on my own a lighting designer.
Nick was hired to do all the lighting to the Spoleto Festival in Italy and because there was ballet, there was opera, there was theatre, there was so much work it was the first time that I was assigned to do something on my own. It was like my apprentice period and here you have to do this because Nick is too busy. so many things you cant lead with him working there are so many things that needed to be done. “Billy you have to do this one alone.” It was vignettes from various plays and I had to light each one like a jewel, like a gem, and I did it so well I said, “My god, I can’t believe this wonderful divine feeling I have from being so creative and doing it well.” Its like the delight of an artist when you have the opportunity to do your own expression, or let’s say you become the director, and you are no longer the apprentice, you know you are in charge and in Italy it was like a union situation I could not handle the lights. I just had to tell them what to do but I successfully created my own lighting piece.
How did you actually meet Andy?
I was just paying my rent by being a waiter at a very posh boutique uptown on the upper east side of Manhattan called Serendipity. It’s still there. It’s still the posh boutique and the founder Steven Bruce is still there who knew Andy as a buddy when Andy was a successful commercial artist and showed some of Andy’s early work in that boutique. I was a waiter there Andy would come in, he was Steven Bruce’s friend, Steven would have his early drawings, but Andy was not famous yet, although he had won awards in New York for his commercial graphics design. Andy was, you know, the best something of the year for a couple of years running, for his ads, for his books, what have you; so he was totally successful as a commercial artist. Serendipity was so chic that one night I was there working and Kim Novak came in, she actually paid the check and she looked at me, and I had a beard at that time, and she said, “Your beard is that for a part?”. You know she thought I was an actor who was doing waiting until I got my acting role. So anyway Andy would come in there, and Steven and I were sort of buddy’s so I was able to become not just a waiter there but became a friend of Steven’s.
Andy knew me as Billy and I knew Andy as Andy and there was no fame yet. It was just the New York cultural world on the upper east side. And it was mostly gay, and you know, mostly fagots, every body was who was successful, I mean there is no really kind term to express the homosexual world before the gay revolution happened, you know, but it was a sub-culture, that ruled in the arts, the design area, and much of the television production and commercial areas.
And it’s so wonderful that it came out to be a its own lifestyle instead of being hidden under a taboo culture because everybody was so terrified and paranoid all the time, of loosing their jobs at the time you know, so there was Andy and Steven, everybody was what now you may call gay.
I actually think the Silver Factory was one of the very first arenas which allowed the cultural life of the homosexual world to integrate into the mainstream, which is another part of the story, but I think that Andy’s audacity in allowing everyone to demonstrate their own talents freely without the inhibition of “yuck! Can’t do that, that’s taboo”.
The silver factory did allow not only gay people but straight sexual oriented people, or lets just say “living people” to come out into the open and say “yeah!!! I am alive, this is my talent, my skill and I am going to be showing you what I am doing”, so the Warhol factory really was very instrumental in allowing those revolutions to happen, become known
What was Andy’s factory space originally like?
When he took the lease for the loft on 47th street between 2nd and 3rd avenues and I went up to look at it and, you know doing an installation of the silver thing, it was very decrepit. The walls were concrete, the floor was concrete and the walls were crumbling. Andy had set up a painting area in the front of the loft where windows were because he could only paint in the daytime when the sunlight came in because there were no electrical outlets installed. So we somehow synchronised and said to each other, “Lets get this thing into working order!”.
He wanted to be painting and doing films, but he needed someone to have all the skills for electricity, electrical installations, and I had all that from my theatrical experience and working as a lighting designer because you work with live voltage.
The first thing I did in Andy’s new factory studio, which was just Andy’s studio at that time we call it, was to install overhead lights, spot lights. Then I installed the sound system and made special places for Andy to work, spaces for his painting, special areas where he could do the film making and
Were you and Andy attracted to each other? Were you “lovers”?
Andy and I started in that old New York era eccentric avant garde way of an older artist keeping a younger artist. You know the other artists had a pretty boy around, you know; but it was the tale end of that culture of that era. And for instance, Andy and I would go to Rauchenburg’s studio, and his boyfriend was Steve Paxton, who was a dancer in Merce Cunningham’s Dance Company. The arts culture was so integrated like that, like Gertrude Stein was still the queen of literature you know, and that whole “hashish Alise B. Toklas” thing, and a person’s having a younger lover or someone they were keeping was still going on, so that’s how I started out my relationship with Andy.
Well it really became uninteresting to be lovers because the art work that we were doing was film and being lovers was like awkward for both of us, like I was the same way with Ray Johnson. I was his boyfriend, but you know, we could never make out. He would come over and we would juts sleep together. I had two cats and they were like snuggling into his armpits so we, you know, just slept together.
None of us were articulated in sexual matters, but we did have love for each other, and this male bonding thing also, and we had the desire and the need to have bodies and people to do things with, and play with. Without boundaries on intimacy like there was no, we weren’t, it was no longer the abstract expression of this macho thing. You know it wasn’t like at the Cedar bar where you just got drunk and started fights. This was a new world of a younger generation of American artists who succeeded their elders, the abstract expressionists. Its like you’re rich kids and this is your backyard now and you don’t have to pay attention to what your parents did, all the work they did to make this for you.
How did the art scene at the time play into things?
There was a lot of resentment in the traditional abstract expressionist master art world. When people like Rauchenberg, Johns, Lichenstein, Oldenberg and Warhol started doing what was becoming the term “pop art”, and completely threw away what had been established as art, there wasn’t an intentional philosophical thing, it wasn’t philosophical. We did not want that anymore. It was just that these were the kids of those people, and the kids do what’s growing inside them. You know its not Europe oriented its American oriented.
What happened next? How did you become the Factory in-house photographer?
When Andy got this new space we became so involved with the creation of what became the Silver Factory, and because he had just started doing filmmaking at this time, and because he got the film camera, the 16 mm Bollex and had only been using a 35 mm still camera from Honeywell Pentax, he then gave me the still camera and said, “Billy you do the still photography. I am just going to make films now.” So that is when I became a photographer I hadn’t really been interested or thought about the field previously, and its because everything was there for me that I could just move in to it, and Andy moved into the motion pictures, and because I had established the Silver Factory as a work place for him so that it was all ready for him just to start utilizing because he didn’t have to spend 90% figuring out how to install lights and all that stuff, you know I had the skills to do that.
How did you manage to be the only person who ever actually lived in the Silver Factory?
It was a perfect meeting at the time. Perfect time, perfect place, perfect synchronisation for him to meet me, someone who had the skills, mechanical skills, needed to take over that workload for him so that he could continue to be creative. And we synchronised so well that eventually I said, “Why don’t you just give me the key because I am going back and forth from my apartment downtown to this new Silver Factory uptown. I really like to live where I work so why don’t you just give me the key and I will give in my apartment and move up here.” So that’s what happened. I moved into the factory I became the foreman of the factory.
You, Gerard and Ondine were Andy’s original trio. What can you tell us about Greard and Ondine?
Gerard Malanga and ONDINE, who’s real name is Robert hezavier XXX were from two different worlds. They were both New Yorkers.
Gerard, lets go to him first because he was with Andy first. There was a filmmaker couple named Wllard Mass and Maria Maken, who were underground filmmakers and artists. Gerard was going to XXX college in Staten Island. Andy had just got this work space, even before the silver factory. It was a fire house near his town house which was city owned and about to be condemned.
Marie and Willard got to know Andy because of the filmmaking thing, so Andy brought up that he needed an assistant, somebody he could trust. Maybe an artist type person to help him with his silk screening, you know, clean the screens after they were done, because this thing silk screening, specially done in the large paintings is not an easy process. It is a lot of work and a lot of responsibility; meticulous cleaning of the screen afterwards so it doesn’t go off, so you could use it again. So he wanted someone who was intelligent enough to be his assistant.
Gerard was in a way Marie Menken and Willard Mass’ protégé. He was a young poet, he was going to college in New York but he was a native New Yorker, and she was almost like tugboat Annie, real New York character, and Gerard was a real New York character, so he was their protégé and they recommended him to Andy to be his assistant.
Now Gerard started working for Andy as a paid assistant and he was paid by the hour. It was probably the minimum wage at most, because that’s, you couldn’t demand pay for just helping someone; but that’s anyway, he actually was a paid assistant but at this time he had already infiltrated his way as a poet into New York poetry world and even knew people like Frank O’Hara. I mean he wasn’t a buddy of Frank’s. He was considered a juvenile or a junior, but he was part of the underground poetry world.
Now the poetry world was no longer the world of the kings of culture with Ginsberg and Kerouac and what have you, it was now an integrated stratagem within the overall art culture in New York so, there was modern dance, there was experimental music, there was poetry and there was painting. Gerard was a poet, Andy was a painter. Gerard started to work as Andy’s assistant and because of his ties in the world of poetry, he started getting Andy connections into that world. For instance, there is a book out called “wizard something” about XXX in the Warhol world or something by River XXX and it goes into the thing how Frank O’Hara didn’t approve of Andy Warhol, you know, and Gerard went to infiltrating Andy into that crowd, and so Gerard had his field to bring Andy into just as I had my field to bring Andy into.
Gerard was there first, I mean I knew Andy first at Serendipity and we got to know each other, but I mean Gerard was working with him first, this was at the fire house studio. Once we moved to 47th street, the Silver Factory, I was very antagonistic to Gerard because he would go out with Andy to this poetry, cultural occurrences, acting as if he was Andy’s boyfriend, because everybody had boyfriends either it was XXX or Frank O’Hara, they all had a young boyfriend, so Gerard when he brought Andy to these things he acted like Andy was keeping him, like he was Andy’s boyfriend which he wasn’t. I was, so I got extremely pissed off about that because he was pretending, you see Gerard, people say its ridiculous but its sort of ridiculous in the sense that an essential part of his character, he know how to, the hard term, “social climb” or “opportunistic”; but it is so natural to him that its not really a pretentious thing, you know he just knows how to manipulate things to get his position in the world, which is very, to me a great technique and skill. Its admirable you know but it seems crass sometimes to people who know he is taking an opportunistic move here and they don’t know that we all did that when we had the opportunity. Gerard introduced Andy to a whole level of cultures.
What about Ondine?
Well Ondine comes to the scene through Ray Johnson and Dorothy Podbur. When I was still a waiter at Serendipity, Friday and Saturday nights a fellow waiter names Ron Link who later became a Broadway director, invited me to go with him down to the café San Remo on Bleeker and McDoual Streets in Greenwich village after work. He said “Come out with me to the San Remo, you will love it!”, you know, so I went with him.
It turns out that, in Greenwich village there were primarily 3 bars with cultural impact, the Cedar Bar where the painters went, the White Horse in the west village where the writers went, and the San Remo in the central village is where the theatre people and a mix of some of the others went. It was a little bit more theatrical. So I went with Ron, and just found this amazing crowd of people there, and it turned out that some people I knew from Ray Johnson were there. This character who everyone called Ondine was there and he was like the flaming creature, he was the grand flame, he was the screaming faggot, but who was more like a combination of Oscar Wilde and Laurence Olivier. He was an actor, he worked in the theatre in the village, but imagine this combination of an actor as great as Olivier but with a wit as great as Oscar Wild. He was something probably as exquisite as either one of them, but in the avant garde American culture, and I think that everyone that has ever met him does admit that he was such an outstanding individual that you couldn’t describe him. So saying that he is a combination of Olivier and Wild, you know is sort of like getting it down to the combination wittiness and articulateness
Ondine was from Brooklyn and he hung around with Dorothy XXX and Ray Johnson and XXX in what were called the XXXX people. Dorothy had these great connections. She had connections in the criminal world and in the chemistry world. Going into Dorothy’s apartment you would see on the table a big ball of white powder and there was XXXXX XXXX clorate, sure because she knew the people who made it, and her boyfriend was a chauffeur for the mafia. I think ONDINE and I both learned from her, she was the master mind.
So it was you, it was Gerard, and it was Ondine as Andy’s Silver Factory major domos’?
Ondine was not part of the Warhol Silver Factory as someone who worked there. He was my buddy who I brought up there, like, this is the amphetamine crowd.
What about Brigit Berlin?
Bridget Berlin came through me because Ondine and I had the same amphetamine connection, his name was Rotten Rita. He was an interior designer who lived in the upper west side and he and Ondine were like the two greatest Maria Callas fans in the all world, except there was this controversy because Rita and I also liked Renata Tubaldi. ONDINE was exclusive Callas, he wouldn’t hear anything else, but he would dane to listen to Tubaldi as long as Rita gave him good amphetamines.
Why was Ondine so special?
ONDINE already had a place in the art world that was his own place. He did work in the Broadway theatre, he was a star at the café San Remo, and we became real good buddies, when I still had my apartment. The thing is that so many interrelationships happened between the time we started to know each other and the time Ondine came to the factory, that to me, to make that direct tie doesn’t happen but I can say that eventually ONDINE came to the factory because we were close and hung around together as buddies, we weren’t lovers in anyway but we were real, real strong into each other.
What did Andy think of Ondine?
Andy thought that Ondine was fabulous, because Ondine was the most loquacious, articulate, funny; but wittingly and bitingly funny, you know of the level of an Oscar Wilde type intelligence. I mean the things he would say were not just funny, they were revealing, they were enlightening. And so we were starting to make Andy’s films at this time, and so he said to Ondine you have to be in the films and all that. So Ondine did not came in like a worker like Gerard, or like a technical facilitator like me, he came in as a grandiose star, as a flaming creature of New York ready to be a star of Warhol movies. It’s a whole different level of interaction with Warhol
What was going on with movie making in the Factory?
Well what was going on was, if you put the words in quotes “going on”, it was going on, and you never knew that it was going on, but it was always going on. Andy, once he got that camera in his hands, he was just going on with it, and he would just, like later he became with the tape recorder, you know, it was incessant, and he would have to tape record everything just like he had to film everything.
In the first year of the Silver Factory, like in 1964, it was very much more open space for those who were participating like me and Ondine with Andy because we were still totally into that Avant garde underground art world thing, it wasn’t until like next year after the Brillo boxes and all that, that Andy started to become really famous, he was just known at this point so we were still underground artists. I had set up barriers when I installed all the lights so the ceiling, it was a large loft space previously a hat factory with 3 arches in the ceiling, it was like 100 feet long by, I don’t know like 30 by 100 something like that and there were 3 arches and in each arch I had set up outlets for spotlights to come straight down so there were areas where Andy could make films in and I would make sets like order from a hardware store probably 5 wood sheets and hinge two of them together and spay them silver so with a couple of them you would then have the set for Ondine and “Chelsea Girls” under the spotlight.
What were some of the technical details of filmmaking for Andy then?
The interesting thing about filmmaking at that time was that great new products were coming out for filmmakers. Kodak came out with this Tri-X film that was this high speed film which you could actually make movies with without lights. You know, in outdoor light you could make handheld movies, you did not need a studio to make them in with lights and all, so and then another thing that came out then was the halogen lights. So we had what we called sun guns.
We would set up one sun gun on the subject whether it was a screen test or Pope Ondine or Chelsea Girls, so that whole look that came from the 60’s, I can’t say that we were the originators because Avedon did it too. I think that every studio photographer did it once they had halogen lights and tri-x film. You would just need this brilliant halogen from one side and then total dark on the other side so that you had a black and white harlequin face. If you look at Chelsea Girls during the Pope Ondine segments, that is how I lit them and they were shot in Tri-X, so it’s intense black and white high contrast. In this light the bodies are floating in space because the contrast is so intense.
So we were into using new tools and materials simultaneous with having the opportunity to have these crazy, brilliant characters expose themselves in our films and again it’s just this coming together of elements of our culture which is snatched like a cyclotron into this wonderful happening thing that is spectacular like Pope Ondine and the Chelsea Girls
How do you think that Andy arrived at choosing the actors he chose for his films?
Well it was not like a selection process. There were no audition type things, you know, it’s not like “A Chorus Line” where you came and you had the “we’ll call you don’t call us”.
People would come in through me, or in a different area in the poetry world they would come in through Gerard or they would just come in. Or we would go out and find them and tell them to come in because the art world was still somewhat insular then in Manhattan. Everyone in New York culture knew each other and they weren’t known by the all rest of the world yet. They know who Lamonte Young or John Cage were and they were starting to hear about all Oldenburg, Lichentstein and Warhol; but it wasn’t the real world yet, it was still inner art world, the avant garde underground. But it was the authentic art world, so you would just work with the people you interacted with because they were all fabulous.
Who influenced Andy’s filmmaking?
Jack Smith. There was a filmmaker who was including a whole culture of these fabulous wild creatures from New York underground who didn’t really have an outlet for expression other than off Broadway theatre. All of a sudden people like Jack Smith started that, bringing all these crazy theatre people into the film making process like in his “Flaming Creatures” or “Normal Love”, but it was unscripted and it was simply nuance or presence.
Andy and I went to some sessions of Jack Smith filming “Normal Love” on Lower East Side rooftops, because I knew Jack through La Monte Young. So I brought Andy over there and I think for the first time Andy saw that he didn’t have to really pre-conceive or construct a film, you could just make it happen because Jack Smith was basically conceptual in his filmmaking. The focus of his images were his characters, the crazy flaming creatures, the title of his most famous film; and Andy saw that he didn’t have to direct people, he didn’t have to have a script or a scenario. You could just make a film of what was going on.
And when Andy first started making his films he did chose somewhat a story line in them like “Tarzan and Jane Regained, Sort Of”, with Taylor Mead and Naomi Levine and Dennis Hopper, you know; but they were handheld camera so that they were moving and when he looked at them he said that is not my film it looks like any number of underground filmmakers, Ron Rice or Kenneth Anger; you know, all that handheld movement stuff, that amateur goofy stuff.
Andy did not find his own style or something that he thought was his own filmmaking until he said, “I am not going to do handheld filmmaking anymore, I am going to put the camera on a tripod. I am not going to move, I am just going to load the film and turn it on and off.” And that became what we called the “Kiss Series”, the Screen Test Series, the serial art films. And once Andy did that; for instance, did a “screen test” of any one of the wonderful people who came in and then we would get it back from the lab and project it. I would hang these great sheets of white photography paper in certain areas that we could use for projection screening and it was simply this still like portrait of a living person for like 3 minutes alive.
Andy realised that that the “screen test”was an Andy Warhol art work. He felt that he had reached his own stage of creation, that he recognised it as his own work. The handheld avant garde movie thing, from the nouvel vague in France to Ron Rice here, didn’t do it for him. It wasn’t what he was trying to do, but when he did the still life portraiture in a motion picture, I mean it is ironic that you’re making motion pictures and you end up doing a still life portrait.
But this is the audacity of Andy’s mind or non-mind whichever way you see Warhol because he contends to have no mind but you know something is going on in there. He can see that only he could make a still life portrait as a motion picture and he knew it was his art work so he just worked with the tripod from then on and never did handheld cameras again.
How did Andy create the Superstars?
If you know anything about Andy Warhol or read any of the books about him, you know that as a child he adored film stars. When he became a famous painter, which was his altruistic, his highest goal to become a world renowned fine arts painter, his deeper inner life came out, he wanted to be a portrayer of glamour, because for him glamour was the most powerful thing in the world because, movie stars inhibit, inhabit or inhabit the minds of people all over the world and they are icons, and whenever you go to a movie and you say, oh boy I am going to have it on with her, you know, and then you do your fantasy. It’s like a fulfilment, a sexual completion; but it is so beautiful.
What was Andy’s focus?
The whole thing with Andy as he went from minimalist filmmaking, like the screen tests, the kiss series, 13 most beautiful boys, 13 most beautiful girls, he moved into features which had a duration beyond just still life or a moving still life. In a sense the work did not have a screen play but had a situation so there was more than one person there, and there was a set, or it was in someone’s wonderful apartment, or it was in Southampton at the de Menil’s beach mansion. There had to become a focus, otherwise it just becomes pastoral filming the house, the ocean and people around. So the focus was either Ondine, Edie Sedgwick, Nico, Allen Midgette, or other superstars; because within the realm of just filming the world, it’s beautiful, but it’s still like a still life… pastoral.
The only thing that brings back whatever inhabited his childhood libido is the power of glamour because everyone all over the world will go to see a movie with Marylyn Monroe in it. Why? Because she is beautiful, but also because she is vulnerable, also because she is an icon and people can place their whole faith in an icon, their whole life. So this inhabited Andy from his childhood. When he got more astute at making the films, it just came through him that he wanted to make stars. I do not know if it was because Andy grew up during the depression and his family was poor and the only thing that was beautiful and available was movies that you could go see for 5 cents, but there is something about film stars for him, for all America during the depression it was the only place they had to turn for dreams.
Who was Andy’s first Superstar?
Like probably the first was Maria Montes, who was also a Jack Smith star from Flaming Creatures and Normal Love. Maria Montes was a transvestite from the underground world and she became Andy’s first glamour icon.
And what kind of film would he make with her? Not with her, of her, about whatever she was, whether it was Mario eating a banana, she’s eating a banana, peeling a banana or she is just being Mario in her dazed glamour heaven because Mario Montes was a man but looked like the screen star Maria Montes and took the name Mario Montes as an emulation of Maria Montes, ok now this whole thing is where do superstars come out, it was just glamour, glamour, glamour.
Who do you think was Andy’s favourite of the girl superstars?
I can’t say that there is such a concept for Andy as a favourite, for Andy there are the ones that work and the ones that don’t.
The ones that work, Mario Montez, Edie Sedgwick, Nico, Suzanne Bottomley aka International Velvet, Viva, the Lucille Ball of underground movies, these were people who would exploit what he gave them to use. It’s not the star who’s his favourite, it’s the film production that becomes a real alive riveting thing that is his favourite. Like if you watch the whole series of “Chelsea Girls” that one reel with Pope Ondine with Rona, and he slaps her after she says you are not really a Pope, you know. Its so traumatic and it is so stark in that black and white chiaroscura, and there’s this scratch on the film that keeps running through the whole thing; but its so beautiful because it’s all so black and white like a creation that Man Ray would never have be able to think of, that Duchamp would have been jealous of, it’s the product.
What was Andy’s favourite film?
It’s the final film itself. That’s Andy’s favourite. There are a lot of Edie Sedgwick films where Andy would just say, “Oh she really didn’t do anything.”; you know but there are some where she would be just so the divine Edie, that it doesn’t matter, you know it does work. But it’s the product, it’s the film, it’s the art piece, it’s the result that is his favourite.
Now here are Andy’s values: if you were able to contribute to making a piece of art that is going to be lasting and admired forever, you are valued. Not you are my favourite, because it is more important to be valued. He would let the person know this.
He personally didn’t like or dislike people, he valued people if they could participate in the creation of something that is going to impact people. It does not have to impact people as a Warhol film but it has to be such an impacting work of art that because everybody who was there made it. But it will be known as Warhol work. But that, to Andy, is not really the important thing, the important thing is that art is impacting.
How did Andy manage to get so much out of so many people, with so little?
Well it didn’t really happened that way. We shot reels, and reels, and reels, of film which most people would say are nothing or boring or uninteresting, unless you have to have the authors eye and then you could see how Andy was framing the shooting. The people who curate his films know that these films are art pieces, but in terms of the superstar system, the demonstration and impact of glamour and power, is perhaps 1.5% of the Warhol the reels that we shot.
In the later years Paul Morrissey started cutting out people from coming around. like he would not let Ondine come around because Andy had shot so many reels with Ondine that were nothing, but there were these few that were exquisite. Paul was like an economics professor saying, “Well you know, this is economies of scale you know, if he is only producing 1.5% of success that is real then we don’t want him anymore.” Paul was so crass, he’s cool, I love him, he’s great.
How did Andy finance his films?
It was so much paid by him. All the income from his paintings went to, if you can believe that in the 1960’s developing core film, buying it a 30 Minute reel of colour film and developing it and printing it is why we used reversal film, because if you shoot reversal film the master is positive, its not a negative so, if you shot in the master with negative you would have to make a print to the positive, which is another expense, the cost was so high that all of the money from his paintings was going into developing these reels, and like I am saying, less than 95% of them were the exquisite ones. It’s like panning for gold, you know, in a stream, and Andy became acclimated to that. He knew that everything was not going to be fabulous everyday and the whole thing of Warhol into boredom and tedium just because that is what he was experiencing, attempting to cull these few nuggets in the process.
Was painting easier for Andy than Filmmaking?
It was easier in the painting world because it was him alone making his paintings, selecting his imagery and iconography. He did not even have to realise or recognize why his iconography was successful. It was successful because he was a young, American guy. His libido, his libido imagery or emotional life, was forged by American culture post war, post WWII, which is all based on glamour and consumer sales and shit.
The movies were fun, and the paintings paid for the making of the movies. Why was not that enough for Andy? Why did he decide that he had to involve the Silver Factory in music?
Well he didn’t really involve the factory in music. What happened was we were developing this multimedia aspect. Andy was a famous fine arts painter, becoming a famous underground movie maker who never really surfaced to above ground. The whole multimedia thing started when Edie Sedgwick got mixed up with the Bob Dylan crowd.
We were going to do an Edie Sedgwick festival for Jonas Mekas at his Filmmakers Cinematheque and Jonas said to Andy, “I have a time area for you in the festival, you can utilise this?”, and so Andy said we will do an Edie Sedgwick Film Festival.
So budget aside, it has to be known what Jonas Mekas did for Andy’s filmmaking is what Henry Geldzahler did for Andy’s painting. Jonas was the imprimatur who said it was art. Geldzahler said that Warhol’s paintings are art and therefore from then on they were known as such.
Jonas Mekas wasn’t sure because so many of his filmmakers in the filmmakers co-op stable were of the Avant garde world were straignt, and didn’t really find an interest in Warhol’s work and didn’t think it was art. Jonas Mikas said, “I am going to have to recognize Andy, because these people, serious people are questioning this, I am to have to sit down and look at all of Warhol’s films.” So like for a whole day he viewed all of Warhol’s films and he decided it was art, and that it wasn’t frivolous, and that it wasn’t surface culture, and that it wasn’t something to be dismissed, but that it was really serious art. Just as Henry G. proclaimed that Warhol’s painting and and that of the other the pop artists was actually art. Jonas Mekas proclaimed, contrary to the avant garde dismissal of this frivolous stuff, you know, Jonas said, “I have viewed it for an entire day and I declare it as art, as serious art.”
Ok, so Jonas said “Andy, why don’t you do some kind of a Warhol exposition or something? So we decided to do an Edie Sedgwick festival. This is the point where Edie got herself involved with Bob Dylan and his manager Grossman, and actually the undercurrent was that she was having this torrid, torrid love affair with Bobby Newirth who Dylan’s best friend; and that she was getting into amphetamines also. Like she, one time at her apartment when Ondine was being her housemaid, giving her amphetamines, it was like this little French movie, where Edie was Renald and Ondine was her French maid supplying the amphetamines. She had this torrid affair with Bobby Newirth, but the story was that she was making it with Dylan and that Dylan was in love with her and wrote all this songs about her, and offered to be her manager so she left us.
She (Edie)actually walked out on us, she said, “I am tired of making these films with Andy Warhol, I don’t like the scripts, I don’t want to learn the scripts, I think he makes me look ridiculous sometimes.” You know she was really upset about how she felt she appeared in Warhol movies, even though everyone else thought she was fantastic.
So she moved over to the Dylan-Grossman arena and left us, she just stopped working with us. So what we did, we said, “well if she is going with Dylan and Grossman, we are not going to do an Edie Sedgwick Film Festival for Jonas.”.
So what we did instead was, we had started working with this music group called The Velvet Underground and we had filmed them practicing at the Silver Factory, and we had made a film called the “Velvet Underground Nico”, so that’s what we did for that Jonas Mekas series of time spaces instead of the Edie Sedgwick Centennial, not that she’s Debbie Reynolds.
So we did a multimedia show. It was called “Uptight, Andy Warhol Uptight”. We had the Velvet Underground performing on the stage live with Gerard Malanga and Mary Woronov doing their whip dances. Then we projected the film of the Velvet Underground on them while they were performing live, and also projected various screen tests of all the favourite people. And we had strobe lights that we were flashing at them and at the audience, blinding people.
So this was a rich multimedia exposition that happened.
How did Andy engage the Velvet Underground in the first place?
How we came to engage the Velvet underground in the first place was that Andy was approached to do a big arena show, but they ended up at, it was like an airplane hanger, and they wanted Andy to do some kind of big thing so people could dance in a multimedia thing. So we went down to the village at Café Bizarre, and I think Barbara Ruben supposedly, also a filmmaker, suggested to Gerard to have Andy take a look at this rock band that was really far out. We went down and met them. The thing is that a member of the group John Cale, who would do like the electronic viola, was a friend of mine from the time I was working with LaMonte Young, and LaMonte would do 24 hour musical pieces of a single tone, and my friend Nick, the lighting designer. John Cale had just come from Wales and landed in the New York avant garde scene, and hooked up with Young. And so now when we meet this group, The Velvet Underground, it turns out that John Cale is the electronic violist. I did not know Lou Reed, and the others, but it was agreed by Andy and Paul and Fred and by Gerard and Ondine and everybody that some how this group had something going that was really cool.
So we were going to use them for this big important thing on Long Island in the airplane hanger, but it fell through. But we did not stop our relationship with The Velvet Underground, and eventually the record deal happened for the first album and we did do the Andy Warhol Uptight instead of the Edie Sedgwick Celebration. The relationship jelled because the culture demended for us to be what we were, and to demonstrate it. Like you guys are crazy, show us, you are using all kinds of…you are using film, you are using painting, you are using audio, you are using video, you are incorporating music, you are incorporating this, come on lets do a production and make money, lets be the big entrepreneur.
Did Andy always want ot be successful at “business”?
Andy always has this desire, this need to be really successfully entrepreneurial. He had accomplished his inner need to become a world recognised fine art artist, and from thence the libido desire to come out, the filmmaker, the glamour of superstars, the power of being an impresario. It didn’t work because you really need capital to have that happen and Andy was so “far out” that investors were fearful…or it is before fearful. They didn’t understand what he was doing. How he can make money.
At one point we went out to Columbia Studios in Hollywood to explore making a Hollywood movie. And so these real hetero sleaze bags with these great danes, who eat girls, continental stuff, were the studios heads you know. So we come to the meeting late with all these faggots and everything, with these flaming show business people wanting to do a grand scale art movie. They couldn’t imagine how to market it. I mean was, it stopped right there. It was not like “shit, this is a good idea”, but “how do we go, maybe we scale it”, no they could not comprehend how to market what this Warhol guy was doing.
So was Warhol way ahead of his time?
Yeah, way before. So Andy’s “empresario guy” sort of really never was able to develop because he could never raise capital, because Angels need some kind of conservative feeling that where they are investing is going to make money somehow,
Towards the end of Silver Factory era, where there was so much going on, there was the art going on, there was the movies going on, there was The Velvet Underground going on, there was so much going on it was almost like there was too much going on. So what happened?
Well that is when there were results, the movies. “Chelsea Girls” was a film, an art film by Andy Warhol that finally went beyond the appreciation of the art world and actually had commercial success like the American entertainment magazine Variety, if you have a movie opening saying “Star Wars Boffo 25M” in the box office.
When we finally released “Chelsea Girls” in a first run theatre, the headline on Variety was “Chelsea Girls Boffo 20k Warhol Success”, because in those days, you know, it was a big deal 20K, so it was sort of like, that eclipsed Andy’s need or desire for further commercial success because it’s labelling an artist when you achieve a paradigm or a level, it completes or fulfils your needs to do that. Its like he knew Chelsea Girls would be considered a 20th century filmmaker’s work of art.
You could not grab the velvet underground like that, none of the members. They are artists themselves and their artistic integrity is not a thing that Andy could do, to say, to grab them and make them stars. Andy had to go along with what their capacity was, with what they were capable of interacting with, like the original drummer of The Velvet Underground, Angus Macleish, was a famous guy in the mystic underground world who eventually went to Tibet and died in Tibet. You know when The Velvet Underground got their first gig and Angus was their drummer, the guys said, “Well, you have to be here at 8 o’clock every night. What everyday I have to be there at a certain time? No way!”, and he quit, and so Tucker came in.
But The Velvet underground is not something that Andy could take as a controlling manager and say I am going to, we are going to, make stars out of them. It was not like that because John Cale was in the same world as John Cage. He was a classical, a classically trained musician, and these guys were like Beethoven, you know. They don’t want to hear criticism, they are better than you, there is no way you can tell them what to do, because you do not know anything. These are genius musicians who ended up by making like genius music that has influenced the youth and the young rock groups from the times of the 60’s and for decades ever since. There is still this imperative influence, there are these music magazines in America that make these annual things like the 100 greatest albums of America rock n roll, and what have you, number one is always The Velvet Underground and Nico, and nobody has ever heard of them, but all the people in the know, in the music world know that it is the great influential root of punk. Dirty rock and roll.
What was the era of the Silver Factory?
Well pragmatically speaking it ended when the building was sold and we couldn’t renew the lease. So when we did move and eventually settle in the 33 Uniont Square South studio, which incidentally the top story of that building was that it was occupied by XXX you know the cartoonist, and then XXX was the American communist party, you know in those days it was all in Union Square so we took that place.
At the Silver Factory I was a prime mover. I was there before everybody but Gerard. Andy and I had been for a time lovers so we were intimately synchronised. It wasn’t as if I was someone who came into the Factory, as to what was already the Factory and adapted myself to what was there. I was the one who with Andy created the Silver Factory and made it.
We loved each other and I am talking on the sixth sense; and we evolved into what we were doing, and it was so fluid. I had the skills he needed to free him to make the art and then I could make my art as the arena, that whole thing started to break down somehow when people from the outside came into something that had already gelled, and were expecting something from it.
I had built it with Andy, it’s not like going to happening at somebody’s home and wanting something like you are just there to play and dance and be part of it. Like the other people like
Taylor Meade who was already an established underground film star.
Taylor was like Harold Lloyd, a Charlie Chaplin combination; he was the slap stick chameleon of underground cinema. He was already famous in the underground world, but when he started working with Andy he would be a little snippy sometimes, you know like, “Gee Andy, where’s all the money?”, or you know, “Warhol is so cheap and tight.”
But they did not know what it took to build and make the whole thing. It’s the same old story if you were not there to do the work, and the groundwork to make and build something you have no idea what it costs to produced what happens. So people came in and would say, “Oh wow, well! Warhol can make me famous and he is supposed to pay me isn’t he?”.
They were supposed to come in and be made famous or make themselves famous by having this arena operating. You know, it’s not like a Hollywood studio where we select you, you come in, and get paid to do your stuff. Its more like, “Now here is the Roman arena. You come in as the gladiator or the sirene, and conquer the whole thing.If you can do this, I mean fine with us. If you want to be the Superstar and overtake everything, do it to us, we will show it.” It was that type of free enterprise impresario that Warhol was.
When did it all change?
It all changed when Andy was shot. (Why?) Because it was from within our group. It wasn’t an outsider who came in to rob us or just to kill someone for fame and notoriety, or like Gianni Versace, you know. Valerie Solanis was one of Warhol film people, and the fact that she was within our group and that the tackiness of the way people dealt with Andy (like I was telling you that the Museum of Modern Art curators were saying, “I hope that Philip Johnson does not donate another Warhol to us.” You know after he gave them the golden Marylyn.)
Valerie Solanis did not choose Andy as her first victim. He was like an also ran. Her publisher Geradius who lived at the Chelsea Hotel, and who had published her book but kept giving her bad cheques was first choice. She was this newsboy dyke who was seminal feminist. I mean the importance of Valerie Solanis to the feminist movement is really significant because she was a seminal feminist of the radical type and she went to, because Gerardious kept giving her void cheques she went with the gun over to kill him because he was the man that was controlling women’s lives and taking advantage of her. He was out of town. He was in Europe or something and the Chelsea Hotel is not far from the then new Union Square Factory, so when Gerardious was not there she said, “I know, I’ll go and get Warhol, you know.
And this is so tacky for Andy, you know, Time magazine was actually going to do the cover story on this famous American artist being shot but three days later after he got shot, Bobby Kennedy got shot and they pulled the Warhol cover to do a Bobby Kennedy cover. Its like Andy has had these tacky things happening to him which are like Jack Smith’s versions of things, they are so, so, so torpid and so kitch that he is on the cover Time, Bob Kenedy gets shot three days after he does and he doesn’t get the cover anymore.
Where were you when Andy was shot?
When Andy was shot, I was in the dark room. I heard a bang, a strange type of bang, which I could not recognise the noise, but I was printing and developing prints, and I said to myself, “Fred and Paul are up there, whatever is going on they will take care of it until I can get out.”, because I did have the sense that I should see what it was because I didn’t recognise or understand what type of noise that was. So as soon as I had my prints in the trays and fixed, and I went up to the front section. And there was Andy, lying in a pool of blood on the floor. So I went over to him, you know, and I picked him up in my arms and I was just crying. And so Fred told me that Valerie had shot him. And I was holding him and crying, and he came-to, and he looked at me and he said, “Billy please don’t make me laugh. It hurts to much.”, and I said, “Andy, I am not laughing I am crying.”, and then he passed-out again, so the ambulance came they took him to the hospital.
How did the shooting affect Andy?
The shooting is such a trauma in real life that physically, your entire physical being for the rest of your life is on pins and needles, apprehensive of what can happen to it. Andy was already very delicate.
Supposedly he had had St. Vitus Dance when he was young, a neurological disease that made him very, very sensitive. Like with all people in the art world at that time you would just go up and hug them, hug each other, kiss on the cheek because that was the nature of the engagement of friends, but you couldn’t do it with Andy. Because you would come up and he would do this (winces and shys away), you know because his neurological system was so strained somehow that you could not really hug him. I never saw anybody ever hug him, and I tried. I was just going naturally to him to me, to hug “hi-yeah”, and when he “squinched up” with me I knew that it was just something physiological that you just had to respect.
The shooting was a trauma to the Factory too?
The shooting was such a trauma to the Factory as the creative art factory that it was, even though it was not the Silver Factory anymore, as we had moved to Union Square, we were still the factory, but with the shooting, we did not know if Andy was going to live or die.
The bullet went trough every organ in his torso except the heart. It went to the lungs, the liver, the stomach, you know it just ricocheted off the ribs and went around and around. The week before he actually died in 1987, he still was bleeding from those wounds. You know he wore a bandage type girdle thing, and the week before he died he was still bleeding from those wounds. That is how intensely traumatic to his physical being and how painful it was all those years, so you couldn’t expect him to be the same Andy that he was before the shooting.
How did the shooting affect you?
I always had my backroom in the back of the factory, and after the shooting, the whole thing was so traumatic me because my bond with Andy was so deep and true and sincere. I felt the trauma of this whole thing so much that I stayed in my dark room, which was also my living space. I only came out at night. I never came out in the day, because the trauma was so much to me that I could not socialise with people. I could not be light hearted and just say, you know.
And Andy made believe he was…but it was like a “cardboard Andy”, it wasn’t a real Andy anymore. So a couple of years after that, I left because Fred XXX and Paul Marcy took control of the situation, Fred was into the fine art, portrait, money portrait thing, Paul was into making the commercial success movies and there was not really a place for me anymore.
It was simply an arts scene. So I left one day, and I left a note on the dark room door which said, “Dear Andy, I am not here anymore but I am fine. Love Billy.” And I went out into the world to see what the planet earth was doing.
Who were “The Mole People”?
The mole people came into the factory world though Ondine. They were also called the A-man or the A-heads, the methamphetamine people. It’s the underground night life in New York city Manhattan of the avant garde world, but its lower than underground, it’s subterranean ground. I was part of it, Ondine was part of it, the woman we called Orion was part of it, Bridget was part of it, Rotten Rita was part of it.
It was the world of the amphetamine people who you could find living in places in Manhattan. It could be in Central Park, it could be in the Village, it could be on the Bowery. In the Beatnick days they were called pads, but they weren’t pads anymore, they were any kind of place, and the mole people would cluster in a certain location. Orion’s apartment, sometimes late in the night in the Silver Factory, and these were people who were real seriously ecstatically attuned artists, but so…what is the term when you think about America family values? They are non-functional. Dysfunctional.