By Robert Heide
I first met the photographer Edward Wallowitch on the campus of Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois where I was studying theater under the tutelage of the great professor Alvina Krause. She had learned ‘The Method’ by working in Russia with the great master himself Constantin Stanislavsky, author of An Actor Prepares. This was in 1954 and there I performed as Snobby Price in Shaw’s Major Barbara, as one of the Capulets in Romeo and Juliet, and as the disturbed young man in Tea and Sympathy. In 1956 after studying in New York with Stella Adler, she set me up to be an apprentice under John Houseman at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival Theater in Connecticut where I appeared in King John and Measure for Measure. Back in the Village I returned more sophisticated about gay life, much of which I had learned about in Chicago where after school I hung out in many of the notorious wild gay men’s bars in the Near North Side. With my father’s help I rented an apartment on Christopher Street and began to frequent the late night Village gay bars like Lenny’s Hideaway on Tenth Street, Mary’s, and the Old Colony on Eighth Street, and the mixed straight and gay late night hot spot on MacDougal, the famous San Remo Tavern where one might meet Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac or Bob Dylan on a good night. Another favorite gay joint is the historic Julius Bar on Tenth Street, which is still there but barely holding on tight in these difficult COVID times. It was there that I again ran into Ed Wallowitch who told me he was now living with his older brother John at 8 Barrow Street. He invited me to meet him and a friend the next evening at Aldo’s Restaurant that was on Bleecker Street next to the Village Apothecary on the corner of Tenth Street.
When I showed up at the elegant white table-clothed gay dinner place, he introduced me to his date who was Andy Warhol; and this was the first time I met Andy. Pushing his white hair off his forehead, the boyish Andy shyly asked me if I would like a Martini. A few nights later at the Wallowitch basement apartment which doubled as a salon where singers, actors, and Village writers gathered, John expertly played the Baby Grand piano and sang jovial songs and ballads he had written and performed in New York nightclubs and on TV. One ballad that struck me as darkly amusing went,
Death! It’s the latest –
It’s the end.
Take your life and
Death! It’s the latest –
Go and Kick
It’s gonna getcha
In the end.
John was always laughing, acting, ‘swishing’, and telling ‘nellie’ and campy undercutting jokes. At one of these soiree’s where singers like Eartha Kitt, Rosemary O’Reilly—who starred in New Faces of 1952—Alice Ghostly, and Joanna Berretta would show up to perform, Edward came out of his small front bedroom and following after him was Andy himself who was giggling and laughing. I asked him “What’s up?” Referring to Edward he said, “Yeah! We just made it! It was fun!” Edward’s face turned scarlet red. “He’s tall isn’t he?” Andy remarked. “He reminds me of Tony Perkins…really cute!” He was Andy’s ‘first boyfriend.’
Following these early-on first meetings, I began to see a lot of Andy, mainly in the Village and also uptown. I would go with him to outdoor flea markets and antique shops where he showed himself to be an inveterate collector of things ‘Pop Culture’ like Mickey Mouse cookie jars or Howdy Doody piggy banks or colorful Bakelite jewelry. Often Andy would show up after shopping for black leather or suede outfits from The Leatherman at my digs on Christopher Street. At one of these visits he stared at my large—five-feet-long by two-feet-high—wood framed 1940s litho-on-metal Coca-Cola sign that hung on the wall over my kitchenette. It depicted Betty—the Coke Girl—sipping a Coke out of a green-glass bottle. After a moment, a mesmerized Andy declared with a smile and a smirk, “That’s the real Pop Art!” On that same afternoon what seemed to me like an army of Andy’s disciples showed up for a ‘smoke-in’ ‘pill popping’ session. They included a handsome Billy Name, Gerardo Malanga, blonde Paul America, and Brigid Berlin, also known as Brigid Polk who proceeded to pull out a hypodermic needle and laughing, arbitrarily inject methamphetamine (or whatever it was) into a guest’s behind right through their clothing. Wild times continued at Warhol’s famous loft on 47th Street called the Factory where he created (with many of his helpers) his great lithographed silkscreens on super big-sized canvasses of Campbell’s Soup cans, cow wallpaper, Coke bottles, Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck images, portraits of Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland, Elizabeth Taylor, Mick Jagger, Jackie Kennedy, James Dean, and Marlon Brando, self-portraits, and other ‘Pop’ Americana subjects.
I joined in with the ‘superstar’ factory crowd where every day and night it was party time. Bob Dylan showed up for an Andy screen-test and walked out with a giant ‘cowboy-Elvis-with-gun’ litho. Edie Sedgwick, one of his model/actors and eventually his first ‘superstar’ who became the Party Girl of the Year—1965—taking over from Baby Jane Holzer—ran all over town with Bob Dylan, but was always at Andy’s side at openings, night spots, appearing on TV, in magazine photo layouts and pictured in countless articles. I wound up appearing in two movies directed by Andy co-starring with Jack Smith, the artist and avant-garde filmmaker. They were Camp and Batman/Dracula. He made a very good movie of my play The Bed, projected on a double screen at the Cinemateque and I wrote a screenplay for him to star Edie, entitled Lupe, which is one of his most popular movies. Eventually the beautiful, glowing, childlike Edie fell into a drugged out state of mind, and tragically died at an early age. Ed Wallowitch, originally a protégé of Edward Steichen, and the youngest photographer included in the famous MOMA ‘Family of Man’ exhibition, became addicted to bourbon and rye and fell dead one day in 1981 in his Florida studio. His great photos, including a portrait of John F. Kennedy, are still avidly collected and sell for top dollar. For a time in my own youthful glory days I posed for Edward on a mountaintop, reaching for the heavens for a layout in a religious magazine and for a psychiatric drug calendar posing in a tight corner and looking depressed. Big parties continued at the Factory attracting super celebrities like Pope Ondine, Truman Capote, Elizabeth Taylor, Montgomery Clift, Liza Minelli, Jackie Curtis, Candy Darling, Holly Woodlawn, and Tennessee Williams. Andy continued taking his amphetamines and other drugs until the day a mentally deranged writer named Valerie Solanas (creator of a group called SCUM—the Society for Cutting Up Men—and a book of the same name), showed up at his Union Square studio and fired several bullets into his body. Clinging to life, he was in the headlines for three days, suddenly displaced when Bobby Kennedy was assassinated. Andy somehow hung on, but afterwards, fearful and frail, he carried on with his work in new digs but in a cautious and more formalized manner.
Andy passed away in 1987. He was a huge part of my life—some of my best dates were with him. We went together to the Café Bizarre where he discovered Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground. He introduced me to Nico at the Dom, we saw the Rolling Stones together at the Academy of Music on 14th Street. I personally always have had a soft spot for Andy—the genius ‘the little boy lost’ from Pittsburg who once said to me “Gee, what’ll we do today? We need to do something…” My reply was, “Well, Andy, it’s like in Zen emptiness and repetition theory. Just do the same thing over and over again as in advertising—only change the colors like a blue and purple soup can painting or a green and purple one, or an orange/blue, yellow/red Marilyn Monroe. With a grin, Andy said, “Oh! Gee!” A year later that is what he produced in volume. Now of course, they are worth millions. Andy is seen as the top visual artist of the 20th century with Pablo Picasso’s work figuring into the first half of that century in terms of influence, fame, and yes, money. I still think of those days with Andy at the Factory and the early Bohemian times with the great photographer Ed Wallowitch. Drugs and heavy drinking were the order of the day; but so was creativity, theater, music, concerts, opera and ballet. The arts were in full bloom. That is why we are still singing,
Those were the days, my friend,
We thought they’d never end.
Robert Heide is a monthly contributor to Westview News. His books co-authored with John Gilman include Greenwich Village—A Primo Guide to Eating, Drinking, and Making Merry in true Bohemia , several books for Disney about Mickey Mouse, books about cowboys, movie stars, Art Deco and the recently published collection of his plays, Robert Heide 25 Plays—all available on Amazon.