Models, singers and actresses come our way often enough, but a Warhol Superstar, now that takes something special. The following are just some ladies that formed a crucial female core of Andy Warhol’s Factory crowd and having been certified by the man himself, were duly crowned Superstars. They starred in his films, were involved in his various music and art projects, spoke up for his vision, and they looked darn good doing it. Never more than decoration then, they were living proof of what it meant to be free, creative, weird and beautiful in the ‘60s.
Perhaps the best known of the Factory lot, Edie Sedgwick has been celebrated for her sense of style as much as her free spirit. The combination of both would lend her a unique and compelling quality that Warhol latched onto the minute she wandered into the Factory in 1965. He first cast her in Vinyl, where her brief and silent presence managed to steal all of the attention, before she wound her way into his other films from Poor Little Rich Girl to Outer And Inner Space. She and Warhol would be inseparable for the larger part of the year, during which media interest for her would only grow, with modelling gigs coming her way and Vogue dubbing her a “youthquaker”. But Edie’s deep-seated emotional issues would soon manifest itself in her drug abuse, lead to her break with the Factory and her premature death at the age of 28 in 1971.
Above: Edie Sedgwick at the Factory
Photo booth collage by Gerard Malanga
Tragic as her final years may be, Edie is nonetheless lovingly remembered for defying what a ‘60s girl should be – doing, expressing, dancing and living life on her own terms in such a modern way that could only fit right into the Factory ethos. Even the reticent Warhol, despite his gradual distancing from her, reminisces about Edie fondly in The Philosophy of Andy Warhol, dedicating a chapter to her (calling her by the pet name, Taxi) and recalling, “One person in the 60s fascinated me more than anybody I had ever known. And the fascination I experienced was probably very close to a certain kind of love”.
Where Edie was the bright and bubbling Superstar, Nico was the Teutonic and stoic ship that sailed gloomier waters. Warhol had met the model and part-time singer in London in 1966 and was suitably intrigued by her to hand her the Factory number should she ever head to New York. And yes, Nico did indeed make it to the city, where she apparently enraptured the Factory crew with her face (Warhol calls her “a real moon goddess type” in POPism), her credentials (she’d been in La Dolce Vita) and her past (she’d bore a son with Alain Delon).
With Andy Warhol in full costume!
Sitting for her Screen Test
Performing with The Velvet Underground as part of the Exploding Plastic Inevitable
Besides capturing her mien in several Screen Tests and casting her in Chelsea Girls, Warhol would also, in a stroke of genius, install her as a songstress with The Velvet Underground, which he’d just began to manage. History itself will have us know that Nico and the Velvets enjoyed a good run touring the country as the centrepiece of Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable multimedia performances, and then laying down the evergreen The Velvet Underground & Nico. Her association with the Factory would last through a few more of Warhol’s films, before her solo career and drug addiction would take her down a darker path. Still, it can’t be denied that the Factory brought out the chanteuse in Nico and in her pioneering gothic trio of solo albums, she in turn brought the Factory’s avant-garde aesthetic to its logical conclusion.
Baby Jane Holzer
While most of the Factory regulars have wound up with a myriad of problems from drugs and depression, Jane Holzer has remained relatively unscarred and untouched by the dark side. The Factory’s resident all-American girl was one of Warhol’s first Superstar, arriving on the scene in 1963 as a socialite who kept the company of Mick Jagger and David Bailey. By that time, Diana Vreeland had already declared her “the most contemporary girl I know” and Tom Wolfe had crowned her “Girl of the Year”. Warhol would be next to immortalise Baby Jane in films like Soap Opera and of course, with a Screen Test (she’d apparently taken on the projects to avoid being “a Park Avenue housewife”). But as the ‘60s rolled on, she would grow disillusioned by the Factory’s escalating drug use and hangers-on, and duly made her exit to attempt a film career and invest in real estate. Baby Jane and Warhol never strayed far though and the pop artist would continue to socialise with his first Superstar way into the ‘80s.
With Andy Warhol during the filming of Chelsea Girls
Even as an art college student at Cornell, Mary Woronov was brimming with artistic ambitions, and it was only natural she would find her way into Warhol’s Factory, even if it was one long Greyhound bus ride away. Her entry came by way of Gerard Malanga, who she was emotionally entangled with and who would score Mary her very first Screen Test. She remembers her initial gaze into Warhol’s camera as a “baptism” and becoming irreparably hooked to performance. Her time in the Factory would be hallmarked by her dancing stint (alongside Gerard) with the Exploding Plastic Inevitable, and her show-stealing screen time on Chelsea Girls.
With Gerard Malanga, Andy Warhol and The Velvet Underground
As Hanoi Hannah in Chelsea Girls
With Nico, Andy Warhol and Ari, Nico’s son, at the premiere of Chelsea Girls in Paris
Sadly, she would also spiral down into amphetamine addiction, but unlike other Factory casualties, Mary survived and outlived her 15 minutes of fame through sheer will and talent. Post-Factory, she’s built for herself an illustrious art and acting career, and her ‘60s memoir (Swimming Underground) remains one of the sharpest literary work to crawl underneath the Factory skin. Andy Warhol wasn’t the only artist in the Factory, after all.
Isabelle Collin Dufresne was already moving around the art circles long before her meeting with Warhol – being romantically involved with Salvador Dali and hanging with the likes of Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg. But it would be via Warhol’s influence (she’d first stormed into the Factory and bought a big Flowers painting that was still wet) that Isabelle would be born anew as Ultra Violet. It would be a persona that Ultra took to with a relish for the rest of her life, and it didn’t stop at dying her hair in that violent shade of purple.
With Andy Warhol and Viva
In living up to her name, she took to Warhol’s films with an enthusiasm and would stop at nothing to upstage the other Superstars with antics both outrageous and exhibitionist. When the underground needed a voice, she stepped up to speak for them on talk shows and in newspapers, because, in Warhol’s words, “Ultra would do anything for publicity”. She was the Superstar that took Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame at its most literal and as in the natural course of fame, would be upstaged by the newer Factory addition of Viva. Nevertheless, just on Ultra’s collection of press clippings alone, Warhol would be proud.
by The Kid