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Behind the Scenes of The Factory: Sex, Drugs, and Andy Warhol

Andy Warhol’s Factory pals Gerard Malanga, Taylor Mead, Gretchen Berg, John Wilcock, and Bibbe Hansen (Beck’s mother) joined Warhol scholar Steven Watson onstage last night at the New York Public Library to discuss the re-release of Wilcock’s fabulous book, The Autobiography and Sex Life of Andy Warhol, and the stories they shared about their first encounters with Andy, his personality, his pill-popping program for staying thin, and his “sex life” were both hilarious and insightful.

The book of interviews with members of Warhol’s inner circle, which Wilcock — one of the founding editors of the Village Voice — first recorded on tape, was originally published in 1971, in a small edition that quickly sold out. The publisher of the new, improved edition, Christopher Trela, found a copy at a street fair in 1991 and, years later, tracked down Wilcock and photographer Harry Shunk, who contributed more than 100 photographs, so that he could make this incredible overview of a vital time in art and pop culture history available once more.

Steven Watson started the discussion by asking each panelist when he had met Warhol. Bibbe Hansen said she met Andy through her dad, the artist Al Hansen, in 1964, when she was 14 years old. She told Andy that she had just been released from a juvenile jail and he said, “We must make a film about that,” and soon cast her in Prison, with Edie Sedgwick. Taylor Mead told the story of meeting Andy in August of ’63 and traveling to LA with Warhol and his soon-to-be superstars for Andy’s famous show at Ferus Gallery, where the Campbell’s Soup Can paintings were first shown, and shooting the film Tarzan and Jane Regained…Sort Of, in which Dennis Hopper was his Tarzan double, at the Beverly Hills Hotel.

Gerard Malanga said that he met Andy, whom he later referred to as “the second most important person in my life,” in June 1963 through the poet and publisher Charles Henri Ford and soon started assisting the artist at the Factory. Gretchen Berg related that when she requested an interview with Warhol to discuss his films in 1966, he said, “OK, but I don’t have anything to say.” Berg, who is credited as getting the first interview with Andy that captures his vague, nonchalant style of responding to questions, went on to proclaim that when the door opened at the Factory that day, “My life changed,” and called Warhol a Zen master.

As for Wilcock himself, the young Brit started hanging out at the Factory in the mid-’60s and stuck around for 6 years. He said that rather than phoning up for entry to the original, silvery space on West 47th Street, he would simply pull the fire escape down with an umbrella and climb through a window. Wilcock also recalled that one day, when he was smoking marijuana, Andy took a drag. But it was Berg that revealed Andy’s preference for diet pills, which she said Paul Morrissey told her Andy took to control his weight, a bit of information that Malanga backed up by saying that when he started working for Andy he was a little chubby and began taking Obitrol, an amphetamine-laced diet drug.

Regarding Andy’s sex life, no one claimed to have had sex with the artist, but Taylor Mead said that Andy tried to come on to him, but that he wasn’t his type. Several boyfriends were named, including Rod LaRod, but Malanga said he was never quite sure what Andy’s relationship was with any of them. However, Wilcock quickly cleared that issue by stating that Charles Henri Ford had said, “Andy is a receiver.” After “Little Joey” joined the stage to say that he started working at the Factory when he was 13 and used to go wake up Andy every afternoon so that he would come to the Factory and that Andy used to come to the door in cum-stained underpants, the subject of sex was dropped.

Following that awkward moment, Watson asked the panelists to share a final thought on Andy. Hansen summed him up best, saying that he had an incredible work ethic and that’s why they called it the Factory and not the Party; and she praised Andy’s curiosity, stating, “He wasn’t a person sitting around being interesting. He was interested — he was engaged!”

A second chance to meet the folks involved with The Autobiography and Sex Life of Andy Warhol takes place tonight at a book signing at Gagosian Shop.

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