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Seattle Gay History: Andy Warhol, part two
Seattle Gay History: Andy Warhol, part two
by Don Paulson - SGN Contributing Writer

Part one, 1965: My arrival in New York City, a studio in Brooklyn, met Ivan Karp who discovered Warhol and would help me get a Gallery. Met the elusive Warhol who invited me to visit his studio known as the Factory.

I continued to paint six large Pop Art paintings even though I knew Pop Art was over. I missed Seattle, my aging parents, friends, and hiking in the mountains as opposed to the concrete canyons of New York. Ivan tried to talk me into spending the summer in Cape Cod but I decided to spend it in Seattle to help make up my mind. As Ivan put it, "It's better to be a big fish in a small pond than a small fish in a big pond."

In the meantime, Warhol had created his most important Pop Art works and was now deeply involved in making "underground movies" that he screened at the Filmmakers Cinematheque Cooperative, a group of experimental filmmakers who showed their films once a week at a small theater on the Lower Eastside. He liked the Bohemian atmosphere of this scene as it was Gay-friendly as opposed to the conservatism of uptown advertising agencies and art galleries. After an evening showing, Warhol and others would congregate in the lobby and discuss the films. I would mostly listen to the discussions and wonder how these often flagrant films could possibly have a popular appeal.

Warhol's films opened the canister labeled visceral, and to some, "gruesomely boring" such as his eight-hour movie of a single image, a man eating a mushroom for a half an hour, and who could forget Whips and Blow Job, showing the face of a man getting one. One night at the Cinematheque, someone shouted, "For God's sake, no more Warhol, please!"

I did not seek out Warhol; there were enough of him already. Besides, I was leaving and didn't want to be tempted to stay. I did check out the Factory with its walls covered with silver foil and silver paint (that was stopped before completion because silver paint flakes off and is dangerous to one's health). In the back of the loft was an 8x8-foot toilet lined with foil with a ceiling fan. Andy asked us to only smoke pot in there lest the police smell the killer weed. The Factory was an amphetamine scene. You almost had to take speed to keep up with the antics in the Factory. The gossip was that Andy was a low-key user.

During the day, the Factory was a working studio, but at night its open door policy became the "new Bohemia" with its reputation that "anything is acceptable, you did whatever you wanted." Gradually Warhol's entourage began to build into a cast of characters: underground filmmakers, poets, artists, actors, musicians, writers, hip people who can smell revolutionary stirrings, outrageous drag queens and a myriad of who knows what and desire to be in on what's happening and a glamorous list of famous visitors curious about "the place to visit when in New York," such as Dali, Dylan, Morrison, and Judy Garland, who didn't show up one night because she couldn't get a limo and refused to ride in a cab. Putting all these people together (including the cool, masculine and irresistible Joe Dellasandro) made for dynamic situations and ideas to be absorbed by Warhol and transformed into controversial underground movies. The Factory was not a club, it was more a community, a little bit of everybody. You never knew who would show up.

It could get crazy with drugs and emotive superstars. Viva said, "The louder you scream, the more attention you get." Although Billy Name, the legal custodian at the Factory, kept a certain control of the traffic, I heard more than one remark about how exposed and vulnerable Warhol was and that someday something bad is going to happen.

A lot of people disliked Warhol, such as some Gay political guys who criticized him for not coming out, but he was, without saying so, the most famous out Gay man in the world next to Oscar Wilde and Michelangelo.

As Warhol left his silent films and began his more complicated talkies, so did the rise of the Factory's wild "Mole people" (underground people) that he depended on for his ideas, almost his raison d'etre. He put an ad in the Village Voice saying "if you had anything to offer, we want to hear from you." I wrote a song that they were going to use in a movie, but I don't know if it was ever used. Factory photographer Nat Finklestein called Warhol a "hunter/gatherer." He manipulated people to do things. People who knew him liked him, but none of the Factory people were really important to him. They each were searching for self-importance but were only raw material for Andy. The Factory was a stew made out of society's leftover rejects and damaged goods. In the Factory, girls were there to be used. It was a Gay male-dominated society, a very self-indulgent group including Warhol with his demands from his superstars for brutal improvisation and unbridled passion. He would turn on the camera and, without a script, say, "Now talk."

I caught a glimpse of this at Warhol's filming of a take-off on Lana Turner's daughter who killed her mother's abusive lover. I thought how unkind to use this tragedy for personal gain. Lana was played in drag by Warhol superstar Mario Montez, who didn't shave his hairy arms. The daughter was played by a handsome young man. In the background, another guy played a harmonica while the actors poured out their guts in this super drama. Warhol's camera, on a tripod, focused unmoving on the intensely improvised scene while a dozen people watched, but then Warhol would move the camera on some object in the room, and once focused on a crack in the ceiling as if it had any importance. At one point the harmonica player started some dialog on his own. Warhol got upset. "Why is he talking? He isn't supposed to." On-camera, Warhol's assistant told him to stop. At another point Warhol left the camera on and left the room for a few minutes. All the time the actors struggled to find words with no script to follow (Warhol lived up to his demands by turning on the camera and saying, "Now talk," which is enormously difficult to maintain for any period of time).

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